Learn from rewards cards' 2017 trends, changes

New offers and mergers offered new reward opportunities

Tony Mecia
Personal finance writer
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com

Best lessons from 2017

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With credit cards, as with physics, inertia can be a powerful force. If you think back to physics class in high school, you might recall that Newton’s first law of motion is that an object at rest remains at rest until acted upon, or if it is in motion, it continues on that trajectory until something alters it.

Credit card issuers make it easy to continue on a familiar path. Your payment is due on the same date every month. You probably have set up bill pay online. You have learned the features of your card, and it has become familiar. Most people hang onto their cards for years.

But as we look back on the biggest credit card rewards news of 2017, it is clear that reward programs and card offers are ever-changing. For that reason, it makes sense to pay attention and sometimes take action to reverse the natural tendency to keep the same set of cards. Taking advantage of new offers and calculating your response to industry changes can yield more and better rewards.

Changes, trends

Here are some of the big changes and trends of 2017 – and how you might take advantage of them.

Cards for millennials. Banks are noticing that younger consumers have spending power, and they are tailoring rewards cards to match the interests of the younger generation. New entrants include U.S. Bank’s Altitude Reserve (bonus points for paying with mobile wallets) and Barclaycard’s Uber Visa (bonus points for online purchases, credit for streaming services, mobile phone damage protection). And other cards have modified their rewards, such as American Express Platinum (Uber credits) and Capital One Quicksilver (Spotify discounts). You don’t have to be in your 20s or 30s to take advantage of these cards, but check them out to see if the rewards sound appealing to you.

Continued expansion of premium travel cards. A year after Chase launched its Sapphire Reserve, American Express refreshed its Platinum card – and raised the annual fee to $550. There are now nearly a dozen luxury credit cards with annual fees of $450 or more. Although that sounds expensive, they typically come with travel credits or lounge access worth a few hundred dollars, so they can be a good deal if you travel frequently.

 

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Hilton and Citi part ways. Citi has offered Hilton credit cards for years, but the two announced they were ending that relationship effective in early 2018. People with Citi Hilton cards are slated to receive new cards from American Express. Before letting that happen, though, Citi Hilton cardholders should examine other options, including canceling the Citi card and applying for a card with a sign-up bonus.

Marriott and Starwood merger continues. The two hotel chains are continuing to integrate their operations, including their reward programs. For now, both still have their loyalty programs and separate reward cards, and you can transfer points between the two for hotel stays. If you’re looking for a quick infusion of points, consider the sign-up bonuses that come with both the Chase Marriott Rewards card and the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card.

Virgin America-Alaska Airlines merger chops card options. With the two airlines combining, they dropped the old Comenity Bank Virgin America Visa card. The only remaining credit card available is the Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa – which you might want to consider for flights on the combined airline, or if you liked the old Comenity Bank card.

If the past is any guide, 2018 will probably bring its share of mergers and new reward card offers. The best advice: Pay attention, so that you can take advantage of changes and make the most of your rewards.

See related: 5 steps to get your rewards for the new year, Save money in the new year with these 8 card tricks


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Updated: 11-15-2018