5 pandemic-friendly credit card benefits I'd like to see in 2021, from stay-at-home perks to new ways of earning and redeeming rewards

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  • In 2020, credit card issuers responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by introducing limited-time bonuses and new ways to earn and redeem rewards.
  • Now that it's a new year, some of these perks should become permanent fixtures, and banks will hopefully continue to add benefits geared to those who are staying close to home.
  • We're already seeing exciting offers from American Express, and I'd love to see other issuers follow with bonuses and credits for things like meal-kit delivery services, at-home fitness, and gas purchases.
  • Read Business Insider's guide to the best rewards credit cards.

While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic upended nearly every element of our day to day lives, the travel and hospitality industries were hit especially hard. Business travel, once the financial bedrock that most hotels and airlines depended on, shrank to virtually nothing, while leisure travel was curtailed by quarantines, border closures, and other measures aimed at stopping this deadly pandemic. 

Airlines, hotels, and credit card issuers adapted to these unprecedented circumstances by extending benefits, reducing thresholds for elite status qualification, and offering limited-time statement credits and bonus categories that better reflected where consumers were spending money. 

The good news is that after nearly a year of unthinkable loss and suffering, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Multiple vaccines against the coronavirus have been proven to be safe and effective, and around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are being inoculated each day.

While many of us yearn for a return to normalcy, we still have quite a ways to go. Companies that are able to quickly and nimbly adapt to changing demands will enjoy the most success moving forward. With that in mind, here are a few credit card perks and benefits I'd like to see added in 2021.

2020 was a trial run — it's time to make some of these benefits permanent 

Economists and public health experts predict that it will take years for society to return to normal, even as vaccinations help increase the safety of everyday activities. In the meantime, people will continue to spend more time at home and outdoors, and prioritize benefits that aren't directly related to travel.

I hope and expect that some of the limited-time benefits we saw in 2020 become permanent features, with one sitting at the top of my wishlist: Chase's "Pay Yourself Back" redemption program. This program allows certain Chase cardholders to cash out their Ultimate Rewards points as statement credits to offset a whole host of non-travel purchases, including groceries, dining, and even charitable donations. 

The exact rates and eligible categories vary by card, but Chase Sapphire Reserve® customers currently enjoy a rate of 1.5 cents per Ultimate Reward point (the same rate they get when redeeming their points through the Chase travel portal), and other eligible Chase customers earn 1.25 cents per point.

This promotion solved the biggest challenge of credit card rewards in 2020: People who'd built up massive stashes of points and miles suddenly had no plan to travel for the foreseeable future. Moving forward into 2021, extending the ability to redeem points at a compelling value for non-travel options will help credit-card issuers like Chase capture a larger segment of the market. 

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Chase Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Credit card issuers have been quick to partner with food delivery services from Uber Eats to DoorDash and more, but we have yet to see many benefits for the plethora of meal delivery services out there. One exception is The Platinum Card® from American Express, which just added an Amex Offer to earn $50 back on Home Chef purchases of $50 or more, up to three times through June 30, 2021. That's just one of a slew of new benefits and perks Amex recently launched that appeal to pandemic spending habits.

Given how crowded the space is and how much meal-kit companies like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh spend on customer acquisition, I'd love to see a credit card offer a monthly statement credit or bonus points for one of the many meal-kit subscription services.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

American Express The Platinum Card® from American Express

I know I'm not alone in saying that on the few occasions I left the house this year, one of the top things on my mind was minimizing touchpoints and contact with strangers. An expansion of contactless payments means a cashier doesn't have to handle your credit card, and you might not need to touch the same payment terminal that hundreds of other customers are using during the day. 

Many stores and restaurants are equipped to handle contactless payments, but plenty of popular cards still don't offer the feature. As the technology continues to get cheaper and more consumers demand it for health reasons, expect to see this feature become more widely available over the coming years.

Gas credits for the year of the road trip 

When people do start to hit the road again, many will be opting to travel in new and different ways. I'd go so far as to call 2021 the year of the road trip, as a short weekend getaway or long cross-country adventure can help avoid some of the more crowded, high throughput areas of travel (like airports and train stations). 

Plenty of credit cards offer bonus points on gas purchases (like the Citi Premier® Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card), and plenty offer travel and airline statement credits (like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Amex Platinum Card), but I'd love to see credit cards come out with direct statement credits to offset the cost of gas or electric vehicle charging.

This would be equally useful for people planning a road-trip vacation or simply commuting throughout the week, and could be a great way for issuers to earn the coveted top credit card spot in their customers' wallets. 

Citi Premier® Card

Citi Citi Premier® CardCiti Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit CardChase Chase Freedom Unlimited®

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