I’ve seen several New Year’s Resolution stories, most of them are silly, and none are worse than the median piece on New Year’s resolutions for managing your miles, points, and travel — because anyone who would actually use the advice likely knows far more than the person writing the piece.
So here’s my brief attempt at a set of New Year’s Resolutions. As always, your mileage may vary… And for many of my readers, even these will seem utterly pedantic.
- Keep track of your miles. A free tool like MilePort is my preferred method. It’s a program on your computer, you enter your frequent flyer numbers and passwords, and it updates your balances with a single click. And since they’re all in one place it’s easier to keep track of what miles you still need for an award, and check in easily with programs to see when any miles might expire — and do something about that!
- Earn miles for everything you do. Daily activities really rack up the miles.
- Before buying anything online, check whether you can earn miles from the merchant at EV Reward.com.
- Make sure your frequent flyer or frequent guest number is submitted on your rental car reservations, I usually rent from Avis and credit my miles to Virgin Atlantic (1000 miles per rental even on a cheap one day rental), but if I were renting from Hertz I would probably credit to British Midland.
- Are you using the best credit card for miles? If you’re earning ‘Bank of America Worldpoints’ or your primary card is a Capital One ‘No Hassle Rewards’ card, then the answer is clearly no. While I need to update my old post on how to choose the best mileage-earning card given new products, changing offers, and specific scenarios, for most folks anything there would be an improvement over the status quo.
- Register for all promotions. Pay attention to the marketing emails from your travel providers. Check their websites for offers that require registration. Check sites like MileMaven to find offers. These are really just specific tips, the broad points are (1) make sure you’re taking advantage of the offers you’re eligible for, and (2) register for everything – most offers require registration these days, and just because you don’t think you’ll take advantage of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t register, you never know when weather or mechanical flight cancellations will cause you to be rerouted into a bonus you should have registered for!
- Earn elite status, or strive for the next tier. Life on the road is hard. First class isn’t what it used to be, and flights and hotels are booked solid so there’s less room to stretch out or even to recover gracefully from irregular operations. The only thing that can save you is your elite status, at the bare minimum it should keep you from getting walked from your hotel when you check in at 2 o’clock in the morning, it should put you at the top of waitlists if your original flight is cancelled, and the ability to skip some long security lines, board first, and occasionally sit in that larger seat and maybe even eat allows for a bit of sanity in an otherwise hectic ordeal.
If you don’t already have status with your primary travel providers, earn it. If you aren’t at top tier already, and you’re anywhere close to the next level of status, do what you can to achieve it.
- Delta, USAirways and Continental both offer credit cards where spending can help you achieve elite status. Marriott’s premium card offers nights towards status. United allows you to redeem miles earned through their co-branded credit card towards status. The premium United card even has a signup bonus that counts towards status (use that strategically, don’t sign up for the card in a year you’ve already hit your status).
- Take advantage of promotions. In 2007, Delta offered qualifying miles towards status for using Rewards Network (aka iDine). In 2006, USAirways had their ‘everything counts’ promo where miles from most sources other than credit card spending were qualifying miles. Know the promos and use them.
- Fly the extra mile, or make that extra stay. Once you’re within striking distance of the next tier, figure out a way to make an extra trip or checkin to a hotel near your home. The benefits of status will pay dividends throughout the entire next year.
- Reward yourself. Your miles and points are hard earned. And if you’ve accumulated them “butt in seat” or “butt in bed” you deserve to use those miles for an upgrade, or an aspirational award. Given that they’re a proprietary currency with no independent central bank controlling inflation, those points will never be worth as much tomorrow as they are today. Spend them at the same rate that you earn them. Use them to confirm an upgrade if your status won’t already assure you one. Forget the 25,000 mile domestic coach award except in the rarest of circumstances, and build up those balances for a business or ideally first class trip to Asia. Book it on your favorite airline’s partners that offer the best services (Lufthansa’s first class terminal at Frankfurt, Thai Airways’ first class spa in Bangkok, the onboard services of Cathay Pacific or Singapore) and redeem those hotel points for an oceanfront suite on a dream beach. Live life!