My 2015 Airline & Hotel Elite Status Strategy

Filed Under: Advice
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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.

Airline status

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.


Hotel status

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:

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.


Bottom line

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?

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  1. Was $1400 under the spend limit to maintain UA 1k. So take this as a rationale for travelling more with American this year, especially as UA is upping the spend another $2k to keep 1k. Will still do travel as the small Carlsbad airport which only goes to LAX is UA only still, but its across the street from work.

  2. I hit Air Berlin Gold this past year so it will be nice to use the OW lounges everywhere I fly to. I will maintain my HH Gold, SPG plat and maybe a Hyatt Diamond this year. I pretty much have banked all my DL flights to Alaska, might consider finding some low price first class tickets on DL since they yield 200% elite miles on AS 😉

  3. Why do you blackout your mileage balances? Don’t trust your readers?

    “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you…”

  4. Re-qualified for United 1K status, recently moved to SIN and contemplating what status to go for.
    Will fly enough to qualify for 1K again, will also go for Krisflyer Gold (have yet to sign up for any SIN credit cards, KF earning) to redeem or upgrade SQ flights.
    Still thinking about diversifying in the airline category, just not sure which program to go for (CX? AA?)
    Most travel is SIN-Europe/China, some USA, Australia and Japan and intra-SEA travel on Garuda, Jetstar, Tiger etc.
    For hotels, qualified for IHG Plat and Shangri-La Jade status this year, received Marriott Gold via United and Hyatt Diamond via the Hyatt status challenge.
    Will go for Starwood Platinum in 2015, recently read on Boarding Area blog that Starwood is also doing a challenge, will sign up for that.

  5. My strategy isn’t changing. Last year I made Gold on UA at 69 segements and over 10k spend. I easily made Diamond at Hilton based on any of the qualifications. I already have Gold at Marriott by being Gold at United and I’m close to a UA hub.

    Airline – Sticking with UA. I live near a UA hub so there’s no connecting for me. I’ve gotten use to the fact I don’t get upgraded anymore due to # of GS/1Ks/Plats in my area so having access to E+ and priority boarding is important to me.

    Hotel – There’s little benefit for dropping Hilton Diamond and using all my travel time to get to Marriott Platinum when I already have gold w/o doing anything. So I’ll stick with the UA-Marriott partnership for Gold at Marriott and do my spend at Hilton.

    Car – Not something discussed a lot here but company requires me to use National so that’s who I’ll use.

  6. My year started October 1, 2014, since SAS Eurobonus years start the month you registered for the program. So in my world, September 30 is always the bitter-sweet date.

    SAS wrecked their program, announcing severely reduced earning rates, so my strategy is to requalify for SAS Eurobonus Diamond by qualifying segments (90 total) I’m already at 20, so I hope to make it by September. If not, I get a “soft landing” to Gold.

    For hotels, I’m losing my Club Carlson Concierge, but that’s okay, since there’s only a marginal difference between Concierge and Gold. I will keep Gold though, both due to soft landing, and status match from SAS Gold/Diamond.

  7. Will stick with my Club Carlson Concierge and Hyatt Diamond. Both will be retained based on business travels – however I mostly benefit from the Club Carlson when travelling privately because of their foot print in Europe and Orlando area. Hyatt Diamond primarily comes handy when travelling on business to Asia.
    Airlines are a different game. 1K on united and Gold with Air Berlin – however conflicted where to put my points for 2015 because of changes in the programmes and my travel patterns. Have until recently put all points in United as they are have been easiest carrier when going back to visit family and friends in the USA – However with travel patterns for 2015 showing that I have equal choice of British Airways and Lufthansa as my main carriers I need to make a decision going forward before travels starts again mid January.

    Currently based in Copenhagen and commutes to Johannesburg and Hong Kong.

  8. Airline: Southwest is my primary, out of OAK, to LAX, PHX, AUS and DEN. American is my 2nd priority, when I fly out of SFO. I do a lot of my travel internationally, on CX and BA, with points going back to AA. When I go to the East coast, I try and take AA. UA is my backup for medium and long-haul. I’m AA Platinum, WN A-List and UA 1K, (Last one thanks to a status match.). I’m AA Platinum for life thanks to 2 million miles flown, so my goals will be to keep my A-List on WN. I know I’ll drop on UA once the match period is up.

    Hotels: I’m SPG Platinum, but my travel locations will change this year and I’ll be going after Hyatt’s status. I have 12 nights scheduled with Hyatt this month alone (Denver, Hong Kong, Melbourne and Sydney). SPG will get plenty of nights, but won’t be my primary choice.

  9. Benny, we love your blog! I value both Hyatt Diamond and Marriott Platinum for the new year.

    Thanks for all the great posts in 2014. Keep up the excellent work in 2015.

  10. For me, Hyatt is the clear hotel loyalty program as they deliver what they promise. Totally not surprised with SPG not delivering on their SPG24 promise. Typical SPG. If Hyatt had that, I am sure they would do something like give you 2500 point bonus if they couldn’t accomodate you.

    I think I might do AA Exec platinum. Not sure I trust US Airways management though. I find airline loyalty to be pretty weak these days. I have millions of points and with the flurry of reasonable business class fares, I choose on value not on chasing loyalty.

  11. I have never flown enough to have airline status. For us, getting the SW companion pass is fantastic for all of our flying to see relatives. We should have that pass in about 2 more weeks for 2 years. This year seems to be all about redeeming miles and I can’t wait!

