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My 2012 Points Strategy: Airline Elite Status

by on January 5, 2012 · 29 comments

in American, Delta, 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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • MJB

    I flew both American and Delta last week after having been on neither for years. American was like riding a Greyhound with wings – except that Greyhounds have wifi. I was pleasantly surprised with Delta and will be sticking with them in the future. (Why can’t Virgin American & Jet Blue fly everywhere I want to go!?)

  • David

    Great post. The only airlines with service out of my local airport are DL and UA. I’m GM with DL as a result of new cards and 8 domestic trips last year. I have 190k Skymiles, 165k with UA, 180k with American and 100k with US Air who I can fly with by travel to MSP. Do I have any chance to successfully request elite status match with UA or either of the others?

  • http://www.euanross.com Euan

    Would your status plans change at all if American changed their systemwide upgrades similar to Delta in that they can only be used on the most expensive economy fare classes?

  • Anonymous

    I just rolled over 123,000 Delta miles — so I know I will requalify for DE. One thing I learned at the Chicago seminars is the value of diversification… so I am going on the Oneworld Megado. Finalizing my match to Exec Plat this weekend (going to SCL). I doing the Europe portion which suddenly made sense with the DEQM and the 25k biz bonus — will end January with 50k eqms unless I can sneak in another MR>

  • Anonymous

    In 2011 I racked up 280K MQM on Delta, so technically I am Diamond until the end of 2013 with rollover. so thinking of switching to US Air and build up (maybe United still not sure). As for strategy, load up on them miles/hotel points again to plan vacation time in 2013 with my family (total of 6). Long term strategy with greater rewards always appeals to me more. You ‘Da Man TPG!

  • Anonymous

    For the last few years, I’ve been an Air Canada Elite. However, the recent Aeroplan devaluations alongside the major changes to the program for the next program year (increase in Star Gold threshold from 35K -> 50K and addition of new tiers dropping me down on the upgrade pecking order), I’m going to re-evaluate all the different options this time. One of the big reasons I got AC*G status is because I could access all the United Club and US Air lounges domestically without paying, but at least part of that is offset by the Amex Platinum.

    The program worked really well for me in the past because I easily had 40-50K paid miles domestic/trans-border, and was able to use all the miles I gathered here for international business class tickets. However, their new 35K tier is really un-interesting, and if I’m going to have to run for 50K I may as well do it where the miles are worth something.

    I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I’m going to be looking hard at all of the North American programs.

  • Dan6681

    I’ve switched to AA from US, because I’m moving from BOS to AUS. I will complete my platinum challenge this weekend and be at about 25,000 EQMs by the end of January thanks to DEQM. I’m looking forward to the 100% mileage bonus. For a 50,000 miler that’s 25,000 miles a year that I wasn’t getting with US.

  • mpp

    90% of my flying is for leisure so I’m paying my own way. Somehow I’ve managed to squeak by as a Delta Platinum now for 2 years in a row. I was thinking of trying to switch to United or Alaska, but to tell you the truth it is a little daunting.

    I’m comfortable with Delta and know what to expect. Service in IRROPS on Delta has, for me, always been fantastic. Above and beyond, really, in terms of customer service for what I pay — at times giving me more in compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight than I paid for the initial flight. For those reasons I’m going to stick with Delta, despite the short comings of unusable SWUs (since I only buy LUT fares) and challenging (but not impossible) SkyMiles redemption…and the tricks you have described in the past have really helped. So Thank You PointsGuy (by the way I know one of your college roommates) and Thank You Delta Customer Service for making things right when things go wrong.

  • Phil

    Timely post. I switched from AA to Delta about two years ago after an incident where I felt AA treated me really badly and it was enough to make me test elsewhere. Yesterday I completed one of my regular RDU-LGA roundtrips on AA for the first time since then as I was cashing in on a stash of BA Avios poitns and 9k round trip is just so cheap.

    It is clear to me two years on that Delta is LIGHT YEARS ahead of AA in terms of their product:

    1) As MJB points out AA are flying Greyhounds. I was on an AA CRJ the same plane I usually fly DL on. The AA plane was dark and dirty with no wi-fi. The DL jets always look and feel new, clean and bright and since a couple of months back even the RJs now have wi-fi. So could not play Words with Friends (ARGH Alec Baldwin moment on AA).

    2) I was on an award ticket with AA so could not upgrade. On Delta even when I cash in points I can and usually do get upgraded

    3) When I don’t get upgraded on DL I always get one of those “Have one on us” printed on my BP so I can get a glass of wine on the way home. On Eagle I used to get offered one as an EXP. I am still residual EXP with AA but did not get this

    4) When I went to the bathroom I really had to laugh. There bits of duct tape holding the bathroom together along with some weird plastic string. You literally could not make this crap up. The plane taped together!!!!

