My Updated Airline Elite Status Strategy

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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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