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Today is one of the most significant days of the year for frequent travelers, a day both feared and revered- a judgement day of sorts. March 1 of every year marks the resetting of the elite ranks, dropping those who failed to meet the requirements in the previous calendar year. So for example, if you had Platinum status on American last year but only flew 30,000 miles in 2010- you’d fall to Gold status today.
This day is revered by true road warriors because it thins the herd and makes upgrades easier to come by. While I maintained my key elite programs: Delta Diamond, Hyatt Diamond, Starwood Platinum, and Hertz 5 Star, I know many people who didn’t. Whether it was due to losing a job or December weather thwarting mileage run plans, the airlines generally don’t care why you lost status.
While the chase for elite status and ultimate qualification can be a high-inducing experience for some (myself included), losing status can be utterly painful. And while I don’t have to come down from my elite high today, I have some tips for those who are dealing with the crushing blow of lower (or no) elite status.
1) Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. The great thing about losing elite status is that you can always get it back with the right dedication.
2) Check to see if you’ve been given a soft landing. Many programs will only drop you down one elite level (or sometimes keep you at your old level as a courtesy). American and Marriott will actually let you buy back your status, but it isn’t cheap.
3) If you were dropped to no status, take a minute to think about why that happened. Losing elite status can help you clearly think about whether you really needed it in the first place. So often we requalify for the sake of requalifying (and the fear of having no status), but starting fresh gives you the opportunity to evaluate all of your options and go for the program that fits your current needs.
4) Once you’ve figured out which program is best for you, try sending them an email asking them to offer you a challenge to attain status. Many airlines will fast track you or even grant you elite status based on past loyalty with a competing airline. So if you just lost Continental status, try emailing Delta with something like, “I was loyal to Continental for 10 years and I do lots of international traveling in premium classes. I’ve been unhappy with the Continental and United merger and I want to bring all of my business to Delta. Here is a screenshot of myContinental elite card – can you please match my status?” It’s worth a shot- even if your status has expired. You can get all of the contact information for the airlines in this post I wrote about elite status matching.
5) If you decide to pursue status with a new airline or hotel, think about getting a new credit card to help build your balance up quicker. I list the top credit card deals on my Top Deals page. Some credit cards, like the Delta Amex Reserve, will actually give you elite miles, which will help you in your quest to re-attain higher elite status.
6) If you don’t want to earn status from scratch, try getting it as a gift. If you work for a big corporation, ask your corporate travel department if they have any elite status comps. If you know an uber-frequent flyer, ask if they can help. As a Diamond Medallion I had the ability to gift gold status, which I did for a close friend. I believe in travel karma, so being generous to those in desperate need of an upgrade will only benefit me in the future.
7) Focus on getting million-miler status with your airline. Once you hit that threshold, many airlines will give you lifetime status so you don’t have to worry about pesky yearly qualification periods. Check out this post for a run-down on some airline’s elite status programs.
In summary, don’t despair if you are losing elite status today. At some point in time it happens to all of us and your best bet is to analyze your needs and create a strategy to re-attain the right elite status for you. While we may obsess a little bit too much about elite status, no one can deny that the perks are worth working hard to get. I wouldn’t leave home without my elite status!