A year ago, we made our best guesses at what would happen with credit card rewards in 2023.
The past year has been filled with innovative developments — and persistent challenges — in the credit card industry.
Let’s take a moment to revisit the predictions we made at the start of the year and assess their accuracy.
Best-ever offers will be rare: Correct
2021 and 2022 saw much more lucrative welcome offers than this year.
Of our top 10 most popular credit cards, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, The Platinum Card® from American Express and the mid-tier Citi Premier® Card (see rates and fees) featured lower welcome offers for most of 2023 compared to the previous year. While there have been continued targeted offers for select Amex cards through the CardMatch tool (subject to change at any time), there were very few publicly available and best-ever welcome bonuses.
However, some of Chase’s cards have been the exception.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® launched a special double cash back offer in October. On the business side, we’ve seen a repeat of the best-ever offers on the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card and Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card, as well as an almost halving of the spending requirement to earn a 100,000-point bonus on the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (you now must spend $8,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening).
Shift from premium cards to those with financial benefits: Correct
With continued economic uncertainty and stubbornly high interest rates, consumers have been shifting away from premium cards like the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card to cards offering cash back, attractive balance transfer rates, and zero or low interest on purchases.
Credit card debt will increase: Correct
Total debt on credit cards hit $1 trillion for the first time in the second quarter of 2023, reaching an all-time high of $1.08 trillion in Q3.
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As a result, consumers are concerned with paying down debt and shifting to credit cards that offer more tangible and immediate cash-back and interest-saving benefits.
Related: How to consolidate and pay off your debt
Increase in ‘buy now, pay later’ offerings and usage: Partially correct
We haven’t seen a significant increase in the number of buy now, pay later (BNPL) offerings like PayPal Credit, Afterpay and Klarna in 2023. However, usage of these services has increased.
According to Bankrate, 10% of consumers planned to use BNPL services for winter holiday shopping in 2023.
C+R Research has found that BNPL offerings are more popular among women (compared to men), renters (vs. homeowners) and Gen Zers and Millennials (vs. Gen Xers and Boomers).
Less interest in crypto-earning cards: Correct
Consumers remain wary of receiving crypto rewards like Bitcoin and Ethereum when spending cash on daily purchases. That’s despite most top cryptocurrencies remaining stable or increasing in value in 2023, following the 2022 cryptocurrency crash.
Related: A round-up of cards that earn cryptocurrency rewards
2% cash back is the standard going forward: Partially correct
With the best cash-back credit cards, like the Citi Double Cash® Card (see rates and fees), offering a 2% back on all purchases (1% cash back at the register and 1% cash back when you pay off your bill, it has become increasingly difficult for credit card issuers to acquire new customers with cards offering less than 2% back on everyday spending.
That potentially explains why Chase is currently offering an unprecedented double cash-back offer on one of its most popular cash-back cards (the Chase Freedom Unlimited). For new cardholders, you’ll enjoy an effective earning rate of at least 3% on all purchases for the first 12 months — with up to 10% on select purchases. Just note that your bonus cash back will be deposited as a single lump sum within six to eight weeks of the end of your 12th monthly billing cycle.
If consumers are looking for cash-back earnings in the year ahead, they’ll want to earn as much cash back on each purchase as possible.
Annual fees will continue to climb: Correct
We certainly haven’t seen annual fees decrease this year. In fact, just in the second half of the year, we’ve seen fees increase on four popular travel rewards cards, mostly from American Express:
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
We’ve also seen increases in authorized user fees, with the Amex Platinum increasing its authorized user fee from $175 total for up to three users to $175 per user (see rates and fees). Similarly, the Citi AAdvantage Executive card removed its highly valuable perk of up to 10 free authorized users (including Admirals Club access). Now, you’ll pay $175 for up to three users and $175 for each additional cardholder thereafter.
More niche and partner products: Partially correct
We predicted brand partnerships between credit card issuers and brands would expand this year, as we thought credit card issuers would seek new partnerships to generate more revenue — like the Instacart Mastercard® from Chase, launched in 2022.
This proved to be partially correct. While we didn’t see a slew of new product launches, the following cards did hit the market in 2023:
We also learned about at least one new product coming from Wells Fargo in 2024 — though it’s unclear if new card options will continue to be the exception rather than the norm next year.
Fewer business-related travel perks: Correct
Business travel continues to lag behind leisure travel — and will probably continue to do so — prompting issuers to shift business credit card perks away from travel toward spending.
