Have Cards, Will Travel

Preparing for future travel while trapped inside

Ticking a few travel-related tasks off your to-do list will make you more efficient and ready for the road when travel bans are behind us


As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact different aspects of our lives, traveling has been hit hard. If you’re still hoping to travel once this is all over, here are some tips on how to get your travel affairs in order.

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Not being able to travel right now does not mean that we won’t ever be able to travel.  So, this week at home, I’ve made a to-do list of travel-related tasks that I never seem to have time to get to when I’ve got an upcoming trip to plan.

Here are five things you can do this week (since there isn’t much else to do, let’s be honest) to get your travel and credit accounts in order:

See related: Staying home during the coronavirus outbreak: Tips for canceling travel

1. Count your points

Now is a great time to take stock of the points and miles that you already have. Consider setting yourself up on a points-tracking app to auto-track your points earning and spending. Or create your own spreadsheet of points.

Having an inventory of your earnings across bank programs, airlines and hotels will make it easier to return to reward travel feeling organized. Plus, knowing where you have gaps in your points balances can help you be more strategic with your earnings right now – presuming you are at least still earning points from regular credit card spending at the supermarket or grocery delivery!

2. Inventory your credit cards

After you count your points, count your credit cards.

As we’re all experiencing changes in our travel habits, and likely in our finances as well, it might be time to realign the cards you’re carrying in your wallet.

Similar to the annual credit card audit I do at the end of the year, now is a good time to reassess what’s in your wallet and if those cards are meeting your current financial needs along with your anticipated future travel needs.

For each account, ask yourself these questions. And don’t be shy to call your credit card company to ask them for information and options as well:

  • When does the annual fee come due again?
  • Does this card still serve me well?
  • Can I still take advantage of the benefits of this card?
  • Will I be able to use card benefits again in my “new normal”?
  • Could I downgrade the card to save on fees while maintaining the credit line?
  • Before I change or cancel my card, how do I prevent losing accrued rewards points?

3. Check up on your benefits and status

Next, you’ll want research how the credit card and loyalty benefits to which you’re entitled are being impacted.

Some airlines, hotels and credit cards have been proactive to announce how they will handle specific credit card benefits or elite qualifying opportunities that you may miss out on because of the current circumstances and travel bans. A few of these I’ve seen include:

  • Chase is offering certain Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders a $100 credit toward the new $550 annual fee. Those with account renewal dates between April 1 and July 1, 2020 are eligible for the $100 annual fee credit. The $550 annual fee will resume for these cardholders in 2021.
  • Marriott has paused point expiration until February 2021. And any free-night certificates earned on co-branded cards – like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card – expected to expire in 2020 have been extended until Jan. 31, 2021.
  • Hilton is extending elite status to existing Hilton Honors members by a year. So, those who earned elite status in 2019 have received an extension through March 31, 2021. Members who earned elite status in 2020 will now be extended until March 31, 2022.
  • Alaska Airlines has extended its elite benefits through Dec. 31, 2021. Also, any Companion Passes that are set to expire this year (an annual benefit for cardholders of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card) will be extended to Dec. 31, 2020 for travel through Nov. 26, 2021.

See related: Airline, hotel loyalty programs extending perks for members through coronavirus

I anticipate most of the hotel groups and airlines will eventually make some type of concession for missed opportunities. In the meantime, if you’re curious about a benefit you have, you can do your own research or reach out directly.

This week, I realized that the expiration date of the annual free night I get at any IHG property as a benefit of my IHG Rewards card from Chase was getting close. Because there was no public statement from IHG or Chase that these certificates would be automatically extended, I messaged the @IHGrewards account on Twitter to confirm my extension on my personal case.

4. Consolidate your travel vouchers

If you’ve already had to cancel travel, it’s likely you’re sitting on some vouchers, cancellation codes and pending refunds. Use this travel-free time to consolidate that information into one place so you can find it easily when future you needs it for travel planning.

I’m using a Google doc to record the details:

  • The original booking information (flight number or hotel confirmation).
  • What was offered to me (voucher, re-booking credit, refund, etc.).
  • A link or note of where the information exists (and if there is a cancellation code).
  • The expiration date of the credit/ voucher.

5. Check your refund status and monitor your credit card bill

It’s important to carefully check your credit card statements over the next months (if this isn’t already a habit) to make sure you get any expected refunds.

You’ll also want to make sure you aren’t accidentally auto-charged for any bookings you’ve canceled, as systems and humans working beyond capacity are prone to error.

Looking through my own credit card bills, I recently found a charge for a hotel reservation I’d canceled a month prior. A glitch in the reservation system auto-charged me the full room rate on what would have been my day of checkout. I did get reimbursed after emailing the cancellation confirmation to the hotel – but this would have been a $200 error if I hadn’t been checking my charges against my cancellations list.

While counting your points, tallying your travel vouchers and reassessing your credit cards aren’t the most exciting quarantine activities, they will most positively pay better dividends than binging another Netflix series. Sort out your accounts this week – I promise it will pay off in preparing you for future travel.

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