We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021

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We Definitely Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021

We were happy we built loyalty points and status in 2021. Some of the points and status came from extensions from our major travel brands (Marriott, IHG, Air Canada). Additional points were added with credit card spending. But we also did more travel than expected in 2021 and that sure added points!

Service levels were impacted during pandemic with both cost and staffing constraints. But we still found a lot of value and benefits from having loyalty status when we travelled.

2020 Was A Different Year

We started 2020 with a great cruise around South America and a full travel calendar. But then the Covid-19 pandemic hit while we cruised. In 2020, people stayed at home or travelled much less. To reflect this, most of the major travel brands extended loyalty status into 2021. It meant we retained our Ambassador Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, Spire Elite with IHG Rewards and 35K Aeroplan level with Air Canada Aeroplan. It was great that we did not lose ground for all the travel we did in 2019.

When things got a bit better in the summer and early fall, we went on several local trips in 2020. Some travels were day trips. But we also did a few short overnight stays when we felt we managed the risk. Generally we found that the hotels did a good job of following Covid policies and we felt safe.

We loved to have loyalty points and status for the little bit of extra treats we got when we travelled. But in 2020 with so much closed, it was hard to even get the bare minimum. Often the pools, gyms and spas were closed. For most stays, the restaurants were open for some level of service. And we got some great free breakfasts. Although we were surprised with a lovely amenity treat when we stayed in Kingston at the Delta Kingston Waterfront.

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Delta Hotels Kingston Waterfront

Even In 2020 We Earned And Used Points

In 2020, we only stayed at one IHG property. Most of our stays were with Marriott brands. Marriott Bonvoy ran a few promotions that we took advantage of. This added nights and points to our growing points balance. Since we had status extended with both Marriott and IHG, we really wanted to use our nights in 2020 to get status with other hotel brands.

Sadly Hyatt refused to do status matches. And we found so few Hyatt hotels for our local stays. So chasing Hyatt status was postponed until full travels resumed. We were tempted by offers from other brands. Fairmont Hotels had awesome specials for some of their iconic sights like Lake Louise and Quebec City. But that travel was still too far in the travel local” year that was 2020.

A few times we found great deals and we used fewer points than normal for off-season luxury stays. Our weekend in Muskoka at the JW Marriott Lake Rosseau was only 40,000 per night compared to a regular rate between 50,000 to 70,000 points. We even found a great opportunity on our stay in Kingston and used two 40,000 free night certificates that we were worried might expire. Ultimately Marriott Bonvoy extended the expiry date on all free night certificates. But we were still happy with the value we got for our points.

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JW Marriott Lake Rosseau
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Delta Hotels Kingston Waterfront

Loyalty Program Status Was Again Extended In 2021

As we entered 2021, it looked like travel rebounded a bit. So we were delighted when travel program after program recognized the lack of travel in 2020 and provided both points and status to start the new year.

Our Ambassador Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy was extended into 2022. At the beginning of 2021, Bonvoy even provided quite generous “bonus” nights that started travellers on their way to earned status for 2021. When we added in the nights we earned from our American Express Bonvoy credit card, for us it meant we were more than halfway to re-qualifying for Ambassador Elite even with no travel!

The status for IHG Rewards was also extended into 2022. This gave us Spire Elite status even though we only had one night stay in 2020!

Our only airline status was held with Air Canada Aeroplan. We earned 35K status on our travels in 2019 and were happy that this status was carried over through 2022. Even though we only did one short flight late in 2021!

With some help from the travel loyalty programs, we were happy we built some loyalty points and status in 2021.

Points And Other Benefits From Credit Cards Helped

In Canada, we have much fewer options for hotel branded credit cards. But when we could not add points with travel, we made sure we optimized the points we got from the travel credit cards we had. Purchases were put on either our TD Aeroplan Infinite Visa for Air Canada Aeroplan points or on our American Express Bonvoy card for Marriott Bonvoy points. In both 2020 and 2021, the points we added to our Marriott Bonvoy account from our credit card were about 40% of the total points earned. With virtually no air travel in 2020 and 2021, almost 100% of the points added for Air Canada Aeroplan came from spend on our credit card.

The American Express Bonvoy card also had other benefits for travel. At the beginning of each year, the credit card gave us 15 nights towards the new year’s status nights. And on the anniversary of the card, we also got a free night certificate for a stay at 35,000 points. Great reasons to hold this credit card to help our travels. And the benefits outweighed the annual fee for this card.

The TD Aeroplan Infinite Visa offered some additional perks for travel. As credit card holders, our Air Canada miles never expired even if we did not fly. And they covered the cost of renewing our Nexus pass that allowed us easy travel to the U.S. and easier re-entry to Canada.

