The beginning of a new year is always a good time to rethink your travel rewards strategy—but never more so than 2021.

With the travel industry experiencing continued disruption from the coronavirus pandemic and hamstrung vaccine rollouts threatening to extend border closures even longer than expected, airlines and hotels are offering unprecedented deals to secure business (and loyalty) in the months to come.

The industry-wide uncertainty makes for unique considerations in the points and miles game.

First, it’s easier than ever to amass points. Second, there’s value in spending them—even if it’s with speculative travel plans. Finally, don’t get bogged down in the elite-status game. Most airlines and hotels have extended the expiration dates of their points, elite status, and other perks such as upgrades and free reward night certificates by several months, or even a year. All of that gives you some breathing room to put them to use later on. In the meantime you can play the field and maximize your rewards in other ways.

Here are some of the questions to ask and the steps to take, whether you are already sitting on a store of airline miles and hotel points, or just getting into the loyalty game.

Take advantage of historic credit card deals
Consumer spending has both shrunk and shifted in the past year—less entertainment and travel, more home improvement and grocery purchases—leading many to reconsider which plastic is in their wallet.

To attract new customers, issuers began offering some of the highest sign-up bonuses ever for travel rewards cards: 80,000 points for the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred and 100,000 miles for the Capital One Venture Rewards card, for instance. Banks also attempted to retain existing cardholders by adding new bonus categories and statement credits to certain cards.

“This is a great time to look at what cards are available, and think about a 6-to-12-month strategy that mixes large sign-up bonuses along with cards that are going to be great for your everyday use,” says Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director of the Points Guy.

The Platinum Card from American Express is a perfect example. The card fields an unparalleled roster of travel-related perks, including Gold elite status with both Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors, $200 in airline incidental fee credits each year, a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application credit, and access to Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs, and Priority Pass lounges at airports.

To compensate for the fact that these benefits are less relevant in the midst of a pandemic, Amex is currently offering one of the Platinum Card’s most lucrative introductory bonuses ever: 75,000 bonus points after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months, plus 10 points per dollar on up to $15,000 of purchases at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations within the first six months. Maxing those out would yield 230,000 bonus points—enough for multiple international business or first class tickets if used smartly.

“They’re trying as hard as possible to say that, yes, there’s still value in a card that costs you $550 per year, even if you’re not traveling,” says Mayerowitz.

In addition to its usual bonus categories of dining and travel, the Chase Sapphire

Reserve now earns three points per dollar (instead of the usual one) on up to $1,000 of grocery purchases each month through April 30 in addition to its normal bonus categories of travel and dining. Other new benefits include DoorDash, Grubhub, and Peloton discounts, and the (temporary) ability to spend the $300 in annual travel credits on groceries or gas—a way to let members amass points for future trips while retaining relevance now.

These types of perks have also been rolled out among specific airline and hotel co-branded cards, which typically only earn bonus miles or points per dollar on spending with their particular company. If you haven’t already, log into your credit card account and check which offers you can leverage to earn a hoard of points for future trips.

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