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Credit cards writer Madison Blancaflor: My top 10 credit card stories of 2019

Dec. 31, 2019
10 min read
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This past year has been a big one for credit cards. The industry has seen revamped credit cards, a shift in rewards value and multiple other trends and major changes. It's also been a big year for me personally when it comes to credit cards, from joining the TPG team to adding new cards to my wallet. As 2019 comes to a close and we jump headfirst into 2020, let's look at my 10 top credit card stories that we covered this year and what it means moving forward.

Critical points: No, the end isn't near for credit card rewards 

CLEAR coming soon to United hubs (Zach Griff / The Points Guy)
CLEAR became a popular credit card perk in 2019. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

One of our first stories of 2019 still holds true almost a year later. Richard Kerr, who is now our fearless loyalty and engagement editor at TPG, took an early stand on some 2019 predictions that credit card rewards would decline. In his Critical Points column, he wrote that "while the landscape of rewards is changing, there is no reason to believe that 2019 will be the end of credit card rewards and perks as we know it. On the contrary, my recent discussions with bank executives and the movement we’ve seen in the card market in just the last quarter of 2018 prove that you have little to worry about."

That sentiment was proved true throughout this year, and I suspect it will continue to be accurate throughout 2020.

The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions 

This guide has been kept updated throughout the year as issuers come out with new policies and new trends emerge. In 2019, issuers really started to crack down on churning. We saw new rules for earning welcome bonuses, new strategies to attract long-term cardholders and a surge in strict application rules. Our guide covers the current application restrictions for all of the major U.S. issuers: Amex, Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Barclays, Capital One and Wells Fargo.

In 2020, I would not be surprised to see even more restrictions hit the credit card industry as issuers continue to battle each other for long-term, loyal cardholders versus churn-and-burn customers.

Marriott overhauls cobranded cards

(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eden Batki/The Points Guy)

While the Marriott/SPG merger actually happened in the summer of 2018, the changes didn't affect associated cobranded credit cards until early 2019. All of the legacy SPG cards were rebranded as Marriott Bonvoy cards (although still issued by American Express), while the legacy Marriott cards were rebranded and still issued by Chase. Some of the changes to the card lineup were welcomed, though many loyal to SPG were disappointed by the switch. It's safe to say that Marriott is still a top contender in the hotel cobranded cards space — Marriott walked away with two credit card awards from the 2019 TPG Awards.

Citi removes benefits from most — if not all — cards 

One of the biggest upsets in the cards industry this year came when Citi made the decision to cut valuable benefits across most of its credit cards. Citi cards, including cobranded options, had been known for their impressive travel and shopping protections. That changed in September 2019, when the company officially dropped benefits such as Price Rewind, 90-Day Return Protection, Trip Cancellation and Interruption Protection and more. Citi cited low usage as the reason for cutting benefits, but the news was still disappointing to plenty of TPG readers and staffers.

With fewer card options available that offer these benefits, it's worth considering third-party travel insurance when booking an international trip. Luckily, there are still a few cards that offer price protection and purchase protection for those larger purchases.

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Live now: Transfer your Citi® Double Cash Card rewards to ThankYou Points 

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

It's been a big year for Citi credit cards, with new card launches, changing benefits and, most recently, a new way to redeem Citi Double Cash rewards. The Citi Double Cash has remained one of the top cash-back cards because of its flat 2% earning rate across all spending (1% when you buy, 1% when you pay your bill). Those who also have a Citi ThankYou card such as the Citi® Prestige or Citi Premier® Card will now earn 2x ThankYou points on each purchase, which can potentially be redeemed at a higher value than straight cash back.

TPG values ThankYou points at 1.7 cents each, so this is a huge deal for Citi Double Cash cardholders. You're essentially getting a 3.4% return on every single purchase, with no bonus categories or rewards caps to worry about.

The information for the Citi® Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Seven cards currently offering welcome bonuses of 100,000 points or more

Proving Richard's prediction about credit card rewards not going anywhere in 2019, we've seen some amazing sign-up bonuses this year. As of December 2019, there were seven cards that offered bonuses of at least 100,000 points. Some of these bonuses (such as the American Express Hilton offers) are one-time welcome offers that can be earned by hitting just one spending requirement, while others are tiered to encourage long-term spending on the card. We've also seen a number of lucrative limited-time offers come and go, such as the 100,000-point bonus offer on The Business Platinum Card® from American Express that ended in early December.

While it's impossible to know what sign-up bonuses will be available in 2020, I hope that we'll continue to see large bonuses and limited-time offers to attract new cardholders.

How I used Chase Ultimate Rewards to book my trip to Croatia 

(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Madison Blancaflor/The Points Guy)

On a more personal note, I took my first points-funded international trip this past September. My childhood best friend and I spent almost two weeks exploring Croatia, and it was a dream. I used points from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to book my flights, which I was initially nervous about (I was worried about getting the best redemption possible). In this story, I walked through how I booked my trip through the Chase portal and how I used my CSP throughout my trip to earn points on my purchases while abroad.

Was it the most lucrative redemption ever made? Of course not. But the process was easy and the trip was well worth the points. If any beginners out there are nervous about booking their first points trip, I hope my own experience shows that there's nothing to be intimidated by when first jumping into the wonderful world of points and miles.

How I use cash back — not just points and miles — to hit my travel goals 

At The Points Guy (emphasis on "Points"), we obviously love our points and miles. But cash back also has a role to play in any well-rounded credit card strategy. In this guide, I walk through my personal credit card strategy. I discuss which cards I use most frequently, which purchases I use them for and how I use those combined rewards across both points and cash-back cards to help me cover my travel expenses.

The Amex Green Card has arrived with an elevated welcome offer

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

There were rumors flying throughout 2019 of a potential revamp to the iconic American Express® Green Card, and those rumors were finally put to bed when Amex launched the updated card in October 2019. I was pleasantly surprised by the changes to the previously mediocre mid-tier credit card. With expanded bonus categories, no foreign transaction fees and a few unique perks, the Amex Green has quickly become one of my favorite cards to recommend to points and miles beginners.

I hope that this card launch, alongside some of the other cards we saw throughout 2019, will inspire more positive changes for other cards in 2020.

The information for the Amex Green Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Why transferable points are more valuable than ever 

If there is one thing we can all agree on, it's that in general, dynamic pricing is The Worst™. As more hotels and airlines switch over to a variable pricing model, transferable rewards currencies are becoming more and more valuable. The ability to transfer points to a number of different partners means you have the flexibility to take advantage of deals and find the best airline/hotel for your trip rather than being stuck finding award availability with just one loyalty program. This guide walks through the reasons why transferrable points are a valuable part of any credit card strategy, plus tips on maximizing the top transferrable currencies, including Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points and more.

Dynamic pricing seems to be an industry trend that is here to stay, which means transferable points will continue to be an asset to any award portfolio.

Bottom line

The year 2019 was a huge one for the credit cards industry, but 2020 is set to be even bigger. Stay updated on travel and credit card news with the TPG newsletter!

Featured image by (Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.