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Credit Card Rewards 2020: Another COVID-19 Victim?

Strategies to save rewards cards programs from falling victim to COVID-19

Mercator Advisory Group’s latest report suggests innovative strategies for credit card issuers to apply to counter the pandemic’s economic consequences affecting their reward programs.


Credit card reward programs, a consumer benefit of using a credit card, will undergo change as consumers and financial institutions adapt to the new world of COVID-19. Credit card issuers that rely on rewards to attract and retain customers must consider the changing economic realities and construct programs that do more than link to weakened co-brand partners, advises Mercator Advisory Group’s latest research report, Credit Card Rewards 2020: Another COVID-19 Victim?.

While many consumers gravitate to cash-back rewards, co-brand programs that feature alliances with airlines, cruises, and hotels leave consumers with points that may not be useful for several years. Rewards with cash options, such as those issued by American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, and Discover will find consumers more likely to gravitate toward cash options than rewards that provide options for hospitality and travel.

"Those aspirational trips to Hawaii lost their panache in 2020. So have hotels on South Beach and the south of France,” commented Brian Riley, Director, Credit Advisory Service, at Mercator Advisory Group, the author of the research report. Riley adds that "credit card issuers need to re-gear credit card reward programs. If they do not, they will miss the way the market is moving."

This report analyzes Mercator Advisory Group’s consumer survey data on credit card rewards and applies a practical view of both the U.S. consumer and shortcomings in current reward programs. With more than 225 million credit cards targeted at hospitality, retail, and travel, card issuers need strategies that appeal to the new normal. “Business is not business as usual today,” commented Riley.

This document contains 18 pages and 9 exhibits.

Companies mentioned in this research note include:
Albertson’s, Ahold, Amazon, American Express, Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, Citi, Costco, Discover, FreshDirect, Grubhub, Hilton, Kroger, Marriott, Target, TD Bank, Uber, Walmart, and Whole Foods.



Highlights of the research report include:

  • The vulnerability of annual fees

  • Motivating spending when cardholders no longer buy

  • Turbulence in the rewards ecosystem

  • Reward innovation and the future of rewards

  • Changes in issuers’ reward strategies