5 spring cleaning tasks for your miles and points

Mar 21, 2021

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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.

In the past year, the points and miles world — along with the rest of the world — has changed pretty drastically. Airlines, hotels and credit card issuers have raced to adapt their respective programs in order to make them more aligned with the new COVID-19 world we’re living in. Whether it’s been extensions of expiration dates, extended status or new perks, a lot has changed in the past year.

If you don’t periodically make time to keep up with your loyalty accounts and rewards credit cards — especially in this past year — there is an excellent chance of wasting points, money or both. Here’s the TPG guide to spring cleaning your miles and points wallet.

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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.

Related: Should I cancel my credit cards if I don’t use them anymore?

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.

Along those lines, through 2021, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is allowing cardmembers to use their $300 in travel credits towards grocery purchases or gas purchases through June 30, 2021. Other cards have added temporary spending bonus categories to help cardholders get the most value out of the products at a time when they’re not traveling as much. Some have even added new benefits. It’ll be worth checking the specifics of your card to ensure you didn’t miss any new bonus categories in the past year — the best place to do that is your membership hub with your issuer.

Related: Which card should I use? A pandemic-era guide to navigating card perks and benefits

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.

For example, new cardholders of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card enjoy a free weekend-night certificate upon approval and another every year upon account renewal. You can also earn another when you spend $60,000 on your card in a calendar year. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

In most free night award cases, they expire after 12 months if you don’t use them, 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.

Keep in mind that many hotel programs and airlines have extended the validity of their free night or flight benefit certificates.

Related: Too many free-night certificates and nowhere to go; how hotel programs can respond

(Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa)
Use Hyatt annual award night at a resort. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort & Spa)

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 cardmember year.

American Express cards that award annual airline fee credits include:

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

Other cards with annual credits include:

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

Unicorn not included. (Photo by Danielle Vito/The Points Guy)
Unicorn not included. (Photo by Danielle Vito/The Points Guy)

Consider a status match or challenge

If you’re considering booking travel for this later this year, it could be 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. Keep in mind that because many airlines have extended their elite statuses for members because of the coronavirus pandemic, the status that you had pre-pandemic may be valid for longer than originally thought.

Southwest seats
(Photo courtesy of Southwest)

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.

Check your point and voucher expiration dates

Miles can expire in as little as a few months. 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 — and if the program hasn’t extended its points expiration policy because of the pandemic. 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!

Here are some ways to easily keep your miles from expiring. While you are checking your points, you might want to set up an AwardWallet account to simplify that process going forward.

Bottom line

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. Or, maybe, planning for an epic adventure in the next year.

Featured image by Getty Images/Yasuhito Shigaki/EyeEm

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