By Jason Steele


5 Min. To Read

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In the competitive rewards card arena, we are seeing issuers being more generous than ever with their sign-up bonuses, rewards earning structures, and other perks surrounding cards catered to travel rewards. For edition #48 of our Expert Roundups, Jason Steele asks a panel of experts the following:

What do you think is the number one trend in award travel right now, and why?

Elina Geller - Travel rewards expert at NerdWallet specializing in airline and hotel loyalty programs

A big trend that I'm seeing lately are tiered signup bonuses on credit cards that are matched with equally high minimum spend requirements. For example the following cards:

1) The Business Platinum® Card from American Express 100K offer. 50k points after spending $10k, 50k after spending an additional $15k, all within 3 months.

2) United℠ Explorer Business Card 100K offer. 50k miles after spending $3k in 3 months; additional 50k after spending a total of $25k, within 6 months.

3) British Airways Visa Signature® Card100K offer. 50k miles after spending $3k in 3 months; additional 50k after spending a total of $20k, within the first year.

I think credit card issuers are trying to better understand cardholders to find new ways to incentivize them to use their card for everyday expenses. A tiered approach offers ongoing rewards to those cardholders, beyond just the initial signup bonus.

Holly Johnson - Co-Founder of Club Thrifty

As more and more airline loyalty programs switch away from fixed award charts and toward dynamic pricing, consumers are learning it pays to focus more on flexible points. A lot of former airline loyalists I know have stopped pursuing elite status too, mainly because they want to be flexible in their travel plans and go with whatever airline offers the best pricing in miles for the flight they want.

It can make sense to rack up flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards if you need more flexibility in your travel plans. These programs let you transfer points to multiple airlines in different alliances, whereas earning airline miles with one airline leaves you with fewer options over all. Dynamic award pricing has thrown a wrench in many people's awards strategies since it is becoming more and more difficult to know how many miles you'll need for an award flight. With flexible points, you can assess all your options and decide on the best deal before you book.

John Ganotis - Founder of Credit Card Insider

A big trend in award travel is more ability to transfer points to travel partners. Late last year, we saw Capital One add the ability to transfer points on some of its popular travel cards. Recently, Citi started allowing cardholders of their popular Double Cash card to convert cash back into ThankYou points, which can be a path to turning what was just cash back into award travel through point transfers on other Citi cards.

Jason Steele - Credit card expert and Founder of the credit card media conference CardCon

I think the growth of credit card rewards is outpacing the devaluation of airline miles and hotel points. Every few months, we hear that a credit card will now be offering double, triple or even more points per dollar. And while the airlines and hotels will also increase the number of points and miles required for awards, I think it isn’t making up for the better rewards that we receive as credit card users.

Of course, it’s not always the case. Delta awards can cost far more miles than they used to, but their credit card rewards have hardly kept up. But when you’re able to earn a large amounts of Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards, it will outpace the increase in cost of many of their airline and hotel transfer partners.

Sarah Silbert - Editor for Business Insider's Personal Finance Vertical

A big trend is airline co-branded credit cards adding new benefits that go beyond airline perks, especially bonus miles on spending categories other than just airfare. American and United had already made incremental improvements to their credit cards, and Delta was the latest to announce an overhaul. Starting in 2020, its cards will offer bonus miles on purchases like restaurants and US supermarkets, and some cards will offer Delta flight credits to cardholders who meet annual spending requirements.

Some travelers may prefer the simplicity of earning rewards with a specific airline or hotel loyalty program, especially if they're not well-versed in the process of using transferable points like Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points. But with the growing mainstream popularity of cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Gold, consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about using travel rewards and maximizing their spending. As a result, issuers are realizing that co-branded credit cards need to pull their weight with incentives that keep cardholders using these products not just for flight purchases, but for everyday spending.

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