For travelers, more of the world opened up (and personal comfort levels relaxed) with the advent of vaccines, though policies and protocols changed so frequently that traveling was still a challenge. Still, the hope of getting back out there carried many people through.
The upcoming year looks to be another mixed basket but with a handful of silver linings. For one thing, your miles and point balances might be flusher than they’ve ever been before after a year of best-ever promotions and offers. As another, we’re seeing more offers and credits being added as credit card perks even for existing cardholders, providing more value for your loyalty. With a stockpile of benefits at your disposal, along with these travel tips, 2022 is looking brighter than ever.
Take Stock of Your Annual Reward Nights
Let’s give credit where credit is due. For the second year in a row, many banks and hotel chains have extended status and other benefits even when you didn’t necessarily re-qualify by the published criteria. Hotel chains like IHG and Marriott have extended some free night certificates, knowing that you may not have had the chance to use them.
Chances are, you might have a night or two lingering in your account that you thought was a lost cause. Sign into your loyalty accounts to see what remains and be sure to redeem them while you can, if only for a staycation. In fact, this year may bring more options than normal. Certificates with an extended expiration may overlap with new certificates you earn this year, letting you stay for multiple nights instead of one if you play your cards right.
Re-Read Your Card Benefits Guide
Credit cards of all types are bundling new benefits. The The Platinum Card® from American Express (Terms apply, see rates and fees) now offers nearly $1,500 in assorted credits (enrollment may be required), many of which are new and may have gone overlooked. Though other cards don’t take it that extreme, you’ll also find new credits on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which now offers a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit.
You’ll want to go over all changes—good and bad—to make sure you know what you’re entitled to and what old credits have been replaced by something new. Make a note of everything you have access to and its associated timeframe: some credits are monthly, others semi-annually and others may be once per year. For annual credits, you’ll also want to keep track of which ones are calculated by the calendar year and which are based on your membership year so that nothing expires before you can use it.
Organize Your Wallet
Travel (and lifestyles in general) have changed, potentially in permanent ways. Remote work makes long-term travel a possibility for some while others may have learned that they love new styles of travel like RVing. Are the points you’re earning a match for your updated travel plans? Would a product change make sense for you or are you better off with a new card?
The “best” rewards are dynamic, even under normal circumstances, as life commitments and priorities change. The past year or two has sped that up even more. Domestic redemptions, like earning the Southwest Companion Pass, might make more sense for your family and you might want to take a second look at Wyndham Rewards now that they partner with Vacasa vacation rentals and are a transfer partner of Capital One.
In addition to the types of points you earn, the new year is a good time to take a look at the bonus categories that most closely match your spending. A card that offers bonuses on gas purchases might make more sense if you’ve returned to your daily commute, especially as prices at the pump rise. Someone spending more time at home might look for a card that offers bonuses on streaming services.
Flexibility is King
As much as we hate to admit it, travel is still far from a certainty as cases rise again and not everyone knows precisely what trips they’ll be taking in the year ahead. If this describes you, consider a two word mantra: Flexible Points. Instead of earning hotel or airline miles, you might do better in the long run moving your spending to cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, Capital One miles or even cash back.
Even if the rate isn’t the highest, earning transferable points allows you to find the best redemptions in the future when you’re actually ready to book rather than having to commit months or a year in advance. Trading maximizing every point for leeway in redemption could well be worth the trade-off.
Don’t Leave Awards and Benefits for the Last Minute
It’s all too easy to leave your included benefits and freebies untouched all year long only to scramble at the end of the year to use benefits up. Don’t let that be you in 2022. Since you’ve already taken stock of the certificates, rewards and perks on your accounts, make a plan to use them well in advance.
Since travel options are still waffling, there’s an unfortunate chance that even the best-made intentions end up changing. If you make plans to redeem a credit early in the year and later have to cancel your plans, you’ll still have another chance to redeem it before the deadline. Procrastinating doesn’t provide that same safety net and may result in forfeiting your credits by default.