The travel credit cards we used provided other benefits matched by most other cards. But the travel specific perks made them an easy choice for our major spending. Sometimes it was just a matter of figuring out which credit card was better for what costs!

Why Were We Happy We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021?

For many of the years we travelled we paid little attention to brand loyalty. We picked hotels and flights with no strategy. When we finally decided to pick a few brands and join the loyalty programs, we found that loyalty status came quick and the benefits were very good for us.

Having status with a small number of travel brands did not mean we only travelled to places where we had loyalty status. But it meant we first checked for comparable options that added to our loyalty points. In 2021, we lost points and status with brands because we had no real way to keep adding points (e.g. Emirates Airlines). These stranded points were disappointing but inevitable when loyalty was spread across a lot of brands and travel was limited.

There were many benefits that having elite status provided. Some like free wifi really was not much of a unique perk. But others were appreciated on our travels in 2021.

Why do we like having great loyalty status? What benefits did we really enjoy?

1) Road Trips Built A Lot Of Hotel Points

We did a lot of road trip miles and nights away from home in 2021. Of the 110 nights away, we stayed in hotels for 76 nights. Each hotel night counted towards our status and added loyalty points based on the dollars spent. Most of those hotel nights were with Marriott Bonvoy. But we also stayed in IHG Rewards properties on our road trip to Eastern Canada.

When we went to Eastern Canada, we even added a new hotel program with Choice Privileges with a status match. There were several small towns we visited where the Choice Hotels option was the best.

On our long stay in British Columbia (BC) in the fall, we even joined a loyalty program for small boutique brands (The Guest Book) for our stay at the Old House Hotel on our stay in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. This program provided good discounts for other hotels or a cash refund for stays.

Having loyalty status helped us build more points. For all hotel reward programs, higher status gave us a higher multiplier for points earned with stays. It worked the same for airline miles earned with Air Canada Aeroplan. For example, if the points for a night stay were 1,000 we got 1,750 for our stays as a Marriott Ambassador Elite.

2) Great Vacations On Points

We tended to let our loyalty points at hotels grow and then splurged on a nice vacation. In the Marriott Bonvoy program, when you used points for travel, you only used points for 4 nights for a 5 night stay. This meant we often looked for 5 or 10 day stays to maximize this value. Our long stay at the Ritz Carlton in Grand Cayman was the perfect way to enjoy our accumulated points. IHG Rewards did not have this benefit for longer stays.

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Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman

There were only two real drawbacks to using points for travel. Sometimes the rooms available for points were not ones we wanted and there was no cash or points ways to upgrade. And when we spent out points at resorts, the resort fee was a cash fee on top of the points used.

In 2021, we used no points for stays with either Marriott Bonvoy or IHG Rewards. For Marriott Bonvoy, we accumulated points during all of our travels in Canada in 2021. And never really found a stay on just points where we got great value, a wonderful room or booked a long enough stay. For IHG Rewards, we saved our points for an aspirational international resort stay. And that kind of travel was not possible in 2021.

With only one short flight in 2021, we continued to bank our Air Canada Aeroplan points and never splurged for a long flight.

We were not really happy as travel loyalty points just accumulated. Travel loyalty program changes never made the points worth more or easier to redeem. But we also did not want to waste the points.

3) We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021 For Awesome Suite Upgrades

The jury was often out about whether you really got good upgrades with hotel loyalty status. For us, we got some of the most amazing upgrades on our travels in 2021.

Local stays at the JW Marriott Lake Rosseau and the Delta Waterfront Kingston always got us awesome upgrades with water views.

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Delta Hotels Kingston Waterfront
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JW Marriott Lake Rosseau

On our month long road trip to Eastern Canada, we enjoyed some amazing sweet suite upgrades. Our return visit to the Ritz Carlton Montreal reminded us why we loved being spoiled at the Ritz! We loved the large suite we had at the Delta hotel for a long stay in St John’s, Newfoundland. The customer service was unmatched when we were treated like royalty on our Delta hotel stay in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island. And we had the most luxurious Delta suite for a short stop in Moncton, New Brunswick.

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Delta Hotel Moncton
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Delta Hotel Moncton

We were equally spoiled with hotel upgrades on our long road trip to Western Canada. We stopped in Thunder Bay in Northern Ontario on the way out and when we returned. On both visits we loved the lake view Delta Hotels Thunder Bay suite we were treated to. Road trip stops in both directions let us enjoy the short stop in Winnipeg in Manitoba at the Delta Hotel. And also a luxurious break in Regina, Saskatchewan at the elegant Hotel Saskatchewan.

