I try to practice what I preach, and as a result I have been on a booking frenzy to beat the Hyatt and United devaluations (psst, Hyatt is tomorrow in case you have been sleeping since before Thanksgiving). Now some of the reservations I have made ahead of the devaluations are speculative and I may not use them, and I also have some I know I need to cancel and just haven’t gotten around to yet. Even still, my balances are quite low. My Ultimate Reward balance for my personal cards sits at around 9,000 points.
My United balance sits at 140 miles.
My Hyatt Gold Passport account sits at 414 points.
In other words, I’m out of miles and points…or at least out of the ones that I like the most. I know that some miles and points bloggers have balances that are “low” if they dip from 7 figures to 6 figures in any given program, but I live in the real day-to-day world where I book for many people in my family, and my balances fall quickly when we book big trips. I also don’t live on the road, buy a bunch of miles, or have large reimbursable business expenses that would result in easily pumping up my miles and points balances.
These very small balances may seem like a bad thing, but to me it means that I’m not losing much of anything when the devaluations hit. I earned and burned at the same old rates, and no one can take those trips away from me. I will now earn and burn at the new rates. Sure I’m still earning at the same old rates in some respects, but we recently saw the Chase Freedom sign-up bonus hop to 20k points from 10k (thought it is now back down). The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card was briefly at 50k + 5k for authorized user, and is still sitting at an improved 40k + 5k for an authorized user, when it had previously just been 40k without any additional for an authorized user for over a year. The Hyatt promotion we are seeing for Q1 is one of the best we have seen from Hyatt in a while, the Club Carlson promo that was just announced is the best we have seen from them in a while, the Capital One Venture card has a higher bonus than it has had in a while, etc. In other words, there are lots of opportunities out there if you pay attention and strike when the iron is hot.
I was a little lazy on the earnings side in 2013, and let my husband do most of the earning via credit card sign-up bonuses since he was starting with a fresh slate. I did a fair amount of travel, so earned more than I have in the past that way, and did pretty well with shopping portal bonuses. However, it is time to do better in 2014 to get my balances back up. I have a hunch that many of you are in the same situation either because you burned many of your miles and points like I did, or you are just starting out so naturally have low balances.
Here’s my action plan:
- Sign-up for a rewards card or two. I have many of the usual suspects, but it is likely time for me to trim down what I have (both to avoid fees for cards I don’t need, and to leave the door open for the future), and see what I may want to add to my collection now. If you are new, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, and Citi AAdvantage Card cards are usually very good starting points, though the absolute best starting point will depend on your travel goals. I have all those cards, so I will be looking to ones I don’t yet have like the Club Carlson Business Rewards Visa, or the Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard®, etc. The Hyatt Credit Card will be a good one for my husband and I to get as well when we know we want to stay at a Category 7 Hyatt (or one of the family friendly all-inclusives with more than two in the room) as the two free nights you can get as the sign-up bonus on that card will be by far the best way to secure “free” nights at those properties.
- Maximize every dollar spent via category bonuses. I normally am pretty good about this, but since we have been hitting so many minimum spending requirements via my husband’s new cards, we are a little out of practice on category bonuses. Some easy ones I utilize are 5x on phone bill, cable bill, internet bill, and office supply stores via the Ink Plus® Business Card or Ink Bold® Business Card, 5x on the Chase Freedom at rotating categories (Q1 2014 is gas stations, Starbucks, and movie theaters), 2x at grocery stores on the US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa Signature (which really amounts to 4x – read more here), and 2x on dining via the Chase Sapphire Preferred. That is my strategy based on cards I have, but there are plenty of rewards cards out there with different category bonuses so make sure to pay attention to what you have.
- Participate in hotel promotions. I don’t recommend letting hotel promotions dictate where you stay, but I’m going to let them influence my chain choice to a degree. For example, I already have two nights planned at Club Carlson hotels in early 2014, but if I have just one more night I will get 38,000 bonus points that I can later leverage for a couple of free nights. That may mean I stay at a Club Carlson hotel when I otherwise might have given that night to a different chain. Of course, be careful that you aren’t spending too much extra to get the points or you come out on the losing side of that proposition, but promotions can be the tie-breaker when most other factors are equal.
- Play the game a bit harder. I’m not big at all in the world of gift cards, reload cards, Amazon payments, etc…but perhaps I need to get more involved in that for a little while until I have some healthier miles and points balances. I still won’t be a big player both because of lack of available time and some level of risk, but it’s smart to at least consider some of those options if you are brainstorming ways to bring some balances back up. This Flyertalk forum can be a helpful starting point if some of that interests you.
- Don’t ignore the “small stuff” like shopping online portal bonuses, Facebook promotions, etc. may seem small and inconsequential, but when you are looking to get your balances up everything counts (as long as it doesn’t take too long).
Of course, love it or hate it, my first action item of getting rewards credit cards is the one that will bring the biggest results in the least amount of time, so it is truly the one to focus on even if you do nothing else. As always, don’t bite off more than you can chew, but that is a easy way to get your balances off life-support and back to healthy levels in record time.
I’m going to be enjoying the heck out of all of my pre-devaluation redemptions guilt-free in 2014, and focusing on getting balances back-up so I can do it all again in 2015 and beyond. What is your current status?
Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links. Some links in this post are mine, some aren’t. All are to the best offers I am aware of. As always, thanks for your support!