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With January just around the corner, now’s your last chance to ensure you’re going to end the year in a good place when it comes to points and miles. In order to prevent significant heartache and the realization of lost opportunities on January 1, 2019, take the time now to get things in order. Today, I’ll give a rundown of the top award travel tasks you need to complete by the end of the year to make sure you maximize your loyalty portfolio moving into 2019.

1. Check Airline Elite Qualification Miles and Dollars

Airline status counters reset on January 1, 2019. This can be quite confusing to many travelers, because the status you earned in 2018 will still be good on that date (and for most programs will run through January 31, 2020). Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have another month to qualify — check your current standing alongside any final trips you have planned this month.

If you believe you’ll benefit from the next-highest tier of airline status in 2019, it may be time to plan a few mileage runs or boost your spending on certain credit cards that award elite-qualifying miles for hitting applicable thresholds. I find the Google Flights Explore Map the most useful mileage run planning tool. You can input your origin city and dates and then look for far-flung destinations with a cheap price. However, make sure you carefully evaluate whether a mileage run will actually be beneficial to you.

Some options to earn elite-qualifying miles from card spend include the following:

Time is already short if you want to take this avenue, as you need to ensure that these elite-qualifying miles post by Dec. 31, 2018.

Of course, this is also a great time to make sure that all of your flights from 2018 have posted correctly. I’ve found that most airlines can resolve these problems (even with partner airlines) within a week or two, but if you’re missing a flight or had a trip earn you fewer elite-qualifying miles than it should’ve, good luck getting that flight to count towards 2018 qualification once the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.

2. Check Elite-Qualifying Night and Stay Progress

As with airlines, make sure you’ve planned adequate hotel stays to reach elite status if you’re going to benefit enough in 2019 to warrant any extra effort. Remember that most programs, including World of Hyatt, count award nights toward any elite status requirement. Contrary to my opinion of airline status mileage runs, I believe hotel status mattress runs can be very worthwhile endeavors, though it all depends on how much you’re going to use said elite status in 2019.

You can reach hotel elite status with credit card spend alone with American Express Hilton Honors cards, The World of Hyatt Credit Card, the American Express and Chase cobranded cards with SPG and Marriott (respectively) or the Ritz-Carlton card (which is no longer open to new applicants). However, most of these cards include some form of automatic elite status, so be sure that the significant spending to earn the higher tier is worth it.

And just like with the airlines, make sure all of your nights and stays are accounted for, especially with Marriott/SPG/Ritz-Carlton. Since this is apparently your last chance to reach lifetime Platinum Premier status with the new Marriott program, any errors will likely be very challenging to fix after the fact.

3. Register for and Maximize Promotions

Each fall, several hotel chains run promotions to help with the post-summer travel lull. While a handful of these extend into the new year, many will be closing registration in the next few weeks. For example, Marriott is currently running its well-established MegaBonus promotion for stays through January 31, 2019, but you have to register by Jan. 7. (It’s worth noting that this promo took home the TPG Award for best hotel promotion despite a relatively unexciting 2,000 points for stays over 2 nights.)

If you’re more of a Hilton Honors loyalist, the program’s Moments Made Bigger promotion lets you earn 3x points on all of your stays at luxury and resort properties and 2x points on all other stays through Jan 3, 2019. In addition, if you’re a Diamond member, you’ll earn double bonus Honors points making it 30 points per dollar at regular stays and 40 points per dollar at luxury and resort properties; and that’s before any credit card earnings.

IHG’s Double Points Plus More promo offers double points on every stay — up to 15,000 points total — starting after your second stay at IHG hotels worldwide. This promotion also provides members with additional targeted opportunities like earning 40,000+ points in as little as four stays for accomplishing individualized tasks and goals for stays until December 16.

Remember that most promotions require you to register before you complete a stay, so I’d highly recommend taking the few minutes to sign-up now to make sure you don’t miss out on bonus points or miles.

4. Check Point and Mile Expiration Dates

A few programs have point/mile expiration policies where December 31 could be the expiration date for your miles and points. With Etihad Guest, for example, your miles expire at the end of the semester (either June 30 or December 31) three years after you earned them. If you earned miles from July 1 – December 31, 2015 with Etihad, they expire December 31 of this year.

If you aren’t already, you should start using an app like AwardWallet that will send you reminder emails well before your points expire. Log in now to check your expiration date and (equally important) the expiration policy of that program. Some hotels and airlines will let you extend the date with a single qualifying activity, while others have a hard, non-extendable expiration date.

5. Plan for 2019

There’s a lot in store for 2019 in the way of potential airline, hotel and credit card changes. Based on your own anticipated travels in 2019, you should pay attention to the changing landscape and perhaps adjust your loyalty and travel strategy.

The 2018 hotel program landscape has certainly had a chaotic second half of the year, especially with the combined Marriott/SPG/Ritz-Carlton program’s continued struggles. Many longtime elite members of these programs have thought long and hard about where to take their business in 2019, as the integration is still causing challenges with simple tasks like award bookings and accurate elite night statistics. To make matter worse, a significant data breach in November (and the resulting fallout) has frayed nerves even more, all while Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson believes member frustration with the merger is simply “noise around the edges.”

Hyatt has acquired Small Luxury Hotels as well as Two Roads Hospitality in the hopes of increasing its global footprint. It is thus far unclear how the Two Roads properties will be absorbed into the World of Hyatt program, but hopes are they’ll be rebranded Hyatt properties and full integrated under the current rules. Category 8 has been created, right now just for SLH properties, and points and cash bookings have been significantly devalued. I don’t think any further devaluations should occur in 2019, but you can never be sure.

All has been relatively quiet in the Hilton Honors arena this year, and hopefully that trend will continue in 2019.

On the airline front, alliance members continue to come and go. China Southern has exited the SkyTeam alliance and Royal Air Maroc will be joining the Oneworld alliance. Alaska Airlines could be next to join Oneworld as a ‘connect member’ covering only priority boarding and check-in for elite members and not necessarily mileage earning and redemption. Alitalia and South African Airways continue to struggle with unknown futures, and WOW, Air Belgium and Norwegian are the latest low-cost carriers to face an uncertain 2019 following the collapse of Primera Air in October. Southwest is scheduled to finally begin flying to Hawaii, JetBlue could soon announce flights to Europe and Virgin is scheduled to launch an entirely new loyalty program covering all brands in the Virgin Group. I would make the most of the current Flying Club program while you can.

So what does this all mean? Take a careful look at your expected travel in 2019 and figure out if it’s worth being loyal to a specific airline and/or hotel program. Despite ongoing changes that remove value for many, these travel providers must continue to put flyers in seats and travelers in beds, so if you’re unhappy with your current carrier or hotel chain, now’s the time to devise an exit plan.

For more info, check out my guide on planning your points and miles strategy for 2019.

Bottom Line

You don’t want to be caught off guard come January 1, 2019 and realize you just lost credit card travel credits or were 100 miles short of the next airline elite status level. Take the time now to review the above tasks and ensure you maximize the travel and credit card spend you have left in 2018 in order to make 2019 your best award travel year yet.

 

Featured image by Chun via Unsplash.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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