Your points and miles checklist for January 2020

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It’s technically still January, so while it feels like we are already old friends with 2020, the year is still at least somewhat new and shiny. The beginning of the year is an especially important time in the world of travel, as what you plan now can impact what happens the rest of the year — and beyond.

From outlining 2020 elite status plans, completing your Southwest Airlines Companion Pass strategy, squeezing the last few drops of value out of expiring elite status, selecting the right airlines for various credit card fee credits, choosing the right elite status perks, etc. now is the time to get serious about your strategy before January fully slips by.

In This Post

Choose your Marriott Elite Choice benefit

If you earn Marriott elite status at the Platinum or higher level, you’ve got a decision to make each year. Elites at that level and above get Marriott Choice Benefits of their choosing from the following:

  • Five Suite Night Awards
  • Gift of Silver Elite status for a friend/family member
  • 40% off your favorite mattress
  • Five elite night credits to your 2019 totals
  • A $100 charity donation

Titanium elites get another selection, including the additional option of a free night certificate (valid for awards up to 40,000 points) and the enhanced option of gifting Gold status (rather than Silver).

If you don’t make a choice by Jan. 15, your choice defaults to Suite Night Awards (SNAs). Obviously, we are now passed Jan. 15. However, the selection page seems to still be operational for me, so if you want something else, it’s worth trying.

Suite Night Award success at the Westin Snowmass (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Suite Night Award success at the Westin Snowmass (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Select your airline for Amex credits

Those with an American Express card that issues an annual airline fee credit have until Jan. 31 each year to select a new airline with which to redeem the credit. If you do nothing, your selection will remain what it was the previous year.

However, there have been many changes in how this credit functionally processes since January of last year, so you very well may want a new strategy for 2020. For example, while I have selected Delta in the past, my new strategy is to select a low-cost airline where I am likely to encounter more legitimate fees.

Related: Why you might want to change your Amex airline for 2020

Amex cards that issue these annual airline fee credits include:

Go hard for the Southwest Companion Pass now

Whether you want to fly to Aruba, Jamaica, Hawaii or Omaha, the earlier in the year you earn the Southwest Companion Pass, the better. Once you surpass the threshold to qualify — either 125,000 points or 100 flights — your designated companion can fly for free with you on Southwest (other than the cost of taxes) for the rest of that calendar year in which it’s earned and the entire next calendar year.

So, get busy jumping on increased 75,000-point Southwest card offers, putting spend on your Southwest cards, etc. Just bear in mind that certain earning activities, including transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards or the purchase of Rapid Rewards points, will not count in your quest for the Companion Pass.

Make a Delta Choice selection (carefully)

Like Marriott, Delta awards its higher-tier elite members with Choice Benefits, as Platinum Medallions will earn one selection and Diamond Medallions will earn three. The options vary by tier but include upgrade certificates, bonus miles and even a Sky Club membership, so there’s a lot to consider.

Unfortunately, the timing for choosing these perks isn’t always clear. Delta uses the term “Medallion year” when describing this deadline, which can (understandably) lead to confusion. In short, you earn the next year of status based on the previous calendar year’s worth of flying, which means:

  • Status for the 2019 Medallion year was earned based on your qualifying activity from Jan. 1, 2018 through Dec. 31, 2018.
  • Status for the 2020 Medallion year was earned based on your qualifying activity from Jan. 1, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Status for the 2021 Medallion year will be earned based on your qualifying activity from Jan 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020.

So what does this mean for Choice Benefits? Here it is, in as plain a term as possible:

If you earned Platinum and/or Diamond Medallion status based on your qualifying activity in the 2018 calendar year and you HAVEN’T selected your Choice Benefit(s), you must do so by Jan. 31, 2020.

If you don’t, the option(s) will disappear entirely, never to return.

It’s also worth pointing out that, if you still haven’t made this selection, do not (under any circumstance) elect to gift Medallion status to another traveler. If you do, they’ll only enjoy the perks through Jan. 31 of this year. However, any upgrade certificates you choose will be valid for 12 months from the date of your selection — a much wiser choice (in our opinion).

