End Of Year Status Pushes: Do They Make Sense?

Filed Under: Advice, Business Travel

I’ve been receiving tons of messages this week from people who are looking at their progress towards elite qualification with airline and hotel programs, and realizing they may be a bit short. The inevitable follow-up is what are the best ways to top off their accounts, and whether or not the status benefits are even worth it.

I’ve spoken pretty passionately on this theme during recent FTU panels, and I think it’s a discussion worth having.

The elite status hamster wheel

For the most part, I tend to feel that the value in staying loyal to an airline or hotel comes from the benefits at the top tier. That’s where you’re getting upgrades, accelerated points earning, and generally outsized perks.

The middle and lower tiers aren’t as lucrative, yet those seem to be the statuses I get the most questions about.

In many cases, the benefits of the lower tiers can be replicated or at least compensated for by carrying a co-brand credit card, or booking hotels through a luxury program. Hilton ties their mid-tier Gold status (which includes breakfast) to a half-dozen credit cards. Most carriers give a free checked bag to multiple passengers on a reservation if you have their card.

So you really need to think about the value of the benefits that come from status, and whether or not you’re receiving value commensurate to the cost of obtaining that status.

As an example, reader Kathy posted the following in a comment on the post about buying up to Delta status:

I could use some help and guidance on whether to pull the trigger on this deal. I am not a frequent flier, flying maybe 3 or 4 times a year on business or trips with my family. I have been offered the Elevate Your Status to Silver Medallion and like Ed’s wife it’s $295.

The other costs will be (from the email):

1,000 MQMs + 3 MQSs + $295 MQDs
for $295.*
*This bundle is recommended based on your MQMs, MQSs and MQDs as of December 1, 2017.

I do like the upgrades to Economy Comfort when I fly. I have rarely ever been upgraded to First Class (only once on a hopper flight from Eugene, OR to Portland, OR) since there are so many Diamond, Platinum and Gold members ahead of me when I have had Silver Medallion status in the past.

I tend to feel that the status “buy ups” are just a money grab from the airlines, especially in situations like these. My question to Kathy was how much it would cost to just pay for the benefits she enjoys on the few times a year she travels, and I picked a random flight from Eugene to San Francisco to compare the price difference of Delta Comfort to Main Cabin:

The fact that Delta Comfort+ is $4 less expensive than Basic Economy could be the foundation of an entire blog post, but it also proves the point nicely. It’s important to actually do the math and research to see whether or not you’re even getting anything out of the status in question. And at the lower levels, you likely aren’t.

If you’re questioning whether or not status is worthwhile for you, it probably isn’t.

At the higher tiers, I think there can be tremendous value in elite status, particularly if you travel for work. If an employer or clients are subsidizing around 20 room nights or 50,000 miles of flying in a year, then it can absolutely make sense to do status runs to get to the next tier. You’re investing in making your future required travel easier and more comfortable.

Work travel and life situations

The other consideration, beyond just the cost, is what your travel will look like next year versus this year. We’re a touch shy of two elite statuses that we’ve traditionally found valuable in our household — I’m 10 nights short of where I expected to be for Hyatt Globalist, and my husband will certainly not be hitting his usual Alaska MVP 75k, and at this point is missing 4,408 miles towards Gold.

But we’ve had a busy year! He has a new job, which requires 95% less travel than the last one. We got a puppy. We relocated and traded our studio apartment for a fixer of a house that we basically gutted down to the studs.

There has been very little travel.

And that’s abnormal for us — the year prior we spent a combined 450 nights in hotels, and flew 600k miles. Obviously the proper balance is somewhere between those extremes, but I expect at least a 40% increase in my travel at least next year. I could probably secure those remaining Hyatt nights for ~$800, which would be worthwhile if returned to my normal rate of travel next year. Otherwise, it’s a bust.

The last 4,408 miles towards Alaska Gold probably makes sense. He has oodles of Alaska miles, so having free changes on award tickets is very valuable to us. And it’s not that much flying. He can make one trip to meet his mom for lunch in Portland, and we can add a connection on another domestic trip.

But it doesn’t make sense for us to send him to Asia twice this month to achieve 75k status.

Similarly, Travis shared this morning that he’s reached “Globalist Lite” from the Hyatt promo. He’d need another five nights for the “full” status which includes the free night award and suite upgrades, but is that really worth $500? His kids will be school-aged next year, which means they’ll likely be tagging along on fewer trips (and thus the suite upgrades might not be as valuable). So the the new Hilton card might be a better way to get the perks of top tier status.

