THE BLOG

6 Things You Need To Do Now To Optimize Your 2016 Travel

12/21/2015 03:27pm ET | Updated December 21, 2016
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

1. Review your points portfolio.

Just like year end tax planning, it is important to assess your credit card, airline or hotel promotions. Check to see if there are any remaining credit card incidental travel fee credits or offers that should be consumed before year end. Decide whether there are any travel points you wish to donate to charities.

Verify the card's sign-up date and when minimum purchases need to be completed to avoid missing the sign-up bonus and incurring costly renewal fees.

Ascertain expiration dates on points and free travel certificates. Companies like AwardWallet help to track most loyalty programs. This is an opportune time to organize all your affiliations.

If your points are expiring, a quick purchase through a shopping portal or with an airline/hotel's credit card will extend the point's shelf life. Consuming a drink or a meal at certain hotels can also be a quick fix for expiring points.

This past fall, I neglected to diary two complimentary Hilton weekend nights and one free Marriott night. An impromptu trip to Israel salvaged the Hilton certificates and avoided what could have been a costly error. My Hilton stay at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem was valued at about $1,000.

It should be noted that it is worth calling the company's customer service number if you find yourself in a bind. Hilton graciously extended the expiration dates as a one-time courtesy if I couldn't use them in time. Marriott would not grant an extension and I lost the free night. Policies vary by company and possibly by person.

2. Secure flights at current mileage levels.

Airlines are constantly revising their award levels. American Airlines recently announced a change to its mileage charts. https://www.aa.com/i18n/AAdvantage/programDetails/AAdvantage2016.jsp Now is a good time to book future American Airline flights before the new levels take effect March 22, 2016. Consider taking out an American Advantage credit card with a sign-up bonus if you need additional miles for an award.

3. Consider the impact of impending mergers on your hotel stay programs.

Marriott International will acquire Starwood and Accor SA agreed to purchase Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel brands. The impact on the respective frequent stay programs is unclear. This could be an opportune time to beef up your hotel points if the companies end up combining accounts similar to US Air and American Airlines. Sign up for a hotel credit card If you have already acquired one property's card but not the other brand. Fairmont Visa Signature® Card earns 2 complimentary nights after spending $3,000 in purchases within 3 months of opening the account. Whether these two free nights are useable at Accor properties remains to be seen?

4. Diversify your credit cards.

Your credit card portfolio should include at least one non-American Express card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees. American Express is not accepted everywhere. Paying unnecessary foreign exchange charges because you don't have an alternative card that doesn't waive foreign transaction fees is literally, throwing out money.

5. Secure the thresholds needed for free nights or flights.

Now is a good time to evaluate the amount of points you need for upcoming trips. See if you need to open a credit card or adjust your charging to achieve the necessary target points. A recent trip heavily depleted my American Airlines mileage account. But I intend to use American Airlines for a future trip to South America. I had already obtained the personal Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® so I replenished my account with the 50,000 miles sign-up bonus by opening the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Card. Problem solved.

Check the credit limits on the cards you currently have. Reducing credit lines on each card could prevent a bank from denying your application because you have exceeded your credit limit. Note, it is not always easy to increase the limits once they have been reduced.

6. Verify your program's status levels.

Maintaining status is critical for some frequent business travelers. Confirm whether you need to undertake a year end mileage or mattress run to maintain your status for the upcoming year.

Hilton will status match another hotel's loyalty program. The upgrade will be valid through March 2017. Send your Hilton account number along with screen shots to document your status at another hotel loyalty program to HHonormystatus@hilton.com. Credentials should be submitted by January 11, 2016.