I often look back with regret as the year ends, wishing I had done a better job in earlier months with my points, miles and elite status. I’m usually planning last-minute mileage runs and kicking myself for not booking them earlier in the year when fares were lower.
Is this a first-world problem? Definitely. But I’m endeavoring to make 2020 the year I make and (sorta) stick with a travel rewards strategy.
Here’s my plan for the coming year. Keep in mind that your plan will look completely different, depending on your own travel habits and goals. But you can use this as a template for thinking ahead for 2020.
Focus on burning, not earning
I just wrote an article encouraging everyone to spend their points and miles instead of saving them, but I’m guilty of some hoarding myself. I earned a lot of points in 2019, mostly through credit card welcome bonuses, so I’m sitting atop a pile of quickly devaluing rewards.
I’ll still use my credit cards wisely to earn category bonuses and credit my flights and hotel stays to the appropriate programs. But I’m hoping to end 2020 with fewer points than I started with.
This is a good initial goal because it’s the most fun. Having too many points is a good problem to have, and I can start daydreaming about where I’d like to go and how I’d like to get there.
Set an airline status goal
For the past few years, I’ve earned Alaska MVP Gold status without focusing much strategic energy on it. I just flew a lot on Alaska and its partners and managed to get Gold status. But last year, I flew less consistently and settled for — gasp — mere MVP status throughout 2019.
Yes, yes, tiny violins and all that, but there's one major benefit to MVP Gold status that MVP status does not carry: waived change fees. My travel plans change all the time, so I've ended up eating quite a few $50 change fees over the past few months.
Next year I’m going to make a more concerted effort to track my progress toward MVP Gold status early in the year. If it doesn’t seem like I’ll make it, I won’t worry much in the second half. But if I’m on track, I’ll make sure not to get stuck making mileage runs in November and December.
Who knows, maybe I’ll shoot for that sweet, sweet MVP Gold 75K status ...
Decide on a hotel program
Last year, sick of the ho-hum perks offered by low-level hotel elite status, I switched my loyalty to Hotels.com, combined with 10x points earning on the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Unfortunately, it looks like the partnership will end in January 2020. Without their combined powers, the Hotels.com Rewards program is only OK.
I don’t stay in hotels enough to earn top-tier status, where most programs offer meaningful perks like free breakfast. So I’m back to the drawing board for where to put my loyalty. The Orbitz Rewards program caught my attention recently with its simplicity and flexibility, but I’m always partial to Hyatt properties.
Whatever I decide, I need to do it before the new year.
The bottom line
Travel rewards programs work on calendar years, so you should plan accordingly. If, for example, you’re hoping to earn the Southwest Companion Pass next year, you’ll want to map out how many miles you’ll need to fly throughout the year to get there. Flying more at cheaper times like spring and fall can help you avoid the headaches of last-minute holiday travel.
Even if you don’t have a specific travel rewards goal in mind, it’s worth checking your point balances and credit card account to make sure everything is how you want it heading into the new year.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: The case for stockpiling points without a specific trip in mind Baffled by points and miles? Let the 80/20 rule guide you Find the best travel credit card for you