So I’d definitely recommend looking at your travel this year, comparing it to last year, and projecting out what the next year might look like. Changing jobs, having a baby, relocating, sending a kid to college, etc., can all have sizable impacts on your travel frequency and needs.

Do what you can to consider all of that before either investing in status, or for that matter, ruling status out.

Bottom line

If you’re a few nights away from top-tier hotel status, or a few thousand miles away from an airline status that will make your travel next year more comfortable, by all means carve out some time to make those stays and flights happen this month.

If you’re far from qualifying, definitely crunch the numbers to see whether the amount you’d spend to reach that status mark will pay for itself next year. It’s one thing to “prepay” for some travel perks, and it’s another to overpay.

And there are plenty of ways to leverage loyalty programs to have great travel experiences without climbing the status ladder.

Are you aiming for elite status this year? Why or why not?

  1. Could not agree more with your thoughts here. This year for the first time I kind of changed a bit my hotel strategy to achieve SPG Platinum when they had a promo of 2 stays when staying 1 night. I was going to stay in a hotel anyway so I changed my reservations from Marriott or Hilton (which were better properties) to less exciting SPG properties so I could achieve that status which may pay off during summer vacation with my family. Time will tell if that made sense or not but I would never do mattress run or fly just to get miles. I value my time at home with my family way more than elite status with airlines or hotels much more now that they couldn’t care less about elite members.

  2. I likely have a flight from PHL to LAX-area that I need to take next week. I’m about 6k short of what I’d need for Plat vs. Gold; If I fly PHL-MIA-LAX both ways I’ll make it. Worth it to spend the extra time in the air? Assume cost doesn’t matter.

  3. I could have made the push to be Starwood Platinum 50 but found after a year of experimenting I much more enjoy staying in a hotel that I fancy rather than a tired chain property just to get points. So I’m happy sitting on Gold as I also know I don’t have that much travel planned for 2019 that would make it worthwhile to go the extra mile to qualify as Platinum.

  4. Very well written. I have an ongoing status match on Delta that expires 12/31 and haven’t yet found flights for <$500 that will get me the 12,500 MQM's. So it's not worth it for me to pursue further — I crunched the numbers. Instead I'll do a United status match and then find flights in January. I've seen DOZENS of cheap flights on Star Alliance carriers in recent weeks for January and literally none for Skyteam in December. So all the more reason why I found your post so beneficial and spot-on.

  5. I want to know how they get 10 hyatt nights for around $800. That’s less than a 100. Per night I want in on how to get that.

  6. @ Harry — There are plenty of cheap Category 1 and 2 Hyatt Places out there, and stacking with the Citi Prestige 4th night credit brings the cost down even further.

  7. @Harry

    Some urban areas (Washington DC in my example) are saturated with scads of Hyatt properties, and weekend rates at several of them can come in at well under $100/night.

    Also, holiday weekends (Eg. Thanksgiving) can yield even better rates.

    I’m not sure where you are geographically, but it’s certainly doable.

  8. One last data point – Hyatt Regency Bethesda was showing $84/night over the weekend about a month ago.

  9. I was off a bit on SPG one year, they gave it to me, same thing on an airline, now they were BIS Miles.

    WN did it on a CP once also.

  10. I agree with your bottomline. If you are not too far from reaching the higher elite status it may be worth chasing it especially if its the highest tier of the airline or hotel program.

  11. Anyone who plays the miles/points game with a “full deck” would work to achieve (top) elite status in at least one hotel and one airline loyalty programs, year after year, because having elite status is what makes it all worthwhile.

    I am already a UA 1MM and *G for life. I will requalify for 1K when I reach the first destination of my 2017 Annual Year-end Asian Escapade(TM). Then after I check out of my first stay during the Escapade, I will requalify for HH Diamond…ready to start over.

  12. I am wondering about Southwest A-list. I have the companion pass. I missed A-list for 2018 and their offer to buy up would cost me $1200 for 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points. This is way above the 1.5 cents that SWA points are valued. I fly SWA about 10 roundtrips per year. Is it worth it?

  13. Tiffany, I believe we spoke of this at FTU. I have NO status whatsoever with any airline EXCEPT for VX (and through that, AS). I’ve been Elevate Gold with VX for a few years now, based upon flight segments, rather that Status Points. (For those who do not know, VX requires either Status Points or segments to gain status. Given that most of my flights from SFO are within CA, or to NV, OR, or WA, it’s far easier for me to qualify on segments — 15 for Silver, 30 for Gold.)

