A look back at our 2021 credit card predictions and trends

Dec 31, 2021

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A year ago, we tried to take our best stab at how 2021 would play out in the world of credit card rewards.

In the 12 months since then, COVID-19 vaccines (and boosters) have rolled out, and the travel and cards industries have made a comeback of sorts.

As we round out the year, let’s rewind and take a glance back at whether any of our predictions about credit card trends actually came to fruition.

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In This Post

Limited-time pandemic benefits extended: Correct

(Photo by AsiaVision/Getty Images)

Many card issuers returned to business as usual as consumers ramped back up their swipes (or taps) and travelers took to the skies.

However, there were a handful of notable pandemic benefits that continued, with some lasting until the end of the year. For instance, Chase allowed Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders to use their $300 annual travel credit on gas and grocery purchases through the end of 2021. (This offer is no longer available).

In addition, select cobranded Amex cardholders earned up to $220 in card statement credits in 2021 at U.S. restaurants or U.S. wireless providers, depending on the type of card they had.

Generally, however, these special perks waned as the year progressed.

Non-travel redemption opportunities evolved: Partially correct

While 2020 was somewhat soul-crushing for those who love to travel, we did see an interesting development in the credit card rewards space: more non-travel redemption opportunities. With many people staying closer to home — and sitting on a glut of points and miles — issuers created new ways to redeem them.

One big development in 2020 was Chase’s introduction of Pay Yourself Back, allowing cardholders to offset everyday purchases with Ultimate Rewards points at up to 1.5 cents per point.

Unfortunately, in 2021, we didn’t see any other major, permanent moves from the likes of Amex or Citi to make it more lucrative to redeem points for non-travel purposes.

Chase’s changes to Pay Yourself Back

Chase did make some changes (and limitations) to the program. Currently, the Pay Yourself Back categories are:

Let’s walk through how this would work.

Say you had an eligible Airbnb purchase on the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Instead of getting $100 when redeeming 10,000 points, if redeeming against an eligible Pay Yourself Back charge, a Chase Sapphire Reserve customer would receive a credit of $150 for the same number of points (through March. 31, 2022). This is the same redemption rate offered on Ultimate Rewards Travel redemptions for that card, and higher than the 1-cent-per-point value you get from redeeming points from this card simply for cash back.

What the future may hold

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Something that we’ll have to keep an eye on is the new Aeroplan Credit Card that launched in early December.

In a unique move, the Chase Aeroplan Credit Card will offer the ability to leverage Chase’s popular Pay Yourself Back program, too, despite being an airline cobranded card and not one that earns Ultimate Rewards points.

For any travel purchase, Aeroplan points can be redeemed at a rate of 1.25 cents per point (up to 50,000 points per year).

That creates a significant amount of flexibility should cardholders need to use their points for redemptions other than through Aeroplan and its airline partners. Chase is in the process of building out this tool, which will launch in 2022.

The big question is whether we will see more flexibility and lucrative opportunities for non-travel redemptions in 2022.

Big welcome offers continued: Correct

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

As underwriting and consumer confidence improved, welcome bonuses, card refreshes and even new product launches took off in 2021.

Earlier this year, we saw one of the most generous sign-up bonuses ever — up to 100,000 points — on the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred card (now expired; offer is currently 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening). Citi also came out with a huge (and permanent) offer on its bread-and-butter $95-per-year card, the Citi Premier® Card. That card is offering 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening.

And the bonuses continued to roll in, even in the latter half of 2021.

Capital One capped off the year with the splashy launch of the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, with a staggering sign-up bonus of its own: 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 on purchases in the first six months from account opening and up to $200 in statement credits for vacation rental purchases (e.g., Airbnb and Vrbo) in the first cardholder year.

In 2022, we’ll likely continue to see these offers as the pandemic ebbs and flows. We were on the money with this prediction and bullish on the return of card offers.

Bottom line

Many of the predictions that we had for 2021 became reality, but the year certainly played out differently than anyone could have expected. We’ll see what 2022 brings us as the world of credit card and travel rewards continue to evolve.

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy. 

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