I hope you all had a restful December and are ready to tackle 2019. This isn’t yet another patronizing pep talk about changing your life. I’m just here to nag you to clean your room and do your laundry. Things are changing this year and there are a few things you’ll have to do in order to stay on top of your responsibilities. Here’s your points and miles checklist for 2019:
1. Set your 2019 Travel Goals
Before tackling any new task, it’s important to set goals. Now is the time to revisit your bucket list, check in with friends and family in order to decide where it is you need to go this year. Then do the math on how many miles you need and how you’ll earn them. As usual, you’ll want to bank some extra miles in case of an emergency, mistake fare, or other last minute travel plans.
I have just over million points and miles right now and a few semi-solid travel plans:
Unfortunately, I missed last year’s Chicago Seminars since I flew to Shanghai on the Hong Kong Airlines Mistake Fare. More so than the event, I love Chicago and had planned out my food map way before my travel plans changed. I plan on making up for it by going back in the next couple of months. The Conrad Chicago has some incredibly cheap rates this winter, which makes it all the more appealing.
London…or somewhere else
This one isn’t set in stone yet, but I’m applying to a few 4-week grad school prep programs. The application isn’t open yet, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get into the London-based program. If not, I do have two backup options – one in New York and the other in New Haven. I have plenty of miles for airfare, and housing is included in the program fee. If I end up in New York, I might put my points to use because living out there (even for a month) is damn expensive.
While my summer travel plans are still up in the air, my family has theirs pretty much worked out. They all want to go back to Turkey, for at least three weeks. We had the best time in Istanbul and Cappadocia this past summer. Aside from the favorable exchange rate, we really enjoyed both cities and are excited to return.
On the plane ride to Nevsehir, I made the mistake of flipping through a magazine dedicated to the most interesting cities and sights in Turkey. Let’s just say you could build an entire blog about the amazing places to see out there. On the list right now is a return to Istanbul, Izmir, Pamukkale, Bodrum, Trabzon, Fethiye, and Ephesus. That’s not even scratching the surface. I’m unfortunately going to miss out on this trip, but I’ll enjoy the planning process almost as much as I would the trip.
My older sister has never been to Dubai before and this is the year we’re going to make that happen. Probably in December, when I get almost two weeks off from work. Plus, it gives me a chance to unload some of my AAdvantage miles. This will be my fourth time visiting Dubai in eight years and since it’s not my favorite place to begin with, I’m going to make it as exciting as possible by working in new and fun activities. In addition to staying in the city, I want to spend a few nights at a desert resort and hop around to some of the overlooked cities in the UAE as well as Oman.
2. Plan Your 2019 Point-earning strategy
Once you’ve made all those lofty travel plans, it’s time to figure out a way to pay for it all. Are you going to rely on credit card sign-up bonuses or work in a little manufactured spending? Are you going to dive into retail arbitrage or sell your own products via Amazon FBA to generate extra miles and travel cash? This is a good time to think about how you’re going to earn your points and miles this year. For me, it’s going to be pretty much business as usual:
MasterCard gift card churning
I’ll continue to churn MasterCard gift cards via money order purchases. It’s easy, familiar and gives me a chance to preserve the relationships I’ve established at my local Walmart. You never know when the next Vanilla Reload/Bluebird might reappear. If Walmart becomes a major manufactured spending hotspot again, I want to make sure the people at my go-to location don’t forget about me. So I like to go back from time to time, reconnect with old faces and introduce myself to the newbies.
I’ve been using Kickfurther to supplement my manufactured spending and to meet credit card spending requirements. It’s been going pretty well, with no repayment issues yet. Knock on wood. When my final repayment comes through in May, I’ll write up a summary of how much I invested, what I reaped in profits, as well as miles.
I’m going to continue making monthly mortgage and rent payments through Plastiq. Paying Plastiq’s 2.9% fee in order to earn miles doesn’t make sense for most people. In my case, I’m lucky to get a lot of referral credits from a couple of well-optimized posts. These allow me to continue earning miles while covering the credit card fees. Thank you to everyone who has used my Plastiq referral link!
3. Start tackling annual spending bonuses
Once you’ve banked that credit card sign-up bonus, it’s time to think ahead to spending bonuses. Since my last post about annual credit card spending bonuses, lots of new cards have entered the market. Many of them offer even more lucrative perks for meeting certain spending requirements. Depending on which credit cards you have, you could lose out on thousands of dollars worth of free nights, miles, and elite perks by not planning in advance.
It’s not the best idea, for example, to put $50,000 worth of spending on one credit card in a single month. Space your spending out over a year to avoid shut-downs and other hassles. Think about what you need to spend now and create a feasible plan for achieving it by year’s end.
One thing I will be doing that may be surprising is putting some extra spending on my Banana Republic card. You read that right. I got it last year and have already earned $100 in rewards for around $8 out of pocket, thanks to their spending promotion. I just got a flyer in the mail, offering 5x points (i.e. 5% in BR cash) for spending on gas, groceries and dining through June 30. I pretty much only shop at Banana Republic these days anyway, so these promos help me save a ton on clothes.
4. Make your annual Amex Platinum airline selection
If you still have an American Express Platinum Card, you’ll want to make your annual airline fee selection by January 31, 2019. The selection is good through the end of the year, so think about your travel needs and which airline will help you maximize that $200 credit. I always went with Southwest, since I fly them a lot for cheap and easy short-haul flights. I don’t have an Amex Platinum Card right now, which is fine with me since the annual fees on these cards just keep climbing. #thankunext
4. Cancel Credit Cards
This brings me to my next point: Now is a good time to reevaluate the credit cards you’ve accumulated in 2018 and put some on the chopping block. This month, the Citi Prestige Card is raising its annual fee to $495 and introducing several changes. Are you getting enough value out of that card to justify paying that, especially with the downgrading of the 4th-night free benefit? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself when deciding what to keep and toss. I just went through a significant credit card purge and have really narrowed it down to the essentials. It feels good to have fewer cards to keep track of. And save a few hundred bucks on annual fees this year.
5. Amex Offers
One of my favorite checklist items is logging into my American Express account and start adding Amex Offers to my cards. It’s weirdly satisfying and I get a sense of achievement out of it. It helps me generate bonus points on travel bookings, saves me cash on my cell phone bill or purchases of essentials through Boxed.com. I really enjoy this part of my points and miles routine and get even more excited when I get an email from Amex confirming an offer has been redeemed. The new year is as good a time as any to get into the habit of doing this year-round.
That’s pretty much all I can think of for now. What are you doing to plan ahead for 2019?