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How the pandemic changed my award redemption priorities

Oct. 21, 2020
6 min read
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At the beginning of 2020, I had lofty expectations of how I would use my points and miles this year.

In 2019, I earned over 150,000 points and miles from sign-up bonuses on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and my American Express® Gold Card, as well as targeted promotions on cards like the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.

I dabbled in several small redemptions last year, like a fantastic three-day trip to Puerto Rico. This year, however, was going to be big. I’m talking flights to Seychelles, a stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo and flying ANA’s new business class product.

Obviously, the pandemic has changed those plans.

I’ve only taken one trip during the pandemic and don’t anticipate flying or staying in a hotel again soon. When I do, the redemptions I plan to use my points and miles for will look drastically different from those I took pre-pandemic.

Here’s how the pandemic changed my award redemption priorities.

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

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Loyalty vs. blocked middle seats

Before the pandemic, I wanted the ability to board early, score upgrades and drink for free. Many of those perks are casualties of the global health crisis, and now I just want the seat next to me empty.

Before the pandemic, I primarily flew on American Airlines, as I have family scattered on the East Coast who all live near American hubs. I also have a ton of AAdvantage miles through sign-up bonuses and other promos. However, American isn’t blocking middle seats (even though customers will have the option to move to another flight free of charge on flights where at least 70% of passengers have checked in). United is also selling all flights to capacity, with an exec saying blocking middles seats a “PR strategy.”

Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy

As we approach the holiday season, I plan to travel on airlines I usually wouldn’t consider. For instance, I haven’t flown Southwest Airlines or JetBlue Airways in years. However, both carriers are blocking middle seats, which means it’s at least an option if it’s not nonstop. I’ve already started to look at award travel on the two airlines, but tickets are so cheap that it might make more sense just to book cash.

Amtrak is also an option, as it is limiting bookings on reserved trains to allow for more social distancing. I’ve written before about how I’m a fan of Amtrak, and I’ve earned some points through its shopping portal during the pandemic. Tickets for Thanksgiving travel to D.C. start at just 2,400 Guest Rewards points or $39 each way, which is a steal.

Screengrab from Amtrak

I recently flew Delta Air Lines because it’s blocking middle seats -- at least through the holidays. The airline said it will block middle seats through Jan. 6, 2021, but if that move isn’t extended, I may have to consider another carrier after the New Year.

For me, blocking middle seats isn’t about wanting to avoid having a seatmate -- it’s about having fewer people on the flight.

Less glitz, more seclusion

My hotel redemptions during and post-pandemic will be focused on one thing: avoiding other people. That means no big resorts, no uber-popular destinations, just quiet staycations where I can rest and relax.

I’ve been earning a ton of hotel points during the pandemic, including over 60,000 World of Hyatt points from a recent stay. Pre-pandemic, I might have used these bonus points to party the night away at the Andaz West Hollywood. Now, I’m planning on using those points on this fantastic buy-one, get-one deal on Miraval award nights booked through Hyatt.

Photo of Miraval by Summer Hull/TPG

There are three different wellness-focused Miraval resorts: one in the Berkshires, one in Austin and one in Arizona. I’m planning on staying at the Arizona location for an all-inclusive socially distanced wellness retreat. Hey, we all need one during this pandemic.

Instead of paying 45,000 points for one night — that gets you two nights. Or, if I wanted to bring a friend, 65,000 points gets you two nights for two people. Even better, I can stack a second promo that awards 15% to 25% of your redeemed Hyatt points back on all award stays, not just those at Miraval. I don’t have the World of Hyatt Credit Card, but if I did, I’d get the higher 25% rate of return on redeemed points.

Bottom line

I had an idea of how I would use my points and miles this year, pre-pandemic. That’s all changed because my priorities changed. I used to be overly focused on flying up front or staying at the best hotels I could find.

I’m looking forward to doing that again one day, hopefully, next year. There are a lot of premium products I want to fly (looking at you, United Polaris!) and five-star hotels to unwind in. Until then, however, I just want to avoid large groups of people.

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.