Point Me to First Class with Devon Gimbel MD | Use It or Lose It - Your Year-End Checklist

41. Use It or Lose It - Your Year-End Checklist

Dec 11, 2023

How do you end 2023 strong and ensure you aren’t missing out on any valuable benefits from your rewards credit cards? We’re fast approaching the end of the year, so it’s time to do some points housekeeping. I’m reviewing five things I do to ensure I’m on track to hit my points and travel goals for the year.

You still have time left in 2023 to fix any mistakes you’ve made or course-correct before January. If you need a few end-of-year reminders to make sure your points house is in order, this episode is exactly what you need.

Tune in this week to discover how to round out 2023 while staying on track with your rewards points. I’m showing you three ways to make sure you’re taking advantage of your use-or-lose offers, and I’m discussing everything you need to consider about points transfers, purchasing points, and maintaining your status in your loyalty programs.


To be the first to know when my Points Made Easy course reopens for enrollment, join the waitlist here!


What You’ll Learn from this Episode: 

  • Why now is the time to make sure you’re taking advantage of all your high-value offers and benefits.
  • 3 ways to make sure you’re maximizing your points offers for this calendar year.
  • Why now is the time to check your status levels in your loyalty programs.
  • What you need to know about transferring points toward the end of the year.
  • Why purchasing points might be a great idea at this time of year.


Listen to the Full Episode:


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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to Point Me to First Class, the only show for employed professionals, entrepreneurs, and business owners who are looking to optimize their higher-than-average expenses to travel the world. I'm your host, Devon Gimbel, and I believe that your expenses are your greatest untapped asset if you know how to leverage them. Ready to dive into the world of credit card points and miles so you can travel more, travel better, and travel often? Let's get started.

All right, everybody, we are getting to the end of the year. That means that it's time to do a little points housekeeping. In today's episode, I'm going to review five things that I do toward the end of every year to make sure that I'm not missing out on any valuable benefits from my rewards credit cards and ensure that I'm on track to hit my points and travel goals while I still have a little bit of time to fix any mistakes or course correct. 

So grab a pen and paper, unless you're out driving, out walking, or just don't want to, and get ready to jot down these end of year reminders to make sure your points house is in order. So in no particular order, here is what you don't want to forget to do or to check before the year ends.

Number one, if you're like me and have more than a few rewards credit cards, chances are a bunch of those come with monthly, semiannual, or annual credits or benefits that if you don't use you lose. If you're also like me, you might not give a crap about some or even a bunch of those credits enough to chase down getting every last cent that you can. But there are bound to be a few that you definitely don't want to miss out on. So now is the time to pull out all of those beautiful little rewards cards or pull up your accounts online and do the following three things. 

First, make sure that you know what credits or benefits each of your cards actually comes with. These can be things like a monthly food credit, a semiannual store credit, or an annual airline credit or hotel free night certificate. Some of the premium rewards credit cards, like the Amex Platinum Card which has lovingly been referred to as a coupon book, come with multiple credits. 

I don't think it's necessary that you use every last credit or benefit available to you, but I do think it's helpful to know exactly what credits or benefits your various rewards cards offer so that you can make sure the ones that actually appeal to you don't go to waste, especially the higher value credits. This is a great time to decide which card credits or benefits that are available to you are the ones that you want to make the effort to be sure that you use before the year ends. 

Second, make sure that you actually enroll in or activate your card credits or benefits if that's required. I actually think it's a pretty junk move for credit card issuers to require that you intentionally enroll in benefits that a card offers, but I suppose this is their way of not actually having to pay out those benefits for people who don't know or don't remember to do this step. 

Now this won't be required for every credit or every benefit on every rewards card, but some of them, including the semiannual Dell credit on the American Express Business Platinum card, or the annual airline credit on either the personal or business platinum cards from American Express do require that you have actually enrolled in those benefits inside of your account online in order for you to receive your statement credit for associated purchases. 

