How Much Credit Card Spending Has Fallen, From Two People Who Know

On Discover’s earnings call CEO Roger Hochschild revealed how much spending on Discover Cards is down so far this month,

So far in April, everyday sales are down 14% year-over-year. Discretionary spend is down 33%, driven by the travel category, which, although only 8% of cardholder spending, is down 99%, and by retail, which is down 11%.

American Express chief executive Stephen Squeri told a similar story last week,

Cardholders’ spending has stabilised in April at levels more than 20 per cent below the pre-crisis norm, the company said. Much of the decline is linked to travel and entertainment, which makes up almost a third of spending on Amex cards and is down 95 per cent. 

…The company said 845,000 customers had enrolled in its pandemic relief program, which allows for payment deferrals without penalty.

Two months ago I said we were already in recession and just didn’t know it yet. I don’t think we’re going to get out of this recession quickly. But even when we do, the Amex CEO says that the growth in more work-from-home will mean less business travel going forward.

On Friday, Amex Chief Executive Stephen Squeri noted that the development of remote-work capabilities could become a long-term drag on business travel.

“There will be less of those trips that are needed. And so I think you will see an inevitable decline in probably air travel,” Mr. Squeri said. He said consumer travel may rebound faster.

Travel spend won’t lead us out of the recession, it may lag even when the economy begins to recover.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. The other side of this is that credit cards are likely under-reporting the amount spend is down. I see people all over the place talking about avoiding cash as it is much less sanitary than credit, many shuttered services were cash only (such as hairstylists), and delivery/takeout apps either don’t take cash or strongly push a credit card payment option (compared to restaurants who would push cash as the preferred payment).

    It’s likely that a greater percentage of spend is on cards now, even if the total amount of spend is down. If that’s the case, the numbers are even worse than this portrays.

  2. When the recovery comes it’s going to be jobless as well. Automation is slowly taking more and more of the jobs. Yet we’re still allowing 200k H1B’s visas for big business.

  3. It would be interesting to know whether this is net (sales minus refunds) or gross spend on travel as there were tons of refunds issued in the past couple of months due to cancellations and refund waivers. While travel spend is obviously significantly down, if they are talking net spend then it may be skewed a bit.

  4. Wouldn’t it make sense that spending hasn’t fallen that much considering some people are using their credit cards to stay afloat? IMHO spend likely would have tanked more if people weren’t using credit cards to finance their expenditures if they are out of work.

    I pay off my credit card balances every month (and luckily haven’t been impacted by all the job losses) and I know my spending is down significantly mainly due to the fact that we are on lockdown and it’s actually more difficult to spend money when you are home. Spend on food delivery costs is around 25% of what I would normally spend going out to eat at nicer restaurants.

  5. I was talking to a (non-fast-food) restaurant owner in southern Sweden yesterday and was told their restaurants have seen a 40% decline in business compared to last year.

    I am curious to find out what some fast food franchise owners in Sweden have to say about their business.

    Domestic business travel expenditures are down very substantially in Sweden with hotels desperate to get whatever they can get from the local market.

  6. From the MS credit card spending perspective, purchases here are down 86%. And this does not consider cards now having positive balances from cancelled flights and cruises. MS spending for April will be the lowest in 37 years.

  7. I’ve said that many times in the past, that a lot of business travel is completely unnecessary. I think going forward more food/restaurant ordering will be via apps/websites. While I’m a tech person, I’m also lazy (like most people) so I get stuck in various habits. Well now I use Chick Fil A’s mobile ordering and curbside delivery. Enter my order before I leave the house. Pull into a parking spot and enter the number of the spot into the app and out comes my food.

    Unfortunately many restaurants either aren’t setup for drive through since they are sit down restaurants or simply are inefficient compared to a well run company (with its own set of issues) like Chick Fil A. We have a Culvers nearby and while they are trying, they are failing at adaption. They don’t have numbered spaces or sign posts (despite an empty lot), want to give you a number to hold onto (who wants to hold onto anything that you don’t really need), tell you just to drive up and wait in a congested/unorganized line of cars/trucks.

    We’ll see the good companies come out of this in better shape for the future and the other struggle and/or go bankrupt. And often it is the privately held companies (Chick Fil A, In n Out, etc.) that seem most capable of adapting quickly.

  8. Although our air carriers have switched to requiring credit cards for food/beverage purchases en flight, Amtrak still has done nothing to stem its persistent lack of cash controls. At one time, discussion was on bar-coding all items to be purchased. Later, a POS IT system was contemplated. Today, still nothing.

    The latest is to a proposal to require credit cards for all purchases in the dining car (meals comped for sleeping car passengers) and cafe car, directed at the coach passengers. The lack of marketing intel is evident here given how many people who travel in coach do not have bank accounts, let alone credit cards. By the time Amtrak ever figured this out, we’ll have colonies on Mars.

  9. @Nick- yes, all those retail clerks are having their jobs stolen by Indian programmers…

    As Rich points out, the businesses that innovate will thrive, so the countries that encourage innovation, however disruptive, will be the ones that succeed. Protectionist barriers will lead to nothing but stagnant economies.

  10. Good article; I pay my Bills every month in-full; and did NOT know Amex offered a deferral without interest or penalties. I may share this info. with my subscribers. YOU have done a series of good reports during this crisis, as contrasted to just click-bait card solicitations, and I hope other also appreciate it!

Comments are closed.