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Delta Hotels Thunder Bay
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Hotel Saskatchewan Regina
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Hotel Saskatchewan Regina

The JW Marriott Parq Vancouver was a real treat on our stay in the False Creek area in Vancouver. And we enjoyed our stay so much that we booked a stop again before we started on the road for home.

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JW Marriott Parq Vancouver
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JW Marriott Parq Vancouver
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Rooftop Deck JW Marriott Parq Vancouver

Hotel room upgrades were definitely a key perk when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.

4) Flight Upgrades Too

Our Air Canada Aeroplan 35K status provided many benefits when travelling. We definitely loved priority boarding. Priority security clearance was less of an issue in Canada with our Nexus status but it helped when we travelled home. A larger baggage allowance would have been a major benefit. However, David’s past military service gave us the same enhanced baggage limits.

When we flew Business Class we got lounge access with the tickets. But access to the Maple Leaf lounges with our status was always welcome. We were even surprised at airports outside of Canada with access to some Air Canada partner lounges. Since we were always really early for our flights, we loved having a quieter place to relax.

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Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge

Each year there were optional perks to select. Invariably we both picked eUpgrade certificates. Requesting an eUpgrade put us in a queue for potential upgrades on a selected flight. The number of eUpgrades needed for a flight depended on the fare category of the flight we booked. And in some cases, there was also an additional fee. But when an eUpgrade was successful, we paid much less than the cost to book the upgraded seat from the start.

On our one flight in 2021 to start our Caribbean cruise, our eUpgrade request was not successful for the flight to Miami. But we were very excited when the upgrade went through on the trip back to Toronto.

Flight upgrades were great when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.

5) Free Breakfasts Made Travelling Easier

We must admit that we hated searching for breakfast every day when we travel. Especially on long road trips where we were gone for months. So free breakfast was one the the travel loyalty perks that was great for us. It was certainly one of the reasons we preferred Marriott hotels over IHG ones for our travels in 2021.

In 2021, we found that the variety in the breakfast provided varied hugely by time of year, hotel brand and sometimes even at specific hotels in a brand. The pandemic definitely impacted the breakfast options. When we stayed at the Delta in Winnipeg on the way to Vancouver, only room service from a fixed menu was provided. And some of the restaurants had take out only. But we found nothing to complain about.

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Delta Hotels Winnipeg

At several of the more luxury properties, we got great breakfast credits that allowed us to eat like kings. On a short stop in Thunder Bay in Ontario, the French toast for breakfast drew us back for a second stay. On our stay at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina, our free breakfast included the weekend brunch which we enjoyed in front of a roaring fire! When we had two great stays by False Creek in Vancouver at JW Le Parq, the breakfast was from a fixed menu. But we sure got a great spread!

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Delta Hotels Thunder Bay
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Hotel Saskatchewan Regina

Whether it was a take out breakfast or a sit down feast, we sure enjoyed free breakfast when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.

6) Occasionally Even Amenities Returned

One of the elite perks that disappeared during the pandemic was a welcome amenity. We understood that service did not operate at the same levels and in many hotels restaurant services were limited. So when we got a welcome amenity, we were always surprised and delighted!

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Hotel Saskatchewan Regina

Sometimes the welcome amenity went above and beyond. When we stayed in Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, we got not only a tasty treat. But the team at the Delta Hotels Prince Edward Island created an amazing welcome book with personal recommendations for our stay from the staff!

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Delta Hotels Prince Edward Island
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Delta Hotels Prince Edward Island
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Goodbye From Delta Hotels Prince Edward Island

A welcome amenity was a lovely gesture we appreciated when we built loyalty points and status in 2021.

7) Cruise Line Loyalty Status Offered A Real Treat

The other travel loyalty status we continued to build in 2021 was our status with Oceania Cruises. When we did our Caribbean Cruise at the end of 2021, it moved us to the Platinum level with the Oceania Club. The levels in the Oceania Club were built with cruise credits. Depending on the length of a cruise, we got a certain number of cruise credits. Platinum meant we had 20 cruise credits.

How much cruising was required for Platinum varied. A simple 7 day cruise earned one cruise credit. So in theory, Platinum level could be obtained with as few as 140 cruising nights. But the 53 day cruise we did from Athens to Cape Town only got us 3 cruise credits! Since we did a number of longer and more expensive cruises, those 20 cruise credits sure cost us a lot! In fact, we did 17 Oceania Cruises trips to reach the Platinum level and sailed for 281 days!

