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Points and miles reporter Katie Genter: My 10 favorite TPG posts of 2020

Jan. 01, 2021
12 min read
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The Points Guy publishes up to 35 posts every day. So, there's a lot of content that I could include in this post. Even ignoring old stories that I updated in 2020 and articles written by other TPG writers, it was challenging to pick my 10 favorite posts of 2020.

But, as I reviewed my 2020 articles and looked back at my favorite posts from 2019, most of the stories that stood out were informative stories with a personal angle. So, come with me as I discuss 10 of my favorite TPG posts published in 2020.

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345 flights, 218 award nights, 132 cities: How I spent 3 years as a global digital nomad

Libassa ecolodge, one of my favorite hotels in Liberia (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

My husband JT and I have lived and worked on the road for about three and a half years now as global digital nomads. Very much on-brand for TPG, much of our travel has been fueled by points, miles and transferrable credit card rewards. And when we're not redeeming rewards, we're usually taking advantage of a current hotel promotion or working toward re-earning American Airlines Executive Platinum status.

Besides my three-year recap post, we also wrote some 2020 TPG posts about our experiences. For example, JT wrote about our experience living at an all-inclusive resort for a month using Choice Privileges points. And, I wrote about how and why we traveled to Japan to use expiring credit card free night certificates. I also wrote about why I decided to push for higher Marriott Bonvoy elite status in 2020 and why we often choose IHG and Choice hotels despite limited elite perks.

Related: Need to escape America? US travelers can work remotely from these countries

Is Citi ThankYou Rewards the most underappreciated and misunderstood program?

Citi cards and Citi ThankYou Rewards points have fueled my travel, including to French Polynesia. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

I wrote a variety of credit card content in 2020. For example, I considered what happens to credit cards after a cardholder dies and discussed credit card strategies for couples.

But, my favorite credit card story of 2020 resulted from a reader email. Specifically, TPG reader Scott H. had sent me an email explaining why he believed Citi ThankYou Rewards is the most underappreciated and misunderstood program. So, I dug into his email and then crafted a post discussing his Scott H. maximizes the Citi ThankYou Rewards program.

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Related: The ultimate guide to Citi ThankYou Rewards transfer partners

Booking direct: How much value does Marriott status provide?

Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

One of my favorite mini-series on TPG in 2020 studied how much value elite status provides when you book directly with major hotel loyalty programs. Although the series started with a Marriott-focused story, I also did stories on booking directly with IHG Rewards Club, booking directly with World of Hyatt and booking directly with Hilton Honors.

In this series, I discussed the value of elite status based on Senior Editor Nick Ewen's hotel loyalty value estimates. I also considered the value of the hotel points that you can earn when you book directly with the hotel. Note, these points are on top of the rewards you'll earn from paying for your stay with one of the best hotel credit cards.

Related: Reader question: Does elite status from a credit card get you less recognition?

How card issuers can drive long-term loyalty from card members

(Photo by Orli Friedman/The Points Guy)

For the 2020 TPG Awards, the editors asked me to write a post on how card issuers can drive long-term loyalty from card members. I enjoyed writing this piece because it encouraged me to take a step back from how I use credit cards and even how the average TPG reader uses credit cards.

As credit card issuers attempt to drive long-term loyalty, we may see more targeted sign-up offers as well as promotions to build (and keep) loyalty. We'll also likely see additional unique, must-have perks to encourage cardholders to remain loyal even when doing so isn't rational. And, although often undervalued, I expect we'll see improved card education and customer service.

Related: Will travelers remain loyal to loyalty programs when ‘normal’ returns?

You can pay $33k to live in a hotel for a year – but here are 31 even better options

I found a 30-night stay in Istanbul, Turkey, at a DoubleTree by Hilton for as little as $1,034. (Photo by DOZIER Marc/Getty Images)

In November and December 2020, several hotels gained attention by offering year-long packages to allow guests to live from the hotel for around $30,000. But, since I live on the road, one of my favorite hobbies is finding inexpensive points or cash rates at hotels.

So, I decided to find mid-tier or better hotels in countries currently open to U.S. tourists where travelers could stay for 30-days. After all, a 30-day stay plays better with visa and stay restrictions in most cities and countries. Plus, if you're going to live out of hotels for a year, you might as well visit several destinations. As my guide discusses, I found some great options in Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Egypt, Istanbul and even outside Chicago.

