Making the most of your travel and awards points in 2019

Points and miles can be a great way to save on your next trip.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Food Columnist

With a new year comes new opportunities to save on travel with credit card miles and points — cash back, bonus points and statement credits on certain purchases. The world of points and miles can be tricky to navigate, which means you could miss out on potential savings. Here are some things to keep in mind as you scan the credit card landscape for 2019:

Citi Prestige revamp

The Citi Prestige card has pumped up its benefits for the new year, propelling it higher in the echelon of luxury-tier credit cards such as American Express Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve. The card now offers quintuple points on dining and travel and triple points on cruise lines and hotels.

Not all the changes are positive. The card’s annual fee will increase $45 to $495 in September, and the card’s unlimited complimentary-fourth-night benefit will be curtailed to just two uses per year.

After closing applications for the card for several months, the Citi Prestige is now open again to applicants, and offering a 50,000 point sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 within three months of opening the card. Remember: If you’ve received a sign-up bonus or closed a card that earns ThankYou points within the last 24 months, you’re not eligible for this offer.

Get more bang for your meal

The American Express Gold Card has a new look and different benefits as of fall 2018, the most noteworthy of which — quadruple points on restaurants — will excite those who dine out frequently.


The card, which has a 35,000-point public sign-up bonus after spending $2,000 in the first three months and an annual fee of $250, also offers a monthly $10 credit for a handful of dining and food-delivery partners, including Grubhub, Seamless and Shake Shack.

But be aware: Some cardholders have reported not consistently getting quadruple points when dining out. You may be in for a chat with customer service to claim those missing points.

Keep an eye on your categories

Several credit cards, including the Citi Dividend, Chase Freedom and Discover it cards, offer a rotating quarterly selection of categories that give you 5% back, including gas, airlines and wholesale clubs. Save yourself some time (and money) by making a note of when the categories that are most potentially lucrative for you fall on the calendar.

Discover and Citi have already released their categories for the year, allowing you to plan for big purchases.

Citi Dividend, for example, gives 5% back on airline purchases in July, August and September. If, come June, you find yourself about to pull the trigger on plane tickets to Europe for the fall, it might pay off to wait until July 1 so you can take advantage of the 5% offer.

Chase Freedom, unfortunately, keeps its categories closer to the vest and reveals them three months at a time; for the first quarter of 2019, it’s gas stations, tolls and drugstores.

The New Marriott Bonvoy Program

The big Marriott news (aside from the massive data breach of its Starwood reservation system that compromised the data of nearly 383 million people) is its rolling together of the Marriott, Starwood and Ritz-Carlton rewards programs into one giant entity now known as Bonvoy (as in “bon voyage”).

Bonvoy is expected to roll out a handful of new credit cards with the Bonvoy branding through Chase and American Express in February.

Chase’s Marriott Premier Plus card will soon be known as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card and will offer a substantial 100,000-point sign-up bonus when it officially launches Feb. 28. That’s enough points to get you five nights in a Category 4 hotel (By comparison, Category 7 contains numerous Ritz-Carltons) — four nights for 25,000 points apiece plus a free fifth night.

Treat yourself and a friend

The Southwest Airlines Companion Pass is one of the great deals in all of flying: When you buy a ticket on Southwest, you get to bring a designated companion for free, plus $5.60 in taxes and fees each way.

If you’re not a road warrior, the Companion Pass can be tough to land. It requires 100 flight segments or the accumulation of 110,000 points. Credit card sign-up bonuses, fortunately, count toward that point total, but typically require opening more than one credit card.

Now, for a limited time, three Southwest Rapid Rewards cards — Plus, Premium and Priority – are offering a free companion pass, good through the end of the year, plus 30,000 Rapid Rewards points as a sign-up bonus after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Think of it as potentially a great opportunity to take yourself and a friend or loved one on a nice getaway.