    For 2017, Alaska matched Elevate Silver to MVP, and Elevate Gold to MVP Gold. I *did* take one Mileage Run — year-end push — with my wife so I could once again qualify for Elevate Gold and my wife for Silver. I expect (but it hasn’t been formally announced yet) that, for 2018, AS will again match status for VX customers on the same basis. 2018 will be the last time I will qualify for MVP Gold status, and the last time my wife will be MVP. The reason is that AS requires 2x the number of flight segments that VX does: 30 for MVP, 60 for MVP Gold, and 90 for MVP Gold 75k. I barely reach 30-32 flights a year, while my wife typically flies 16 segments a year — fine for VX, but not great when it comes to AS. Fortunately I have an AS credit card, so at least I’ll continue to receive free bags, but gone will be the automatic upgrades to MCS on a VX flight; automatic upgrades to First Class or Premium seating on AS. That will indeed be missed!

    On the other hand, the greatly increased redemptions available through the Alaska Mileage Plan is a very welcome benefit!

    In re: hotels, I earn Hilton Gold status through my Amex Surpass card; Marriott Silver status with my Chase Marriott Rewards card; and SPG Gold with a combination of the card and stays (which increases my status at Marriott to Gold as well). I find good-to-great value with SPG and Hilton.

  14. Also if you are AA EXP you might want to think about SWUs if they are valuable to you. You earn an additional two at 150k and 200k. I am thinking about that since I’m 8k away.

  15. Hotels: I made Marriott/SPG Platinum for life this year and achieved Hyatt Globalist status. The life status gives me the opportunity to branch out. Omni matched my status so I am set for next year with four elite programs.

    Airlines: now it is decision time. I made Delta’s 125,000 mile Diamond criteria this year. That is a push flying mostly domestic. Now Alaska has matched my status. Flying out of SFO, the new Alaska/Virgin will be more convenient with non-stops to Orlando, Raleigh, Nashville, Fort Lauderdale, etc. And it’s probably a better airline even after Alaska blends Virgin in. But I will lose my elite status on Delta. However, will probably make it on Alaska. I purchase first class so I am not after upgrades. My dilemma- will flying Alaska/Virgin be worth losing my Delta status. The devaluation of award miles is weighing heavily on my decision.

  16. I appreciate your article, Tiffany. Thank you. You tweaked my interest in more information with your next to last sentence:
    “…there are plenty of ways to leverage loyalty programs to have great travel experiences without climbing the status ladder.”
    Can you direct us to articles or more information about some of the ways to do that?

    Context: My wife and I are AA platinum/OneWorld Sapphire for the last decade but never make it to the top level (AA Exec. platinum/OneWorld Emerald). We travel so regularly for work with a non-profit that for the last 6 years have been global nomads (no home, no car). Due to the nature of our work, we are required to purchase the lowest price tickets (within reason) and this limits our status ladder “altitude”. So I’m very interested in ways to make our travel experience more delightful without the cost/climbing.

  17. @JoyfulTraveler — As always, “YMMV.” That said, I’m in the East Bay, but have typically flown out of SFO on Virgin America for about 90-95% (rough estimate) over the past 10 years, since VX started flight ops. 5-10% of my flights have been out of OAK (Southwest, Alaska, Hawaiian). Prior to late-2007, I was mostly flying Southwest out of OAK for domestic travel.

    Having never held elite status on *any* legacy airline, I cannot comment directly, based upon person experience, on what benefits you might miss, versus gain, if you “switch loyalty” from DL to AS. (I presume that AS matched your status with their MVP Gold 75k.) However, since you’ve already earned Diamond status for 2018, I’d say you have the best of both worlds. Clearly you fly a lot! 125,000 miles a year *is* a lot, at least in my book. And since you only need to fly 75,000 miles to keep Alaska status for 2019, if it were me, I’d fly AS a few times in Jan/Feb . . . if you don’t like it/isn’t as convenient, you should still have enough time to make Delta Diamond over the rest of the year.

    There are two drawbacks that I can see: 1) Delta definitely has more lounges than Alaska; 2) Delta has lie-flat seats on some flights, whereas Alaska has none. But there are also a number of benefits: a) more convenient nonstops to more destinations you seem to fly to; b) a significant number of airline partners, across all three networks — not just SkyTeam — with which you can fly anywhere in the world; 3) you can fly out of not only SFO and OAK, but also SJC, STS, and SMF (sometimes the prices out of Santa Rosa and Sacramento are so cheap, it might be worth a drive); 4) etc., etc., etc.

