Choosing Your Best Rewards Card If Your Travel Is Grounded

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It makes a lot of sense to bulk up on miles right now. You’ll be well-positioned to take some great trips once we’re all flying again. And I expect that planes will have a lot of empty seats for awhile which should be great for the best award pricing.

My strong view is that frequent flyer miles in major airline programs are very safe. However for extra security it can make sense to focus more on bank programs.

  • Major banks are probably stronger than the major airlines

  • Their programs that let you transfer to a variety of frequent flyer programs offer an additional hedge compared to having miles in one program.


Three currently worth highlighting, I think, are:

  1. Chase Sapphire Reserve® offers an initial bonus to earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

    Ongoing spend will earn 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. Uber counts and I’m relying on those charges a bit more than usual lately. Spend also earns 3X points on dining charged by restaurants. I feel good these days giving restaurants money when I can, and getting rewarded for it. And cardmembers can get a complimentary DashPass subscription from DoorDash after activating by 12/31/21. Plus they’ve added some 2020-specific benefits because of the current travel and spending environment.

    When the time comes to redeem you can take your points and transfer them to a variety of airlines and hotel programs, or use your points at 1.5 cents apiece towards travel through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

    • Airlines: United MileagePlus, British Airways Executive Club, Air France KLM Flying Blue, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Iberia Plus, Aer Lingus AerClub, Emirates Skywards
    • Hotels: World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club

  2. American Express® Gold Card gives you 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar for spending with restaurants worldwide. That’s great for those takeout orders. And for cooking at home 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases) is great as well.

    Points transfer to:

    • Star Alliance: Aeroplan, ANA, Singapore, Avianca
    • oneworld: AsiaMiles, British Airways, Iberia, Qantas
    • SkyTeam: Aeromexico, Alitalia, Air France KLM, Delta
    • Non-alliance: Etihad, Emirates, El Al, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic
    • Hotels: Choice, Hilton, Marriott

    This is a $250 annual fee card (see rates and fees).

    Emirates First Class Shower Spa

  3. If you just aren’t wanting to build up points on the assumption that you’re going to use them for travel, or you’d rather hold cash right now, I think the best strategy by far which gives you great flexibility is to focus on the no annual fee Citi® Double Cash Card.

    • 2% cash back
    • Can also be 2 Thank You Rewards points
    • Which, if you have (or get later) a premium Citi card like Premier or Prestige will also transfer to a variety of airline mileage programs.

    You can earn very strong cash while still giving yourself the flexibility to choose airline miles later. I think that’s really compelling in the current environment.

What’s your card strategy right now, and what would you consider getting or moving to?

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. Current situation: 150,000 flying blue miles, 375,000 alaska miles + a solid and always growing stash of AMEX MR. Future airfare redemptions taken care of.

    Current strategy: Continue to earn MR and UR, but also shift some spend to Hilton Aspire (especially during current promo, Hyatt card and to a lesser extent Marriott.

    I’m fairly low on hotel points as I’ve burned a ton on pricey redemptions (Ventana Big Sur, Ritz + St Regis).

    Common sense approach that is tailored to my individual situation and future plans.

  2. Why would anyone change strategy? This is short term thinking. Eventually people will travel again and will leverage points for good value.

    Better advice would be to dump card with high AF and perks that are currently useless, and continue accumulation of useful currencies.

    Fidelity 2% cash back card is also a good option for those who prefer cash. Currently 3% for online orders.

  3. Most of my travel is with united and Hyatt, so I am to heavily invested in sapphire rewards.

    I’ve had the Citi prestige for awhile, but only really used it for 4th night free. But in order to diversify, I’ve been ordering all of my restaurant take out using it to get 5x points.

    I figure that travel domestically might happen for us before international, and hopefully the transfer from Citi to Turkish will be a winner.

  4. I would say that the Citi Premier Card is going to leap in front of everyone with 3x on Travel, 3x on gas, 3x on dining and 3x on grocery stores. This will start on August 22.

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