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My Updated Airline Elite Status Strategy

by on December 8, 2011 · 36 comments

in Elite Status

I’ve been a pretty happy Delta Diamond (125,000 mile a year elite level) for the past couple years, but that may be changing as I evaluate my airline elite status strategy for 2012.  There are two key factors that recently have made me change my plan:

1) I recently moved to Miami and though I still spend a lot of time in NYC , you just can’t beat American’s route network from Miami. I travel frequently to Los Angeles and Delta’s one non-stop flight doesn’t cut it. American also flies a ton from Miami to JFK and LaGuardia, whereas Delta only flies Miami-JFK or Ft Lauderdale to LaGuardia.

2) As a participant of the Oneworld Mega Do in January, American has offered me the opportunity to match my Delta Diamond status to American Executive Platinum (top tier) if I fly 20,000 miles from now until January 14, 2012. That’s a pretty compelling offer since they normally make you fly 100,000 miles in a calendar year – no matter what. They are even waiving the normal challenge fees. My buddy Rick, The Frugal Travel Guy, even had some spare American systemwide upgrades so I was able to upgrade a Miami to Beijing trip in early January. That way those elite miles will get me the Executive Platinum status, plus have me almost 20% of the way towards requalifying in 2012. Once I hit Executive Platinum, I’ll get 8 systemwide upgrade certificates that are good on any fare class – so I can buy cheap international coach tickets and get them upgraded to business class (or business to first). This would be hard to turn down.

My two main concerns are:
1) I don’t really like flying American, especially since most of their flights do not have wifi (something I love about Delta). I personally find their planes to be old and their flight attendants less than friendly. Then again I’ve been flying as a non-status passenger, so I’m hoping this will change once I make Executive Platinum and get more flights under my belt.

2) American just declared bankruptcy. While I don’t think they’ll go under, bankruptcies are no fun for anyone – including flyers. Inevitably their unions will be forces to take huge pay cuts if the airline is going to restructure its costs and that makes already beleaguered frontline employees even more unhappy. I wouldn’t rule out route cuts or even strikes if things get really bad.

My plan of action:
I’m currently at 107,000 Delta Medallion Qualifying miles (may have a couple small trips planned, but nothing big). Delta allows elite miles to be rolled over, which means any miles in between elite tiers you get on January 1. So I’d roll over roughly 110,000 – 75,000= 35,000 MQMs.

I’ll hit Executive Platinum in January and be 20% of the way towards requalifying again for 2012. I’m going to test out American and if it turns out to be not what I expected, I’ll at least have a nice head-start on getting Medallion status back. I’ll reassess again in April.

Frankly, as a Delta Platinum flying mostly JFK-Miami, I will still most likely see a near 100% upgrade ratio anyway, so I’m not too nervous about losing Diamond. I’ll still have lounge access with my Amex Platinum card (with American lounges as well), so I think I’m taking the best route here.

What do you think? Am I crazy for losing my Diamond status? Am I even more nuts for caring so much about always having top tier status? Even though my mind is made up, I still want to run it by you all. Often times there is no right answer when creating an elite strategy plan, so if you are in the same boat or want to bounce ideas off other TPG readers, feel free to comment below.

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  • Brett

    No, your Not. I feel if you accumulate Advantage points, they are more valuable than Skypesos. Plus, you can transfer miles between MR-Delta and you do Not have that luxury with AA. I say rack up those Advantage points.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, you should care about top tier status. Unfortunately, airline travel has never quite evolved into a better experience ….IMHO it has regressed in many areas. So – top tier are the only travellers who have a chance at actually getting a somewhat bettter experience than every other flyer. Non status or lower status flyers are treated like cattle, and never really given much good Customer Service because the majority of those flyers the airline will never have to see again. Choosing the FF program for you depends on the routes you will travel the most, as well as the airlines who offer routes that meet your needs. Not a Delta fan, but in the face of American’s woes, I would agree with your strategy.

