Now’s the Time: Review Your Points and Miles Plan for 2019
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November is the perfect time to evaluate what you’ve accomplished for the year while still having a buffer to complete 2018’s goals and plan for 2019. With the dynamics of the loyalty arena, you can’t take too much time off from ensuring the cards you hold, and your strategies for future travels, are aligned. Let’s take a look at what you should review this week and how you can prepare for 2019.
Credit Card Strategy
Unless you’re a road warrior, the bulk of your rewards earnings are going to come from household spending and welcome bonuses on your credit card(s). Given all the changes we’ve seen this year — and may see at the end of the year — you need to refresh what you hold and use in your wallet.
Here’s what’s on my credit card strategy checklist:
- Annual Fees — Maximizing rewards while minimizing annual fees is a constant battle. If the rewards I’ll earn going forward are worth the fee, I don’t mind paying. However, it’s not always clear what the next year will hold. You also need to review what cards are coming up for renewal so you can cancel, if necessary, before the annual fee is charged.
- Anniversary/Renewal Bonuses — Many cards offer perks on the anniversary/renewal of the card. Make sure you comb through the cards in your wallet to see which offer such perks, whether you have used them, when they expire and if it’s worth keeping the card for another year in order to gain the annual bonus again. Cards can offer extras like bonus points, free hotel nights and airline companion certificates.
- Annual Spend Bonuses — You’ve got just a few weeks left to meet the annual spend thresholds many cards offer to trigger bonus points, miles, status or airline elite-qualifying miles. You may have less than that if your final statement closes in early to mid-December.
- Card Updates — Part of the dynamics of the loyalty world are the constant updates to credit card benefits and spend requirements. There have certainly been a lot of credit card changes in 2018, so make sure you find out if your cards have changed this year.
- New Cards/Upcoming Expenses — Now that you’ve reviewed everything you currently hold, it’s time to look toward 2019. What award travel do you plan on completing and do you currently have the credit cards that are going to earn you the points/miles or perks necessary for that travel? What paid travel do you anticipate and do you have the cards that will allow you to earn as much as possible on those expenses while offering benefits, like airport lounge access, that make your travel more enjoyable? On another note, make sure you look at any large expenses on the near horizon and know which card is going to be used, or which new card needs to be acquired. A large purchase can easily knock off the minimum spend requirement of a new card.
In my opinion, there’s a mixed bag of things to consider this time of year when it comes to your airline strategy, specifically if evaluating any airline elite status. While many things you read around this time of year encourage you to do whatever you can to achieve the status, I really don’t think it makes sense for most readers. If you are just a segment or 1,000 elite-qualifying miles or so away from the next tier (preferably a top, or next to top tier) of status, it can make sense for you to complete a mileage run. What’s most important though is that you review where you currently stand so there are no surprises on Jan. 1.
As far as 2019 is concerned, now is the time to look at your planned travel frequency and destinations to see if you are going to fly enough organically to achieve a high level of elite status with a single airline. If not, I encourage you to be a free agent and pick the cheapest/most convenient itineraries in 2019. If you have award travel destinations planned and don’t already have an idea of what availability looks like, start your research now and book as soon as you find space as long as you already have the required miles.
Whereas I’m fairly staunch in my anti-mileage run opinion for most readers, hotel status is an entirely different situation. There’s also been a considerable amount of change in the hotel loyalty program world this year. Here’s my hotel strategy checklist:
- Status Progress — If I am as many as eight to 10 nights short of re-qualifying for top-tier hotel status, I will definitely consider a mattress run to complete my stays. My family and I benefit to the tune of thousands of dollars each year from Hyatt Globalist status. If I need to spend a $300–$400 now to save thousands and be more comfortable in 2019, I’ll start looking for cheap revenue or award nights to make the cut.
- Certificates In Hand — Most programs have upgrade and free night certificates with expiration dates that you cannot extend. Many of you also have Marriott seven-night certificates from this year, which need to be used in the first half of 2019. Take a look at what Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Marriott certificates may be in your accounts and ensure you can utilize them before expiration.
- 2019 Travels — Take a look at both your business and leisure travel to decide if hotel status is going to be important, achievable or necessary. If so, make sure you have a grasp on the integrated Marriott and SPG program. This will help you decide what chain, if any, you want to be loyal to in 2019. Also take a look at your intended leisure destinations for possible award nights and availability patterns, and then plan now to earn the requisite points to redeem nights for those trips.
Not all of us are staunch planners with every trip and flight for 2019 planned 12 months in advance. As a non-planner myself, my strategy continues to include building up as much of a stash as possible in transferable currencies so I have options to book award flights and lodging when the time comes.
You better believe that we’re currently scrutinizing our baseball card album filled with credit cards. We’ll make sure 2019 is a year of maximum rewards with minimal cost for the Kerr family.
What are your planning strategies for 2019?
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