Capital One survey measures shift to flexible travel rewards credit cards

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Joe Taylor Jr.
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Nearly half of American rewards credit card holders prefer travel deals to brand loyalty, according to a recent survey commissioned by Capital One. According to the Capital One Rewards Barometer, 45 percent of the survey’s respondents make plans after picking a destination instead of waiting for prompts from an airline or hotel loyalty program. Additionally, 42 percent of respondents said they try to find the best deals on tickets and room nights, compared to just 7 percent of respondents who said they set itineraries based on their loyalty program status.

The survey underscores a widening rift between traditional travel memberships and wider-ranging credit card rewards programs. The CardName offers rebates that members can apply to any travel purchases, a modified form of the cash back rewards favored by 46 percent of survey respondents. Plus, you can transfer your miles to multiple leading travel loyalty programs.

According to travel writer Larry Olmsted, many airlines have devalued frequent flyer miles in favor of rewarding passengers who purchase more expensive fares. In a column for Forbes, Olmsted explained that the shift has made traditional rewards programs less accessible to casual travelers who prefer to search for discounted airfares on travel booking websites. Along with CardName, Citi’s ThankYou program and Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program both offer casual travelers the ability to cash in on bonus travel rewards, even if they don’t lead to premium status with a single brand.

In a newsletter to clients, travel industry consultant Chris McGinnis notes that so-called “unmanaged” business travelers still use departmental budgets to pay higher fares or room rates necessary to earn status with major airlines and hotel chains. Those hotels have positioned their co-branded travel credit cards at the center of a fight for their loyalty.

Capital One spokeswoman Amy Lenander told reporters that many airlines now sell popular frequent flier benefits “a la carte,” making the decision to switch credit cards even easier. The company’s survey showed that 22 percent of rewards credit card holders who switched cards in the past three years stopped using their co-branded cards altogether during that period.

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