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Audit Your 2014 Airline Miles, Hotel Points & Elite Credits

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As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to take a last look at your loyalty accounts to make sure everything is in order. I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to round up some good housekeeping tips to help you make sure you’ve received all the points and miles you’re entitled to from this past year.

It pays to audit your accounts so you end up with the miles and points you deserve.
Audit your accounts so you get the points and miles you earned. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

With the end of another year, award travelers are paying extra attention to their frequent flyer and hotel guest accounts to make sure they’ve qualified (or requalified) for elite status and to ponder next year’s travel strategy. Before we bid adieu to 2014, however, it’s important to make sure that you’ve actually been credited with all the miles, segments, nights, and stays you earned this past year.

Discrepancies in mileage or hotel stay credits are common, so don’t take it for granted that your accounts are correct. Partner flights might not be credited, hotel stays or purchases can be miscoded—any number of things can happen. So at the end of each year it’s important to take a few minutes to look over your balances carefully and make sure all those flights and nights are accounted for. Here’s how.

AIRLINE MILES CHECKLIST

While airline frequent flyer programs automatically credit flights for you and the process tends to be pretty streamlined, there can still be discrepancies, so it pays to double check your flight activity and make sure you were credited properly.

Many airline programs, like American AAdvantage, offer their elites mileage bonuses of between 25-125%.
Many airline programs, like American AAdvantage, offer mileage bonuses to elite flyers.

1. Elite Bonuses: If you’re an elite member with any of the major airlines (such as American, Delta United, or US Airways), you’re rewarded with a 25-125% mileage bonus depending on the airline and your status level. While the airlines are pretty good about crediting these bonuses, you should check your flights from the past year and confirm that your earnings match your itineraries. You can often find this information by logging into your frequent flyer account and looking through past mileage statements. Typically elite bonuses post automatically when you fly on an airline’s own metal, but double check any codeshares or flights on partner airlines.

If you were re-routed to a more direct flight due to weather/flight cancellations, you can ask the airline for the original routing credit of the flight you purchased if it’s more advantageous. You shouldn’t lose out on miles if the airline had to change your routing at the last minute. One other thing to note is that if you earned elite status before a flight, but that status wasn’t updated in your profile, then you need to make sure the appropriate elite bonus is applied in case the system doesn’t retroactively credit you as it should.

2. Class of Service Bonuses: When you purchase a higher fare class (like full-fare economy, business, or first class), airlines usually offer a class-of-service bonuses of 50-150% for both award/redeemable and elite qualifying miles. Check that these extra miles have posted, especially if you find yourself just short of earning elite status. You can use this tool from WebFlyer to help with your calculations.

Make sure your airline gives you the miles from partner flights (when you are eligible).
Make sure your airline gives you the miles from partner flights (when you’re eligible).

3. Partner Flight Miles: Pretty much every major airline you’re likely to fly is either a member of one of the major alliances, or has a slew of airline partners, many of which let you earn and redeem miles at favorable rates. So even if you’re not flying your primary airline, you can credit those miles to one of your preferred frequent flyer programs. For instance, if you flew EVA to Asia, you could credit those miles to United. Or if you flew British Airways to London, you could credit those miles to American AAdvantage.

The one tricky factor is that mileage accrual rates vary based on the fare class of your ticket, and you can often get class of service bonuses, so double check your itineraries as discussed above. Another issue is that alliance partner credits can take a long time to post, so take it up with your airline if you don’t see credits that should have posted, and make sure those miles are credited for the correct year (in case you fly toward the end of 2014, but the miles don’t post until 2015).

Alaska and Delta both offered double miles promos out of Seattle this year.
Alaska and Delta both offered double miles promos out of Seattle this year.

4. Miles Promotions: While these aren’t as prevalent as in past years (when both American and US Airways offered a few double EQM promos), Delta and Alaska have been duking it out for supremacy in Seattle lately. Alaska offered double elite miles out of Seattle, which prompted Delta to offer double Medallion and base miles, which in turn forced Alaska to offer double EQMs to many destinations. Furthermore, American offered mileage bonuses on transatlantic flights, and United did the same. So if you registered for a promotion and took qualifying flights, make sure you’re credited properly.

