2017 Airline and Hotel Elite Status Progress: Richard Kerr

Sep 20, 2017

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2017 has been my best year when it comes airline and hotel elite status. Thanks to a shortcut challenge to American Airlines Executive Platinum that I received last year and gratuitous hotel status matches, I’ve been living the good life on the road. However, I’ve also been considering what I’d be willing to endure (read: spend) to maintain some of theses statuses for 2018.

Airline Elite Status

My typical goal every year is to have as close to zero EQMs and EQDs as possible. In a perfect world I’d fly on all award tickets, all the time. 2017 is different, as I’ve enjoyed Executive Platinum status now for 13 months. The status has resulted in round-trip business class to Sydney for 35,000 Amex points (I booked a $700 economy fare with 70,000 points minus the 50% pay with points rebate (no longer available) from the Business Platinum® Card from American Express and applied two Systemwide Upgrades) and a 90% complimentary domestic upgrade rate. With those kind of spoils and still two SWUs in my pocket, I thought I may be tempted to try and mileage run on the AAdvantage special fares chart to try and re-qualify. Let’s look where I stand.

Business class to Sydney for 35,000 Amex points was a sweet deal.
Business class to Sydney for 35,000 Amex points was a sweet deal.

American Airlines

After earning Executive Platinum in July 2016 via a challenge that’s valid until February 2018, I’ve just barely re-qualified for Gold with AAdvantage for 2018 and don’t think I’ll even make it to Platinum. With the introduction of Platinum Pro, Platinum status with AA now represents very little value to me.

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In the beginning of 2017 I reserved most of my travel on AA by booking with Citi ThankYou points from the Citi Prestige Card at 1.6 cents per point or with Amex points and the 50% Business Platinum rebate. Now that both of those have been devalued and because you can get upgraded on award tickets as an Executive Platinum, I have little motivation to pay cash specifically to fly American Airlines.

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Ive also had good luck getting traveling companions upgraded on AA as an Exec Plat.

Because of all the revenue-based point booking options being devalued, I don’t foresee re-qualifying for Executive Platinum anytime in the future. It was nice while it lasted, but for me this status has tended to invoke irrational behavior. I rationalize paying more for the chance of upgrading and booking one-stop routes rather than direct flights. In my opinion, unless you’re top tier with an airline the status is not worth all the fuss, and I’m not putting in the effort it would require to get back to Executive Platinum.

Southwest

I earned the Companion Pass back in January by redeeming Marriott points for a Hotel + Air package. I immediately received significant value and have continued utilizing the pass for free flights with my son ever since.

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Because I earned the Companion Pass in January, it’s good until January of 2019, meaning I don’t need to take any action this year to try and re-earn the pass. I’ve come to value the Companion Pass more than American Airlines Executive Platinum because of the points and cash it has saved me this year when flying with family.

JetBlue

I matched my Executive Platinum status to JetBlue Mosaic during the promo but don’t have any intentions of completing the challenge to maintain status through 2018. I don’t fly the airline enough, though if you do, Mosaic has perks that are very worthwhile. The ability to cancel award tickets for free means you can make speculative bookings without penalty.

Status Match to Success 2018

With my current plan not to put resources toward another year of Executive Platinum, I’m going to leverage my AA status to complete a Delta Platinum Medallion challenge for 2018. I’m relocating to the Atlanta area in the coming months and want to try out Delta as a domestic carrier. I realize being in Atlanta I’ll be competing on every flight with Diamond Medallions, but Platinum is better than nothing, and it’s not that difficult to leverage my Executive Platinum status into Delta Platinum.

MQMs required to complete a Delta status challenge.
MQMs required to complete a Delta status challenge.

Because of Southwest’s now-robust route network out of Atlanta, I’ll first look to utilize the Companion Pass and then turn to Delta and hopefully my freshly minted Platinum Medallion status. In the end, I’ll continue to choose whichever airline presents the cheapest, most convenient itinerary or the most convenient award routing.

