With just under two weeks to go until this rather dismal year of 2020 comes to an end, it’s time for all of us to wrap up another year of points-collecting endeavours. As in previous years, let’s talk about a few key tasks you should be looking to complete during this period as you take stock of your annual progress and prepare for next year.
1. Lock in Time-Sensitive Signup Bonuses
Every year, there’s usually a fair few offers on the market with December 31 as their end-date, and this year is no exception.
Here in Canada, the hottest offer that falls into this category is probably the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card and the American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card, whose waitlist offers of 75,000 Aeroplan points have a published end date of December 31, 2020.
More specifically, what’s expiring at year-end is the ability to earn 10,000 Aeroplan points as a bonus, on top of the standard 65,000 points, as a result of having signed up for the American Express waitlist prior to November 8, 2020.
However, it’s worth noting that there’s actually a direct offer for 75,000 Aeroplan points for both the personal and business Aeroplan Reserve cards, available through the Air Canada website (you can click here and here to access them).
These offers do not appear to have a published end date, but I’d still recommend applying prior to December 31 just to be safe. It’s anyone’s guess what the offers might look like in 2021; since the concept of the waitlist bonus was very much designed to reward early adopters, I think it’s more likely that the bonus decreases than increases.
If you’re an existing Aeroplan Reserve cardholder, you’ll want to pay attention to a special offer on your card until the end of the year, allowing you to earn 5,000 Aeroplan points for making $250 in purchases:
Another card whose record-high signup bonus is expiring soon is the HSBC World Elite Mastercard. Until December 28, 2020, new applicants will be able to earn 100,000 HSBC Rewards points (if they live outside of Quebec) or 130,000 HSBC Rewards points (if they live in Quebec), which is equivalent to $500 or $650 towards eligible travel expenses, respectively.
Factor in the $100 Travel Enhancement Credit and the annual fee waiver outside of Quebec, and this offer is worth $600+ no matter how you slice it. I’d definitely recommend applying soon if you haven’t already.
Moreover, I wouldn’t leave this one to the last minute, given HSBC’s propensity to ask prospective cardholders to visit the branch for approval (in most cases, you’ll get the correct bonus based on the date you applied, but I’ve also heard of exceptions to this rule in the past).
Meanwhile, if you’re an existing HSBC cardholder, don’t forget to maximize the following year-end offer for using Apple Pay 10 times to earn an easy $10 as a little holiday bonus:
Finally, it’s not a signup bonus per se, but I’ll remind you here that the 20% early adopter discount for Prince of Travel membership on Patreon will also be ending as of December 31.
The early adopter discount is intended as a reward for those of you who show your faith in the membership despite the challenging circumstances in global travel. I’m very encouraged by the uptake so far, with 99 of you having chosen to sign up – I just might send the 100th member something special in the mail! 😉
2. Maximize Year-End Limits for Points Transfers and Purchasing
The end of the year is often treated as a reset date for many types of annual limits within loyalty programs, such as for transferring or purchasing points.
Most notably, Marriott Bonvoy allows members to send up to 100,000 Bonvoy points per calendar year to another member’s account, and to receive up to 500,000 Bonvoy points per calendar year from other members.
For those of you playing in two-player mode or more, then, you should definitely make sure you’ve maximized this transfer capacity for 2020 and pooled your Bonvoy points into a single household member’s account (ideally the member who earns the most elite qualifying nights, and therefore the highest status level) to as great an extent as possible. After all, Platinum status on one account means free breakfast for two!
In the same vein, if you’re in the habit of accelerating your earning power by purchasing miles when it makes sense, then you’ll know that the loyalty programs usually have a capped amount on how many miles you can purchase per year.
If your needs for buying miles happen to exceed this cap, then you’d want to make sure you’ve met the cap for 2020 – perhaps by taking advantage of Alaska Mileage Plan’s targeted bonus of up to 50% on purchased miles, which is valid until December 23 – before it resets for 2020.
3. Use Up Your Year-End Credits and Offers
Similar to the above, many types of credits and certificates expire at the end of the year, and you’ll just want to quickly check that you’ve taken care of these before 2020 rolls around.
For example, many of the US-issued American Express cards have airline fee credits which work on a calendar year basis, such as the US$250 airline fee credit on the Amex US Hilton Aspire Card, the US$200 airline fee credit on the US Platinum Card or the US Business Platinum Card, or the US$100 airline fee credit on the US Gold Card.
If you haven’t taken advantage of these credits to offset your annual fee yet, you have two weeks left to take action.
Historically, Amex US isn’t a big fan of cardholders finding creative ways to use up these credits outside of their intended uses (i.e., incidental charges like checked bag fees or pet fees on a major US airline), and has sometimes taken steps to claw back the credits after the fact.
Therefore, I’d recommend you to do some further digging on such methods if you haven’t yet maximized these airline fee credits and aren’t planning to travel with a major US airline before the end of the year – as there are potentially a few ways to parlay different sets of these credits towards a united travel fund for future trips instead.