Finally, please note that you might also have Choice Benefits to select from your 2019 flying activity (2020 Medallion year). You’re welcome to pick those now, but they will remain available until Jan. 31. 2021.

Related: Guide to choosing your Delta Choice Benefit

Delta One Suites (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)
Delta One Suites (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Use your credit card travel credits

Not all credit card travel credits reset with the calendar year, as some operate by cardmember year (i.e. when you were first approved for the card). Regardless, this is a good time of year to see when your available travel credits reset and put them to good use. Waiting to use them just later in the year increases the risk that something goes to waste, so time to book some travel!

Related: Which annual travel credits are easiest to redeem

The information for the Citi Prestige card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Use up your elite status perks

If you still have some elite status perks left over from 2019, now is your last chance to use them up. Perhaps you have transferrable airline upgrades you can use for someone, or you need to lock in extra legroom seats for the year before your status drops. Either way, now is the time to use what you got. Or, you can even match your (expiring?) hotel or airline elite status to another program before it disappears.

Related: Last-minute January elite status checklist 

Lock in extra-legroom seats with your elite benefits
Lock in extra-legroom seats with your elite benefits

Label those cards

What are your award travel goals for the year? Do you want to earn bonus hotel free night certificates for a getaway in Hawaii or the Maldives? If so, put more spending on cards that award free night awards. Here are cards that award one — or more — hotel award nights each year.

Do you need more Alaska Airlines miles to snag a great deal on a partner award? If so, time to crank your Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card into regular rotation.

Do you know which bonus categories earn 5x points this quarter on cards such as the Chase Freedom? (Hint: It’s gas stations, internet, cable, phone and select streaming services.)

Brush up on your current bonus categories and goals for the year. Maybe you’ll realize it’s a good time to pick up a new card and put some spending on it to trigger a welcome bonus. Here are some of our top reward card picks.

Head to Bali, Bora Bora and beyond with your hotel award nights (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Head to Bali, Bora Bora and beyond with your hotel award nights (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Match your Mlife and Caesars Rewards status

If you like travel, have almost any hotel elite status and don’t yet have Caesars Rewards and/or M life status, you’ve potentially missed a step along the way. This is especially true if you like to visit Las Vegas, but it can be true even if you don’t have Sin City on your travel wish list.

If you have World of Hyatt elite status that may be dropping after it expires in February, now is when you want to match it to M life for maximum impact. For example, I realized my M life status had dropped to Pearl (second lowest level), so I matched my Hyatt Explorist status back to M life, and it immediately displayed higher Gold M life status once again. Here are instructions for matching Hyatt and M life status. Your M life status can help you avoid many Vegas parking fees, even if your Hyatt elite status came via the World of Hyatt Credit Card.

Enjoy perks at the Bellagio and beyond (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Enjoy perks at the Bellagio and beyond (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

With Caesars Rewards, you can elite match status from Wyndham Rewards. Having Caesars Rewards status can exempt you from not only parking fees in Vegas, but resort fees as well. You could also score a $100 dinner, show tickets and even a stay at Atlantis in the Bahamas.

If you don’t yet have any Wyndham Rewards elite status, that’s OK. You can match to a Wyndham status trial from almost any hotel status you have. Here’s how that all works.

Related: How to save hundreds in Vegas thanks to status matching

Atlantis in the Bahamas (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
Atlantis in the Bahamas (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

Annual limits reset

If you maxed out booking fourth night free stays with the Citi Prestige (now capped at two per year), hit your max yearly bonus limits for 6% back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases; then 1%) on the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express or another similar card, Jan. 1 may have reset the clock. Note that not all cards reset bonus spending limits by calendar year — Chase is by cardmember year — so be sure to carefully review your online benefits guide to make sure you don’t sacrifice any bonus points.

Bottom line

There’s a lot to do at the beginning of the year to set the rest of the year off right — especially when it comes to points, miles and rewards credit cards. But, a little extra work now, likely means more rewards to spend later.

Featured image courtesy of Getty Images

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