  • Anonymous

    I think the biggest issue will be how you feel about not having wifi on American versus a lack of direct flights between Miami and LAX on Delta. The other issues (better service & lounges with Delta, more valuable points with American) seem less important. However it turns out, I’m interested in reading about how it goes.

  • Mrcandoit

    Hmmm—no wifi and you are blogger whose livelihood depends on the internet. Might that be a deal tipper for you? If you’re cool with that, rock on.

  • AnnaM

    I flew Delta for a few years before I started communting to Miami. Hardly a week goes by flying on American that I don’t miss Delta. Delta staff is much more helpful, even to a Silver. Whereas AA Platinum (admittedly not top tier) feels like no status at all beyond bonus miles. I don’t know what they feed AA attendants and staff, but they are surly. I’m amazed at how they complain to me about oher passengers, not acceptable. Aging planes, no wi-fi… it goes on and on. Racking up FF miles versus enduring AA service. I’m going back to Delta when I can.

  • Meghan Bell

    I know this isn’t the perfect spot to put this question, but since it’s a new post I figured I might have a better chance of someone actually seeing it and being able to help :) I’m set up to use ExpertFlyer, but have a quick question regarding availability. I’m looking to go from GEG (Spokane, WA) to Quito, Ecuador. There are obviously no nonstop flights, so when I plug this routing in I get multiple flights with (usually) 3 legs. Do I need to see award availability for ALL of the legs? As it appears in ExpertFlyer, it looks like only one/two of the legs have award availability. Am I reading this right?? Hoping to use my AA miles sooner rather than later!!

    Any help would be MUCHO appreciated!!

  • Matt

    EXP is an attractive status, and Miami as an American hub makes flying AA quite attractive. Getting by on DL Plat status is certainly doable, especially from a non-hub.

    You do risk losing part of your market, as you have been the most prominent blogger addressing Delta-specific matters on a regular basis. Also, flying in Biz on AA metal does not offer the opportunity to review other biz products and generate content. Great for mileage running and general travel, but less great for generating reviews of products.

    A lot of it comes down to what sort of content you want to generate and how many miles you anticipate flying this year. For sure short-term getting EXP and being able to compare the AA EXP experience vs the DL Diamond one is the way to go.

  • Sfobuddy

    I agree with Matt.
    “You do risk losing part of your market, as you have been the most prominent blogger addressing Delta-specific matters on a regular basis. Also, flying in Biz on AA metal does not offer the opportunity to review other biz products and generate content. Great for mileage running and general travel, but less great for generating reviews of products.”

  • PJ

    MIA -NYC 7.5K for last class ( non status) citizens Bravo Avios’… link with AA
    also many thanks to the Chase BA 100K offer sad i did not get all my 5 close family memebers on it as we did on Amex. gold… by the way happy to report all bumped up bonus offers all rolled in … reporting it to cheer up those who were suspecting there would be a no show on bumped bonus

  • Anonymous

    As a NYC based DM, I think the BE JFK-LAX/SFO product is one of the major benefits of shooting for Diamond. I travel that route 8-12 times a year and went 21 for 22 for UG’s this year…I think my % would have dropped by at least 50%, if not more, had I been PM all year. Beyond that, Diamond is nice, but I don’t think I would see a huge drop in UG % on almost any other routes.

    Sooo, all that said, if you’re not going to be flying JFK/LAX/SFO on Delta for the foreseeable future, I see no reason why PM won’t serve you well, esp with top status on AA.

  • notsosmart

    The systemwide certs that AA offers have always made it compelling for me (though not enough to switch). Getting SWU’s for international segs is a huge plus. The DL SWUs are a joke in comparison.

    Plus, as you mentioned, you’ve taken your talents to Miami. ;-)

    So personal comfort and ease is going to be a huge plus with AA.

    In short, no, you’re not crazy.

  • Maxim

    TPG,
    AA bankruptcy is probably the best thing that happened to them recently. It will allow them to become more competitive and roll up better equipment and more services.

    AA just sent out an email announcing that they are upgrading the fleet: adding B777 and lie-flat beds in business. In-flight WiFi should be around the corner too.