For example, although the refresh of the Amex Business Gold card in October saw the addition of higher earning rates for transit and Amex Travel bookings, it was also accompanied by the introduction of statement credits for eligible purchases at FedEx, Grubhub and office supply stores and a Walmart+ membership as well as cellphone protection.*
*Eligibility and benefit levels vary by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
More complimentary subscriptions and tough-to-use credits: Correct
We’ve seen a continuation of the “couponization” of credit cards via statement credits — some of which can be challenging to use.
In previous years, we saw the introduction of broad-category or multiple-merchant statement credits, like Amex Platinum’s $20 monthly digital entertainment credit — to be used with seven merchants, including Disney+ and The New York Times — and the $10 monthly wireless telephone provider statement credit on The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.
This year, issuers have introduced more merchant-specific statement credits, often with stricter restrictions.
Following a Hilton card portfolio refresh in the second half of the year, Hilton Surpass cardmembers now receive up to $200 in annual Hilton statement credits — but it is broken up into $50 quarterly chunks to encourage more frequent stays at Hilton properties.
Similarly, the Citi AAdvantage Executive card was refreshed with three new statement credits. One of them was straightforward (up to $120 back on eligible Avis or Budget car rentals every calendar year). However, the other two require more effort to utilize:
- Up to $10 in statement credit for Lyft each month — but only after you’ve taken three eligible rides in a given month
- Up to $120 back on eligible Grubhub purchases — distributed as up to $10 per month
On the plus side, Walmart+ members now get a complimentary Paramount+ subscription, and Instacart+ members get a free subscription to Peacock.
Read more: How long does it take to receive statement credits from Amex, Capital One, Chase and Citi?
Customers will look for travel protections after headaches: Partially correct
There have been far fewer travel disruptions in 2023 compared to last year’s summer travel chaos and Southwest’s holiday meltdown.
Still, consumers continue to search for useful travel protections either through a good travel insurance policy or a credit card that offers them for free. Travelers want assurances that extra costs they incur due to delays, cancellations, lost luggage or other problems will be reimbursed.
Niche access and products with costs to card issuers will go away: Correct
The start of the year saw Capital One remove Priority Pass restaurant benefits from eligible cards, including the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. Furthermore, due to overcrowding in the issuer’s lounge network, they will remove lounge access for select cardholders from the start of 2025.
Similarly, Amex has tightened up its lounge policy. As of February 2023, Platinum cardmembers must spend $75,000 or more each calendar year to get guest privileges. Some Hilton cobranded cards are losing Priority Pass lounge access beginning February 2024, and starting in February 2025, access to Delta Sky Clubs will be restricted for Platinum and Delta cobranded cardmembers.
More cardholders will spend their way to elite status: Correct
It’s possible to spend your way toward elite status through credit cards in multiple loyalty programs — for both airlines and hotels. We expect more people to take advantage of this benefit in 2024 — because they have to.
Credit card issuers and loyalty programs are increasingly turning frequent flyers into frequent spenders. They make a ton of money from consumers using their cobranded credit cards, so they are incentivizing this avenue.
Delta caused an uproar among its fan base in September by announcing drastic changes to its loyalty program. From 2024, Delta will consolidate all Medallion status-earning activities into one metric called Medallion Qualification Dollars.
Travelers will still earn MQDs on flights but will be pushed to spend more on its cobranded credit cards — and via car rentals, hotel stays and vacation packages through the Delta website and app. Delta calls this “rewarding customers for total engagement.” However, these changes have led some to give up on earning Delta elite status — even with Delta backtracking on some of them just weeks after the original announcement.
Read more: Is Delta Air Lines status worth it? What this disappointed soon-to-be-Diamond thinks
Looking back at our predictions for credit cards in 2023, we did pretty well — as we got nine correct and four partially correct. None were completely off base.
Overall, the value proposition of travel rewards credit cards was challenged due to increasing fees, high interest rates, less lucrative welcome offers and more difficult-to-redeem statement credits.
However, there is still tremendous value to be found in the rewards and benefits offered by credit cards, especially for those willing to put in the effort to maximize their perks. That’s as long as the Credit Card Competition Act doesn’t gut credit card rewards significantly.
As we bid farewell to 2023, stay tuned for our predictions for 2024 and get ready to follow what lies ahead in the ever-evolving world of credit cards, points and miles.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass, click here.
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