Third, while you're doing this, this is a great time to do next year you a favor and make a list of all the card credits that you have access to that you want to make sure that you don't forget to use next year so that you don't have to start this process from scratch again next December.

A quick note about credit card credits or other benefits. Some of these credits are awarded on an annual basis, i.e. during a calendar year running from January 1 through December 31. Other card credits or benefits are awarded each card member year. Meaning that if you got approved for a particular card on March 1 that comes with a card member year benefit, you have a 12 month period from March 1 of the current year through February 28 of the next year to take advantage of that credit or benefit.

So an example of this is the annual $300 travel credit that's issued by the Capital One Venture X cards. These run on a card member year calendar, not on a January through December calendar year calendar. So while you're reviewing the card credits or benefits that are available to you on each of your rewards cards, also make sure to check if they're offered on a calendar year basis or a card member year basis. 

Here are a few more examples of annual statement credits or benefits to make sure that you check to see if you have access to and to use if they matter to you. Many hotel credit cards offer a free night certificate annually where you can book a certain category of hotel for free using your certificate. These are really easy to forget about, but they can easily be worth $100 or more. So check your hotel co-branded credit card accounts to make sure you know if you have any free night hotel certificates available to you and use those up before you lose them. 

Similarly, you might have earned other hotel benefits or awards like a club lounge access award or a suite upgrade award that has an expiration date. Be sure to check on any awards that might be expiring before the end of the year and make a plan to use them before they disappear for good. 

Some airline co-branded credit cards like the United Explorer card come with annual free lounge passes that you can use to access an airport lounge when you're traveling with that particular airline, regardless of the class of service that you're traveling in. Lounge passes can be a great way to grab some free food, relax in a quiet environment, or just use a really clean bathroom during a long travel day. 

Another example of a card that offers lounge access is the Capital One Venture Rewards card, which offers two complimentary visits to Capital One airport lounges each year. Also many rewards cards offer credits for enrollment and travel services like Global Entry, TSA PreCheck, or Clear. 

In fact, you might have multiple rewards cards that all have this benefit or some form of this benefit. But don't overlook this even if you've already enrolled yourself in one or many of these programs because most cards will allow you to use your credits to enroll someone else, like a partner or a child, in them as well. 

All right here is number two on the list of end of year points travel related to dues. That is to check your progress on airline or hotel loyalty program status qualifications and make sure that you complete any spend or activity required to earn whatever level of status you're aiming for in that program. 

This is just a quick reminder that just like some of your rewards credit card benefits, some airline and hotel loyalty programs work on a year beginning to year end 12 month cycle for earning status that runs from January through December while others were going to different 12 month cycle, like the American Airlines loyalty program whose status qualification year starts on March 1 every year and runs through the last day of February every year. 

So first things first, identify if there are any airline or hotel loyalty programs that you're actively working to achieve status in this year. Second, make sure that you know whether that loyalty program awards status on a calendar year basis or on a different 12 month basis. Third, check out exactly where you are now in terms of your status qualification and what else you need to do in order to qualify for higher levels of status before the calendar year or status earning year ends. 

Once you know what the gap is between where you currently are with status qualification and the level of status that you want to achieve, it's time to get your plan in place to meet those status qualifications. Whether that's staying additional nights at a particular hotel chain, accruing more miles with an airline loyalty program through credit card spend, actual butt in seat flying, or other qualifying activities, or taking advantage of available status matches. You don't want to miss an opportunity to requalify for status or qualify for increased status in a loyalty program that you value. 

Okay, points task number three is to make sure that you meet any spending thresholds for extra bonuses that your rewards cards offer. Not every single rewards credit card will offer bonuses for meeting certain spend thresholds but many do. In particular, airline and hotel co-branded credit cards. 

For example, the Hilton Honors Surpass card offers one free night award after putting $15,000 of spend on the card annually. The Delta SkyMiles Gold Card offers a whopping $100 Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 on the card in a year. The United Business and United Club Business cards offer 500 premier qualifying points towards status for every $12,000 spent on those cards annually. 

