5 ways to maximize credit card rewards before year end

From using up annual benefits to making sure you qualify for elite status, here's your rewards to-do list for Q4

Stephanie Zito
Travel and cards writer
Travel expert who writes the "Have Cards, Will Travel" column for CreditCards.com

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Fall is officially here. The final quarter of the year is the season for smart rewards earners to inventory their wallets and take stock of their credit card rewards status in order to make sure points earning is on track before the calendar resets.

Here are the five most important things you should be doing now to maximize your credit card travel benefits before the end of the year creeps up on you.

1. Make use of any unused annual benefits

Many of the top travel rewards cards come with cardholder benefits that reset Jan. 1 of every year.

If you haven’t taken full advantage of the annual benefits, make a plan to do so now.

You’ll want to spend them in time to get reimbursed on this year’s final statement – otherwise you’re literally throwing money away.

2. Focus spend to meet a threshold

As you do your card benefit inventory, take time to check your accounts to see if you are close to meeting any threshold spend for a special rewards bonus.

A number of cards co-branded with different hotel and airline groups offer special bonuses and benefits for reaching a specific spend every calendar year.

I’ve personally started to focus my spend on my Barclays Silver AAdvantage Aviator card as the end of the year gets closer in order to reach the annual threshold spend that will give me a $6,000 elite qualifying dollar credit on American Airlines and help me keep my Executive Platinum status in the AAdvantage program next year.

Tip

Tip: When reviewing your credit card threshold opportunities, it is important to recognize that some bonuses are based on the calendar year and others are based on the anniversary year from the day you became a cardmember. The calendar bonuses are most important in this quarter, but you’ll also want to be tracking your anniversary bonuses according to your own calendar.

3. Count your points and nights to qualify for elite status

If you, like me, have been working to earn points or nights in order to earn elite status in a hotel group or an airline, this month is the perfect time to tally your achievements to date and make a plan to cover any gaps.

  • Make sure that the nights or flights you’ve taken already or have earned through your credit card have posted and follow up if you see something missing.
  • If you’ve come up a few nights short for reaching hotel status, you might consider shifting purchases to a card that earns stay credits for spending or opening a new card that offers elite stay credits as a benefit.
  • If you opt to open a new card, you’ll want to do that soon enough so you have plenty of time to meet the minimum and have the credits post in this calendar year.

Once I finish up my qualifying threshold spend on my Aviator card to help keep my American status, I’ll be shifting my everyday spend over to my World of Hyatt Credit Card to help get the few qualifying nights I’m short of to requalify for my Hyatt Globalist status.

The benefits on the recently released upgraded version of this card allow me to earn two qualifying night credits every time I spend $5,000.

4. Register for Q4 holiday bonuses

If you have a card that offers quarterly spending bonuses on varying categories like Chase Freedom, for example, you’ll want to make sure you are registered for your fourth quarter bonuses – especially if you are planning to do a lot of holiday shopping or travel.

This task is usually as easy as a few clicks online, and can help you net up to five times the points you’d be earning if you didn’t take the time to register.

See related: Chase Freedom cash back categories for Q4 2018

5. Meet a new minimum with holiday spend

The final task to consider in your fourth-quarter rewards inventory is assessing if there are any new credit cards to add to your portfolio.

The months of October, November and December tend to be the easiest 90-day period in the calendar year to meet a minimum spend for most of us as expenses of holiday meals, gift giving, travel and parties can add up very quickly.

  • If you tend to finish your shopping early, you should be able to have your points post before the new year hits.
  • If you’d prefer for your points to post in January, however, for a strategic reason like getting a head start on qualifying for the Southwest Companion Pass in 2019, you’ll want to save your final purchases toward the end of the 90 days.

No matter what your personal rewards earning objective is, get your fourth quarter rewards review on your to-do list as soon as possible.

If you play your cards right from now until the end of the year, you should be able to earn enough points to guarantee you’ll be able to put that long-planned bucket-list trip on your new year’s resolution list come January.


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Updated: 11-15-2018