February 21, 2024

How COVID Shifted My Credit Card Rewards Strategy and Travel Planning

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How COVID Shifted My Credit Card Rewards Strategy and Travel Planning

Personal Finance Insider writes about products, strategies, and tips to help you make smart decisions with your money. We may receive a small commission from our partners, like American Express, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

  • With no air travel during COVID-19, I’ve shifted my credit card strategy to earning the most points.
  • Travel perks have been less valuable while food delivery and grocery benefits get more use.
  • It’s a good time to take stock of your credit cards to prepare for future travel.
  • Read Insider’s guide to the best rewards credit cards.

COVID-19 has changed a lot of how the world works — credit cards included. Many cards began to offer more perks focused on rewarding purchases at grocery stores and home improvement stores instead of plane tickets and hotels. The pandemic has shuffled the cards I have, carry in my wallet, and has me in a new and nimble position, ready to pounce when the moment is right.

Here’s a more detailed look at how COVID-related perks have shifted my credit card strategy and what I’m doing to get ready for some post-pandemic fun.

Ramping down on airline-related benefits

In February 2020, I was elated that my wife and I each earned the Southwest Companion Pass. This lets us take our two daughters on trips paying less than $6 each way in taxes and fees. Our 1-year-old can still ride on our laps. This was the ultimate ticket to travel for 2020 and 2021.

Well, we know what happened in February and March 2020. I have yet to fly a single trip using those companion passes. This is the longest I’ve gone without entering an airport or flying in my entire life. My Priority Pass card is dusty. My airline-related benefits go unused. I wound up closing some airline credit cards over the last year to better align my rewards, benefits, and annual fees with my family’s current needs.

Targeting the best rewards where I’m spending most

One of the most exciting deals since COVID-19 put a new Chase Freedom Unlimited® card in my wallet. At the time I applied, the card temporarily featured a total of 5{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} cash back on groceries (no longer available), which is my family’s top rewards spending category. Because I also have the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, I can combine my Chase Ultimate Rewards points and get a value of 1.5 cents per point toward travel booked through Chase.

Before COVID, my biggest card-eligible expenses were health insurance, preschool, groceries, restaurants, and travel. Now, I’ve been spending much more on groceries, food delivery, and home improvement with no preschool, almost no travel, and fewer restaurant visits — for pickup only.

Cleaning up and preparing my credit report

One of the best ways to quickly build up a huge balance of points is with new cardholder bonuses. These are often enough to cover an international flight or a few hotel nights after meeting a minimum spending requirement in a certain time limit.

My wife and I both have credit scores over 800, but we also have well over a dozen cards. To maintain our excellent credit and keep costs low, I always pay our cards off in full by the due date every month. But tinkering too much and opening too many new cards can lead to credit card applications getting turned down even with an 800+ credit score.

While we closed a few cards, we also avoided opening too many new ones over the last year. I expect a handful of great deals to emerge as more people are vaccinated and start traveling again, and I want my credit report to be ready. That means staying under Chase’s 5/24 rule and avoiding opening too many new accounts.

Keeping a lookout for the best opportunities

There’s an excellent welcome offer right now on The Platinum Card® from American Express
. That was enough for me to apply! I recently received my card, and I’m working on earning my welcome bonus.

Because I’ve only had two new credit cards since COVID began, I’m easily under 5/24 and stand poised to get a new card when the timing is right. Savvy miles and points enthusiasts are always on the lookout for the best rewards cards and deals.

There’s nothing wrong with a million points in the bank

While I have not been on a plane in over a year, I have my next flight booked! Thanks to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, I’m fully protected as of today. My wife isn’t too far behind with her second dose of the Moderna vaccine scheduled. That gave me enough confidence to tap into my growing bank of miles and points for a vacation to Hawaii.

We are still traveling very cautiously and don’t have plans for any other trips or international travel any time soon. With the cards in my wallet, that will likely leave me with a million points or more in the bank between Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, hotel, and airline accounts.

There’s nothing wrong with that, as I’m hoping we will be back to a more “normal” world for travel in the coming months. As more people get vaccinated, my biggest problem will be deciding where to go next.

Eric Rosenberg is a finance, travel, and technology writer in Ventura, California. He has in-depth experience writing about banking, credit cards, investing, and other financial topics, and is an avid travel hacker.