Prepare for take-off: Mapping out a rewards credit card plan for families in 2021


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If the last year taught travelers anything, it’s that forecasting travel plans proved to be a complicated ordeal due to the ongoing pandemic. The coronavirus pandemic thwarted the vacation plans of hopeful travelers and left them with the aftermath of grappling with airlines, hotels, home-sharing sites and cruise lines for refunds. Moreover, our spending patterns have changed since the start of the pandemic as we’re still spending more time at home and less out on the road, at concerts, in restaurants, etc.

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the U.S. moving along swiftly, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Those itching to travel again in some capacity may soon get their wish. If you’re one of the many families looking to ease back into travel in 2021 and beyond, now may be the right time to assemble a credit card strategy to rack up the rewards needed to cover your future travel expenses.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the best credit cards even in a normal year, there are several tailored suggestions that may align best with your spending habits and near-term travel goals. Here’s a look at which credit card combination might be the right fit for you based on your 2021 plans and travel style.

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In This Post

The staycation family

Since the start of the pandemic in the U.S., plenty of families have opted to quarantine safely and only step foot outside their bubble when necessary. With fewer people traveling and at-home spending patterns altered for the present reality, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express has become one of the most valuable cards to have on hand. The card has a $95 annual fee, waived for the first year (see rates & fees). Take a look at the card’s rewards categories to see why it’s so useful:

  • 6% cash back on U.S. supermarket purchases (capped at $6,000 in purchases each calendar year; then 1%)
  • 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services (includes most popular music and video services)
  • 3% cash back on transit (includes taxis, rideshares, parking, trains, etc.)
  • 3% cash back at U.S. gas stations
  • 1% cash back on everything else

It’s fair to assume most people are spending more on groceries and streaming services to stay sane (and fed).

The whopping 6% return on groceries at U.S. supermarkets offered by the Blue Cash Preferred can net $360 in cash back if you max out the limit. Add the 6% cash back on select U.S. streaming services, and families can even use the cash earnings to stay at a cabin or similar near their home to change up the scenery — or keep more money in their bank account.

If you have a favorite hotel brand and desire a staycation, consider a cobranded hotel credit card, which may include hotel perks such as free night awards, room upgrades and generous bonus points categories. If, on the other hand, you’re not loyal to one brand or want to rent the perfect beach house or cabin on the river, you’re likely better off with a travel rewards credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or even earning and using flexible cash back.

Apply here for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card with an all-time high 80,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The right combination of credit cards can help you feel like you’re on vacation without traveling far from home.

Related: The best hotel credit cards of 2021

The road-tripping family

There’s trepidation among some that air travel is still off-limits due to the risk of coronavirus spread in airports and airplanes. Many eager vacationers are holding steady on their big travel plans and instead refocusing their efforts on a short jaunt from home.

Aiding their concern, many countries and states are still imposing travel restrictions, with some requiring a lengthy quarantine or a negative COVID-19 test for all travelers entering.

Related: Going on road trips? Consider using these credit cards

For families yearning for a break, a local respite such as a road trip (or several) might be just what’s needed to scratch the travel itch. If simplifying your road trip expenses is of utmost importance, it doesn’t get much simpler than the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Cardholders earn 2x miles per dollar on any purchase, with no bonus categories to memorize and no limit on the number of miles you can earn. These miles can be redeemed for purchases on your upcoming road trip or future travel plans.

Apply here for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card with a limited-time 100,000 bonus miles offer

For example, if you’re driving from Tampa to Key West and spending two nights at an Airbnb, you can put the vacation rental purchase on your Venture Rewards card and redeem your Venture miles to offset the cost of your Airbnb charge after your stay. The Capital One Venture card is currently offering 100,000 bonus miles when you spend $20,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening or still earn 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

Depending on your earning preference between cash back and travel rewards, you may want to combine a credit card that ramps up earnings on gas purchases along with the Venture card since you’ll likely need to stop at the pump several times to refill the gas tank. A straightforward 2x return on all purchases (useful on a road trip) along with a card that delivers bonus earnings at U.S. gas stations is a strong combination for those hitting the highway in 2021.

Related: Best credit cards for gas purchases

The ‘return to the skies’ family

If you’re ready to get back to air travel, there’s a plan for that, too.

Recently, my family and I took a leap of faith returning to air travel again by flying from Fort Lauderdale to Asheville, North Carolina, for a mountain getaway. Upon checking our flight options, I noticed Allegiant was the only airline that flew from Fort Lauderdale with nonstop service. Since Chase allows you to redeem points toward Allegiant flights at a fixed 1.25 cents each, I booked our tickets with points earned from the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

While on average, there may be more value to get from a flexible travel rewards credit card, some top airline cobranded cards come with big sign-up bonuses and extra perks such as priority boarding, free checked luggage and lounge access.

Considering you’re ready to book flights again, you may also want to consider a strong travel rewards card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred or American Express® Gold Card and an airline cobranded card that carries useful benefits for traveling families who are relatively loyal to a particular airline.

Related: Airline credit cards ranked by their return on spending

The aspirational trip family

Many of us in the points and miles hobby are sitting on a vast amount of points and miles since 2020 was the year of postponing trips.

In 2019, I decided my lofty travel goal was to fly my family of four in business class to Southeast Asia for summer 2020.

While the pandemic wrecked those plans, I was able to accumulate a jumbo-size amount of the most valuable airline miles and heaps of AAdvantage miles, which helped me secure award space for all four of us to experience Cathay Pacific’s top-notch business-class product and fulfill my goal.

The first step in determining which card or combination of cards is right for your family’s aspirational travel goal is deciding where you want to go, which airlines fly there and where you’ll want to stay. Consider running a Google Flights and Google Hotels search of your desired destination to understand which airlines and hotels line up with your plans.

Want to fly the award-winning Qsuites in 2022 to experience the World Cup in Qatar? Are you trying to visit family and friends multiple times a year using miles? Or maybe all you want is to feel pampered at a luxury resort beach hotel by redeeming points for a free stay.

Whether high-end award redemptions or simply visiting loved ones more often, premium travel rewards cards such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve can quickly help you reach your aspirational travel goal.

These premium travel rewards cards also carry a host of benefits, making them a worthy addition to your wallet. However, make sure you analyze the type of points or miles needed for your desired trip.

Related: 5 reward currencies to stock up on in 2021

Bottom line

The best credit cards are the ones that align with your family’s spending habits and help accomplish your goals. While many of us aren’t ready to hit the skies full-throttle like we would have before the pandemic, forming a plan during this downtime to build up our points balances will help turn those credit card rewards into amazing redemptions in the future.

There’s no greater time to build a credit card game plan than now, as you’ll be prepared with the appropriate points and miles to book your special trip when your travel planning resumes again.

For rates and fees of the Amex Blue Cash Preferred card, click here.

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

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