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January is a great time to get a jump-start on earning credit card rewards. While everyone else is hitting the gym and making New Year’s resolutions, you’re taking steps to maximize your rewards in the new year and achieve elite airline or hotel status. By implementing these credit card hacks, you’ll be able to book your dream vacation in no time.
Maximizing credit card rewards and benefits takes a little effort, but the perks are out of this world. With the miles and points you earn, you can take incredible trips for a fraction of the normal cost. Plus, credit card benefits improve the overall experience with automatic elite status, airport lounge access and more. See what you should do at the start of each year to set yourself up for success.
Review Your Wallet
Every year you should review your wallet to make sure the credit cards you have are still the best ones to reach your goals. Credit card annual fees, benefits and earning power can change. Additionally, where you spend the most, which vacations you want to take and which perks matter to you also change on a regular basis. If the card’s features no longer align with your goals and spending patterns, it’s time to close that credit card and get a better one.
Shawn Coomer, the founder and credit card expert at MilesToMemories.com, says, “The new year is a good time to check for anything that may have changed with your cards to see if you might be better off with something new.”
Let’s say you’re planning an anniversary trip to Paris next summer. However, your favorite credit card is the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. While Southwest has expanded its destinations, it does not fly to Europe. To book your flight to Paris, you’ll need a card that earns miles for an airline that flies internationally or flexible points that transfer to one of those airlines.
Get a Status Match
Having elite status provides many valuable perks when booking flights or staying at hotels. Some of these loyalty programs expire early in the year. If you are losing your elite status, consider requesting a status match with another airline or hotel before your elite status expires. Community members on StatusMatcher.com share the results of their latest attempts to obtain a status match.
Many airlines and hotels match elite status levels for a short period of time to try to win your business. During this trial period, you can earn elite status for the rest of the year if you book enough reservations. For members on a status match, the requirements to extend status are often lower than the normal requirements.
Activate Credit Card Benefits
Some credit cards offer elite status as a cardholder benefit. However, you might need to manually activate the elite status benefits. For example, The Platinum Card from American Express cardholders must call to activate their Hilton Honors Gold and Marriott Bonvoy Gold benefits.
Coomer cautions that “while getting a new credit card can be exciting, many of today’s cards come with tons of benefits that are forgotten or never activated. This lost value can erode the value of a card significantly.”
Other credit cards require cardholders to manually activate benefits as well. Travel cards that include Priority Pass Select for free access to airport lounges must call to activate their membership and receive their entry card. Cards with quarterly rotating bonus categories, such as the Chase Freedom Flex and the Discover it Cash Back card, require activation to earn the bonus rewards.
Earn Additional Rewards Through Third-Party Programs
One of the best credit card reward hacks is signing up for third-party apps that offer additional rewards when you shop at participating retailers and restaurants. These rewards are in addition to the cash back, miles or points you earn from your credit card. To earn these rewards, simply link your credit card and make purchases at retailers and restaurants within the network.
Some of the most popular rewards apps include Dosh, Bumped and Drop. Additionally, many airlines and hotels participate in dining rewards programs where you’ll earn extra rewards at select restaurants. Participating airlines and hotels include United, Southwest, Delta, Marriott and Hilton.
Focus on Spending Bonuses
Certain credit cards offer additional rewards and perks when you spend more on them each year. Even if you aren’t getting the highest earning rate on your individual purchases, these bonuses and perks can make focusing your spending on that card worthwhile. Here’s a quick list showing some of the perks you can earn based on your spending.
- Spending on Southwest credit cards helps you earn credits toward the Companion Pass.
- The World of Hyatt Credit Card offers a second free night when you spend at least $15,000 each year. Plus, you earn two additional elite night credits for every $5,000 you spend.
- Premium Delta credit cards provide a “status boost” of Medallion Qualification Miles toward elite status based on your annual spending.
- Hilton credit cards allow cardholders to upgrade to a higher elite status when they reach certain spending levels.
Dave Grossman, a loyalty program consultant at MilesTalk.com, likes to plan out his year to determine which spending bonuses he’ll focus on. “I make sure to spend the $15,000 necessary on each of the Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business cards to earn their annual free nights,” he says. “These nights are extremely valuable since they can be used at almost any Hilton property.”
Make a List of Your Annual Credits
So many credit cards include annual credits that cardholders can easily lose track of them. Cardholders often use these credits to justify paying the card’s annual fee, so losing out on redeeming them can be costly.
When reviewing your credit cards each year, make a list of each card’s annual credits. Examples include airline fee credits, hotel resort credits, Global Entry or TSA PreCheck reimbursement and Uber credits. Pay attention to any exclusions or other requirements that may apply, then plan how you’ll redeem them for the most value.
Check Your Expiration Dates
You work hard to earn miles and points, but they sometimes expire before you can use them. While most rewards programs have eliminated expiration dates, some require users to earn or redeem points to keep accounts active. Others have an expiration date no matter what you do. Understand the rules about your miles, points and cash back to avoid losing out on hard-earned rewards.
If your rewards are about to expire, that’s a strong incentive to book a trip or redeem your miles and points for something else. For programs that require activity to keep your account active, many different types of activity qualify, such as earning rewards by using the brand’s shopping portal, making a purchase through a partner, using your co-branded credit card or transferring points from another program. For example, you can transfer 1,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to keep your World of Hyatt account active.
Register for Promotions
Airlines, hotels and banks run promotions on a regular basis. These promotions offer bonus miles and points on your trips, accelerated elite status, free hotel nights and more. It doesn’t cost anything to register for these promotions, so you should register even if you don’t have travel plans with those brands.
Additionally, major credit card issuers have exclusive offers for their cardholders. These offers for points and cash back vary based on which card you have, your spending patterns and other variable criteria. You could earn cash back, additional rewards and other bonuses that boost the normal rewards earned from your card. However, in order to receive them, you need to manually activate the offers before making a purchase.