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Making The Most Of Hotel Loyalty Programs When You’re Not Press "Enter" to skip to content

Making the Most of Hotel Loyalty Programs When You’re Not Traveling

You got a fancy hotel credit card thinking that you’d travel often this year and redeem your free-night benefit during a luxury beach vacation. Then came coronavirus. Losing out on a free hotel room isn’t the worst problem to have right now, but it’s fair for frequent travelers to worry about what will happen to all of those hard-earned points, especially if you’re holding a credit card with a steep annual fee.

But there’s some good news: Some — but not all — loyalty programs are extending customers’ status, lengthening expiration dates on rewards and more. Here’s what you need to know about the biggest hotel programs, and how they are helping customers during the coronavirus crisis.

Hotel points generally expire if your account is inactive for a year or so. Since you can’t travel right now, many chains are postponing expiration dates. Both Hilton and Hyatt have said that points that would have expired in March 2020 or later now won’t expire until Dec. 31, 2020.

Some hotels are reducing the requirements to obtain elite status, which grants benefits like late checkout, room upgrades and free breakfast. IHG’s minimum stay requirement for Elite Status dropped from 40 nights to 30 nights. And Hilton is automatically extending elite benefits until March 31, 2022 for all members who currently hold status.

Expiration dates are also being extended for free night certificates and other vouchers like club lounge passes. All Marriott free night awards that would have expired in 2020 now don’t expire until Jan. 31, 2021. Hyatt’s vouchers that would have expired between March and December 2020 don’t expire until the end of 2021. Even if your hotel won’t automatically extend an expiring certificate, call and ask.

You can’t travel for a while, but you can put in work today to keep your account active and gain points toward a future trip. Some loyalty programs, like IHG and Hilton, allow you to earn points for filling out surveys. IHG also has a program called IHG Rewards Club Dining that gives you points by spending money with partner restaurants (ordering takeout counts!).

Hotel-branded credit cards often give rewards for everyday purchases, which may tempt you to keep using them. Many Hilton credit cards earn bonus points at gas stations and supermarkets and restaurants in the United States. But since points can only be redeemed at Hilton hotels, you may want to pause your spending on that credit card (to keep it active, just put a small recurring charge on it, like a streaming service, then set the bill to autopay each month). It might make more sense for the time being to use a credit card that earns cash back instead, since you can put the money you earn from your grocery store purchases this month toward paying off bills or any other expenses.

And if the annual fee is making you want to part ways with your hotel credit card, it’s OK to cancel it. Or consider downgrading it to a no-annual-fee version. Most banks allow you to cancel your credit card within 30 to 60 days of your annual fee being billed (you typically receive the fee back as a statement credit). Even if you miss that window, most banks allow you to cancel your card at any time and may give you a prorated refund on the annual fee. Or, ask customer service for a retention offer — they might waive the annual fee, or give you a statement credit or bonus points in exchange for not canceling the account.

The assessment of financial products in this article are independently determined by Wirecutter and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any third party. A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com, which will be updated as the situation evolves.

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