5. Car Rental/Hotel Partner Promos: Most airlines offer points for renting a car from a partner agency or staying at a partner hotel property. Furthermore, they offer special promotions that earn even more miles. For instance, Marriott is offering travelers either 1,000 bonus American or US Airways miles per stay when you book by the end of the year for stays through January. If you stay for two nights or longer at a Hilton property as an HHonors member, you can earn double Delta SkyMiles and 250 MQMs per stay.

On the car rental side of things, you can save up to 35% and earn up to 3,000 AAdvantage bonus miles on Avis car rentals through December 31, 2014. United Airlines and Hertz officially expanded their partnership in November, so United flyers who book with Hertz will earn up to 1,250 bonus miles on rentals. If you take advantage of any of these promotions, make sure you get those bonus miles.

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select comes with 50,000 miles and 2 Admirals Club passes.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are a great way to boost your balance – just make sure those miles post!

6. Credit Card Sign-Up and Spending Bonuses: Credit card sign-up bonuses and spend thresholds are probably the single easiest way to boost your points and miles balances. For instance, one of TPG’s current top deals is the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard, which offers 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. If you forget to provide your frequent flyer number when you sign up, often a new account will be created for you, and the points or miles from the sign-up bonus (as well as any you earn from spending) will post there instead of to your existing account. If you signed up for a co-branded card and met the spending requirements, make sure you received the bonus, and that it was credited to the correct account.

Many credit cards also offer elite miles for meeting certain spending thresholds. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard offers 10,000 elite qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. The Delta Reserve card, Delta Platinum Amex, and Virgin America Premium Visa (among others) also offer elite bonuses. If you’ve met the spending requirements, check that any bonus elite qualifying miles are properly reflected in your account. For instance, with the Delta Reserve you must select that you want the MQMs deposited in your account; otherwise they won’t be deposited for 90 days after you hit the threshold (in case you wanted to gift them to a friend or family). That could make the difference in whether those MQMs count for this year or next, so make sure those miles are credited before the end of the year if you need them to hit your elite status goal.

The Virgin Atlantic Mastercard earns 3x miles on Virgin purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else.
The Virgin Atlantic MasterCard earns 3x miles on Virgin purchases and 1.5x miles on everything else.

7. Airline Credit Card Purchase Bonuses: Another common benefit of airline co-branded credit cards is that you earn multiple miles when you use them to purchase tickets or other incidentals on the co-branded airline. Among the top earners are the British Airways Visa (2.5x), Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard (3x) and Virgin America Visa Signature cards (3x), while most others offer 2x miles per $1. It’s worth going through your credit card statements to make sure you received all your bonus miles for airline related purchases.

Online shopping portals are a great way to rack up bonus miles.
Online shopping portals are a great way to rack up bonus miles.

8. Shopping Bonuses: Shopping online through various airline and hotel portals can be a great way to rack up extra bonus miles. Although the bonus should post automatically, the extra step involving the shopping portal can lead to technical issues that keep you from getting credited properly. Again, go through your credit card statements and mileage/points accounts to make sure everything adds up properly; if it doesn’t, get in touch with the shopping portal directly, since they’re the ones responsible for disbursing the bonus.

HOTEL POINTS CHECKLIST

1. Double Check Correct Base Points: You usually earn base points not just on room rates, but also on the money you spend at a hotel during your stay (like at the hotel restaurant, spa, or gift shop). However, sometimes these charges slip through the cracks, like overnight parking or internet use charges (which will hopefully be a thing of the past at most hotels soon). Take a look at your bills and cross-check them with your points accounts. If they don’t match, call your hotel loyalty program and politely ask to be credited with the appropriate number of points. Usually phone agents can take care of this quickly. An added benefit is that sometimes you’re incorrectly charged for incidentals—for instance, you might be charged for WiFi even though you should get it free as an elite benefit. In this case, combing through your bill might not get you more points, but it could save you money!

View from the Dining Room restaurant.
You can earn points at a hotel even if you don’t stay there (at the restaurant or spa, for example).

2. Non-Stay Charges: One thing even seasoned travelers forget is that even if you don’t actually spend a night at a hotel, you can still earn points when you pay for something at the hotel (like a meal or spa service), as well as elite and/or co-branded credit card bonus points. So even if you just treated colleagues to a work lunch at a hotel, you could earn points for that spending.

