My 2012 Points Strategy: Airline Elite Status

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This is an installment in the My 2012 Points Strategy Series. Posts include: Taking Credit Card InventoryFuture Credit Card ApplicationsAirline Elite StatusHotel Elite Status.

If you are a frequent traveler, elite status is critical. Not only do you get valuable perks like upgrades and priority boarding, but you get mileage bonuses that can make a real impact on the number of miles you accrue from flying. Generally lower tier flyers earn a 25% bonus, mid tier 50% and top tier 100-125%.

As a Delta Diamond I earn a 125% bonus on all miles earned. So, for example, on a recent JFK-Rome flight which was 4,277 miles, I earned 4,277 base miles for the T class fare plus an additional 5,346 miles for my Diamond bonus for a total of 9,623 Skymiles earned (not Medallion Qualifying Miles – elite status has no impact on how many MQMs you earn).

Delta also has Choice Benefits you can select once you pass 75,000 and 125,000 MQMs each year, and one of those options is miles. You can select 20,000 when you hit 75,000 and then 25,000 (plus one other choice) when you hit 125,000 MQMs. So in my 125,000 mile a year scenario, I’d earn 125,000 base miles, plus 156,250 Diamond bonuses miles plus 45,000 Choice Benefit miles for a whopping total of 326,250 SkyMiles. That’s enough for two roundtrip business class awards to Australia (on V Australia or Delta if you can find low level awards) and more than enough for 2 roundtrips to Africa in business class and one in coach. All for flying 125,000 miles on cheap coach fares!

I understand not everyone flies 125,000 miles a year, but it’s meant to show that consolidating your flying on one airline can reap you huge benefits – even if it means spending a little more here and there to fly your preferred airline.

My Strategy

I do like Delta, but I recently moved to Miami and coincidentally was also given the opportunity to match my Delta Diamond Status to American Executive Platinum as part of my participation in the 2012 Oneworld Mega Do.

American Executive Platinum is very strong where Delta Diamond is very weak – systemwide upgrades. Delta’s Systemwides require the purchase of expensive Y,B,M fares when traveling internationally. Often these fares are more expensive than discount business class, so many find the Delta upgrades useless (though they can be used on Air France to upgrade form Premium Economy to Business class, which can be a decent value).

American Executive Platinum members receive 8 one-way upgrade certificates that are can be used on the cheapest published fare classes. In fact I just flew from Chicago to Beijing on a cheap coach fare and my buddy Rick, Frugal Travel Guy, had extra American systemwides that he used to upgrade me on all legs of my journey (even the Miami to Chicago legs). So for $1,500 I flew roundtrip from Miami to Beijing in business class and earned double EQMs to boot! This same trip on Delta would have been $4,111 and would have required 2 connections.

So why do I bother with Delta? I highly value wi-fi on almost every flight and I personally have had lots of  positive experiences and find their planes clean and flight crews pleasant. My domestic upgrades have been near 100% and I just feel at home on Delta planes. The Delta terminal at Miami is way nicer and manageable than American’s and Delta SkyClubs blow American’s bare bones Admiral Clubs out of the water, in my opinion of course (better snacks, free/cheaper booze and free wifi).

My plan is to give American a shot and qualify for Executive Platinum to get my 8 valuable upgrades that I’ll use throughout the year on international trips. Due to the Mega Do and double EQM promo, I’ll end the month of January with over 70,000 EQMs, so I’ll only need to do 30,000 more by December 31, 2012 which is easy for me. MQMs

As for Delta, I stopped short of Diamond and will drop to Platinum on March 1, 2012. However, I rolled over 33,593, so I’m well on my well towards requalifying for Diamond (if that’s the route I want to go for 2013). I may get the Delta Reserve card, which will give me 10,000 MQMs with my first purchase.

So in a nutshell- in 2012 I will fly Delta almost exclusively domestically for the wifi and American internationally when I can confirm business class upgrades with my systemwides. I figure I will reassess this decision in March when I’ve given American more time to either impress me or drive me insane. Time will tell!
What Are Your Plans?

Not too much has changed on the elite status playing field. Most notably, United hacked the benefits of their lower tier flyers and now only lets them select Economy Plus seats at check-in, which I know would be a dealbreaker for me. United, Delta and US Airways also decreased the luggage allowance of their silver flyers to one bag, which also might weigh into your decision.

To learn more about Airline Elite Status:
The Basics and Why People Mileage Run
Using ITA Matrix to Find Cheap Flights
How Much is Elite Status Worth?, Comparing Top Tier StatusComparing Mid-Tier Status, Comparing Low Level StatusHow to Get Elite Miles Without Flying, Understanding Elite Status Bump Thresholds, and The Lowdown on Soft Landings.

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