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A new year offers the opportunity to maximize everything in your life, especially your points, miles and spending. Before we finally say goodbye to 2013, I wanted to take a little time to think about the resolutions I want to make for 2014 to make it as productive as possible.
1. Release An App With Cool Functionality: I’m excited to announce that I’ve been working on a partnership with Wallaby (an awesome startup dedicated to maximizing credit card spend, which I first heard about in 2012) to create an app that will help you keep you up to date with everything points and miles and help you maximize your credit card spend. The app will be launching in early 2014, so sign up here to join the official invite list.
2. More Reader Meet Ups: While I love talking to readers online, there is nothing better than meeting them in person. I always get a thrill when someone randomly comes up to me in an airport or on a plane (usually because they recognized Miles!) and says they follow the site. I get to meet a lot of miles junkies every October at the Chicago Seminars and it is always wonderful to share stories with the 550 frequent flyer enthusiasts in attendance. Whether in New York, Miami, LA or somewhere in between, I want to commit to organizing more meet ups with readers so we can talk in person and swap tips.
3. Create More Video Content: Pictures tell a thousand words, but video – like my footage from India above when I went to the Maldives in November – is even better as it really lets you experience a place through someone else’s eyes. Now that we have the TPG video team on board, we will be shooting far more video footage so be sure to watch this space!
4. Reevaluate My Elite Status And What Value I’m Getting From It: Over the past few weeks we have been evaluating the elite status benefits for the major airlines including American, Delta, Southwest and United. All this talk of elite status has gotten me thinking about my own, and where I want to be next year. I currently have Delta Platinum Medallion, United Platinum and American Airlines Executive Platinum status. To maintain that, both Delta and United will require me to spend $7,500 each in 2014, or to spend $25,000 on a co-branded credit card with each, which I think I will do for Delta but not United. However, I still believe that American Executive Platinum is the most lucrative top-tier airline elite status program (we’ll see how the merger with US Airways impacts this). This is due to several factors including that (for now) there are no revenue requirements for elite status, you can earn it based on flying or on the fares you buy with their points system, and there are some super valuable benefits like eight systemwide upgrades that can be applied to pretty much any published fare, and plus American’s new planes are coming out. To learn more about it, I broke down all the benefits of AA Executive Platinum in this post.
As for Delta, I remember how much travel it took for me to reach Platinum Medallion for the first time, and I know it is not within everyone’s reach – or even desire – but the array of additional benefits makes it worthwhile for me. Platinum Medallion is Delta’s second-highest tier of elite status. It is earned after flying 75,000 Medallion Qualification Miles or racking up 100 Medallion Qualification Segments. That might be harder to reach given that Delta recently decreased the mileage earned on certain unpublished fares and also hacked away at partner earning rates, muddying the qualification waters a bit. As always, double-check this chart to see if your partner flight will count towards status. While it is hard to achieve, some of the best perks for Platinums are space-available complimentary upgrades, Economy Comfort seating, being able to check one free bag, and priority check-in, and I value a few other things about the Delta experience including the fact that their entire domestic fleet offers WiFi, they are expanding their international routes from the west coast and offering lie-flat in all international premium cabins, and their service culture is really friendly.
All that said, I am tempted to switch to Alaska Airlines, especially after they announced earlier this month that starting January 15, 2014, Mileage Plan members would earn elite-qualifying miles on all its international airline partners, now including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Fiji Airways, Korean Air and Qantas. Mileage Plan has three elite tiers, which you achieve at the following thresholds:
MVP: 20,000 miles on Alaska or 25,000 miles on Alaska and partners or 30 segments on Alaska and partners
MVP Gold: 40,000 miles on Alaska, or 50,000 miles on Alaska and partners or 60 segments on Alaska and partners
MVP Gold 75K: 75,000 miles on Alaska or 90,000 miles on Alaska and partners or 90 segments on Alaska and partners
Though some Alaska elites might see this as a negative because it makes elite qualification easier, for that same reason I see that as a net positive and another way that Alaska is pushing back against Delta’s encroachment into the Pacific Northwest and Seattle market in particular, making it even more of a viable alternative to Delta’s Medallion elite program – especially for folks based on the West Coast and Delta flyers looking for another program to focus their elite strategy on once Delta’s revenue-based elite requirements come into effect in 2014.
That’s because if you hit even just low-tier MVP status at 20-25,000 miles you get a 50% mileage bonus on Alaska’s elite-qualifying partners including both Delta and American, and if you hit MVP 75K status, you earn a 100% mileage bonus as well as complimentary upgrades on Delta in the US and a 50% discount on Economy Comfort (25% at MVP and 50% at MVP Gold), not to mention other elite perks on both Delta and American such as free checked bags, priority check in, boarding and more. Not only that, but on some airlines like Korean Air, you’ll be able to earn EQM’s toward Alaska status, while you cannot toward Delta status even though the two are SkyTeam partners.
