Points and Miles Changes to Take Advantage of Now That 2017 is Underway

Jan 2, 2017

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We’re now officially into the first day of 2017 and, as always, a new year means change. Change can be both good and bad, and while we’ve got a little of both this year in the award travel space, there’s more of the former than the latter. But what’s most important is knowing what’s changed and how to best take advantage of the new opportunities.

So with that in mind, here are the most important changes that have officially commenced as of today…

Travel Credits Are Back

Travel and airline credits have reset for the new calendar year across all five premium credit cards which offer them, which means you can start using them up again with new charges. You’ll get $300 each with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, $250 with the Citi Prestige card, $200 with the Platinum Card from American Express and $100 with the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express.

For those last two American Express cards, if you want to change your current airline of choice, now’s your chance. Amex’s window for picking a new airline is officially open now through January 31 as long as you haven’t yet used the credit for 2017. You can make a new selection either online or by calling an agent. Keep in mind that Amex does not reimburse ticket purchases with the credit, so you’ll have to charge baggage fees and other eligible purchases on the airline you select.

Also, remember that if you have the Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN, the choice you make for your airline fee credit is the same airline you’re choosing for the 50% points rebate benefit. First and business-class tickets on all airlines get the rebate, but you’ll only get 2 cents per point for economy tickets on your selected airline. So choose wisely.

Q1 Bonus Categories

With the start of a new year, all Q1 categories are now in effect. For the Chase Freedom, that means you’re now earning 5x Ultimate Rewards points for gas stations and local commuter transportation on up to $1,500 in spend, assuming you’re registered for this quarter’s promo. This includes Uber and Lyft, so this card might be a good choice to use with those car sharing services from January through March.

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But the Chase Freedom isn’t the only card with rotating bonus points. The Discover it® card offers 5% cash back up to $1,500 in spend on its own set of categories, which for the first quarter of 2017 are gas stations, ground transportation and wholesale clubs. Those can be extremely useful when you shop at Costco or fuel up your car.

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The Citi Dividend also has a new set of bonus categories — starting today through March 31, you’ll earn 5% cash back at Home Depot and home furnishing stores. The Citi Dividend is a little different than the other two cards in that your spend on bonus categories is capped at $6,000 for the year instead of $1,500 in each quarter. So if you have any large furniture purchases or renovation work coming in the next 90 days, this card could definitely be a good choice.

For all of these cards, you need to register to get your 5x bonus points, and in some cases you have to do it before making any purchases, so do it today if you haven’t already.

Earning Elite Status on American Airlines

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Qualifying for AAdvantage status now requires meeting a revenue requirement.

American’s new Elite Qualifying Dollars requirement to earn elite status is in effect for the 2017 earning year, meaning if you want to be an American elite in 2018, you’ll have to spend a minimum amount on tickets along with earning the usual Elite Qualifying Miles or Elite Qualifying Segments. Delta and United have had spend requirements in place for a few years already, so with American now joining the party, all the legacy airlines are counting your dollars along with your miles.

If you find yourself with enough miles or segments for elite status but not enough spend, there is an option to waive part or all of the spend requirement via one of the American-branded credit cards. Barclaycard’s recently relaunched AAdvantage Aviator Red, Aviator Blue and Aviator Business MasterCard will allow you to earn $3,000 in Elite Qualifying Dollars after spending $25,000 on one of these cards.

The waiver is not cumulative amongst these three cards, so you cannot earn more than $3,000 in EQDs using more than one. However, you can add an AAdvantage Aviator Silver card to your wallet and pick up a second $3,000 in EQDs with an additional $25,000 in spend. Or unlike the other three cards, you can put the entire $50,000 on the Silver card to earn $6,000 in EQDs, but you can’t then add another $3,000 EQDs with another Aviator card. So with the right one or two cards and a total of $50,000 in credit card spend, you can earn a maximum of $6,000 worth of Elite Qualifying Dollars, which can be applied to any American elite status level. That would completely waive the spend requirement for American Gold and Platinum elites and cut it in half for American Executive Platinums.

Also, keep in mind if you’re going for Executive Platinum status in 2018, Concierge Key customers will now have upgrade and waitlist priority above you and a new 120-hour upgrade window. Concierge Key is American’s ultra-high top status that is “by invitation only” and usually given only to the airline’s top spenders. Up until this point, Concierge Key members only got the same priority as Executive Platinum, but that is now changing.

Southwest Companion Pass

Boeing 737 Southwest Airlines takes off from McCarran International Airport
Image courtesy of rypson via Getty Images.

Since the coveted Southwest Companion Pass is valid until December 31 of the year after it’s earned, this is the perfect time to get one since you’ll be able to use it for nearly two full years all the way until December 2018. But it’s recently become a lot harder to earn the requisite points.

There have traditionally been two ways to earn the pass without flying. The first is to sign up for two of the four Southwest credit cards: the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card (also with a business version).

The problem with this first route at the moment is the sign-up bonuses are currently offers 40,000 points each (after spending $1,000 in the first three months), which means you’ll be short of the 110,000 points needed to earn the pass. You’ll need to make up the remaining points either with spend or points earned from other outlets such as shopping portals. Note that point transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards or other Rapid Rewards accounts do NOT count toward the Companion Pass.

Unfortunately the second option is now completely off the table. In the past it was possible to book a Marriott Hotel + Air package, as TPG himself did last January to get a Companion Pass for his parents, since you can earn 120,000 Southwest points as part of the package. However, as we reported yesterday here on TPG, Southwest has closed that loophole and starting January 1, 2017, points transferred from hotel partners no longer count for earning the companion pass.

While you can still get the Marriott package and pick up some extra Southwest Rapid Rewards points, you’ll no longer make progress toward the Companion Pass by doing so.

Hotel Promotions for Winter and Spring

Finally, the 2016 promotions from most of the major hotel chains have now expired, though one exception is Hilton’s Double Up promo which has been extended until January 31, 2017.

However, we can expect to see new 2017 promos roll out fairly quickly. One brand that’s already started is IHG, which released its first-quarter Accelerate promo a few weeks ago. The promo is good for stays between January 1 and April 15, so make sure to register and get your specific offer if you have any upcoming IHG stays.

That’s quite a list for just the first day of January, but if we missed any other 2017 opportunities, let us know in the comments, and happy new year!

 

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