Turkey Day Takes: The Points and Travel Developments I’m Thankful For in 2021

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The Points and Travel News I’m Most Thankful For in 2021

There’s seemingly never a dull moment in our points and travel hobby, and I’d have it no other way.  I’d rather be presented with too many options than not enough.  I can always filter out certain hobby opportunities to focus on the best ones for our situation, but creating new ones isn’t as easy.  And so it goes in 2021 so far.  I’ve enjoyed many new hobby developments in 2021, but today I’m sharing the points and travel news I’m most thankful for this year.  Let’s dive in!

Citi Juices Its Travel Partner List

American Airlines

From my perspective, Citi’s improvements are the biggest and most welcome surprise of the year.  Sure, they devalued a useful, but relatively niche, Citi Travel Portal redemption method, but they’ve more than made up for that.  Citi introduced American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner earlier this year, albeit temporarily.  Nonetheless, Citi was fairly generous with this option, giving us four months to earn and transfer more ThankYou points.  To many, this may be the biggest Citi improvement of the year.  We only transferred a few thousand points over to American, more for the novelty than anything.  Regardless, I think this transfer opportunity was a great chance for many hobbyists to obtain a new value from their ThankYou points.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Citi bring back these transfers again, temporarily or permanently.  Either way, I’ll be appreciative.

Points and Travel
Source: Choice Hotels.

Hotel Partners, At Last!

More significantly for our situation, my wife and I are loving Choice Hotels as a new Citi transfer partner.  Most specifically, we enjoy the 1 ThankYou point to 2 Choice point transfer ratio.  The brand fits great with our current family travel style, and opportunities exist for excellent redemption returns.

More recently, Citi added Wyndham as a 1:1 transfer partner.  While I’m less enthused at this rate, I applaud Citi for strengthening its hotel partner stable.  Their new whopping total of two partners is much better than the big donut before.  Many will find Wyndham transfers to be a useful option, even if it’s just to top off an account for a handy redemption.

With American, Choice, and Wyndham, I think Citi addressed its biggest weakness – its dearth of domestic transfer partners.

Points and Travel

Cash

Let’s not forget that soon after removing the ThankYou portal extra value, Citi introduced direct 1 cent per point (cpp) cashout for Premier cardholders.  Prestige cardholders previously had this option, but Premier eligibility makes cashout a more feasible option for a wider base of Citi cardholders.  Other mechanisms already existed to cash out at 1 cpp, but this new option is much more user-friendly.

Putting It All Together

I’d like to illustrate how far Citi has come with an example.  A few weeks ago, I made four different Citi redemptions in the same night – American, Choice, JetBlue (for Amtrak), and cashout.  A year ago, I never would have remotely considered Citi offering me this collection of opportunities.  Bravo, Citi!

Amex Expands the Rewards Landscape Yet Again

Enough about Citi – Amex is still my favorite card issuer.  Historically, I believe so for many reasons.  This year, though, they’ve somehow managed to improve even more.  One huge way is one we’re currently benefitting from – their newer trend of referral offers.  Specifically, Amex is giving us an additional 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent up to $25k for three months when someone applies using an eligible referral link.  Some cards, like the Business Platinum, also provide a 15k point referral bonus on top of that spending offer.  Yes, please, and I’ll have seconds!

Points and Travel
Image courtesy of American Express.

Amex has also expanded their benefits for personal and business Platinum cardholders.  Some can’t get past that Amex raised the annual fees, even though the benefits outweigh the fee for many (including us).  Amex immediately offered the increased benefits, but many existing cardholders won’t be subject to the higher annual fees until 2023 (the end of next year for some).  With a bit of attention, personal Platinum cardholders can max out more good stuff like digital entertainment credits and the $200 hotel credit.  Business cardholders get $200 more to spend at Dell and $120 in wireless credits, among other things.

Amex devalued my primary redemption method, cashout via Schwab, from 1.25 to 1.1 cpp.  Meanwhile, I more than mitigate this devaluation with the remarkable ease of earning Membership Rewards via ever-present welcome offers, referral bonuses, Amex offers, and temporary promos.

Chase Keeps Pay Yourself Back on Life Support

When Chase introduced Pay Yourself Back feature in mid 2020, I welcomed the opportunity to cash out at 1.5 cpp.  After all, I’d been cashing out at 1 cpp for years.  Chase rewarded me 50% more for doing something I was already doing.  Nonetheless, Pay Yourself Back has always been portrayed by Chase as temporary.  Sure, they extend it and tweak the categories, but I always manage my expectations with this redemption method.

The good news is Pay Yourself Back is hanging on for Sapphire Preferred and Reserve cardholders through March 2022 (at least).  The bad news is the categories are less useful for many.  I found just enough Pay Yourself Back opportunity to bother upgrading back to the Reserve.  I’m happy for this opportunity, but I shouldn’t have been surprised in its negative trend.  After all, Chase has bored me for a good while now.

Travel Inches Back in the Direction of Normal

I must acknowledge how thankful I am that travel is starting to slightly trend a bit more toward normal for us.  That’s not saying much, but I’ll take this over the alternative.  Indeed, we’ve taken our first substantial trips since the beginning of the pandemic, albeit via car.  We’re burning free night certificates and enjoying it.  In a few weeks, I’ll step on a plane for the first time in almost two years.  We’re planning other trips now with the intention of actually going on them.  These are small wins.  To borrow a line from Vanilla Sky, it’s the little things – there’s nothing bigger.

High Spend Methods Evolve

For active points and travel hobbyists, lucrative earning opportunities abound.  While some methods have died, some old, reliable ones are alive and well.  And, more importantly, with a bit of effort, creativity, luck, and/or networking, new opportunities have appeared for many of us.  I’m thankful for all of these options, big and little.  I look forward to discovering what’s next.

Conclusion

I’m truly blessed, and my success in our shared hobby is just one example.  I periodically remind myself to give back a bit of what I receive.  It’s the least I can do.  This Thanksgiving, I encourage each of you to reflect on the positives of our silly little points and miles infatuation, in addition to all the more important stuff in life.  I’ll be doing so.  What points and travel news are you most thankful for this year?

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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