There were many benefits to the Platinum level. We particularly loved the free gratuities, onboard credits and spa treatment credits. But the great benefit we unlocked at Platinum level was a free cruise! We have not yet decided where we will go for our free cruise. But you know there are lots of great options with Oceania Cruises.

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Oceania Cruises Marina

When we built loyalty points and status in 2021 with Oceania Cruises, we earned a really nice benefit.

What Is 2022 Looking Like?

With travel not yet fully bounced back in 2021, most of the major travel brands again extended status levels for another year through the end of 2022.

Marriott Bonvoy extended status through to February 2023. This would have been great, however, we achieved Ambassador Elite status on our travels in 2021. They also extended expiry dates on Free Night Certificates we earned with our American Express Bonvoy credit cards. This meant we did not have to scramble in December 2021 to use the 4 certificates we still had not used.

IHG has also extended loyalty status through to the end of 2022. So we will maintain our Spire Elite status on just a few stays in 2020 and 2021. If we finally get to plan a getaway at an IHG Intercontinental resort, we would certainly welcome this status.

Air Canada fell in line with most airline programs and extended status through 2022 as well. We look forward to getting new benefits in early 2022. Since we often used the eUpgrade certificates!

Choice Privileges status introduced a slight variation for 2022. Since we achieved Platinum Elite status by the end of 2021, all of our qualifying nights rolled over and counted toward 2022 status! And we kept our 2021 Elite status level through the end of 2022. This started us towards the next status level in 2022. A good benefit when we travel to smaller spots not well covered by Marriott or IHG.

With the exception of Marriott Bonvoy, even with our travels in 2021 we would have lost all of the loyalty status earned with so much travel in 2019. So loyalty status for 2022 will allow us to continue to enjoy the perks of loyalty status when we travel. But with no new travel booked for 2022, it remains to be seen how much new travel loyalty status will be earned in 2022.

We Built Loyalty Points And Status In 2021 In Many Places

We were delighted that travel brands recognized that travel was down and extended status more than once. In some cases they even provided a head start to status for the next year. When the pandemic settled down in Canada, we did a lot more travel than we expected in 2021. The vast majority of this travel was in long road trips. And this travel helped us build more loyalty points and status for hotel brands.

The Caribbean cruise we snuck into the end of 2021, provided a little benefit for airline points. But more importantly it gained us a great new loyalty status for cruising.

We were happy that we built loyalty points and status in 2021. And that we really enjoyed the benefits of travel brand status. We are not sponsored for our travel. So it was wonderful to be spoiled with loyalty status.

But as 2022 dawned, travel was again being impacted by the new Omicron variant of Covid-19. And we do not know how this will impact the ongoing pandemic and travel. Continuing to build points and status may not be sustainable without help again from the travel brands!

Have you built loyalty points and status in 2021? Any other insights you would add?

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About TravelAtWill 654 Articles
Travel blogger and photographer! Scuba diving, luxury cruising, chocoholic, sea and sunshine addicts, camera attached and just generally curious! Join us on our adventures!

54 Comments

  1. Sure looks like you did a great job of both earning and utilizing travel points, especially during the pandemic. We were grateful for airlines extending credits from cancelled flights. I just barely used a credit from 2020 to book flights in March of this year. We mostly earned more travel credits by spending with our credit card. Can’t wait to use them! Hope you have a wonderful year with more travel in 2022!

    • We too are keep adding points and hope to get an amazing vacation with them. Just need to be able to travel further afield. Hope you find a spot to enjoy those points.

  2. Interesting way of looking at your year! We get points through our credit card spending, but use the very fast. You seem to have so many other ways to earn loyalty points though. Too bad that Hyatt refuses to do status matches. In the end they they will the ones who loose because not so many people travel now.

  3. Great that you could use and built up loyalty point even in a difficult year like 2021. And good that you traveled more than expected. It must have been a lot of planning also to get the best out of the loyalty programs. We are always a bit lazy to use the point system to the full – although we are enrolled in several programs. But usually it works out cheaper to go with the flow. All the best for 2022!

    • It took us a long time to actually start building loyalty points and status. It gives us a starting point for travel planning. But we don’t let it be a constraining point for planning. We have had some great experiences when we went off-brand.

  4. You have made the most of your travel points and loyalty offers. We put everything on one credit card and pay it off every month. We use the credit to pay for our all-inclusive vacations. It feels good when half of the trip is paid for.

  5. My husband travels for work and has built up points over the years and years of traveling. It has been such a blessing for our family to use those points to travel the world. Best education ever!

    • Sadly I did not do a great job when I was travelling for work with collecting loyalty points and travel. But I am sure it is wonderful to have a travel treat from your husband’s business travel.