    Now, what bothers me in AA is that they don’t have complimentary upgrades (how can that be?!). You get 4 electronic upgrades for every 10K miles instead. Delta gave me an upgrade on the first flight since I qualified to Gold M.

    Maxim

  • Jake_PB

    Something to bear in mind is the incredible number of business travelers that use American exclusively. It makes leveraging those upgrades seemingly impossible with all of the competition that exists. Good luck, and am anxious to learn how it turns out!

  • Rob

    My concern would be that the amount of awards, offers, etc for AA are nowhere near as what is available in quantity as for Delta.

    Delta miles seem to spill out of anywhere and makes for lots of free flights. AA planes are old, and attendants seem a bit unfriendly. Plus, SkyClub is the nicest out of all the clubs.

  • Mkassam

    exec plat has unlimited complimentary upgrades domestic/canada/mexico. MK

  • Flyer Fun

    I think an added benefit for flying AA Elite for a while is that you will be able to review that product first hand.

  • http://frequentlyflying.com Darren

    Go for it! Your rationale about JFK-MIA upgrades on DL is sound and unlike you, I had wonderful experiences on American this year (flying them for the first time since ’98) and made Platinum. I’m comparing that against my usual inconsistent service from United as a 1K. While it’s not the focus of your blog, it might make for some interesting new material for your AA readers.

  • Benthelefty

    Although he flies a lot, he’s not in the air 24/7. A MIA to JFK flight is 3-4 hours? He could write a draft of a blog post and publish when he arrives. Usually it’s 1 post a day and they come in the mornings…he could switch to the p.m. or some other way to keep the posts flowing, IMHO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Hamilton/7957517 Mike Hamilton

    I’m EXP on AA and would love for you to join the dark side. I’ve only ever flown AA, so it would be nice to get your take on the differences over a broader sample.

  • http://qbrain.randomnonsense.com qbrain

    The flight attendants on AA are hit or miss and being EXP does not change this but south Florida is serviced by American and LCCs, so I think you would be nuts not to give AA a shot for a year. AA also gives you a soft landing, so if you fly for a few months as EXP, decide you want to give most of your flying to Delta, you will finish the year as EXP, Plat the next year and Gold the third year, so when you do have to fly AA, you still have free bags, priority security and early boarding.

  • Dwt

    I’d definitely recommend that you keep taking Delta on your flights to NYC. As a NYC based AA Platinum, I’ve found the NYC-MIA flights among the harder for upgrades to clear (and my NYC-LAX and SFO flights tend to clear more often than not).

  • Susan

    Three years into EXP I find that the FAs are still less than welcoming if you’re flying in the back, regardless of status — the personal welcome and “thanks for flying AA” that greeted me on my first flight as EXP is a distant memory (do they bother to look at the manifest?). At least most of the time they now honor the unofficial EXP-in-coach free drink/snack policy without flack or confusion. That said, I’ve had good UG success this year, both domestically and using SWUs internationally.

    Only one trip so far since BK announcement; FAs were ok JFK-LAX, seemed their usual distracted selves on the way back. But you’d expect morale to be low given the implications for labor contracts. GAs were friendly and professional under trying circumstances (weather disruptions) but earlier in the day SFO CS center was abysmal.

    I rarely fly Delta but from what I understand award redemption is much better on AA, especially for EXPs who (theoretically) have access to increased inventory.

  • Maxim

    What about Platinum?

  • http://twitter.com/trentswanson Trent Swanson

    What! You entice TPG readers to dictate your every step in Istanbul holiday and don’t even solicit our counsel prior to moving from Brooklyn to South Beach? Unacceptable

  • Mokeeffe

    Good Luck!!! Miami is a tough AA base! I’ve spent the last 10+ years as a MIA/FLL based AA Plat & EP member. Because of the lack of service I switched to Delta 1-year ago and just hit Medallion. I’ve been thrilled with Delta, I have a DFW trip next week and will need to fly AA, i’m regreting it already.