More and more, I’m seriously considering going for Alaska MVP status in 2014 because it would be nice both to fly all of Alaska’s premium partners and bank award and elite-qualifying miles in one spot, but also to have the flexibility to redeem those miles on all those great airline partners. For example, I just flew from Dubai to JFK in Emirates first class for 90,000 Alaska miles and $90 in taxes and fees, which was an amazing value.
Despite all of this talk about elite status perks, I think it is important to realize that they have been eroding over the years, especially for lower and mid tiers. Due to several factors including new revenue requirements, credit card benefits packages and other decisions by the airlines it means that elite status no longer holds nearly the same value as it once did and rather than being airline loyalty programs, frequent flyer programs have turned into frequent buyer programs and that more than ever. Read my Top 5 Ways Airline Elite Status Has Changed And Is Going To Get Worse, to get the full scoop.
5. Analyze and “Re-Maximize” Credit Card Spending: As you all know, I put everything on my credit cards, and which ones I use for each purchase is extremely important to me. I have nearly 20 open and active credit cards, which has actually helped boost my credit score over time by lowering by debt-to-credit ratio. While I have no intention of decreasing my credit card spending, I do want to look at where I spend the most and how I can make beneficial changes. The card I use the most all-round is the Chase Sapphire Preferred because it offers really lucrative category spending bonuses including 2.14X points per $1 on travel (including the 7% annual points dividend) – which includes not only airline tickets, hotel rooms and things like that, but also parking garages and meters, taxis, metro transit like the Subway and a host of other transportation options – as well as on dining (and 3.21X points per $1 on dining the first Friday of each month through 2013). At the end of the year, the card also offers a 7% dividend on all the points you accrue during the year (not including the sign-up bonus).
To check out all my other favorite cards in my wallet and why I have them, read this post here.
6. Go To More Off-The-Beaten Path Destinations: While I love going to high profile places like Madrid, Paris and Dublin – all of which I did in 2013 – I really want to visit some less-traveled spots that don’t pop up in every travel guide. There are so many exciting places in the world to discover, and although they might not all have a Westin or a Park Hyatt, there’s always a way to get there with points and miles. For example, I have always wanted to go to Oman, and now Qatar Airways is part of the Oneworld Alliance, I can get a flight to Muscat (via Doha) using American Airlines miles. Having gotten certified as a PADI scuba diver this year, it is the perfect excuse to check out new tropical destinations where I can dive too, like tiny South Pacific islands or less well-known parts of Mexico. Even closer to home, there are tons so small towns in the US and Canada that I have never visited, so there is literally a world of opportunities.
7. Try New Airlines: While it is no doubt smart to be loyal to a miles program to get the most benefits, there are so many airlines that I am still dying to fly that I can also book with credit card points or partner airline miles even if I am not a member of their frequent flyer program. Can you believe that I still haven’t flown Virgin America? Amex points transfer to Elevate at a ratio of 2:1, or if you have Emirates Skywards miles then you can take advantage of the two airlines’ new partnership that will allow members of both airlines’ frequent flyer programs to earn and redeem points or miles for travel across the networks. Another transcontinental option that I want to try is JetBlue’s Mint Business Class seats that go into service in June 2014. The new premium cabins will be aboard the carrier’s 11 A321′s (scheduled for delivery by the end of this year), and will have 16 seats – 12 lie-flat regular business class seats and four that are “mini-suites” with privacy walls and doors, and the route from JFK to LAX will start at $599 each way.
8. Be Quicker About Releasing My Trip Reports: I love sharing my adventures with TPG readers – whether it is good, bad or downright ugly! But sometimes I am so busy actually traveling that I don’t have time to write up my trip reports straight away such as hotel reviews or flight details. I vow to get faster at relaying my experiences with you, but in the meantime be sure to follow me on Twitter @thepointsguy or on Instagram so that you can see my photos immediately.
9. Refresh The Beginner’s Guide: It is easy to assume that everyone who reads The Points Guy is a mileage expert but many people are getting into this for the first time and it is hard to know where to start. If you have never joined a frequent flyer program, analyzed your credit card spending or actively accrued points, it can be a daunting task. Here is my current Beginner’s Guide, but I resolve to refresh and add to it in the New Year. From joining hotel loyalty programs to getting the right points-earning credit card, there’s lots to learn!
10. More Posts: My final resolution is simple – I want to bring my loyal readers more information, news and stories – and that means writing more posts! TPG is not just created by me, we have a great team here bringing you all the latest miles-related news so between me and the rest of the talented TPG team, we will bringing you more creative content throughout the year. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, suggestions and requests with us in comments or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, healthy new year!