Don't let your annual rewards card's travel credits expire

Summer Hull
Personal Finance Writer
Summer Hull writes the weekly "Get to the Points" column for CreditCards.com

Get to the Points

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A popular perk among premium rewards credit cards in the past few years has been an annual travel credit that helps offset the card’s high annual fee.

The annual travel credit typically automatically rebates money to cardholders in the form of a statement credit as they use the card for eligible travel expenses. Each card has a slightly different version of what the travel credit covers, as well as when the credits expire.

These annual perks are use-them-or-lose-them in nature and, frankly, the credit cards are banking on a certain percentage of cardholders not using those perks to their fullest extent. Our mission today? Don’t let your account be one of those that allows valuable annual credits accidentally go to waste.

It's December. Do you know where your points are?

While some annual rewards credit card perks and credits are tied to when you first were approved for the card, others run on a calendar year, meaning that December marks the last chance to use many of your 2017 annual travel credits.

What makes this even trickier is you don’t even have until December 31 to use the credits as the deadline can be tied to when your individual December statement date closes, which could be in early December. Since December is now upon us, let’s get right down to how these credits work and when they disappear for good.

Chase Sapphire Reserve $300 annual travel credit

The popular Chase Sapphire Reserve was introduced in August 2016, and I know several people who missed out on using their 2016 travel credits because they didn’t realize the deadline to use the travel credit was by the time their December statement closed.

If your December statement closes on December 10, 2017, then eligible travel charges against the travel credit, such as airline tickets, hotel charges, rental cars or even taxi rides must be posted by that date. Otherwise, a travel charge incurred on December 11, 2017, would then go against your 2018 Sapphire Reserve travel credit instead.

An exception to this rule is if you were approved for the Sapphire Reserve on or after May 21, 2017, in which case your $300 annual travel credit runs on a cardmember year as opposed to a calendar year.

In either case, you can log into your Chase account online, click on your Ultimate Rewards point balance, and scroll down to see details on your account’s specific annual travel credit balance and renewal date.

Citi Prestige $250 airline allowance

The Citi Prestige has a $250 annual air travel credit that you can use to help offset the cost of airfare, bag fees, airline lounge access and even some in-flight purchases.

This annual credit only covers airline charges, unlike the broader category of travel the Sapphire Reserve’s annual credit offers, but its deadline operates in essentially the same way as described for the Sapphire Reserve in that it runs on a calendar year that concludes when your December statement date closes.

This means your 2017 airline charges against this year’s annual credit must have posted to your account by the time your December statement date concludes, which can easily happen early in the month.

American Express Platinum card $200 airline fee credit

The Amex Platinum business and Amex Platinum consumer cards have had an annual airline fee credit longer than many other premium rewards credit cards, which has a deadline of Dec. 31.

This airline fee credit is valid for charges from the airline you select for the year, including checked bags, in-flight refreshments and incidental airline fees.

Off-label, the annual credit does sometimes work for airline charges outside of those prescribed fee categories, but it remains the most restrictive of the premium card travel credits.

Note that the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card has a virtually identical annual travel credit with a Dec. 31, 2017, expiration date, though with a $100 maximum instead of the $200 allotted with the pricier Platinum cards.

How to use up your annual credits quickly

If you haven’t yet used up your annual travel credit on one of your rewards cards, then you might want to consider devising a plan ASAP so it does not go to waste.

Even if you don’t have immediate travel plans, some of these travel or airline credits will be triggered with select travel gift card purchases, such as e-gift cards from American Airlines or Delta Air Lines, provided that those charges code on your credit card as being from an airline as opposed to a third-party.

In the case of the more-restrictive American Express Platinum airline fee credit, you don’t have as many options to use up the credit in a hurry, but you could always be the hero on your next eligible flight if you buy a round of on-board drinks for everyone around you using your Platinum card’s annual credit!

See related: 5 fun ways to create holiday memories using miles, points, Credit card perks to consider when holiday shopping


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Updated: 12-15-2017