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With 2016 only two months away, it’s a great time to take stock of your points and miles activity from the current year, and to meet any lingering spending requirements before it’s too late. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen walks you through an essential checklist for getting your loyalty accounts in order.
Last week, I wrote a post on expiring benefits and perks to use before the end of the year and also launched this year’s version of our elite upgrade exchange. However, even if you don’t have any such benefits to use (or give away to a lucky TPG reader), there are still several important items to complete before the end of the year. Today I’ll go through the top points and miles tasks to check off your list by the end of 2015 to make sure you earn all of the rewards to which you are entitled.
1. Check your elite-qualifying mile (and dollar) progress.
One of the most important things to do before the end of a calendar year is to check your progress toward elite status on your preferred airline. Most carriers give you a nice summary in your online account, so you can easily see how close you are to a given elite level. These counters all reset on January 1, so time is running out!
Remember too that both United and Delta now have revenue-based requirements for elite status, so you need to make sure that you’ve spent enough money on those airlines in addition to actually flying the required miles and segments. One way to remove this from the equation is by spending at least $25,000 on a Delta or United co-branded credit card (like the United MileagePlus Explorer Card). Just keep in mind that this exemption doesn’t apply to Premier 1K status on United, as you must hit both the flying and spending threshold.
If you’re short of a given elite level (and don’t have any additional trips planned for the rest of the year), there are a couple of ways to boost your account balances in the next few months:
- Book a mileage run. If you have some flexibility with your schedule, try to book a mileage run (or two) to put you past the requirement threshold for your desired level. We regularly post flight deals on our site, so those can be a great resource for finding low-cost trips. You can also check out the mileage run forum on FlyerTalk.
- Earn elite-qualifying miles from a credit card. Many airlines offer co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn elite-qualifying miles. Some are based on total spending in a calendar year, like the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, which currently offers you 10,000 elite-qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Others are given as a welcome bonus, like with the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, which currently offers you 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months.
2. Check your elite-qualifying night and stay progress.
In addition to checking your progress toward airline elite status, you should take a peek at the number of elite-qualifying nights and/or stays you’ve accumulated for your preferred hotel chain(s). Just like airlines, most hotel programs make it very easy to identify how close you are to these levels.
If you’re still short of a given threshold, there are a couple of things you can do before December 31:
- Book a mattress run. The lesser-known cousin of the mileage run, a mattress run is when you book a stay in a hotel solely for the purpose of earning points or helping you qualify for elite status. I’ve actually done this twice in 2015 – once due to a promotion from Club Carlson and another to finish a promotion with Hyatt. If you’re only a stay or two short of status (especially a top-tier level) and can find a relatively inexpensive option in the next couple of months, it could be worth it! After all, hotel elite status can be quite valuable.
- Open a credit card. Many credit cards come with automatic status (like Hilton HHonors Gold through the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card), but others give you credit toward earning elite status and can be combined with your “regular” balance of elite-qualifying stays and nights. For example, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the business version, the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, give you two stays and five nights toward SPG elite status every year, while the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card adds 15 night credits to help you qualify for Marriott elite status. If you open these cards now, the credits should post to your account in plenty of time to help boost your status.
3. Do an audit of your accounts to make sure you received the points and miles you earned.
While we often make mistakes when it comes to booking tickets or making reservations as travelers, airlines and hotels are known to mess things up, too. Occasionally these happen in your favor, but most of the time you’re on the short end of the stick. Now’s a great time to go through your account activity and make sure you’ve got all of the points and miles to which you were entitled.
The most important entries in your accounts come from sign-up bonuses on top travel rewards credit cards. Missing a few dozen points when a credit card miscategorized a merchant is one thing, but losing out on 50,000 points or 75,000 miles is a big deal. I find that welcome amenities and other bonuses are most frequently overlooked. In fact, in following my own advice, I noticed that I’m missing 500 points from a Hyatt Place stays a few weeks ago:
This Diamond welcome amenity is worth $9 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, so it’s well worth a quick email!
For additional tips, check out Eric Rosen’s post on how to audit your miles, points and elite credits.
4. Plan your spending to meet the sign-up bonus on the Southwest Credit Card in early January.
Last month, Chase brought back an increased sign-up bonus on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, offering you 40,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account. If you combine this with the current offer on the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card and hit the minimum spending requirements in early January, you’ll be well on your way to one of the most valuable travel benefits out there: the Southwest Companion Pass.
For more information on how to do this, check out my post on how to earn the Southwest Companion Pass for almost two years.
5. Meet minimum spending to earn calendar-year threshold bonuses.
Many credit cards offer you bonuses when you reach certain spending thresholds in a calendar year. If you’re close to one of these thresholds, you only have a couple more months to hit it! Here are some cards that provide these benefits:
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card: Earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $25,000. Earn another 10,000 MQMs when you hit $50,000.
- British Airways Visa Signature Card: When you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn a Travel Together Ticket, which allows you to bring a companion on a British Airways award ticket (plus taxes and fees).
- Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express: Earn SPG Gold status when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year.
6. Consider purchasing miles if you have excess cash to spend.
In addition to evaluating your year from a points and miles perspective, you’ll likely take a look at your overall finances to begin planning for 2015. If you’re sitting on some excess cash, it might be a good idea to take advantage of a buy-miles promotion (like the current offer from American AAdvantage). TPG has used buy miles promotions in the past for luxurious redemptions like first class on Emirates’ A380. You’ll definitely want to check TPG’s valuations to make sure the ultimate price you pay is at least close to the value of the miles, but if you max out American’s promotion, you’ll get 135,000 AAdvantage miles at 2.14 cents apiece, good for a round-trip first-class flight to Asia on Cathay Pacific or a host of other valuable redemptions.
7. Consider utilizing a status match.
There’s nothing wrong with playing the field when it comes to your preferred airline or hotel chain, and a great way to test the waters with another travel provider is through a status match or challenge. I’ll be losing my Platinum Medallion status with Delta in January, but I recently decided to request a match with Alaska Airlines and was bumped to top tier MVP Gold 75K status. Since I waited until after October 1, the status is good through the end of 2016 and should come in handy on my spring trip out west (booked with the companion fare benefit from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card).
The end of the year tends to be a busy time with holidays, family obligations and other commitments. However, it can also be a great opportunity to assess how well you did in accruing (and redeeming) your points and miles in 2015 and begin to plan for an even more lucrative 2016. Hopefully this post has given you some suggestions for wrapping up the year on a positive note!
What is at the top of your points and miles to-do list before the end of the year?