  • JC

    Brian, it’s hard to beat the 777 AA flies between MIA and LAX. Especially because they offer true F and J service (so 37 business seats to upgrade to).

  • John-Paul

    TPG is talking about EXP, so Platinum is not relevant to the discussion. As an AA EXP or DL Diamond, he’d get free domestic/Canada/Caribbean/Central America upgrades either way (plus Hawaii on AA).

  • John-Paul

    The only way to do this with AA miles, limiting it to only three segments, would be GEG-SEA-MIA on Alaska Airlines, then MIA-UIO on either American Airlines or LAN. You can use ExpertFlyer to search for availability on Alaska and American, but not on LAN (the only tool I know of that has LAN availability is KVS, otherwise you’ll have to call AA to get availability). Good luck!

  • Greg

    I would like to start by saying I enjoy reading your blog and often feel that you are bang on with your opinions. One exception.

    I tend to think that AA has the best elite program at the EXP level. Probably most people feel that upgrades are the best perk. My limited experience flying Delta, the first class experience was plastic cups and sometimes no meal? But what use is the first class experience if your upgrade doesn’t clear. As an EXP I have never missed a LAX-JFK upgrade. As a Delta or Untied elite, would you think 100% upgrade would be common.

    Internationally, I find Delta is by far the worst. I can usually find a Delta business class ticket for LESS then a Delta fare that can be upgraded. As well I like how AA has a standard business class seat. Sure they are slanted (works just fine for me) but better then some Delta recliner seats. It really sucks when you purchase a Delta business class seat and end up with a recliner.

    Finally I think you will have to agree that Delta miles are quite challenging to use domestically. Try finding an award in July/August from MSP-IAD – next to impossible at the 50K level unless you are willing to fly a one stop or to nearby airports. Let alone try finding a ticket nonstop transcontinental.

  • Nybanker

    You are making the right call. Tough to fight the home town hub. AA exp is a very good program. You’ll find the swus to be extremely valuable.

  • Eric

    I fly AA a fair amount (been Gold to Platinum status the past 6 years) and all their standard planes have WiFi on them. The only domestic planes I have not seen with WiFi are the regional American Eagle flights that you would never fly if flying Miami to New York or LA. International flights might be a different story.

    Also, I recently flew on one of their new 737-800′s from Denver to Dallas and was really impressed. The first class seating was very nice. The LED mood lighting was a great new feature. The flights attendants seemed really impressed too as if it was their first flight on the plane.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve considered AA in the past due to the 8 SWUs and the lack of fare restrictions, but I’m always scared off by the lack of high-end, lie-flat seating in business. Or maybe I have bad information, but that’s what I’ve read.

    I fly a lot to Asia from NY, and the CO BusinessFirst out of EWR is spectacular. I’d rather get fewer SWUs and pay a W fare and be able to sleep. The whole point of the upgrade for me is arriving rested and ready to do business. In a sad, outdated business class seat, I’m not much better off than I would be in E+. What good is 8 SWUs if the seating is disappointing?

    But I realize this really only affects long haul travel. F0r 5-8 hours to Europe, I’m fine with any seat and some Ambien.

  • BF

    Brian,
    Maybe Delta will fix their award booking engine now that you are changing to AA.

  • Dealssgm

    Brian: Welcome to Miami! If you ever hold events in town, I would love to be on your attendee list

  • Rich I

    I post this response from 30k feet in Delta first class as a Diamond. Admittedly the wifi is so sweet. It was a great business move on Delta’s part.

    I’m dropping to Plat in 2012 as well. I just missed an upgrade by one position on Sunday aft flying CVG-ATL. Granted, hub to hub but still. I’m diamond. (But on a measly T fare.) tonight I’m first MHT-ATL, but #8 of 40 on the list for ATL-CVG on. Friday night.

    I just wonder if we’re going to miss our Diamond status when we go Plat. My current non-upgrades make me fear my hub city Platinum future.

  • Jason

    As a life long South Florida resident, I have to say, ANOTHER New Yorker?! Just kidding Brian. Love the blog. Welcome to Miami.

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