    Just my 2¢ . . . probably worth far less . . . feel free to keep the change. In other words, AS/VX works for me just fine; it may or may not work best for you . . .

  18. No issues getting to AS 75K this year thanks to a bi-coastal spouse and a remote job based in DC, but hotel status means little to me at this point. My spouse thought about pushing for the Hyatt Glob-lite, but it isn’t cheap if you are based in Seattle and don’t spend weekends in suburban VA. The Hyatts we stay in the most – Park Hyatt Paris, Andaz London, Park Hyatt DC treat us well at the mid level and because we’re long time visitors.

    I’m delighted we’re lifetime PLT on AA, not sure I want to fly to JFK and back two weekend in a row to make EXP. It was fun when I was 15 years younger, not today.

  19. I had already decided I wasn’t going to chase AA status this year but ended up 1350 miles short of Plat requalification. So I did a one day ORD-MIA-ORD for $200ish, had a nice lunch at the Centurion lounge, was upgraded on the way home and had a drink to celebrate. And so it goes… I don’t see this renewing again for 2019 so I’m planning a United status match in the 2nd half of 2018 without the revenue requirement so I can get an elite UA status for 2019 while still enjoying AA lifetime gold. Fingers crossed!

  20. @Tiffany – Is it worth taking up the AA Elite Extended your Status offers ? To your point this year was a low travel volume year vs the past two (mostly work related/subsidized). I’ve been AA Plat past 2 years but only qualified for Gold next year (just barely). Offer is to keep Plat for $1429 vs having to still spend ~ $2700 in EQDs (and achieve the EQMs of course).

    I am anticipating next year’s travel to be higher and back towards the previous year when I hit Plat by flights alone. To that point I suppose a status challenge in 2018 prior could also do the trick for a lot less if my expected travel does go back up.


  21. I will make Marriott Rewards Platinum by mid-December 2017, which gives me top tier perks for next year, tied to my MR Visa thru Chase. CITI is closing their HiltonHonors Visa and transferring it to AMEX Ascent. However, there is a new AX Hilton card coming that give auto Platinum but a $450.00 annual fee.
    I’d rather keep my HHonors Surpass AMEX and use MR Platinum as my go-to properties

  22. According to TPG, “First up of the three new Hilton Amex cards is the Ascend Card, with a $95 fee. This is the one that existing Surpass cardholders will eventually get, and existing Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card holders will also be transitioned to this card . . . [it has the] same bonus categories and multipliers offered by the existing Hilton Honors Surpass Card, which has a $75 annual fee . . . The new Ascend Card’s fee is $20 higher than the current Surpass card’s fee, and it offers two additional perks to help justify that . . . .” See https://thepointsguy.com/2017/11/new-hilton-amex-cards/

    So the difference between the current $75 Hilton Surpass and the $95 Hilton Ascend, aside from the $20, are the two added benefits mentioned by TPG, *plus* no more FTF’s. Meaning I can now use the card overseas, something I was loathe to do before.

    (I’m assuming you meant “Ascend” rather than “Ascent.”)

    In re: the new Hilton Aspire Amex: “The final just-announced card is the most interesting — and the most expensive. At $450 a year (with no foreign transaction fees), it’s priced identically to many non-co-branded premium picks, and it includes both a $250 annual (calendar year) airline incidental fee statement credit and a $250 annual (anniversary year) Hilton resort statement credit, and 10 free Priority Pass lounge passes.” The PP passes are nonsense, compared to the benefits other cards give you, but “giving you” $500 annually on a $450 AF (presuming you can use the resort credit) isn’t a bad deal.

  23. Jason: thanks for your well thought out comments.

    Nails: you are correct. The Park Hyatts will treat you well regardless of status. However, it would be nice to get those complimentary incredible breakfasts.

  24. @JoyfulTraveler —> One correction/update to my above post. Since AirFrance/KLM have announced they are ending their partnership with Alaska early Spring 2018 (Delta already has), and as there are many rumors circulating around that Korean Air will soon announce the same (CLEARLY Delta has it “out” for Alaska — they even created a new hub in Seattle), the access to SkyTeam flights will soon be non-existent. I’m not sure how that affects your travel, but it’s something you certainly should consider going forward.

  25. By Christmas, I will 3 or 4 Hyatt nights away from ‘Globalist’, thanks for the credit-card offer.
    Is it worth to ‘mattress-run’? I am in the NY area, so the cheapest Hyatt in a convenient location is Morristown, about $120/night.
    I mostly travel for ‘fun’ to Asia (twice a year, to Europe 3 times per year), only 1 or 2 business trips /year.

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