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Strange as it may sound, many travel credit cards are now offering valuable nontravel perks and benefits. Indeed, some of these cards are worth considering even if you don’t plan to travel in the near future.
How did this happen? When the pandemic began and travelers began canceling their trips wholesale, the travel credit card industry scrambled to offer short-term perks to dissuade these travelers from canceling or downgrading their cards. As the pandemic dragged on and the prospect of world travel became more and more unlikely, these cards began competing with one another to offer the best nontravel benefits, often while maintaining their original travel perks.
» Learn more: Best travel credit cards
It’s hard to keep track of this quickly evolving landscape, and to separate the benefits that offer real value during the pandemic. Here we identify three cards that offer the best value for would-be travelers who are stuck at home.
This premium card’s huge $550 annual fee meant it was going to be first on the chopping block during the pandemic if it didn’t make some major changes. But that’s exactly what American Express did, adding these benefits:
Statement credits of $20 per month for select streaming services and $20 per month on mobile phone charges through December 2020. Granted, this benefit is set to expire soon, but American Express could very well extend it as the pandemic continues.
For new cardmembers: 10x points on purchases at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets, up to $15,000, in the first six months of card membership. That’s an unprecedented blanket earning rate on these popular pandemic spending categories.
An increased welcome offer: Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
The Platinum Card® from American Express also carries these benefits, which are still useful during the pandemic:
$15 monthly Uber credit per month ($35 in December), which is usable for Uber Eats.
$50 biannual statement credit at Saks Fifth Avenue.
If used all together, these benefits could outweigh the card’s $550 annual fee and earn many Membership Rewards points for post-pandemic travel. However, if you’re unlikely to use these non-travel benefits, you might as well wait until travel resumes before signing up. Terms apply.
Best for immediate value
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® made a major change this year to make it more pandemic-friendly: The $300 annual “travel credit” can now be used for gas station and grocery store purchases, through June 30, 2021. This takes a huge sting out of the card’s $550 annual fee for almost any stay-at-home cardholder.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve® also carries a temporary 3x earning rate on grocery stores, up to $1,000 per month, through April 30, 2021. This isn’t an earth-shattering bonus, and it’s not set to last long, but it’s a nice bonus.
It’s also offering an extension of its useful “pay yourself back” feature for Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, which lets cardholders use points for statement credit on purchases at grocery stores, restaurants and home improvement stores at a value of 1.5 cents per point. Hopefully, this offer will be extended (again) so that new cardholders can take advantage.
Best for frequent diners
This card was always an odd duck in the travel credit card space, since its primary earning category is dining. Specifically, it earns 4x points at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, but “only” 3x points on flights purchased through American Express Travel. Plus, the card offers a $10 monthly dining credit with food delivery services Grubhub and Seamless. Terms apply.
This focus on dining and groceries, paired with the card's moderate $250 annual fee, made for a smoother transition into the COVID world. In fact, there are few “travel” benefits to this card that would go to waste during the pandemic. Terms apply.
The bottom line
The idea of getting a new travel credit card in the middle of a travel-halting global pandemic might not sound like a great idea. But credit card companies have bent over backwards to offer good reasons to sign up for some of these cards even if you have no plans to leave your home for the foreseeable future.
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:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card