    5) Not sure if I really have to say anything other than LGA Terminal C

    Overall it was a depressing reminder of life at the bottom of AA’s world. To think in 09 I made EXP flying 110 segments like that. Never again.

    Sure eVIPs are kind of ok, but AA’s biz product is pretty crap anyway I’d rather just use points and go with a proper biz carrier.

    The ONLY thing I will miss is the EXP desk. They are very good.

    And as for the SkyMiles vs AAdvantage debate, sure that’s a no-brainer, but I racked up 400k AA miles last year anyway when only flying < 5k EQM. So I don't need to suffer their god-awful product to use their "frequent" flyer product

  • Annie

    I have a question, when you have the Sapphire Preferred card and you use it to buy bus or train tickets…. Does that count when you buy those tickets at the grocery store? Because it would seem that those would count for Groceries and you probably get 1 pt. not the 2x.

  • Vicente

    Is there a good strategy to get most benefits off the same card? I have a Delta platinum. I’ve been thinking of cancelling it and waiting a while and reapplying for Delta Reserve later. Wouldn’t that net me a bunch of “new customer” benefits or is there a 1-year wait to be “new” or anything?

  • Jorge

    I have been a DL GM for two years now, starting the third.. I am now so used to fly from JFK on nicer aircraft, and get upgraded 100% of the time, I can hardly think of letting that go away. I have used the benefits of DL GM along with other Skyteam carriers, and the DL Reserve combination (which I strongly recommend), and absolutely love it, period.

  • Carberrie

    I’m AA EXP and the SWUs are my biggest draw to AA, as well as that their miles still have some good value (along with United’s and US Airway’s). If AA changed their SWU’s to something like Delta’s, I’d switch over to United’s top tier.

  • Carberrie

    Right now AA has a really old fleet, but in a few years AA will have the newest fleet of all the US carriers! I’m actually really curious how their new 777s will look…

  • Anonymous

    My condolences on your recent move to Miami.

    (I was born and raised there, until I finally escaped)

  • Anonymous

    I travel so much and still spend a lot of time in NYC/ LA, so its more like a part time gig. And honestly, I’m loving it- especially the weather.

  • Phil

    great. so maybe in a few years they will be an airline worth flying. not right now :)

  • Guy

    2011 and 2012 Delta Platinum. I fly amost exlusively to Europe and Asia from Canada so most of my business is done on KLM and Air France. If I do go to the states I use Delta. It generally means a connection (Compared to Air Canada) but I often get an upgrade (At least on the YUL-ATL segments).

  • Neal

    Thank you for pointing out Delta’s huge weakness in the international upgrade area. I really hope Delta revisits the need to use the top 3 coach fares to use a System-Wide-Upgrade. It’s a huge hole in their program and I understand why you’d drop to Platinum. Safe travels in 2012!

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  • http://www.aladyinlondon.com/ A Lady in London

    Great post! I earn Executive Platinum most years on American, and I love the systemwide upgrades.

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  • Lenacon1990

    I just stumbled onto this site and I see most of the post are 3 months old. I am a 3 million mile (all flying miles, no credit card program miles in that bucket of miles), charter Diamond and still Diamond member. I only fly Delta on domestic and after reading the posts about almost 100% upgrades I am wondering what program you guys are talking about.

    It can’t be the same as my Delta program as my upgrade success in 2012 is 61% by segments and 54% by actual miles in a seat and way too often in a center seat. This week I was 0 for 4. I have been stranded overnight by Delta three times in the first four months of 2012, all due to equipment, not weather.

    My home airport is not a Delta hub but Delta is the largest of the 11 major airlines that service this 8 million passenger per year airport. Emails to customer service get such an obvious canned response I seldom write anymore, maybe that’s the Delta strategy

  • Risar

    Book 5+ days out, and steer clear of biz-biz major flights, small airports are cake walks provided the flight has a first class.

    For example to LGA -> ATL you will likely get an upgrade on that, if you were to fly PHX -> ATL your likely competing with 20 other diamonds for upgrade. Half the seats will be nuked 5 days out, another 10-20% at the 3 day mark and only a handful are left the day of check-in.

    Delta sucks internationally, period. Their systemwide upgrades also leave a lot to be desired (I currently have 20+ and have only been able to use 2 after trying dozens of times – even when seats are available for sale I get screwed).

    Delta is better because it focuses on business hubs domestically, keeps its planes clean and caters more to business travelers. United has some plusses, but American, US Air and Southwest are garbage IMHO.

  • Msindc27

    Delta’s Y,B,M upgrade rule is rediculous. I’m currently Gold but will hit Platinum well before the end of the year. If they don’t make it more flexible for international upgrades, I will serious consider moving to AA (depending on what happens with US merger rumors). I much prefer DL but their upgrade policy internationally is just insulting!

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  • Erif

    I live in Miami but use fll on delta because the experience is far above aa out of Mia . Have been delta platinum for 4 years .Delta is far superior to American .With the exception of international upgrades

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