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Flowers are blooming, snow has melted (well, mostly), pollen is in the air and spring has officially arrived. It is the season to clean out closets and garages, and it’s also the perfect time of year to tidy up your wallet and points accounts.
If you don’t periodically make time to keep up with your loyalty accounts and rewards credit cards, there is an excellent chance of wasting points, money — or both. Here’s the TPG guide to spring cleaning your miles and points wallet:
1. Break Up With Fee-Based Cards You Aren’t Using
Let’s talk about keeping some cash in your wallet. Many rewards credit cards have annual fees, and the math justifying those fees relies heavily on using the card, the perks or both. For example, if you have a $450 to $550 dollar per year card that provides lounge access, annual travel credits, etc., but you aren’t visiting those airline lounges or using the built-in credits, then maybe it is time to reevaluate the card relationship.
Even if the card “only” has a$95 fee, but has sat idle in your wallet (or drawer) for months, then don’t be afraid to say, “It’s not you; It’s me,” and walk away. You can cancel the old-fashioned way over the phone, and many banks allow you to send a secure message or chat online to cancel a card, making the whole process relatively painless. Be sure you have transferred or used your points if the rewards are a bank currency as opposed to a hotel point or airline mile that is already in your loyalty account.
It may make sense to simply downgrade the card to a no-annual-fee card in some cases, especially if you have had the account for a long time. Here are some additional issues to think through if you are considering closing out a card.
2. Maximize Where You Spend the Most
When I lived in New York City for grad school years ago, I did a big grocery shopping visit exactly once — the first week I lived there. I bought a few pots, pans and plenty of groceries, but ended up using my kitchen twice. Ever. I soon banished the idea of cooking and eating in my 12-square-foot studio apartment with no kitchen table. During the 18 months I lived in New York, I ate most meals out, so having a credit card with a good bonus on dining was key. However, now (quite) a bit older and with my own family living in Texas, we visit the grocery store much more than I did in my 20s in NYC. Spending patterns change, so make sure your wallet is adjusted to maximize the dollars you spend in different categories.
- Best Credit Cards for Eating Out
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- Best Credit Card for Gym Memberships
- Best Credit Cards for the Grocery Store
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Along those lines, I added the American Express® Gold Card to my wallet last year and it’s been a winner with 4 points per dollar on dining and at US supermarkets.(4x points only applies on up to $25,000 in eligible supermarket spending per year, then 1 point.)
3. Check On Your Free Nights, Companion Certificates and More
Numerous rewards credit cards (often the cobranded hotel and airline cards) come with an annual hotel award night, companion certificate or flight discount. Sometimes, you have to spend enough on the card each year to earn the award, and sometimes it is a perk of just having the card (such as the IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card or World of Hyatt Credit Card). In most cases, the award expires after 12 months if you don’t use it, so check your various cards to see if you have some awards waiting to be used. If you have no clue where to find that info online, you can call the number on the back of your card for help.
In addition, check on your annual travel/airline credits and make sure you are working through those. Note that most of these travel credits operate on a calendar year, but some may run on a card member year.
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express (up to $250)
- The Business Platinum® Card from American Express (up to $200)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (up to $200)
- American Express® Gold Card (up to $100)
Other cards with annual credits include:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve (up to $300 in travel)
- Citi Prestige (up to $250 in travel)
- Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card (up to $100 airline fee credit)
- US Bank’s Altitude Reserve Visa Infinite Card (up to $325 annual travel credit)
4. Consider a Status Match or Challenge
Have some big summer trips coming up where a bit of elite status might help? This is a good time to see if you are eligible to parlay some status you have for some status you need. (Remember, you can generate elite status out of thin air thanks to some credit cards.)
Here’s a whole article dedicated to elite status matches and challenges. Some current highlights include status match to Southwest Airlines A-List status (before you say aloha to Hawaii), status match to Alaska (and even get some confirmed upgrade certificates) or just grab the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card to enjoy top-tier Hilton Diamond status and be done with it. Here are some credit cards that will help you with airline elite status, too.
Know that some status matches or challenges are once in a lifetime, or at least only once for some number of years, so time them with when you can make use of the perks.
5. Check Your Point Expiration Dates
Miles can expire in as little as three months (looking at you Spirit Airlines). Most don’t expire that quickly, but if you have no activity in an account for 12 to 24 months, odds are good you will lose your miles or points in that account as most have expiration dates in that range. It’s a pain, but make time to check the expiration dates on your loyalty accounts and come up with a plan to use or extend the life of the points. Don’t forget to do this for your kids’ accounts, too!
The checking and monitoring of accounts and dates is not the fun or Instagram-worthy part of this hobby, but it is essential to be sure you are coming out on top. A little spring cleaning of your miles and points can go a long way and then you can probably leave your accounts to keep growing all through summer while you (hopefully) are off enjoying the fruits of your labor on an epic summer adventure.
Featured image by Getty Images / Yasuhito Shigaki / EyeEm
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