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My Top 10 Points, Miles and Blogging New Year’s Resolutions

by on December 31, 2013 · 20 comments

in Top 10

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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.

TPG MAX

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.

As always, Miles made a special appearance at the Chicago Seminars - much to the delight of the packed room!

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!

Sky Miles

Am I getting the most out of my elite status?

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.

Alaska Airlines elite status juts got a lot more appealing.

Alaska Airlines elite status juts got a lot more appealing.

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.

The Amex Platinum Card.

The Amex Platinum Card is one of my favorites.

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).

In terms of redemptions, Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to 10 travel programs: British Airways, Korean Air, Southwest, United, Virgin Atlantic, Hyatt, IHG Rewards, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton and Amtrak, and I personally maximize them by transferring them to United for high-end redemptions such as Lufthansa first class, or to redeem award nights at top-tier Hyatts around the world, which are only 22,000 points.
As I unwind my loyalty with Delta, I’m going to spend less on my Delta Amex cards, because I no longer value the MQM mileage boosts. Instead I’ll focus on maximizing spend bonus categories on Sapphire Preferred, Ink and Freedom and also hit the $30,000 bonus on my Premier Rewards Gold so I score that 15,000-point bonus. I may also try to hit the $40,000 in spend on the American Executive AAdvantage card in order to get the 10,000 EQMs. It is difficult to plan exactly how much I’ll spend in 2014 (as a business owner who travels a lot, there are a lot of variables), but I’m still going to leverage Bluebird to pad my mileage accounts with $5,000 a month in spend.

To check out all my other favorite cards in my wallet and why I have them, read this post here.

I have always wanted to go to Oman, and now can use AAdvantage miles to get there.

I have always wanted to go to Oman, and can now use AAdvantage miles to get there.

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.

I have never flown Virgin America!

I have never flown Virgin America!

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.

We've arrived!

Exotic experiences like my trip to the Maldives need to be shared!

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.

Getting a Chase credit card is a good first step to take.

Getting a Chase credit card is a good first step to take.

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!

TPG team members take their MacBook Air with them where ever they go.

TPG team members take their MacBook Airs with them where everywhere they go.

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 [email protected]

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy, healthy new year!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • jiffy

    Love your stuff, thanks for sharing all of the experiences, tricks and tips in 2013. Wishing you an amazing 2014!

  • Zila

    You should add a couple of (safe) Middle East destinations, like Jordan, Israel etc. and expand to sites like Petra, the Golan Heights, Eilat (great scuba diving), a bit far from airports, but well worth it.

  • Casey

    I’ve been a reader for a couple years now and have gotten so good at using points by reading your posts!!! Just a quick thank you from a reader and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings for you! :)

  • mj

    How about more spots in Africa? You liked South Africa, and there’s lots of other great destinations here. Rwanda, Tanzania, Namibia, Sao Tome, etc etc.

  • dee seiffer

    Thanks for a great year, Brian and TPG Team! Looking forward to reading more in 2014.

  • Dan

    As a newcomer to points and mileage, a refresh to the beginner’s guide is a great thing to look forward to in the new year.

  • Farhan

    I like reading your post every morning. Thanks for your hard work and dedication. Keep it up and Good Luck. Happy New Year.

  • DB

    Brian, thanks for all the excellent information I’ve received from your blog this year. I’m recommending your blog to several friends who are interested in this hobby, so like Dan, I’ll be looking forward to a refresh of the info in your Beginner’s Guide.

  • RaiderHoosier

    Thanks for all the pointers and tips. Makes it nice for those with points/miles to burn that want the best value but don’t have the time (or make the time) to research.

  • Amanda

    Sounds good! Appreciate your site. FWIW, I’m sure many readers enjoy your video content, but I find the embedded videos a little annoying and always skip them (okay, I think I watched the one when you introduced Miles!). Please continue to include all information you present in videos in text form within the post, also. Thanks!

  • Evan

    Brian, maybe some more posts about IHG Rewards Club and the Intercontinental Ambassador program? Maybe you post less about it since you don’t use it, but it’s my main program and I hardly see any posts about it on your page. Thanks!

  • http://www.matthewgoldman.com/ Matthew Goldman

    Team Wallaby is very excited for our collaboration with The Points Guy! We can’t wait to be a part of this awesome community.

  • Helen S

    Thank you for sharing your expertise and experiences! I’ve been a reader for only a few months. Recently I redeemed 100,000 United miles for a retirement gift for my sister: Lufthansa business class round trip Philly-Budapest, followed by a free one-way to Florida a month later to visit another sister. I couldn’t have done it without your excellent information, guidance, and inspiration. Thank you, thank you!

  • SeaBee3

    Since the whole staff carries their laptops with them, it would be nice to get some of the industry news faster than other blogs get it out. It seems like many things are 2-4 days behind (or not mentioned at all when it matters, like the DL mistake fares and the Wideroe fares). Happy New Year!

  • BMATT

    Taking your advice, I just received my new CSP cards today! :-) Super excited to use them in 2014 to get travel out of the points!

  • Dustin

    “Refresh The Beginner’s Guide” That would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for creating this website. It’s a wealth of information.

  • Sam

    It’s too bad that you’ve waited until 2014 to fly Virgin America. Back when they launched, they really were operating as if they didn’t need an elite program, because if you wanted to fly like you had elite status, all you had to do was buy a ticket on Virgin America. A friend of mine described it as “like flying in an Apple Store.” I used to fly between from SFO to LAX and back 2-3x a month. I tried several carriers and eventually decided that I just really had no interest in flying anyone but them, even if their price wasn’t always the absolute lowest. Unfortunately, as you know, they hemorrhaged money the whole time, and eventually introduced Elevate elite status levels, so now if you want to fly like you have status… you need status.

    They still offer a very good domestic product (on a 5-hour daytime flight, I’d much rather be in Virgin Main Cabin Select than United “First”, no question), but it’s not quite the “OMG, this is what domestic flying can be?” experience it once was. I’m Alaska MVP Gold now (and very happy with it, flying AA when AS can’t take me where I need to go and DL as a backup to that), but boy I miss that version of Virgin.

  • Gin

    Brian, with so many credit cards I notice on credit karma if you get 4-6 inquiries it’s a C, 6-8 a D, and greater than is a F. If all your other scores are A or B, does the inquiries matter that much? I’m relatively new going just over a year on this hobby and have 6 inquiries now but feel if I open more I may move to D or F. Just want to get your thoughts. My score is over 760.

  • NoPurpleFlavorAid

    I value your advice and am an educated beginner. I’m really going to be serious this year with my miles strategy. Two observations from my own experiences: 1) I am growing increasingly unhappy with American Express card service. 2) I have Visa Sapphire and United Mileage Club card BUT… the club card promises are not being fulfilled. I got scammed out of around $250 of benefit because I was NOT “automatically” signed up for Hyatt Gold Passport. They refused to honor my membership or give me any type of credit after they realized their mistake. Make sure you have physical membership cards IN ADVANCE, not just the credit card itself.

  • Travelista

    I love your page! One item that I would like to see is full disclosure when you receive benefits from a card link. It’s funny b/c when I don’t see that, I feel compelled to get around it b/c it wasn’t disclosed (have to fight that urge), but when I see the full disclosure on other mileage sites, it compels me to click it if I apply to help them out. Just a thought. I have to think I’m probably not the only one who feels this way.

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