  6. Impressive how many Loyalty Points you managed to get in 2021. You’ve traveled a lot. Seventy-six nights in the hotel are amazing, and this is only a part of your trip. Great tips on how to earn points like this!

    • This is perfect timing, as I wanted to investigate the best credit cards to use for travel perks. When travelling I tend not to stay in chain hotels, I’m more of a apartment renter or boutique hotel user. But credit card, that’s what I am interested in. I will look into the Visa Elite as you’ve used to see the benefits vs. Costs. Helpful and timely article.

      • I hope you find a credit card that works for you. We had a different credit card that was not brand specific when we started and that was a great way to get travel points.

  7. You have made the most of your travel points and loyalty offers. We put everything on one credit card and pay it off every month. We use the credit to pay for our all-inclusive vacations. It feels good when half of the trip is paid for thanks for sharing this amazing article .

  8. We also collect and use hotel points. 2020 and even 2021 really hurt, since we couldn’t travel as much. We did manage to gain some points from one trip to Niagara Falls in 2021. And, we get some points for everyday purchases on one credit card. I’m glad you guys were able to continue to grow your points. Hopefully, we can do lots more traveling in 2022!

  9. This is an interesting read. I travel a lot but have no loyalty to anything. I did start clocking up business related points but haven’t travelled on business in years now. I don’t think I could restrict myself to certain chains but its good to see the perks if I did.

    • We too did not want the restrictions on our choices when we were not travelling as much as we now do. For now it gives us a starting point but does not overly constrain our choices. We have sure had some great Airbnb and boutique hotel stays to remember for those choices.

  10. This is really interesting. Since I am always looking for the best deal, I hardly ever join a loyalty program. I did it with British Airways when I still used to fly to the US and I did get some free flights to London in the end. On the other hand, lowcost airlines are so common in Europe that I would have paid peanuts with another airline 😉 My Emirates program brought me a sixpack of some really nice wine – ironic coming from an Arabic airline… – and that was it.

    • It indeed is funny that your loyalty with Emirates got you some nice wine! Sadly many loyalty programs like Emirates for us have stranded points because they are not in locations we travel a lot. Road trips last year sure paid off for us!

  11. Really interesting. Gave me some ideas I never thought of. We have been lucky during the PanDamit to get much of our loyalty things extended.

  12. Great travel hacking! You definitely made the most of your points and of 2021! The best way I have ever used my points was flying Emirates business class from Singapore to Joburg – was an absolutely fantastic flight!

  13. I learned a lot from you today. I never thought about building loyalty points and status while traveling. although I’m not going to do it right away, but it will be in a plan for the next couple of years.

    • At this point with no travel booked for 2022, it was nice to get started with status and point extensions. I guess we will see where the new year takes us. Enjoy your points.

  14. Honestly, I have never looked at credit points, but my sister keeps track of them on her cards. Now, after reading your post, I think I should begin to look at them seriously. They can be quite a saver on trips and stays, along with upgradation facilities.

  15. Wow, you sure made the most of 2021. I love how you manage to both earn points and travel during the pandemic but also utilise those earned points. It’s great that most hotels extended your status. Well done, need to learn from you!

  16. Nice to know that you were able to maintain your loyalty status and enjoy the points as well as the extra perks. I am also thankful that they extended the validity.

  17. My recommendation is the amex cobalt card.
    5 points per dollar spent on food plus bonus points
    Buy gift cards for gas and other spend at the grocery
    Adds up fast for free flights and air fare

  18. I think I need to add a little discipline to my life and understand my points a little better. I am so bad with redeeming them that most of the time they expire. Looking at all the benefits you have shared, I wish I had done better. I definitely could use some of those hotel upgrades. Good luck with 2022.

  19. Now that’s a great way to travel! Wish we had so many benefits traveling as a South African. Great that you could benefit in 2021 and lovely to get upgrades and other deals.

    • It is interesting the variability in loyalty programs and credit cards from country to country. We don’t have anywhere near the options in Canada than are available in the U.S.

  20. Very useful post on how to build loyalty points for hotels. You learn so much about loyalty programs while traveling and benefit from such exclusive packages so that you can avail all the facilities.Thank you for sharing.

  21. Inspiring to hear how you travelled across Canada during the pandemic. What different credit card did you used to have that was not brand specific.

    • We started collecting points with our TD First Class Travel card. You got points for spend that you could use for travel you booked through their customer Expedia site. We splurged most of our points one year on First Class Emirates tickets. A real treat. That card worked well when we were travelling on and off and could never get the volume with specific travel brands.

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