Hotel Elite Status

I value my hotel elite status much more than airline status. With a young family, the ability to confirm suite upgrades (with a separate bedroom for nap and bedtime) and access the lounges for breakfast, snacks and waters is incredibly beneficial. Let’s look at my current situation in 2017 for hotel chains:

World of Hyatt

I completed 25 stays in January and February of this year in order to turn my previous Global Passport Diamond status into Globalist status through February of 2019. Even though I’ll remain Globalist and receive a suite upgrade (if available and if hotels follow published rules), breakfast, lounge access and free parking on award stays, I won’t receive the 60 night benefits of 4 additional confirmed suite upgrades and a free Category 1-7 night.

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I need 21 additional stays the rest of the year to reach 60 nights and earn the additional, very valuable benefits. I have about 15 more organic stays already planned for the rest of the year, so I’ll do what I have to in order to reach 60 and earn the confirmed suite upgrades and free Category 1-7 night. You also earn a personal concierge that will handle your account once you reach 60 nights, though this is reportedly taking a few months to actually occur after reaching that threshold. Each suite upgrade is good for up to 7 nights, so 28 confirmed nights in a suite for my family is a big deal for our trips in 2018.

Hilton Honors

I status-matched Hyatt Diamond to Hilton Diamond in December of 2015 and have since re-matched it to stay Diamond all the way through February 2019. I only complete a couple Hilton stays per year because of how rarely I get complimentary upgrades, the inability to confirm suite upgrades and because of how little I value Hilton points. I also don’t enjoy Hilton properties as much as Hyatt or SPG stays.

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Nevertheless, free breakfast and lounge access again come in handy, and there are so many Hilton properties in the world that I can usually find one to stay in no matter where I travel. I’ll continue to look for ways to match to Hilton Diamond but won’t log any planned, paid stays with the chain.

SPG/Marriott

I have SPG Gold status from the Platinum Card from American Express, and I matched it to Marriott Gold. I redeemed all my Marriott points at the beginning of the year for the previously mentioned Southwest Companion Pass. Because redeeming hotel points for the pass is no longer an option, I’m not currently motivated to stay at Marriotts.

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I’ll stay at a Marriott over an SPG because Marriott Gold members gain lounge access unlike SPG Golds. I also tend to view my Starpoints only as airline miles because of the 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer, so I’d be hard-pressed to have free hotel nights if I mainly collected SPG points. It’s nice to have Gold with Marriott, but Hyatt wins my stay every time if there’s a competition.

Other Programs

I maintain elite status in a few other hotel programs via various partnerships and matches:

  • Caesars Total Rewards Diamond — Courtesy of FoundersCard membership, I’m a Total Rewards Diamond member. This really just gets you the ability to skip a few lines in Vegas and a free trip minus resort fees to Atlantis in the Bahamas, but nice to have just in case.
  • Wyndham Diamond — Via Total Rewards Diamond, I got instantly matched to Wyndham Diamond status, which looks like it can offer great value. At only 15,000 points per night for any property, you could find yourself upgraded to a complimentary suite. Unfortunately at my one and only Wyndham stay this year, my status was not acknowledged, nor were published benefits honored.
  • MLife Gold — Hyatt Globalists are now only matched to MLife Gold, which again allows you to skip a few lines in Vegas and receive a few benefits on Royal Caribbean cruises, but otherwise is not too valuable.
  • Fairmont Premier — This is actually pretty valuable status, as you receive a 3rd night free, room upgrade, and suite upgrade certificate along with a couple dining vouchers. I matched this a couple years ago and somehow continue to receive the status annually, even with zero Fairmont stays.
  • IHG Platinum — Earned via the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase; not incredibly valuable.
  • La Quinta Returns Gold — If you haven’t paid attention to La Quinta lately, you really should. It’s done a tremendous job rebranding itself and upgrading its properties over the last few years.

Bottom Line

As a traveling family with two small children, having the Southwest Companion Pass and Hyatt Globalist status means we’re set on 95% of our trips. It’s nice to have other hotel statues with tangible benefits due to Hyatt’s relatively small footprint.

When it comes to elite status, unless you’re a road warrior, don’t concern yourself too much with staying loyal to an airline or hotel chain. Choosing the most convenient and well-priced flights and staying at a property you researched and are happy with will not let you down. I’ve seen too many occasional travelers make poor decisions and spend more money than necessary to try and earn status that they won’t enjoy because they don’t travel enough.

What’s your elite strategy for the rest of 2017?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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