Another benefit on a different card is that you can unlock access to bringing two guests with you inside American Express Centurion lounges when you spend $75,000 in one year on your personal or business American Express Platinum Card. 

Now, I'm being a little bit facetious here because I don't think any of us is running out to put $10,000, $15,000 or $75,000 of spend on any of our cards just to qualify for these specific spend threshold bonuses in and of themselves. But if you're otherwise already allocating spend to cards like these, and you're close to hitting a spend threshold bonus then I think it's absolutely worth considering if you want to make that extra little push to qualify for a threshold bonus before the year ends and your progress towards these spend thresholds drops back down to zero. 

All right on to end of year points task number four. This is a great time to review year end limits for points transfers and points purchases. Many programs allow you to combine or transfer unlimited amounts of points with other program members as many times as you want throughout the year. For example, Chase allows you to transfer Ultimate Rewards points freely between Chase Card holders who share the same household address. Capital One allows you to transfer points to any other Capital One member basically with no restrictions at all. 

But other programs do have limitations and caps on points transfers to other members. This matters if you're interested in combining points with someone else. For example, Citi allows you to transfer, at most, 100,000 Citi Thank You points to other Citi members per calendar year. Marriott allows you to transfer a maximum of 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per calendar year to other accounts and to receive a maximum of 500,000 points from other people in a calendar year. 

American Airlines allows you to transfer up to 200,000 miles out of your account annually, but they're going to charge you a transfer fee and a processing fee to do it. United is another airline that charges you to transfer points to another member and limits you to transferring up to 100,000 miles to each recipient’s account each calendar year. 

Now these are just a few examples of programs that have annual limitations on how many points you can transfer to or receive from other program members. Honestly, in a lot of cases, there's no compelling reason to transfer points to someone else. Most airlines allow you to make award reservations for another person from your own account, even if you're not traveling on the same itinerary with them. Or if you're traveling with another adult, you can each make your own award bookings for yourselves without having to consolidate points or miles into just one account. 

There are a few scenarios in which it could make sense to consolidate or transfer points and to want to move your points into the account of another person or vice versa. In which case, you absolutely want to be aware of any annual restrictions about how many points it is that you are allowed to transfer. It can make sense to transfer points to someone, for example, if one of you doesn't have enough points in their account to book a particular award flight, but combined, you would have enough points to book two award flights. 

For example, you might be eyeing a business class flight on Turkish Airlines that cost 45,000 points one-way per person. Now, if you have 35,000 Citi Thank You points, and your travel companion has 55,000 Citi Thank You points, it could be worth transferring your points to your companion’s Citi account so that they would have enough points combined to transfer over to Turkish Airlines to book two one-way business class tickets for you both. 

Another scenario in which it can make sense to transfer your points to someone else, is if you're planning to travel with someone who holds elite status in an airline or hotel loyalty program such that you can benefit from their status when you're on the same itinerary or booking. 

Many airlines status holders have the option to book upgraded seat assignments at the time of booking for themselves and a certain number of companions traveling on the same itinerary. So it may be worthwhile to transfer points to a companion whose status you can benefit from. 

In addition to there sometimes being limits on how many points you can transfer to another person, there are also annual limits on how many points that you can outright purchase from airline or hotel loyalty programs on an annual basis. Now is a good time not only to decide whether it makes sense for you to purchase any points, but also to be strategic about how many you buy in a calendar year. 

Many of you may have never considered buying points before, or you might be familiar with purchasing just a small amount of points in order to top off your points balance to be able to make an award booking. Like if you're 5,000 miles short of being able to book an award flight that costs 50,000 miles, you may have purchased a small amount of miles before. 

But you can also purchase larger amounts of points or miles annually. I'm not going to go into the granular details of exactly when you might want to do this or how to evaluate when it's worth purchasing a large amount of points on this specific podcast episode, but just know that this is a more advanced move for someone who knows the sweet spots of various booking programs and is confident in their ability to get more value from the points they purchase than the cost of buying those points out right. 