3. Elite Status Bonuses: All the major hotel programs offer their elites bonus points based on how many points they earn on stays and other hotel purchases like those mentioned above. These bonuses can be as little as 10%, while many are in the 25-50% range, and even as high as 75% in the case of Club Carlson’s Concierge-level status.

4. Bonus Point Amenities: Many hotel chains offer bonus points to their top-tier elites as an optional benefit upon check-in. Hilton Diamonds, for example, can choose 1,000 bonus points upon check-in at most properties, while Starwood Platinums can choose 500 bonus points at most properties. Look back over your stays to be sure that any such bonuses have been credited for each stay.

Here are just some of the things you can do to earn the bonus points
Those promo bonus points really add up, so make sure they all show up in your account!

5. Promotional Bonuses: The major hotel chains run seasonal promotions where you can earn bonus points, free nights or other amenities based on your stay activity. For example, IHG’s current “Into the Nights” promo can earn you between 50,000-70,000 bonus points. Starwood Preferred Guest was giving members double and triple points on hotel stays this fall with its “More For You” promotion, as well as one-off bonuses for things like checking in on the SPG app and updating your profile. Hilton HHonors members could earn double points this fall and winter with its Q4 promo, and Hyatt launched a targeted promotion where select Gold Passport members could earn up to 50,000 bonus points for eligible nights stayed at all Hyatt properties worldwide. Meanwhile, Marriott Rewards members who registered for its Megabonus promotion by November 15 should be earning double points for every paid stay at participating hotels starting with their second stay, up to 25,000 bonus points. Double check your registrations and whether any qualifying stays have been credited with bonus points.

Earn bonus points for paying with your Citi HHonors card for Hilton stays
Earn bonus points for paying with your Citi HHonors card for Hilton stays.

Some bonuses are even targeted to co-branded credit card holders like the one above. The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card sent out targeted emails offering 2,000 bonus points per stay when you use the card to pay for your stay. The promotion is valid at any hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio through February 28, 2015. You can do this a total of three separate times, earning a total of 6,000 extra HHonors points.

6. Partner Activity: In the past couple years, hotels have been launching partnerships with airlines. The best-known of these is the Crossover Rewards program from Starwood and Delta, where elites with the airline and hotel get reciprocal benefits when flying with/staying at the other. SPG also recently launched a new partnership with Emirates where SPG Gold and Platinum members will earn 1 bonus Starpoint per US dollar spent when flying Emirates, in addition to any Skywards miles earned. United MileagePlus elites who signed up for the new RewardsPlus partnership with Marriott get automatic Marriott elite status, and thus earn bonus points as well. American and Hilton came out with a targeted offer for Hilton HHonors elites. Those who signed up by October 15, 2014 received American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status through January 31, 2015, and can retain that status through February 29, 2016 by earning 9,000 Elite Qualifying Miles between October 27, 2014 and January 31, 2015. Those who successfully complete the challenge receive 20,000 HHonors points.

I think we'll see some more airline-hotel link ups like Delta/SPG Crossover Rewards.
Several airlines and hotels have been linking up lately to award travelers with bonus miles/points.

7. Multiple Room Earning: Finally, you may just be one person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t earn points on multiple rooms at once. Most of the major hotel chains allow you to earn points and stay credit for multiple rooms when the reservation is under your name and points account number.

For example, Hilton allows HHonors members to earn base points for up to two rooms per stay if all eligible charges for both rooms are paid on one folio. Base points are earned for all eligible folio charges incurred on both rooms. Hyatt allows Gold Passport members to receive Hyatt Gold Passport points for up to three rooms (the member’s room and two additional rooms). The member must be a registered guest, occupy at least one of the rooms, and pay for all three. However, only the room occupied by the member counts toward tier status, benefits and current Hyatt Gold Passport promotions. Starwood lets you earn points for up to three rooms when you stay in one and pay for them all, though you only get one stay credit. At Carlson, you can earn points on up to three rooms booked under the same reservation, as well as night stay credit for multiple rooms – just make sure you request the credit at check-in.

If you booked and paid for multiple rooms during a hotel stay this year, you may be eligible to receive the corresponding points, especially if your other guests don’t participate in the hotel’s loyalty program.

What are your strategies for making sure you’ve received all your points and elite credits? Please share them in the comments below.

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