International travel is largely suspended again, and with it the opportunity to tap into the impressive balance of reward points and airline miles that many consumers have accumulated.
It is all the more frustrating that some airlines and hotels devalue the points of their loyalty program. This means that a flight or a stay that required, say, 100,000 points could cost a lot more than that. Industry experts say more travel providers are likely to follow suit next year so they can reduce their unpaid debts.
A survey conducted earlier this year by the NerdWallet credit card website showed that Americans with travel rewards credit cards saved 64,800 reward points and miles on average (equivalent to about $ 650). A separate analysis in May by online lending site LendingTree’s ValuePenguin said Americans redeemed only 11% of their available miles in 2020, despite the introduction of point-cash programs for groceries. and other expenses other than travel.
It’s reasonable to think that the number of unredeemed points has only increased as travel has been relatively silent for most of the year and the omicron variant of Covid-19 introduces even more uncertainty. Additionally, credit card companies began offering dazzling signup bonuses this summer, contributing to the glut of points in circulation.
First of all, it helps to know which loyalty programs have reduced their benefits so far this year. Southwest Airlines Co. reduced the value of its Rapid Rewards points by 6%; Delta Air Lines Inc. reduced the value of points used by customers for certain international flights with its partners, such as Virgin Atlantic and Air France; and at the end of last year, United Airlines Holdings Inc. devalued the points of some of its partners when travelers book near the departure date.
As for hotels, Marriott International Inc., which operates the Ritz Carlton, St. Regis and Westin chains among others, said from March that it would remove the rewards tables, which specify the number of points typically needed. for a stay. Instead, the number of points required will be at the discretion of the hotel and could be much higher, even for times previously designated as off-peak.
With the exception of Marriott, companies often change the terms of member points with little or no warning. Those who usually limit themselves to accumulating points with a single airline are the most vulnerable. This is because when points are devalued they have fewer options than someone who uses a credit card with transferable points that can be applied to flights on dozens of carriers, like an Amex Membership Rewards or Chase card. Ultimate Rewards.
Those with a single airline card should consider booking travel now, even if it’s provisional and in several months, to lock in the current rewards benefits. Remember that airlines and hotels are still quite flexible when it comes to rescheduling.
While international travel is typically the most expensive item that consumers save their points for, it would be wise to consider domestic travel to at least reduce those balances. Delta is a good example: Even though the airline has devalued the points used for some of its partners’ international flights, domestic flights are still a good way to redeem SkyMiles, says Andrew Kunesh, editor of the website of The Points Guy trips.
By booking further in advance and during off-peak times, you can also ensure travelers continue to get the best value for their points.
For those with more flexible credit cards, stop racking up those points in the hopes that they will be used for travel someday. Instead, take advantage of non-travel items the points can be used for, especially as some of the more generous terms induced by the pandemic may change sooner rather than later. For example, Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders can get more value by using points for certain expenses other than travel, such as meals only through March.
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