  12. Airlines: was AA ExP in 2014. Didn’t requalify in 2014 for 2015 status but am currently doing a USAir trial which should get me CP which converts to ExP in Q2. Will try to requalify as CP /ExP in 2015 for 2016. I love the SWUs though sometimes they don’t clear (like my HKG flight next week).

    Hotels: I should hit SPG lifetime Plat next month (7 nts needed to hit 500) so will focus spend on Hyatt. I lived in different Hyatts for the month of Dec so got Diamond status for 2015. I’d like to try to keep it for 2016.

    Cars: Hertz gold

  13. lucky,

    I contacted Hyatt regarding the NEW Diamond Challenge, and this email came to me:

    “Thank you for contacting the Gold Passport customer service department.

    We are currently extending some targeted offers to a select group of members based off a number of criteria. We periodically run campaigns such as this to gather insights regarding what works in the market. Please be assured we do honor your loyalty, and you are one of our most valued customers. We know that these efforts sometimes upset those who were not targeted, and we are sensitive to that. We are happy to state that over time, many of our members will benefit from some type of targeted offer.”

    So, is this going to a “targeted offer?”

  14. overall good strategies. but since AA comps u EP, put all of ur AA miles to AS. That way you will still have all of the AA benefits but build up the AS account for more CX and EK flights.

  15. I agree the your24 spg benefit is crap partially because the reps and hotels don’t understand it and their system can’t handle early a.m. check ins as actually being on the date specified in the reservation.

  16. Ben I have a question. Marriott has over 3800+ global footprints. So why don’t you consider your main or backup chain? They don’t have suite upgrade coupons but their lounges are generally much better than Hilton, Hyatt in my opinion.

  17. How much did this end up costing you in 2014?
    And what’s your budget for 2015, especially since you’re planning to stay less in loyalty programs?

  18. What happened to you in 2011 totally sucks! I now understand the need to block off e-ticket numbers/FF loyalty numbers. I’m glad no one malicious tried to hinder your Etihad inaugural flight last week since you did blog about it live.

    Anyway, one of my goals from this hobby is to try all A380 premium cabin products and at the moment, I’ve done all of them with the exception of Qatar, Air France, China Southern, Korean Air, and Qantas.

    As you can see from the list above, three are from skyteam so I’ll be focusing on them in 2015. Yes — skyteam! For real. 😉 I plan to qualify for Flying Blue elite and to put card spending on my Korean Skypass credit card from US Bank. Hopefully by end of the year I’ll have enough miles/points to fly on AF, CZ, and KE.

  19. I credited 92,047 eqm’s (28,767 on AS metal) to Alaska at an average cost of 5.037 cpm in 2014. I don’t see much changing this year but since most of those miles came from DL flying I doubt I will requalify for MVP 75k with the lower earn rates.

  20. @ mistakecargo — Well they’re not my backup chain because unlike Hilton and IHG they don’t give you a useful status tier just for having one of their co-branded credit cards. Personally I still prefer the elite benefits and type of properties offered by Hyatt and Starwood, which is why they’re my primary chains over Marriott.

  21. @ Travelasia — Good to know American comps me Executive Platinum! Guess I shouldn’t have credited 125K+ miles to them last year…

  22. @ Samer — At some point I’m hoping to, though first plan on posting the trip report from my dad’s birthday.

  23. As you have [ inspired ?] me to live in hotels about 75% of the time, I have only a small change to my loyalty plans, SPG/Hyatt primary, Marriott [dumped Hilton] back-up…I have to say what I am most excited about is you stating that you are going to be spending some more time in the places that you visit…When you first proposed living in hotels I had imagined longer stays and more in-depth writing about said stays…While it has been great hearing about all that you have experienced, sometimes you are crossing the pond 2x a week, which I KNOW is exhausting…Maybe we will get a scaled down “eat pray love’ish” 2015 with you semi-planting your feet down for a week or more in some cool destinations…!!! Either way I know it will make for great reading and information…

  24. @lucky continues to claim, undeterred by the overwhelming evidence: “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.”

    You’ll just need to learn how to play the game, after which you may be qualified to keep repeating the canard that there are no differences between HHonors Gold and Diamond benefits. Please find a HH Gold (or even a GP Diamond) with the record of suite upgrades that I have had as a HHonors Diamond and you might have a point in repeating this disinformation. The evidence is loud and clear in vibrant color photos of my 100% HH Diamond suite upgrades in 2014:
    with very recent (this week) updates
    and here:

    @lucky sez: “I’m perfectly happy with Hilton Gold status.”
    Having tasted the real HHonors Diamond status, there is no way I would “perfectly happy with Hilton Gold status”, but I can definitely understand why you would be: HH Gold provides about the same benefits as those you are used to having as a Hyatt Diamond…. 🙂

  25. Thanks Lucky for this post!
    I can see that there are a lot of credit card options in the US where you can obtain hotel elite status by just having the card. Do you have a collection of similar offerings that are open to readers based in the UK please? The only one I am aware of is AMEX Plat, but it’s hard to justify the £450 annual fee especially after they stopped the CX Gold staus offer for card holders.

  26. @ Jake — Unfortunately aside from the Amex Plat I’m not really familiar with any in the UK that give similar status easily. Sorry. 🙁

  27. Thanks Lucky, no worries, thanks for the reply. I will dig around and let you know if i come across anything else, hopefully it would benefit others too.

  28. Justin? Good name! Learn something every day.

    Good luck in achieving your 2015 aspirations! (Traveling and otherwise) 😉

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