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Hey Ben –
Getting the feeling this question bridges a lot of different categories, so I’m hoping I’m doing the right thing and this comes across clearly.
Without getting too into it, my birthday resolution this year is getting credit cards/airline loyalty/elite status figured out and behind me. There’s many things associated with this that I think will both get me farther ahead in life (credit/credit score), but also doing more of the things I want to do (sitting in the front of the plane, in comfy seats, and visiting far flung destinations). So, with all that, I was hoping to get your advice.
I’ve poured over the articles on this site and have been following for over four months now. Big fan, but I’m no closer to choosing a loyalty program than I was when I started. Well, that’s not entirely true. I joined Delta over the summer, per a friend’s suggestion and recommendation (he’s elite), taken two flights, only to realize Delta is not very popular around here.
So hopefully I can lay this out in bullet points for ease:
[*]Internationally, I’d say my top goals are Japan and Australia. I would love to visit both in 2016. Part of me wants to see more of Europe, but there are places in the Middle East and Brazil that also entice me. Japan is actually a destination I could see myself returning to frequently (maybe 1x or 2x/year) once I get the hang of this.
[*]Domestically, I’d love to go back to Hawaii. New York is always fun.
[*]I live on the West Coast and most likely would be based out of LAX. There’s also chance I’ll move to PDX in < 6mos. If I did, I'd make 5-7 trips to California in the first 6 months after the move. Either way, I don't currently cause I don't have the means, but could do runs up and down the West Coast every 2-5 weeks or so. [*]I have one credit card from my bank, open to getting more, but hesitant to apply. [*]A few of my friends are stuck in United's program and they're the ones I'd most like to fly with if I had an opportunity (and enjoy their status/upgrade if we're traveling together). [*]This doesn't seem to be a concern of many, given that the end game is "putting up with flying domestically to fly better internationally," but the airline's hard product is important to me. Delta (with it's new ONE class) and AA's A321 (which I've flown their A321 transcon and even economy was very nice) seem* to have better cabins than United. Newish interiors, comfy seats, plugs, and wifi are all huge pluses in my eyes. If I'm going to exponentially increase my flying time, I better be comfortable. [/LIST] I realize this is a lot so I'm gonna try an OMAAT-style Bottom Line: 2016 is going to be the year I choose and try to get at least minimum level status. I'm going to purposefully visit friends and use any excuse to fly for work. I just don't know which airline to give my loyalty to and eventually which credit card to get. I think that I should look into a credit card relatively soon because 2015 is ending and I should start making ticket purchases, but I'm hesitant to get several cards. The quality of the airline's hard product is pretty important to me, because I'm an economy guy and have never used a lounge. I'm based on the West Coast and my international wish list is pretty far flung. Any help from you or anyone in the forum is much appreciated. Now I gotta get to finish packing and get to bed, I have a flight in the morning. *I could be totally wrong, this is just an impression I get. I don't see a lot of United reviews here.
HCL, welcome! You’ve packed a lot into one post. Starting out in this hobby can be overwhelming and it’s OK to take things at the speed that’s comfortable for you.
I know you’ve said you have been researching this for four months but some of your questions are pretty basic so I apologize in advance if anything I say sounds condescending.
As things stand you say that you don’t have the means to travel much and are hesitant to open credit cards. I hope your planned future travel is a result of improving financial circumstances and not a plan to accrue credit card debt which would negate much of the value of credit card bonuses.
There seems to be a strong focus on status through your post. While status is important it is certainly not crucial to comfortable travel. The days of flying a lot domestically and earning enough miles for premium international travel are largely over unless someone else (like your job) is paying for the trips or you are going to take them anyways. Do not base your goals based on what you see here. You can usually pay a little extra for better seat assignments and the right credit card will get you into lounges. There is a siren song to aim for status but really do the math and figure out if the costs to incur status are worth it to you.
The other thing I would do is figure out where you want to go in the next 12-18 months and develop a game plan on how to get there. Your target destinations are far flung and there isn’t any one single program that is ideal to get you there. It’s also important to be realistic. Unless you get heavily involved on churning and manufacturing spend, 2x trips to Japan a year and additional trips elsewhere might not be possible.
In response to one of your questions, you should sign up for all the FF programs. Every so often they will run sales and promotions that are limited to existing members and you want to have your membership in place in case you want to take advantage of them. With regards to crediting your mileage you need to see what your fare class earns you with the airline whose metal you are flying and with partners to decide where to credit. I would also consider if you need miles in a specific program.
Credit card applications will be an integral part in achieving your goals (pay attention to chase rules). Do you want to share with us why you are hesitant in applying for cards? Maybe we can help allay some of your concerns.
With regards to airlines, DL is disliked on most award travel fora because they do not have a rewarding frequent flyer program and often take steps that are secretive and consumer unfriendly and have acquired a reputation for Machiavellian machinations (say that fast 20 times :)). However pretty much everyone acknowledges that they run the best operation of any of the domestic US carriers so it might make perfect sense for you to fly them. The reason that you don’t see a lot of United reviews is that Ben mostly flies AA. However there are plenty of them out there if you are interested in evaluating them. In general the perception is that of the three main carriers the sequence is DL>AA>UA operationally speaking. However in terms of frequent flyer programs, you’d probably reverse the rankings. United is expensive but probably offers the most flexibility of the three and most people expect an increase in AA award prices soon. Do you see the inverse relationship here?
Anyways, I think I’ve gone on quite a bit here, hopefully you find something useful in there. At the very least, sign up for an account and keep asking questions and we’ll certainly try to help you along as you move forward.
How do you plan on accumulating points? Do you spend a lot? you will probably have to sign up for cards to get the bonus…
Ive gone to 26 countries and I have never flown business or first class. I am not a status person mainly because I mostly travel with my wife and 3-4 kids. But I like the idea of having the status. However when you are trying to take 6 people from PHX to Europe, it requires a lot of points, and I will take any flight.
I really like AA, I am going to focus on that….