Points and Miles Predictions for 2019

Dec 27, 2018

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Even if you’ve finished your end of year checklist, requalified for all your elite statuses and used up all your annual statement credits before the clock resets on January 1st, that’s no excuse to become complacent. This crazy game we play changes rapidly, and the only way to make sure you get the value you deserve is to keep your eyes and ears open and stay ahead of any devaluations or rule changes.

To help you get ready to ring the new year, we spoke to several TPG team members about their points and miles predictions for 2019. With backgrounds running the gamut from US-based family travelers to location-independent digital nomads, this group has the unique ability to approach the points and miles game from multiple diverse angles. While these predictions are all purely speculative (and some of them we hope never come true!), here are our best guesses for what 2019 has in store:

Basic/Premium Economy Will Disrupt Award Bookings

Ethan Steinberg, Senior Points and Miles Contributor

I find Delta to be a good barometer of worrying trends when it comes to award travel, so I was disappointed (but hardly surprised) a few weeks ago when I read that Delta is now selling basic economy awards on select routes. I don’t expect it to be long before United and American catch up in this race to the bottom (they both recently matched Delta by raising the revenue threshold for top-tier elite status from $12,000 to $15,000), and that’s nothing but bad news for most award travelers. While the airlines will almost certainly try to spin this as a new way for customers to redeem their miles, it’s a devaluation. Period. It would only be a matter of time until basic economy awards cost what regular economy awards cost now, and using your miles for “standard” amenities like advance seat assignments will require a significant buy-up.

I expect an equally bad development to happen in the front half of the plane as well. Beginning in March 2019, United will join American and Delta in offering a true premium economy product on many long-haul flights. While it’s currently possible to upgrade many economy tickets to business class, bypassing premium economy entirely, I expect that to change. In the not-too-distant future, I foresee customers needing two upgrade certificates to move from economy to business class: one to get into premium economy and a second to jump up to business. However, I do think that this isn’t as likely as the basic economy prediction above. With premium economy cabins limited to select long-haul widebody aircraft (at this point), airlines might find it too complicated to set up upgrade rules for a mixed fleet and leave the current rules intact, at least for the time being.

United Premium plus on the 787-10 Dreamliner. Photo by Zach Honig.
United Premium plus on the 787-10 Dreamliner. Photo by Zach Honig.

Alliance and Partnerships Shake-Up

Nick Ewen, Senior Points & Miles Editor

Airline alliances and partnerships are both great things, as they often allow members of one program to earn and redeem miles with another carrier. We saw some shake-up in this arena in 2018, most recently with China Southern’s departure from SkyTeam (effective Jan. 1, 2019), a move that will clearly impact Delta travelers. However, I expect this landscape to become even more volatile in the coming year as carriers look to maximize their efficiencies and utilization while minimizing their expenses.

No, I don’t think Alaska will become a full Oneworld member (despite rumors of being added as a Oneworld connect partner).

And no, I don’t foresee Virgin Atlantic joining an alliance (despite stories of it dating back to at least 2011).

However, I do think that we’ll continue to see new partnerships forged and existing partnerships severed in 2019. Ideally this will lead to expanded elite status benefits through joint ventures and additional ways to utilize your hard-earned points and miles, but it’s essential to stay up-to-date with these changes to be prepared when your dream trip suddenly isn’t available due to a change in direction of a key partnership.

Enhanced Elite Recognition

Zach Honig, Editor-at-Large

Sometime in early 2019, we’ll see the new Marriott loyalty program formally relaunch as “Marriott Bonvoy” (what a name). One of the biggest changes is that Platinum Premier elite status will be renamed as Titanium elite status, clearly signifying to guests and employees alike that it is in fact separate and above Marriott Platinum status.

I predict that Marriott will prioritize Bonvoy Titanium members above Platinum elites when it comes to complimentary upgrades. That’s one of the reasons I decided to make the extra push to be grandfathered into lifetime Platinum Premier ahead of the December 31 deadline, and I’m really hoping that decision pays off.

(Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch)
New Marriott Platinum Premier opens up space-available suite upgrades at Ritz-Carlton properties. (Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch)

More Flexible Award Pricing Options

JT GenterSenior Points and Miles Writer

Airline mileage programs will continue toward a flexible-mileage revenue-based redemption model — like what we’ve seen from Delta for a while and now through AA’s new “Economy Web Specials.” Airlines will test and find that there’s a floor for the valuation they can get away with for redemptions before they endanger the golden goose of credit card and other mileage revenue sources.

Also, new revenue recognition rules put in place in 2018 (ASC 606) mean that airlines need passengers to use their miles for the airline to record revenue. As a result, airlines are facing increased pressure to find ways of filling otherwise-empty seats with mileage-paying customers. Also, airlines will try to push other creative mileage redemption options to get members to use their miles — whether that’s redeeming for magazine subscriptions, merchandise or experiences.

Delta
Delta’s variable award pricing has infuriated many travelers, but if done correctly, it can lead to more options for redeeming your miles

A Hotel Sweet Spot Might Go Sour

Richard KerrSenior Points and Miles Contributor

Wyndham’s flat award rate (15,000 points a night for a standard room) is an oddity among the hotel loyalty industry that obsesses over award categories (or maybe that’s just us). A fixed rate for all properties in the Wyndham portfolio is one of the most underrated deals out there, especially when you consider the fact that this includes hotels in Fiji and the Cayman Islands as well as the US.

Unfortunately, things that are too good to be true rarely last long. We saw that earlier this year with Chase devaluing the IHG credit card’s annual free night (by capping it at 40,000 points), and I wouldn’t be surprised if this sweet spot is next up on the chopping block.

(Photo courtesy of Wyndham Lake Buena Vista)
(Photo courtesy of Wyndham Lake Buena Vista)

New Capital One Transfer Partners

Peter RothbartSenior Points and Miles Contributor

2018 brought us an assortment of new transfer options (such as Chase Ultimate Rewards to JetBlue and Amex Membership Rewards to Avianca), but none was more impactful than the rebirth of Capital One as a full-fledged transferable points program. After announcing 12 airline partners initially, the issuer added two more when transfers went live earlier this month. I predict Capital One will continue to expand its roster in 2019, adding more airlines and possibly hotels if suitable partners can be found. Those additions might be unremarkable — I expect at least some will be chaff like Finnair Plus and Qatar Privilege Club — but more transfer options is always welcome news. Perhaps Capital One will even add some valuable and already popular programs like British Airways Avios or Virgin Atlantic.

Bottom Line

2019 is sure to be full of changes, both good and bad. While some of these predictions might come true and others (hopefully) might fall flat, there are a few important things to keep in mind: If you see a high-value deal or redemption option, don’t wait around and assume it will be there forever. Jump on it now while you know you still can. Similarly, while none of us have a magic crystal ball that lets us see into the future, following trends and thinking about what changes you expect to see can help you stay one step ahead of the worst devaluations.

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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