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Three loyalty programs have now suspended the ability to redeem their currencies for most non-travel-related points redemptions. Delta, Southwest, and Best Western have temporarily halted these types of offerings for the foreseeable future due to circumstances resulting from COVID-19.
Redemptions like these are usually some of the worst values for your points/miles. However, they are convenient for anyone wanting to cash out—especially during a time of need. Unfortunately, we can expect that other loyalty programs will follow suit with similar restrictions in the coming days/weeks.
The first airline to cut certain non-travel mileage redemptions was Delta. In addition to being able to redeem SkyMiles for flights, Delta's SkyMiles Marketplace has offered SkyMiles members the chance to redeem miles for merchandise, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, and gift cards.
However, some restrictions have recently been put in place. Currently, only Medallion Members and Delta SkyMiles American Express cardmembers are able to redeem miles through the SkyMiles Marketplace. Also, the option to redeem SkyMiles for gift cards has been removed. Per a SkyMiles Marketplace representative, this restriction was put in place on March 16. Qualifying members can still redeem miles for merchandise, Apple products, hotel, car rentals, and cruises.
Southwest Rapid Rewards
Southwest has one of the simplest reward programs out there when it comes to redeeming for flights. But Southwest also lets members redeem their Rapid Rewards miles for merchandise, gift cards, hotel stays, and more through their ‘More Rewards' program.
Well, at least they used to. Southwest has now halted all redemptions except reward flights for many Southwest Rapid Rewards members. Members trying to access the More Rewards page will be shown the following notice:
However, not all members are getting this error. If you have a Southwest co-branded credit card—such as the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, or the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card—you can still redeem Rapid Rewards points for non-travel redemptions. The banner at the top of the More Rewards page now specifically shows “for Rapid Rewards Credit Cardmembers”:
Best Western Rewards
Best Western Rewards also offers a variety of redemption opportunities outside of standard award nights, including assorted merchandise and gift cards. However, Best Western has currently paused the ability to redeem your Best Western Rewards for gift cards and merchandise. You can still use points for:
- Free night redemptions
- Donations to an assortment of charities/scholarships
- Conversions to 14 different major frequent flyer programs
- The purchase of a 1-year AAA/CAA basic membership
Best Western does not offer a timeline for when they expect the ability to redeem for gift cards and merchandise to return.
A lot of airlines and hotel companies are going through severe financial hardship right now due to COVID-19. With most people pausing their travel to practice social-distancing, the number of flight and hotel bookings has tanked, massively affecting revenue for these travel providers.
It's possible that—due to cash flow issues—some airlines and hotel loyalty programs simply can't afford to buy the gift cards or merchandise to complete these redemptions right now. Either that or airlines and hotels want to dissuade people from cashing out all their points and miles during the travel standstill.
In any case, Delta, Southwest, and Best Western will probably not be the last travel companies to do this. It's likely that other programs are also looking for ways to tighten their finances, and some may follow this lead. We don't usually recommend that members cash out points and miles through these kinds of low-value redemptions. However, if you're considering cashing out points or miles this way with any other loyalty program, it'd probably be a good idea to do it sooner rather than later.
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