The new year is right around the corner. 2017 has been a fairly rewarding year for me, and I managed to stockpile around 750,000 miles and points that should allow me to take some award travel for the coming year. Hopefully I will keep up the pace to write reviews and try out products as your guinea pig before you have to ;)
Preparation is half the battle and I am already preparing my game plan for 2018. I think there are several easy steps to making sure you hit the ground running to maximize out earning reward travel, below are a few of the things I will be doing that should give you a framework to build your own 2018 to-do list.
REDEEM ALL CREDIT CARD TRAVEL AND SPENDING CREDITS
American Express Platinum (Personal and Business), and Chase Sapphire Reserve both offer some form of an airline credit . AmEx offers $200 on incidental charges, while the Sapphire Reserve offers $300 for any form of travel.
One way to maximize out your value is to purchase airline gift cards. Remember for AmEx your credit is only allotted for the airline you chose, so make sure you only purchase gift cards for that airline only otherwise your card will not be credited. I purchased two $100 American Airlines gift cards earlier last month and they credited back into my account within a week's time frame. Chase's travel credits are even more generous so just be sure to use it for any flights or hotels you may have for Christmas, or purchase gift cards to top off your balance.
The AmEx Platinum Personal card also offer $200 Uber credits, so if your city has UberEats, you may want to get some takeouts and spend some of the credits too. However just remember the credit is released monthly so this isn't necessarily a year end deal exclusively.
REDEEM TSA PRE-CHECK/GLOBAL ENTRY APPLICATION CREDIT
One of the best surprises this year for me was my new Global Entry membership issued by the TSA. It made life a lot easier for me in Houston that I was able to speed past TSA by simply walking though a non-invasive metal detector and keeping my sneakers on while everyone else around me had to go thru the usual grind. And for an international traveler frequenting larger airports, these regular lines can get looooong so any shortcuts would be well worth it.
Even the stress and time saved on one trip might justify the membership fees alone, but why pay cash when you can have it for free :)
Numerous credit cards now offer to refund the $85 PreCheck or $100 Global Entry application credit when you use their card to apply with the TSA. Interviews takes 1 to 6 months to schedule depending on your location (mine was almost 5 months out from application, as they had to send agents to Omaha as there was no permanent interview location here that a travel agency had to invite agents in for a "seasonal" center).
Remember, some of these cards also extends separate $100 credit to authorized users, so you could get sped thru TSA for the entire family just by simply having the right credit card.
Here's a link to TSA that gives you a list of cards that offer a credit.
TAKE INVENTORY OF ALL YOUR CREDIT CARDS, CULL ONES YOU DON'T USE MUCH
I have opened 7 credit card accounts this year, 3 are business accounts, 4 personal. Some have turned into my new personal favorites, such as AmEx Platinum Business, and all the SPG cards, while others like the Chase Ink Business Preferred and Capital One Venture Cash served its purpose of either giving me a great signup bonus, or other cards simply replaced its role.
Now that I have my entire year's spending nearly done, I am likely going to cull some of these newer but not frequently used cards that carries an annual membership fee. If I am not going to use these cards much, there's no reason to have young accounts dropping the average age of my entire credit profile, and definitely not worth it for me to keep seasoning them if I have to pay an annual fee. I already have over 10 "keepers" free or low annual cost cards that are useful that I intend to keep permanently, I don't think I will need any more.
Try not to get too aggressive with closing accounts either. I would only take note of ones I don't use simply based on my annual spending review, then just remember to close out at renewal. If you cancel too quickly, credit card issuers may take note of this sort of activity and hinder your future ability to get approved for cards.
Chase usually offers a new signup 24 months after you received your last, as well as not being a current holder of that specific card. You may strategically position yourself for new signup bonuses. AmEx has lifetime language with their signup bonuses usually (occasionally they drop this language if you are targeted, or maybe at signup you had one of these offers), so do your research to line yourself up right.
REVIEW POINTS INVENTORY, KEEP POINTS ALIVE
I use AwardWallet to keep track of all my loyalty programs. Thankfully that saves a LOT of time for me to be able to see what points are about to expire for me to either use up or find ways to keep them alive.
Usually most US programs just requires some form of account activity to keep points active. So I often use a co-branded credit card to put a charge in if anything is cutting it close. As a general guideline, most US programs expire points after 18 months of no earn or spend activity. The spend on a co-brand card trick makes this 18 month deadline almost never an issue, or simply make a donation for a $1 on the airline's shopping portal if you don't have their card anymore if you did any culling as suggested above.
Most other international airlines such as Singapore and Cathay Pacific are a bit trickier, as many has a fixed time of usually 36 months from points are earned before they expire if it isn't used, without any tricks to earn more points to keep prior earned points alive. Those points may be a bit more problematic and require some trip planning to work around.
For those of you extra-baller, you may be able to keep points alive permanently if you have lifetime status , though these are more common with hotel programs. And if all fails and you are stuck with small balances of points with airlines you never fly, do a good thing and donate them to charity!
For me, key to doing well with points and miles is staying organized, so I would definitely take the time at year end to review the year that was to give yourself an idea how you spend money, how you earn points, and what your inventory looks like to position yourself for some great values in the coming year. What do you have planned for 2018? Any ambitious travel plans? Comment below, would live to hear the ideas you have!