Credit Card Expert Roundup #34 - Have credit card rewards peaked, or do you think they could continue to become more generous in the future?

Jason Steele
March 5, 2019
Jason Steele CardCon

It's not unusual to see extremely consumer-friendly incentivized rewards programs from Black Friday to the end of the year, but will this trend continue through 2019? Jason Steele talks about this in Issue #34 of the Credit Card Reviews Expert Roundup:

"Have credit card rewards peaked, or do you think they could continue to become more generous in the future?"

Michelle L. Black - 16 year credit journalist and founder of Her Credit Matters

There's been speculation in the credit card industry for a while now that credit card rewards have peaked. Some experts even believe that credit card companies will slowly begin to scale back rewards, especially the lucrative sign up bonuses many consumers have come to know and love. However, while I'm not sure consumers should expect to see many bigger offers than those they've enjoyed in the past, I don't think attractive sign up bonuses are going away. Here's why.

First, the credit card market remains competitive. Borrowers with excellent credit (and even those with good credit) have a lot of choices and each card issuer wants to get a big piece of that market share. Card issuers need to stand out and entice consumers to not only open an account, but to use that card as their 'top of wallet' option — aka their credit card of choice for most transactions. Additionally, already in the first two months of 2019 there have continued to be several high-value sign up offers from card issuers, including the Southwest VISA with it's companion pass offer and the new Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express card offer with 100,000 bonus points.

Edward Pizzarello - Business traveler who oversees a venture capital portfolio of companies located around the United States

We are living in the golden age of credit card rewards. The competition between big players like American Express, Capital One and Chase for a share of our wallets is a great boon to customers willing to consider a change. However, we’ve already seen a subtle shift in the way credit card providers reward customers. Popular new products like Chase Sapphire Reserve have seen their sign-up bonus halved.

New and existing cards in the marketplace have improved benefits for customers that hold onto their cards, while restricting how often they can apply for a new card and receive a sign-up bonus. Capital One has rolled out airline transfer partners, while American Express has revamped their Gold charge card to appeal more to folks who spend in areas other than travel.

The game of one-upmanship is great for consumers, but these big banks are public companies. Chase overextended itself on the Sapphire Reserve and publicly commented on the financial hit they would take in relation to the popularity of the roll-out. Chase may not be licking their wounds, but I don’t see big advancements for them in how they reward their customers in the near future.

Credit card companies are reluctant to strip away benefits once customers have placed the card in their wallet. Very few credit card products get retired. That’s a good indication that the happy days of generous rewards aren’t over just yet. However, we’re seeing the best days we can expect for some time

Beverly Harzog - Credit card expert and consumer finance analyst for U.S. News & World Report

The predictions for credit card rewards haven’t been rosy, but that doesn’t mean we’ve hit a plateau with rewards. What we’re seeing is a shift in the focus of rewards. The rewards are targeting lifestyle categories, such as dining and Uber rides. If these credit cards fit your lifestyle, you’re going to earn a lot of rewards. The sign-up bonuses for rewards credit cards, especially the elite cards, will stay pretty healthy.

And cash back credit cards, which have always been the most popular rewards credit cards, are offering generous rewards and often with unique approaches. Credit card issuers have tapped out the high end of the consumer market. We’ll be seeing some credit score changes this year and that will help lift the near-prime consumer into the “approved” category when they apply for some credit cards. This group may not be big spenders, but they spend often and they appreciate cash back rewards for everyday expenses.

Really, if you pick a rewards credit card that matches your spending style, you can max out your rewards. The key to profiting from your credit cards in the current climate? Pick the right rewards credit cards and use them strategically

Matt Schulz - Chief Industry Analyst at CompareCards.com

Have credit card rewards peaked, or do you think they could continue to become more generous in the future?” Have credit card rewards peaked? Like most everything else with credit cards, it depends on who you are and what you're looking for. If you're waiting for a repeat of the Chase Sapphire Reserve phenomenon, then you'll likely be disappointed. However, the truth is that in most other ways, it's still as good a time as it has ever been for credit card rewards. Big travel rewards sign-up bonuses are still out there, and you don't have to have perfect credit to get them. Cash-back bonuses and returns are as good as they've ever been. We're even seeing some transformation in that space to where issuers' best customers can even ramp up their rewards further, depending on what other services they use with the bank. Yes, banks are tightening their lending somewhat. Yes, we won't see the likes of the Sapphire Reserve again anytime soon. But yes, it is also still a really, really good time to shop around for a card.

Jason Steele - Founder of the credit card media conference CardCon as well as a credit card/travel expert.

I think that credit card rewards will continue to become more generous, but perhaps in different ways then before. Clearly, the industry can’t sustain ever increasing reward offers that are now often at 4x or 5x points and as much as 6% cash back. Instead, I think that card issuers will find new ways to reward customers that don’t have a large cost to themselves and their co-branded partners. This could include benefits like free food or wifi when flying, or priority service when traveling. I think you will also see the VIP membership model expanding to retailers and other merchants beyond the travel-sphere.

Angelina Aucello - EWR based travel aficionado and expert.

Historically, there’s been a direct correlation between the economy and the credit card market, and over the last 10 years we’ve seen super-lucrative and generous welcome bonuses (such as the 100,000 point Chase Sapphire Reserve, a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Avios on the British Airways credit card, and targeted American Express Platinum Cards in the 100,000-150,000 point range) and some of the most competitive earnings-structures imaginable such as 5x on dining with the Citi Prestige and a totally-revamped AmEx Gold Card with compelling benefits. In terms of rewards generosity, I don’t think the credit card rewards have peaked. I think the issuers will constantly remain competitive in the race to create the best travel rewards credit cards imaginable. If anything, I think that we will see that annual fees will peak this year as more cardmember benefits become available.

Dia Adams - Travel expert at Traveling Mom

Can both be true at the same time? I think in the short term things will tighten as companies weed out the most un-profitable customers (IE miles and points collectors who get the card for a sign-up bonus but don't use it for ongoing spend). But, like always, the pendulum will swing too far and the banks will realize they've culled too many. When that happens, bonuses will go back up.

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