Your End-of-Year Travel Rewards Checklist

Some limited-time credit card benefits that were introduced during the pandemic are expiring at the end of 2020.
Meghan Coyle
By Meghan Coyle 
Edited by Jeanette Margle
Your End-of-Year Travel Rewards Checklist

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The end of this bizarre year is approaching. Your 2020 credit card strategy may have fallen by the wayside after you did some wallet reassessment in April or May, when you realized it might be ages until you can travel again. But before we declare this year over, now is a good time to make sure that you don’t miss out on some important travel perks.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, hotels instituted better cleaning policies, airlines abandoned change fees permanently and credit card issuers offered new bonuses to align with people’s changed spending habits. Some of these changes are here to stay, and might make travel better in the long run. Others are short-term, meant to help people get through what we thought would be only a few weeks of staying at home.

But months have passed, and some of these credit card and travel offers are due to expire. Here are a few limited-time promotions and annual benefits you should check before kissing 2020 goodbye.

Use your annual travel credits for other expenses

Travel credits can play a big part in offsetting your travel card’s annual fee. For example, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has an annual fee of $149, but the $75 yearly Southwest travel credit that comes with the card essentially cuts the cost in half. Purchase a flight for later in 2021 so it doesn’t go to waste. With Southwest’s flexible policies, you can always cancel later and convert it to a travel credit.

Southwest is also offering a unique option to allow people with unused travel credits, including those that were earned from a canceled trip, to convert the funds to Rapid Rewards points (which never expire). You must convert your points by Dec. 15, 2020.

Also, check whether your card’s travel credit can be used for other expenses. Through the end of the year, the Chase Sapphire Reserve®’s $300 annual travel credit can be applied to purchases at gas stations and grocery stores, too.

Additionally, a variety of American Express cards have annual $100 airline credits that you don’t want to let go to waste. If you have one of those cards, you may be able to purchase items now, for use in 2021, to trigger the credit. Lounge passes, award flights (charge the taxes and fees to your AmEx) and sometimes even super-cheap flights (under $100) will be considered for the credit. AmEx credits can be hit-and-miss, so give yourself time to see what works and what doesn’t, and don’t buy anything you can’t afford if the credit isn’t triggered.

Double-check the expiration dates of any free night certificates

Many hotel credit cards offer annual free nights as part of their benefits, including the IHG One Rewards Premier Credit Card, the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Terms apply. If you had free night certificates to use this year, you likely have an extension to redeem them through next year.

Marriott, for example, extended the deadline of free night awards that expired in 2020 to Aug. 1, 2021. The change to the expiration date should show in your Marriott Bonvoy account on Dec. 11, 2020, but it’s a good idea to check in later in December to make sure the system registered the change correctly, and call customer service if it did not. For other hotel brands, log in to your account and make note of the new expiration date so you don’t forget about it in 2021.

Take advantage of end-of-year offers for your specific card

Here’s where things get a bit more hairy. On top of the normal idiosyncrasies of a specific card’s benefits, issuers also announced special offers during the pandemic that sometimes apply to one card or a whole family of cards.

The Platinum Card® from American Express, for example, has some standard calendar year benefits to be aware of:

  • $15 Uber Cash per month, which can be used for rides or food delivery orders (in December, members get an additional $20 of Uber Cash).

  • An annual credit of $100 for Saks Fifth Avenue purchases (only $50 remains eligible for the July-December time frame). Make sure to enroll if you haven’t used it all and want to take advantage of it for the holidays.

  • An opportunity to earn a statement credit or a complimentary night with qualifying AmEx Travel Fine Hotels + Resorts purchases.

Terms apply.

And all of that is just for one card. Other cards are offering similar calendar year deals:

Holders of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card can earn an extra 6 points per $1 spent at Amazon, Walmart and Target, on up to $3,500 in purchases through Dec. 27, 2020. Terms apply.

World of Hyatt Credit Card has a special deal going too. From Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, 2020, cardholders can get 5 points per $1 spent at and 3 points per $1 spent at grocery stores, on up to a combined total of $1,500 in purchases per month. Activation is required.

There are all sorts of other examples of temporary benefit changes on credit cards, from extra rewards on dining and groceries to the ability to redeem your points for rewards other than travel.

No need to worry about elite status requirements

The end-of-year rush to elite status qualification used to be something of a rite of passage for avid travelers. It’s mostly moot at this point in the pandemic because nearly all of the hotels and airlines have reduced the qualification requirements and extended elite members’ status through at least next year. But it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the policies and find out how quickly you might need to ramp up when travel resumes again.

The bottom line

Even in a pandemic-stricken year, take a few minutes to look at all your travel cards and do some quick research to ensure you’re not missing any perks or benefits with December 2020 expiration dates. This will help you maximize your cards’ value in 2020 as you prepare for travel in 2021 … whenever that may be.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.

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 2024, including those best for:

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