Whether or not you have enough miles to qualify for elite status next year, use this strategy to get your accounts in order.

By Brian Kelly
December 29, 2016
iStock/Getty Images

Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, shares his strategies for getting the most out of your points and miles.

For most people the end of the year marks a time to eat, drink, and be merry. For frequent flyers, it can be a time of nail-biting panic and despair as the clock runs out on numerous deadlines—most ominously the one for elite status qualification. Before you check out and revel in the holiday haze, here are three things you need to do now to make sure you’re setting yourself up for 2017 travel success.

Make sure you’ve been credited for all of your 2016 flights and hotel stays.

Whether its hotel or airline elite status, you have until December 31 to get in the requisite number of miles, segments, stays or nights to qualify for elite status for 2017. If you’re coming in close or are just behind, make sure you do an audit of all flights and hotel stays throughout the year. Loyalty programs forget to log flights and hotel stays more often than you think—especially during irregular operations. If an airline rerouted you on a different airline, you generally won’t get credit for the original flight you booked unless you specially ask for Original Routing Credit. It’s not your fault you had to get accommodated on another carrier. So, if you are coming in just behind the status needed, you might be able to catapult yourself across the threshold by simply finding any missing flights that were never credited to your account. If you’ve audited your account and you’re still coming up short, it might make sense to take an extra flight (or two) to lock in status for the next year.

While airlines have been watering down elite status by taking away perks and instead selling them to all passengers (like priority boarding and first class upgrades), elite status still can be valuable—especially at the top tiers. Read about how we value each major elite status and why.

Note: The actual value of elite status will vary greatly by traveler. If you didn’t fly enough in 2016 to qualify, you need to ask yourself: “Why am I jumping through hoops to get it for 2017? Will I fly enough to get value of the perks?” If you think you’re going to travel enough in 2017 to maximize those perks, then go for it. If not, save your cash and time and create a strategy starting January 1, 2017 to get status. If there’s no way you’re going to maintain status in 2017, you might want to consider status matching or status challenging to another airline or hotel before you lose your status all together (usually Jan 31 or Feb 28). You can leverage your existing status (even if you’re about to lose it) by emailing other programs and telling them you want to shift your loyalty to them if they match your status or give you an expedited “challenge.”

Make sure you use all your credit card perks before they expire.

If you have a premium credit card, chances are you have a yearly credit to use by Dec. 31. That means you can book future flights (for 2017) using those credits, but you’ll need to do so by the end of the year. For reference, here are the perks for some of the most popular cards:

Citi Prestige$250 air travel credit

The Platinum Card from American Express: $200 airline fee reimbursement good for a single airline

Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express: $100 airline fee reimbursement good for a single airline

Chase Sapphire Reserve Card:  $300 annual travel credit

The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card$300 airline fee credit, must call in or request via Chase secure message to be reimbursed

The good news is you get new credit starting January 1, 2017, but you don’t want to leave any credits on the table, so use them before you lose them.

Use any expiring upgrades before year-end.

If you’re not planning to travel soon, give them to family and friends. For most airlines (except Delta) you can gift your upgrade certificates to others. But be warned: Do not try and sell your upgrades or miles online. Airlines and hotels have savvy anti-fraud teams that actively monitor Craigslist, eBay, and other online marketplaces. If caught, you will likely lose all of your miles and have your account shut down. Loyalty programs are a privilege and if you don’t play by the rules, the airlines can close your account, or in extreme cases, possibly ban you from the airline.