This is a strategy that I actually employ every once in a while to build up certain points balances that otherwise are very hard to earn in high amounts, or when there's a great deal on purchasing points, and I'm really confident about using those points for a high value booking in the future. So here are two examples. 

I'm a huge fan of the World of Hyatt Loyalty Program, and I run through Chase points almost as fast as I can earn them by using them to book Hyatt stays. So every year I'll also evaluate whether I want to boost my Hyatt points balance by outright purchasing Hyatt points. The last few years I've purchased the maximum number of points that Hyatt will allow its members to buy outright, which is usually 55,000 points per year before any bonuses are taken into account. 

If you're familiar with the World of Hyatt program, you can book some great redemptions for 55,000 points, but that's not exactly a points windfall. Because I use Hyatt points so often, I've been maxing out my purchase of Hyatt points the last few years and intend to do the same this year. 

This can make particular sense if you're looking to make a specific booking, but are short on points and want to be able to purchase your annual maximum number of points once in December and then again once in January to be able to have a quick influx of a lot of points at once. 

Another program that I sometimes purchase points through is the American Airlines program. American offers some fantastic sweet spot awards, particularly an international premium cabins on his partner airlines, and these miles are otherwise harder for me to earn since American is not a direct transfer partner of any of my current transferable points currencies. 

American Airlines allows its loyalty program members to purchase up to 150,000 miles per year before factoring in any bonuses, and often has promotions where the cost of buying those miles can be around 1.88 cents per point. So at that rate, it costs $2,820 to buy 150,000 American Airlines miles. 

Now that's clearly not an insignificant amount of money. But if you're experienced with American Airlines, you know that you can book a round trip business class flight on Qatar Suites to the Middle East, India, or Africa for 140 to 150,000 miles, which almost always is going to cost significantly more than the $2,820 to purchase those same miles. 

Similarly, you can fly round trip business class to Japan on Japan Airlines booked through American Airlines for 120,000 miles. Or you can fly round trip first class on Japan Airlines for 160,000 American miles. Those flights can easily price out at $8,000 or more for business class, and $20,000 or more for first class. So buying miles for less than $3,000 is essentially one way to book flights like these at a huge discount. 

But as I mentioned, purchasing points, especially purchasing a large amount of airline specific points or miles, is not something that I recommend for beginners. But once you become familiar with award sweet spots, and you have a high level of confidence that you would use purchased points to get outsized value on hotel or flight bookings, this can be one approach to boosting your points balances quickly and effectively getting hotel or flight awards at a deep, deep discount. 

But because airline and hotel loyalty programs cap the amount of points that you can purchase outright on an annual basis, it's a good time now to assess whether a points purchase factors into your points travel plan this year and to be sure to take advantage of being able to make your points purchases before next year's points limits kick in on January 1. 

Coming in at number five on my end of your points to do list is to make sure to remember to take advantage of expiring limited time promotions that are offered on your specific rewards cards. So this can be things like Amex offers on your American Express cards or targeted offers for extra points or bonus cash-back through your specific rewards cards. 

For example, my Citi Premier card currently has a bonus offer to earn five points per dollar spent on purchases at electronic stores, department stores, clothing stores, and toy stores through the end of January 2024. Chase also frequently offers increased bonus points offers on their cards for certain categories of spend for a designated period of time. These targeted offers are an easy way to earn extra points but often are limited to spend during a short period of time. So be sure to check your card accounts for any promotions that you can use before the year ends. 

There you have it. Those are the five things that I make sure to do before the year ends and another year of points earning credits, redeeming, and requalifying for status begins. I hope that a few of these reminders will help you take advantage of the credits, perks, and benefits that your rewards cards offer as well. Have a fantastic week everybody, and I will see you back here again next week. 

Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of Point Me to First Class. If you want more tips on turning your expenses into travel, visit pointmetofirstclass.com to learn more. See you next week.

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