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The travel world as we knew it won’t be back for some time and credit card issuers had to zig and zag their way through 2020 to bring value to customers in the new normal. We saw things like the addition of Peloton partnerships, travel credits used at grocery stores, discounted streaming services and even credit statements for Dell products.
Why stop there? As travel hopes to slowly rebound in 2021, credit card companies would be smart to continue to find new ways to improve the value of their travel cards. With that said, as NerdWallet travel writers, here are new credit card perks we’d like to see come to fruition in 2021:
Sam Kemmis: Figure out the unsolved puzzles
Vacation rental benefits
When will credit cards crack the vacation rental puzzle? Granted, Airbnb owes much of its success to shaking up the established travel world, including eschewing traditional models like rewards and credit card partnerships, but it’s time someone figured out how to bridge this gap.
As a digital nomad, I generally spend far more on vacation rentals than traditional hotel rooms, yet my credit cards do very little beyond earning a few points. Even a category spending bonus from one of my cards would shake up this paradigm.
Who knows when I’ll be able to really “travel” in 2021, but when that time comes, I’m going to want a massage. I find it strange that so few travel credit cards offer perks for spas, fitness classes and other wellness activities.
Some cards did offer meditation app subscriptions in 2020, which was a welcome and interesting benefit, but this felt more like a way to promote these apps than a true wellness-inspired offering.
Nobody knows more about my preferences than my credit cards, which track nearly every dollar I spend. So when Chase pops into my inbox with an offer like, “Save 20% at the Olive Garden,” I’m appalled.
Don’t you know I’m a snob, Chase?
Frankly, I wish credit card issuers would get a little smarter with that wealth of data they have collected on me, and stop sending me offers and promotions that couldn’t possibly interest me.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Elina Geller: More international perks
Uber and Uber Eats purchases
Several higher end American Express cards offer annual credits for Uber rides or Uber Eats, and I have long considered getting one of them. However, these credits apply only to U.S. purchases, which has always been confusing to me because Uber and Uber Eats are available worldwide. As a result of the exclusion of international purchases, the annual credits (which can be worth hundreds of dollars) aren’t as useful to me because I spend a lot of time outside the U.S.
Grocery store bonuses on AmEx cards
American Express grocery/supermarket bonus categories are also currently restricted to U.S. purchases. As someone who mostly lives abroad, these supermarket bonus points (4 to 10 points per dollar) are not available to me, leaving me to earn the standard 1 point per dollar spent. The lack of bonus points earned in this category is definitely a gap in my points and miles finances, and I would love to see an option added for those of us living (or traveling frequently) outside the U.S.
If AmEx would include global Uber and supermarket purchases, it would make their cards significantly more appealing.
» Learn more: The best cards for groceries right now
Sally French: Innovative credits
A staycation credit
Wouldn’t it be nice if credit card companies found a way to encourage us to spend money on travel without going much beyond our cities? With air travel down for the foreseeable future, it would be interesting if airline incidental credits transitioned into a staycation credit: say, $100 credit toward a hotel within 100 miles of your address.
That would give hotels much-needed business while avoiding out-of-state travel. For consumers, it would be a chance to experience the fancy hotel downtown that you’ve always been curious about but haven't since your own bed is just a couple of miles away. Sure, actually executing this kind of credit would be a logistical nightmare, but I’m just the idea person.
Rollover travel statement credits
For credit cards that offer airline incidental or hotel resort credits, I’d like to see them roll over to the next year, so people don’t feel pressured to travel until it’s safe. I see this as a win for credit card companies too, as you’d have to continue holding (and paying annual fees on) your card to allow you to maintain those rolled over credits. Even a simple one-year rollover would go a long way to helping travelers.
An outdoors statement credit
One of the great trends of 2020 has been an increase in getting outdoors and experiencing nature. Many national parks, state parks and campgrounds charge entrance fees, so it would be delightful for credit cards to offer a statement credit covering those.
So many cards offer TSA Precheck or Global Entry benefits that weren't really necessary in 2020, which presents an opportunity to swap those out. Perhaps an $80 outdoors credit would be apt. That’s the cost of an America the Beautiful Pass, which covers entrance fees for a year at federal recreation sites including national parks.
» Learn more: The best hotel credit cards right now
The bottom line
There’s no shortage of ideas for what the next batch of new credit card perks and benefits could entail. How credit card issuers adapt in 2021 could have a significant effect on what cards customers sign up for, keep or cancel.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card