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How to use your credit card to book safe travel this summer

Select reviews how you can use a credit card to help you plan, pay for and enjoy your summer vacations, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

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Select’s editorial team works independently to review financial products and write articles we think our readers will find useful. We may receive a commission when you click on links for products from our affiliate partners.

Americans are thinking of ways to vacation this summer while also keeping everyone safe, whether they're renting an RV for a family road trip or relaxing at a beach-side Airbnb.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, you may have planned on cashing in your miles for your summer getaway, but now you might be wondering whether your travel rewards credit card, co-branded airline card or hotel card can be of any use this travel season.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to use a credit card that can still fit in with your new plans. Though we're all making a few adjustments, it's still possible to spend quality time with the people you love this summer.

Below, Select reviews how you can still use your credit card to help you plan, pay for and enjoy your vacation.

Plan ahead with the help of concierge service

Over the past few months, many of us have established new routines to help us cope with this "new normal." You might have picked a new time to grocery shop when the stores aren't as crowded, or perhaps you've transitioned to meal kits and food delivery to help with the adjustment of working from home.

But when it's time to venture outside the boundaries of your house, city or town, you can check out The New York Times reopening map to find out what services and businesses will be available as you travel by car or plane.

One under-utilized card perk can help you plan like a pro: concierge service. Cardholders who carry a Visa Signature card, a World Elite Mastercard or select American Express Platinum cards can lean on this helpful service to call businesses ahead of time and find out operating hours, inquire whether park facilities and campgrounds will be open and learn what kinds of entertainment is happening at a social distance.

Mastercard describes its concierge service as "a relentless personal assistant," and after juggling so many duties at home, this might be exactly what you need.

Popular Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Freedom® and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you get approved for one of these cards, whether it comes with Signature benefits depends on your credit limit and creditworthiness.

Know whether your travel rewards expire

With general-use travel rewards credit cards, points and miles usually never expire. With no expiration date, you can stockpile your points until you're ready to use them again.

Under normal circumstances, many hotel and airline loyalty cards ask that you use your points within a set time frame. But a lot of loyalty programs are extending expiration dates due to coronavirus.

Here are some hotel programs that announced updates to their redemption policies over the past few months:

  • The Hilton Honors program is pausing the expiration of all points that were scheduled to expire before December 31, 2020. This is helpful information for Hilton Honors American Express® Aspire Card members.
  • Marriott Bonvoy™ members have until August 1, 2021 to use points. Points will expire only if your account has been inactive for 24 months. This includes cardmembers with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card  and others. Marriott Bonvoy members can also redeem their rewards on groceries for a limited time.
  • The Radisson Rewards program is also suspending its points expiration policy for six months as of March 1, 2020.
  • The Wyndham Rewards program is pausing the expiration of any Wyndham Rewards points until September 30, 2020 and has extended current Wyndham Rewards Member Levels for all members globally through the end of 2021.
  • IHG Rewards Club is extending the expiration date for any points set to expire from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. So if you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, you've got until the end of the year to plan a trip. 

And if the notion of airplane travel still makes you nervous, the following airline credit cards offer points that never expire:

Airline cards with points that don't expire

Airline Delta JetBlue Southwest Airlines United
Credit card
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card
JetBlue Plus Card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Card
Annual fee$250$99$149$0 first year
Rewards2X miles on Delta purchases; at restaurants worldwide (including takeout and delivery) and at U.S. supermarkets; 1X miles on other eligible purchases6X points on every $1 spent on JetBlue purchases; 2X points at restaurants and grocery stores; 1X points on all other purchases2X points on every $1 spent on Southwest purchases; 1X points on all other purchases2 miles per $1 spent on United purchases; 2X miles per $1 spent at restaurants and hotels; 1X miles earned on every $1 spent on all other purchases
See our methodology belowLearn MoreOn the American Express secure siteLearn MoreInformation about the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by CNBC and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.Learn MoreOn Chase's secure siteLearn MoreOn Chase's secure site

Focus on quality time with fewer people

While you might want to avoid congested resorts and high-traffic destinations, you can still unwind with your close friends and family. European Best Destinations Organization (EBD) revealed a list of 20 European beaches in areas that were least affected by coronavirus and are a little more off the beaten path. And if domestic travel is more realistic than international flights, you could rent an RV or an Airbnb for a low-key but memorable trip.

Before you book, learn about whether the companies you rent from have updated their cleaning standards. For example, Airbnb's new Cleaning Protocol lists the company's guidelines for cleaning supplies and also requires that hosts wait 24 hours between guests to minimize airborne particles. Alternatively, hosts who opt out of the authority-approved cleaning supplies can instead utilize the "Booking Buffer" feature that gives 72 hours of time between guests so that germs can die naturally.

As you book your lodging for your trip, keep in mind that many restaurants are still only doing takeout. For a limited time, you can apply your travel rewards points to food delivery and carryout purchases, helping you save on food where you previously might have saved on airfare. Most recently, Chase announced that Chase Sapphire Preferred® and Chase Sapphire Reserve® cardholders can apply their points towards grocery stores and dining (including restaurants, takeout and eligible delivery services). In addition, Sapphire Reserve members can apply their $300 annual travel credit towards gas station and grocery store spending.

Likewise, Amex recently made similar changes to 11 of its premium cards, and Citi expanded the Citi Prestige® Card travel credit to include takeout and groceries.

If you're staying at a rental house and want to stock the kitchen, use a popular cash-back credit card to maximize your earnings at the grocery store. The Blue Cash Everyday® Card and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card both offer introductory APR and are also two of the best credit cards for grocery shopping during coronavirus. These cards require good to excellent credit.

Information about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, Citi Prestige® Card, Chase Freedom® and Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.