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Despite plenty of signals that the Hot Vax Summer should also be known as Hot Vacation Summer, new data from Bankrate.com shows that your next trip to the airport might not include a mile-long line to check in.

While 66% of Americans plan to travel this year, only 24% are gearing up to take more trips than they would in a normal year. That’s somewhat sluggish demand, considering that everyone has been stuck at home staring at a

Zoom
window for more than a year, and it carries some significant implications for anyone with — or planning to apply for — a travel rewards credit card.

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Redemptions are going to cost more — so don’t sit on your points and miles

“I think more devaluations for points and miles are likely,” Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate.com, told Insider. “We know the airlines have had a really difficult time throughout the pandemic. They’re certainly going to be looking to liquidate the huge stash of miles at a price that will be more favorable to them.”

Read more: Southwest just devalued its points without warning — here’s how much more you’ll pay for award flights

Those devaluations were already starting before COVID shut down the industry. In early 2020, for example, Rossman highlighted that Marriott moved 22% of its properties into higher reward tiers while only 7% shifted into lower redemption categories. For airlines, a shift from distance-based award tickets to revenue-based award tickets was also a negative for consumers.

While Rossman doesn’t expect the value of points and miles to “fall through the floor”, he does point out that continuing to sit on a mountain of them isn’t a wise move. 

“Don’t hoard points or miles,” he says. “It’s not like your 401(k). You don’t necessarily want to be a points or miles millionaire. Put them to use so you can get good value.”

Flexibility will continue for the foreseeable future — but not forever

But wait, you might say, what if I’m not ready to book my trip? You’re likely wise to go for it anyway, provided that you read the fine print and know that you can cancel without any penalty. When cashing in points or miles, Rossman adds that consumers typically enjoy the assurance of being able to get them back. 

“You’re not out any real money,” he says. “The flexibility of most of these tickets means they are returned to your account if you need to cancel.”

Read more: COVID shifted my credit card strategy over the last year, and now I’m preparing to travel again

Looking ahead, though, watch out for the return of pesky fees for changing your plans.

“As much as airlines say that [zero-dollar change fees] are going to stick around permanently, I’m not completely convinced,” Rossman says. “They may come back at some point. At least for this year, though, people can be pretty confident that they won’t be stuck paying any change fees on most tickets.”

Business travelers are still in their sweatpants — so book your spot in the front of the bus while you can

There’s other good news for this year: Increased odds that you can enjoy moving up from that middle seat in economy to enjoy the luxury of the front of the plane. Bankrate’s survey findings reveal that just 9% of people are planning a business trip. Since business travelers have historically included the ability to spend corporate dollars on more expensive first-class and business-class seats, leisure travelers are positioned to take advantage of openings.

 “This is a real opportunity and a consumer positive,” Rossman says. “We have seen first- and business-class prices go down in terms of dollars but also points or miles requirements.”

Read more: The best small-business credit cards of 2021

That business travel rebound will be slower than leisure travel — companies are more conservative about putting employees on planes in the midst of the pandemic — but Rossman doesn’t expect the doomsday predictions to come true. 

“I’m hearing rumblings that if the virus situation continues to improve,” he says, “companies will start to send more people on the road.”

Sign-up bonuses look amazing — and they might get even better

In addition to being a good time to travel, it’s a good time to consider a new credit card. Rossman cites “eye-popping” sign-up bonuses such as a 100,000-point offer for the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and a 100,000-mile offer for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Watch out for other lucrative offers on the horizon. 

Read more: Chase Sapphire Preferred card review

“I tend to think we’ll see elevated competition through the end of the year,” Rossman says. “We’re still in the early stages of the travel and consumer spending rebound.”

As more of those offers appear, Rossman says it’s a perfect time to think about your spending habits. 

Read more: Matching your credit cards to your spending is the key to earning maximum rewards — and 3 tricks can help you find the best option

“Your habits may have changed during the pandemic,” he says. “It’s a good time for a reassessment of what cards you have been using and what other cards might be more valuable.”

Featured credit cards from our partners

Featured Reward

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3 Free Nights (valued up to 50,000 points each) after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, plus 10x total points per $1 spent on up to $2,500 in combined purchases in select categories within your first 6 months

Credit Needed

Good to Excellent

Featured Reward

$200 after spending $500 in the first three months from account opening

Credit Needed

Good to Excellent