Most travelers can be categorized into three groups right now. Depending on where you fall, here’s how to prep your rewards strategy to ensure you’re ready to travel when it’s most comfortable for you.
As lockdown orders loosen, airports are showing signs of reopening and countries are announcing dates and protocols for letting travelers cross their borders again. And I’m certainly beginning to daydream about post-COVID travel.As I talk with others about their anticipations and hesitations about rejoining the skies, one thing has become clear: The steps we take next are likely going to be different for each of us.
The best thing you can do to ready yourself for post-pandemic rewards travel is this: Make a decision about what kind of traveler you’re going to be for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021 – then align your credit card strategy to support your plans.
My friends range from those who have been buying (and canceling) plane tickets during the course of the pandemic to those who have put their suitcases back in the attic and have pledged not to get them out until there is a vaccine.
There’s no right or wrong approach to return to travel. Just like we’ve all always had our own travel personalities and preferences – i.e., I like adventure, you like all-inclusive vacations – we’re all going to get back out there at our own speed and comfort.
There’s also no right or wrong answer to which travel rewards cards you should renew for another year – or cancel if you aren’t going to travel for a long time. You’ve got to figure it out based on what you need to support your travel goals.
See related: Preparing for future travel while trapped inside
How to prep your travel rewards cards by traveler profile
As I’ve been talking to hundreds of travelers and people across the travel industry, I’ve come to realize that there are three primary categories of post-pandemic travelers: those who are ready to jump back on an airplane, transitional travelers who want to get out but will stay closer to home and cautious travelers who are committed to wait.
There are many reasons why you might categorize yourself into one group or another. Perhaps you’re ready to go because you’ve been separated from your family overseas, or maybe you’re waiting because you’re immunocompromised and need to choose caution over seeing the Coliseum as soon as Italy opens its borders. You might not see yourself in any of these groups at all while you take it day by day. That’s OK, too.
What is important right now is that you are honest with yourself about your travel comfort levels and desires, then compare your credit card strategy to see if you’ve got the right rewards tools to support them.
Type A: Take me back to the skies
If you’ve already got your face mask and travel-sized hand sanitizer packed in your carry-on and you’ve spent the entire global quarantine checking airline fares, you’re probably in this group.
Or maybe you’re not this extreme, but you are ready to fly domestically to visit your parents or comfortable enough to start planning your next trip to Hawaii as soon as the state lifts its 14-day mandatory quarantine on arrival.
Rewards strategy: If you’re already an active rewards traveler – which I assume you are based on the fact that you’re reading this – your credit card strategy is likely already set for your post-pandemic personality. You likely won’t need to scale back unless you anticipate changes in your travel habits, but do double check that your co-branded airline and hotel cards still align.
Type B: Let me out, but I’m not going far
I’ve talked to many travelers who are ready to escape but are going to opt for travel that keeps them closer to home in the immediate future. You’re likely in this group if you’re committed to road trips, actively planning another type of socially-distanced summer vacation or a staycation.
I’m in this group for now because it’s summer in Oregon and (pandemic or not) my plan for every summer is road-tripping and camping. Plus, I’m already planning to use some of my Hyatt points for a Portland staycation at a hotel with a nice bathtub as one of my first return-to- travel outings.
Rewards strategy: Your hotel and flexible rewards cards are going to be your best friends for this travel style. If you live in or are traveling through cities, you’ll still be able to use your points from the big hotel groups like IHG, Marriott and Hilton. If you’re planning mostly for travels across smaller towns, you might consider a budget hotel rewards card strategy.
Type C: I’m staying close to home for now
Many say they’re putting off travel until there is a coronavirus vaccine. Some are waiting it out to see what protocols are put in place to make the world feel safe again. There are also plenty of people who just aren’t going to be able to travel for a while as they work on rebuilding their small business or saving up again after months of unemployment. There are a million reasons why you’re in no rush to leave town. This doesn’t make you a bad traveler.
Rewards strategy: During your travel hiatus, focus spending on your flexible points earning cards like your Chase Sapphire Preferred or a cash back card like the Chase Freedom Unlimited. If you’re earning flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership rewards, you can still put these to work through other redemptions or accrue them in a program that has lots of options for when your travel adapts.
If you’re not going to travel for a while, you may consider downgrading expensive travel rewards card to a lesser card in the same family (i.e., the Chase Sapphire Reserve to the Chase Sapphire Preferred). Downgrading to a card with a lower or no fee allows you to maintain the same line of credit with the bank and protects your credit score.
No matter what experiences you’ve been through over the past few months, or even what your travel preferences were before COVID-19 came about, the world will be out there. Prep now, and travel whenever you’re ready.