Related: Low fees, stopovers and open jaws: The best airline miles for flexible travelers

6 ways Choice Privileges should improve its loyalty program

Bluegreen Vacations Fountains in Orlando, FL is bookable through Choice's Ascend Resort Collection (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors and Choice Privileges are the four hotel loyalty programs I usually check when booking a hotel stay. So, naturally, I have opinions on how each program could improve its loyalty program.

I initially wrote up six ways I'd like to see the Choice Privileges program improve. But, this post resonated with readers so much that I followed it up with six ways IHG Rewards Club should strengthen its loyalty program and five ways Hilton Honors should improve its loyalty program. And, I have World of Hyatt and Marriott Bonvoy versions of this post coming in 2021.

Of course, how each loyalty program should improve depends on its current strengths and weaknesses. But, the Choice Privileges program could undoubtedly get more of my nights if it improved elite perks, hotel participation in the loyalty program, quality control and credit cards.

Related: The economics behind hotel loyalty programs (with insights from a former Marriott VP)

Warning: Book carefully if you have multiple Amex cards that offer travel protections

Not realizing that using multiple Amex cards may leave you without travel protections would be frustrating. (Photo by Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.)

Over the years, I've written a lot about travel insurance and credit card travel insurance protections. I wrote several of TPG's credit card travel protection guides, including cards with baggage delay protection, cards with trip cancellation and interruption coverage and cards that offer roadside assistance.

I've also written about when to buy travel insurance versus when to rely on credit card protections. And I've written about how I've decided to get a premium credit card instead of purchasing travel insurance for most trips.

But, I've also found instances where travel insurance protections come up short. For example, Turo car rentals usually aren't covered by credit card insurance. And at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we learned that avoiding outbreaks isn’t covered by most travel insurance.

So, although I was happy to see American Express add travel protections to many of its cards, I was disappointed to see some flaws in Amex’s travel insurance coverage. For example, these protections require round-trip travel. And Amex's travel protections also don't provide cohesive coverage when you book with multiple American Express cards.

Related: Comparing built-in travel insurance with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Amex Platinum

4 ways to use expiring IHG nights during the pandemic (and what I decided)

Hotel Indigo Birmingham Five Points South – UAB (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic halted most leisure travel in March, travelers have struggled to maximize free hotel night rewards during the pandemic. Back in August, TPG Senior Editor Nick Even proposed how hotel programs could adjust free night certificates. And, with IHG finally announcing its anniversary night extension in mid-December, the major programs all ended up extending expiration dates on free night certificates.

But, back in late September, extensions of IHG Rewards Club anniversary nights and Marriott Bonvoy award nights seemed uncertain. So, I first wrote about four ways to use expiring IHG Rewards Club anniversary nights during the pandemic and what I decided. Since this post was well-received by readers, I subsequently wrote about four ways to use expiring Marriott Bonvoy nights and perks during the pandemic.

Related: The best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

How I’m earning more than $360 in points and perks on a $517 all-inclusive stay

Santa Maria Beach in Mexico (Photo by rand22/Getty Images)

I enjoy diving deep and determining how to maximize sign-up bonuses and promotions. For example, back when the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card offered five up to 50,000-point free night awards (offer no longer available), I wrote 12 dream trips I’d take with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless sign-up bonus. And, before 2020, I wrote articles on earning Oneworld Sapphire status for more than two years for less than $500 and buying a $1,300 laptop for $635.

So, when Choice Privileges and AMResorts launched a promotion that seemed maximizable, I decided to dig in and see how far I could go. Although this promotion has ended, I include this story as a reminder to think outside the box when you find a good promotion. You may be able to maximize it much more than you initially expected.

Related: How I got $160 of food and drink included on a $153 stay in Chicago

How much does a seat on a repatriation flight cost?

(Photo by Eye Candy Images/Getty Images)

As the coronavirus pandemic led countries to lock down and airlines to slash route networks, my husband and I had to decide whether to stay in South Africa or attempt to get back to the U.S. while commercial flights were still operating. After deciding to return to the U.S., we snagged the second to last Delta flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta using Virgin Atlantic Flying Club.

Many travelers weren't so lucky, though. Some travelers stranded abroad got a seat on a repatriation flight back to their country of residence. But, although some governments provide repatriation flights to citizens free of charge, the U.S. doesn't. In this story, I gathered data points to see just how much a seat on a repatriation flight generally costs.

Related: Dreaming of South Africa: How I’m planning to return using points, miles and cash

Featured image by (Photo by Katie Genter/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.

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TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees