How Do You Keep Track of Your Points and Miles?
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Staying organized in today's digital world has (in some ways) never been easier. As the saying goes, "There's an app for that," and this holds true across numerous industries. A common question we receive related to our wonderful hobby is, "How do you keep track of your points and miles?" Today I want to go through some ways to do that but also ask you, our loyal readers, to provide your own tips, strategies and support resources to share with others.
Why do I need to track points and miles?
Before getting into these strategies, it's important to set some context as to why it's necessary to keep a close watch on your loyalty program accounts. I'm always amazed at the number of acquaintances, friends and family members who have no clue how many miles they have or how many credit card points they've earned. In fact, based on the 2013 survey we commissioned with The Princeton Group, roughly three-quarters of Americans don't know their frequent flyer account balances. This can open up a litany of problems, most notably:
1. You don't know when your points/miles will expire.
While there are a handful of programs with currencies that never expire (JetBlue and Delta are the two that immediately come to mind), most have a defined expiration clock. You can generally keep your account active by earning or redeeming miles, but if you don't keep track of your account balances, you run the real risk of letting your points and miles disappear.
2. You don't know if you're getting the right bonuses.
There are a number of ways to earn bonus points and miles in this hobby. You can use the right credit card across different categories of merchants, or you can sign up for limited-time promotions with a given airline or hotel chain. Holding elite status is a great way to boost your earning rates as well. However, if you aren't keeping tabs on your accounts, how do you know that you're receiving all of the points to which you're entitled?
3. You'll never know if your account has been hacked.
We all like to think that our loyalty program accounts are impenetrable thanks to the exceptional security we use (a.k.a. the exact same password for every login). Unfortunately, cyber criminals are getting more creative by the day, and if you don't track your account balances, you could be out hundreds or even thousands of dollars' worth of points or miles if a savvy hacker breaks into your loyalty program account and goes on a spending spree. Last year, someone hacked into my Amazon account and spent roughly $200 worth of gift cards, and it took me multiple phone calls over six weeks to get it back. Thankfully I had not linked any of my credit card accounts to the site's Shop with Points feature (and I'd recommend that you don't as well) or else the nightmare would've been even more drawn out.
In this hobby, knowledge = power, and knowing roughly how many points or miles are in your accounts can go a long way toward ensuring your continued ability to earn and redeem.
So how can you track your account balances?
Right now, there's really only one simple way to keep track of your points and miles automatically (that is, without intensive manual labor on your part): AwardWallet. If you haven't utilized this site before, I'd strongly recommend that you sign up for a free account and explore what it has to offer. In a nutshell, the platform allows you to add and then track your account balances for 681 different loyalty programs across a wide variety of industries, including mainstream ones like American AAdvantage and World of Hyatt along with lesser-known programs (Sallie Mae Upromise, anyone?). This includes the major transferable point currencies: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards.
There are two different levels of accounts:
- AwardWallet Free: Allows you to track reward balances for you and family members and receive notifications when your points and miles are set to expire
- AwardWallet Plus: Includes all the features of Free plus additional analysis tools for your accounts (like historical averages, exporting of balances to PDF or Excel, etc.)
A full breakdown of these differences can be found at this FAQ link.
The site goes beyond just tracking basic account balances and expirations, as it even extends to added perks on certain accounts. For example, here's the list of hotel programs I'm currently tracking in AwardWallet:
Notice that the interface pulls both my free anniversary night from the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card and the four Club Access awards I earned as a World of Hyatt Explorist member. This makes it a breeze to keep an eye on expiration dates for points, miles and several other valuable items.
While all of these features sound great in theory, there are a few drawbacks to the site:
1. You're relying on a third-party.
Since AwardWallet isn't affiliated with any of the actual loyalty programs it tracks, you're relying on it to not make any mistakes. If it does, you don't have any recourse, as your points and miles are bound by the terms and conditions of the individual programs.
For example, here's the pop-up warning I get when I want more information on when my Alaska miles will expire:
While it's great to have this information, the only way to truly ensure its accuracy is by contacting Alaska directly.
In addition to believing these expirations, you're also trusting that the site will keep your information safe and secure. In order to add an account to AwardWallet, you must share your login credentials, and the site includes your membership numbers on your accounts page. While the site does have secure encryption and offers two-factor authentication, you're still at the mercy of a third party.
2. It doesn't track all programs.
While the site does boast that it has 681 different loyalty programs to track, there are some notable exceptions. For example, United, Delta and Southwest do not allow AwardWallet to pull data from their systems, so those are some big holes in the platform. However, you are able to manually add your balances to the program or even set up eStatements from these three airlines to be sent directly to your unique AwardWallet email address. While not ideal, it still gives you a pulse on these accounts in a single location.
3. You have to pay to get the full service.
As mentioned above, there are two different levels of accounts, and in order to get the full benefits of the program, you need to pay to upgrade to AwardWallet Plus. The fee is only $30 per year (though you can also get six months free for every five users you refer), but it's still a cost for you to bear to fully take advantage of the features of the site.
Is AwardWallet the only automated option?
Unfortunately, as of right now, the answer to this question is yes. However, there are more manual ways to keep track of your points and miles that typically involve Excel. Back when I was a road warrior and first came across The Points Guy, I was 100% loyal to both Delta and Hilton, and virtually every flight I took or night I spent away from home involved these two programs. Since I wanted to make sure that I was receiving the points and miles (and elite credits) to which I was entitled, I created a couple of Excel spreadsheets to assist in my tracking process.
(Feel free to roll your eyes at my math nerdiness.)
At the time, I thought these were state-of-the-art, with conditional formatting for when I moved from one tier of Medallion status to the next one and various embedded formulas to calculate elite status bonuses. Once I started spreading the love with other airlines and hotel chains, however, these program-specific spreadsheets quickly became obsolete. That being said, I know that other frequent travelers probably have their own tracking methods.
This is where you as TPG readers come in. AwardWallet is a great option, but I want to hear from you. If you have an Excel spreadsheet that you're willing to share (or another tangible way to keep track of your points and miles), please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will review all submissions and come back in a follow-up post to share the most useful ones I get.
If you do choose to send something, please ensure that you have removed all identifying account details (full name, usernames, passwords, account numbers, etc.). I will double-check this on your behalf but don't want to inadvertently share sensitive information, so make sure to pull these details out before sending.
Keeping tabs on your loyalty program accounts is critical to ensure that your points and miles don't expire, and it's also a great way to quickly identify fraudulent activity. While AwardWallet is a great tool for accomplishing this task, I'm sure that many of you have your own way of tracking these balances. Now's your chance to help other TPG readers! Simply send me your spreadsheets or other resources you use to keep an eye on your accounts, and be on the lookout for a follow-up post with links to some of the best options out there.
Any other strategies for tracking your points and miles? Feel free to share in the comments section below!