Then there are other types of annual credits, like the US$200 and US$100 Dell credits on the US Business Platinum Card and US Platinum Card, respectively, the US$50 Saks Fifth Avenue credit on the Platinum Card, and so on.
Neither of these appear to be easily redeemable from the Canadian side, as shipping items to Canada would trigger the Canadian Dell or Saks website, instead of the US site.
Instead, either order an item that can easily be forwarded up to Canada – or in the case of Dell US, what I’ve done is simply buy some XBox Live gift cards and resell them for a little less than face value afterwards.
Up here in Canada, there’s also a variety of different statement credit offers that will be ending on December 31 as well:
- Spend $25, Get $5 on Amazon.ca purchases; a balance reload seems to trigger this credit
- Spend $75, Get $30 / Spend $60, Get $20 (up to three times) on office supplies; an online purchase from Staples.ca seems to trigger this credit
- Spend $200, Get $50 on Marriott hotels; an in-person gift card purchase from a Marriott hotel can trigger this credit
- 6 × $45 FedEx credits on the Business Platinum Card; see this blog post for my experience redeeming these credits
4. Check Your Elite Status Qualification
Be it airlines or hotels, the end of year usually also marks the end of the qualification period for most elite status programs.
Traditionally, now’s the time to assess your projected status level for 2020 and 2021, but thankfully the vast majority of loyalty programs, including Air Canada, WestJet, Hilton Honors, and Marriott Bonvoy, have all extended members’ 2020 status through all of 2021 and into early 2022.
Having said that, for those of you who are just a hair short of securing a higher status level than you already have, it might even be worthwhile to book a mattress run or a mileage run.
On the hotel side, remember that a Category 1 Marriott hotel will cost only 5,000 Bonvoy points per night on off-peak dates, and you could therefore earn five elite qualifying nights for only 20,000 points.
If you still find yourself a few nights short of the 50-night threshold for the highly valuable Marriott Platinum Elite, then it could make sense to either embark on a weekend trip or get a friend who lives near a Category 1 hotel to check-in on your behalf in order to earn the additional nights required.
Of course, this will also depend on how much you see yourself travelling next year – if you plan to visit Asia and stay at high-end hotels in that part of the world, for example, you’d get much more benefit out of Platinum Elite (and would have a much easier time justifying a mattress run) than if you actually only planned to stay with Marriott a few times and were looking to diversify into other programs as well.
On the airline side, a last-minute mileage run would probably only be worth it for those of you who’ve travelled enough this year to be within touching distance of Air Canada’s top-tier Aeroplan Super Elite status.
After all, Super Elite members enjoy free changes and cancellations on Aeroplan award tickets, as well as Priority Rewards that can be redeemed on business class tickets, both which are extremely valuable benefits.
For the other elite tiers, I wouldn’t personally find it worthwhile to spend additional cash on a mileage run, especially with your existing status having been extended through 2021 already – although the fact that Air Canada is allowing members who organically earn status in 2020 to gift status to another member might move the needle on your decision as well.
5. Review Your Accounts and Look Ahead at 2021
While this isn’t necessarily an end-of-year activity, something I like to do during the final few weeks of each year is to take some time to review my hotel stays and airline activity in detail.
One reason for this is to catch any errors that may have occurred that you may have overlooked during the year. For example, with Aeroplan transitioning to a new program this year, it’s inevitable that many reservations will have gotten botched up along the process.
Now is the time to review your past reservations, note whether the correct number of points has been deducted, and give the program a call if anything needs to be fixed.
On a larger scale, I’ll usually glance over all of my other mileage-earning activity as well, such as whether I correctly earned extra miles on eStore purchases during the Black Friday bonus events, whether any outstanding points from credit card statements have yet to post to my loyalty account, and even whether the merchants on my credit card statements were correctly categorized.
Looking forward at 2021, I’ll also be reviewing my Excel spreadsheet to tally up my total points earnings for the year and thinking about further optimization for next year.
In ordinary times, I’m always thinking about my upcoming travel in one-year cycles (since that’s how far out one can book airline tickets), and that’s even more the case for 2021 since we haven’t been able to travel much in 2020.
Take a moment at the end of the year to put your feet up, relax, and look through your list of upcoming reservations for 2021 (even if many of them might be speculative) – you might just recapture some of those warm and fuzzy feelings in anticipation of future trips that you’ve missed for so long.
‘Tis the season for tying up the loose ends in Miles & Points as 2020 draws to a close.
Take some time during the last few weeks of the year to deal with the many elements in our space that move in yearly cycles, such as time-sensitive signup offers, points transfers and purchases, elite status qualification, and the various credit cards’ and loyalty programs’ annual credits and certificates.
And finally, let’s not forget the most important task of all: let’s make sure we count our blessings for making our way through 2020, hopefully in good health and in good spirits, and preparing ourselves for what’s looking like a brighter year of earning and burning in 2021.