Update: Hilton has revamped their co-branded credit card products, and the cards mentioned in this post are no longer available. You can find information on the new Hilton credit cards here.
A new year is always a bit of a double edged sword for me. While it’s a time of excitement and unrealistic optimism for most, I’m just kind of depressed by most of my elite counters being reset to zero.
Elite qualifying miles/segments/nights/stays are somewhere between badges of honor and battle wounds in this hobby. It’s kind of like when your passport expires and you get a new one. You’re excited at the prospect of where it will take you, but also kind of sad by all those stamps being “wiped out.” The back of my passport doesn’t have more stickers than a kindergarten classroom for no reason, after all (okay, in fairness most of them have fallen off, and I have more on my other passport, but I digress)!
With that out of the way, looking at 2015, what are my elite status aspirations?
We’ll see where 2015 takes me
As it stands, I’m in the unique position of living in hotels and on airplanes. Since early last year I’ve been voluntarily homeless. I’ll have a separate post about that whole experience within the next week, but eventually I would like to settle down. So admittedly my 2015 plans are somewhat contingent upon whether I choose to finally settle down in one place or not.
Since I’m pretty risk averse and also have a hard time committing to things, my guess is that I’ll keep living in hotels… though I’d love a reason not to.
2015: the year of more efficient travel
Since I live in hotels and on planes, I can’t really travel less, per se.
That being said, I’d like this to be the year where I travel most efficiently. Now, everyone has a different definition of “efficient,” and it’s probably especially different for me, since I often fly just to review products. When the journey is often the destination, it can be tough to travel more efficiently.
I plan on continuing the trend of generally not mileage running, though certainly being open to take quick and distant trips if the price is right.
But in general I’d like to travel more efficiently, if that makes sense. That means spending more time at destinations, and also means spending less time on planes unnecessarily.
While I’m of course obsessed with loyalty programs, I’d like this to be the year where my travel patterns dictate the loyalty programs I’m loyal to, as opposed to loyalty programs dictating my travels.
And part of that is actually being less loyal. I have millions and millions of miles and points, and I want to do more redeeming as opposed to earning.
On the airline front I actually want to do less revenue flying this year and more award flying. Given the ever decreasing fare difference between economy and first class, I’d much rather just outright pay for first class or redeem miles than to unnecessarily be loyal to an airline.
American AAdvantage: Executive Platinum
The one airline status I’m 100% committed to is American AAdvantage Executive Platinum. As far as I’m concerned Executive Platinum is hands down the most valuable top tier airline status, and the program is even more generous than last year. I fly a lot, so should have no trouble requalifying… at all.
Alaska Mileage Plan: undecided
On one hand I’m totally tempted to go for MVP Gold 75K status again. Alaska offers a 125% bonus on flown miles as of this year, and offers 50,000 bonus miles when you qualify for MVP Gold 75K status. MVP Gold 75K status requires 90,000 miles of flying on partner airlines, and for those 90,000 flown miles you’d earn 252,500 miles.
That’s an amazing return, especially given how valuable Alaska Mileage Plan miles are.
That being said, I don’t actually fly Alaska Airlines that much. Last year I only flew about 10,000 miles on Alaska, and the rest of the miles I credited to them were from partner airlines.
So on one hand all the miles I credit to Alaska are totally worthwhile, but on the other hand the biggest benefit I get out of my loyalty to Alaska is redeemable miles, as opposed to elite status benefits.
If I fly enough revenue miles in 2015 I’ll continue to credit to Alaska, but I won’t unnecessarily book tickets just to be able to credit miles to Alaska. I’d rather outright buy miles when they offer a promotion four times per year in order to get my Cathay Pacific and Emirates fix, as opposed to flying in order to earn those miles. I also earn quite a few miles from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card, given how churnable the card is.
Hyatt Gold Passport: Diamond
I triple qualified for Hyatt Diamond last year. It’s probably my favorite top tier hotel status, though I do wish they offered incremental benefits for those making more than 25 stays/50 nights per year with them. Currently they offer absolutely nothing incremental. There is Courtesy Card status, which is invitation only, though I doubt I spend enough to earn that.
Still, I’m very happy with Hyatt day-to-day, so will continue to keep them as my primary chain. The only real obstacle is their lack of a global footprint. They only have a fraction of the properties of some of the other major chains.
Starwood Preferred Guest: Platinum
I commend Starwood for offering incremental benefits to those making more than 50 stays:
- You receive 10 Suite Night Awards when you stay 50 nights (rather than just making 25 stays)
- You receive 4x points per dollar spent and Your24 when you stay 75 nights
- You receive Ambassador status when you stay 100 nights
I had every intention of making it to 100 nights this past year, though in the end fell just short, and didn’t see the value in going for it. I ended with about 90 nights (including 10 nights from having both the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express). Based on everything I heard, it just didn’t seem worth shifting any business in order to stay 10 more nights.
For passing 75 nights I certainly appreciate earning 4x Starpoints per dollar spent, though the Your24 benefit is absolute crap. It’s based on availability (which I understand, don’t get me wrong), and I’ve almost never received it. So I’m not sure how that’s a perk over what “regular” Platinum members get.
Hilton HHonors: Gold
I’m presently HHonors Diamond thanks to putting $40,000 of spend on the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. $40,000 seems like a small sum of credit card spend in order to earn top tier hotel status. That being said, keep in mind that you get Hilton Gold status just for having the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card — no spend required.
I’ve found the benefits of Diamond over Gold to be marginal at best, so haven’t put any spend at all on the card in the past year. I’m perfectly happy with Hilton Gold status.
And Hilton is a very useful chain, given their global footprint. They have properties in a lot of cities where Hyatt and Starwood don’t even have a presence.
IHG Rewards Club
While Hyatt and Starwood are my primary chains and Hilton is my backup chain, I guess IHG is my backup backup chain.
I have IHG Rewards Club Platinum status just for having their co-branded IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card, which is a heck of a value, given that it also comes with an annual free night certificate.
The couple of times a year I make a stay where an IHG property is the most convenient, it really comes in handy.
Ultimately not all that much will be changing for me in practice. Over the past several years I’ve been trending towards going less out of my way to earn status, and I expect that to continue.
That being said, the value of status shouldn’t be ignored. It can add a lot of value to travel, and in many cases it’s worth being loyal. Still, I don’t plan on letting loyalty programs drive my decisions as much as in the past.
What are your elite status goals/aspirations for 2015?