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Earning Airline & Hotel Reciprocal Elite Status for 2015

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Everyone values elite status differently, but clearly the more useful the benefits are, the more meaningful status becomes. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at reciprocal airline and hotel benefits, and how they impact the value of elite status in the respective programs.

One recent innovation in the travel industry is the emergence of reciprocal status agreements between airlines and hotels. The idea is that frequent flyers are almost certain to be regular hotel guests, and vice versa. By offering reciprocal elite status, companies are seeking to leverage each other’s client bases of high value travelers. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that the airlines and hotels that hook up happen to have the same credit card partners.

As we approach the end of the year—crunch time for elite status (re)qualification—it’s worth considering what exactly you get out of your elite benefits. So in this post I’ll look at the major reciprocal programs and what they offer in terms of status to help you decide whether the added value is enough to justify pushing for the next tier.

Be sure to register for Crossover Rewards.
Crossover Rewards offers reciprocal status between Delta SkyMiles and Starwood Preferred Guest.

Delta and Starwood Crossover Rewards

Delta and Starwood were the first to offer reciprocal elite status benefits when they launched the Crossover Rewards program early last year. For 2015, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) members earn one Starpoint for every dollar spent on Delta flights. In addition, SPG Platinum members automatically receive several of the benefits offered to Delta Silver Medallion flyers, including priority check-in, priority boarding, and the first checked bag free. Also, Starwood Platinum elites receive unlimited complimentary upgrades on paid tickets from Delta (but don’t expect to be upgraded often, since your priority will be at the lowest level).

On the other side of the equation, Delta Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members receive one mile per dollar spent on rooms within the Starwood portfolio, which includes Sheraton, Westin, Aloft and several other brands. Guests with Delta Medallion status also receive the benefits of SPG Gold status, including 4 pm late checkout, access to the SPG elite check-in line, complimentary in-room Internet access, and room upgrades (when available).

Delta flyers with Starwood status get the better deal here, as one Starpoint is worth far more than a Delta SkyMile (2.4 cents apiece versus 1.2 cents, respectively, according to TPG’s latest valuations). Starwood Gold status can also be had by spending $30,000 in a calendar year on the Starwood Prefered Guest Credit Card from American Express, or by being a cardholder of The Platinum Card from American Express.

If you can reach elite status in either program, it pays to do so before the end of the year, since your reciprocal benefits will also be extended.

To enroll in Crossover Rewards, members of both programs must link their accounts at delta.com/crossoverrewards or spg.com/crossoverrewards.

United and Marriott's RewardsPlus partnership.
United and Marriott partnered to offer RewardsPlus.

United and Marriott RewardsPlus

Matching Delta’s initiative, United teamed up with the Marriott Rewards program to offer RewardsPlus. Marriott Platinum Elite members receive complimentary MileagePlus Silver Premier status, which includes complimentary access to Economy Plus seating for you and one companion, upgrades to first class on full fare tickets, and a 25% mileage bonus. Other benefits include priority check-in, security, boarding, and baggage handling, as well as a free checked bag.

MileagePlus Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K, or Global Services members receive Marriott Rewards Gold Elite status. This includes free Internet, guaranteed room type, priority late checkout, a 25% points bonus, and free breakfast or lounge access.

The reciprocal perks are useful, but there’s a pretty high bar attached to each. To earn United Gold in 2014 for status in 2015, you must earn 50,000 elite qualifying miles or fly 60 segments, as well as spend $5,000 Premier Qualifying Dollars on flights. However, an exemption from the revenue requirement is granted to those who spend $25,000 on a United card from Chase, live outside the United States, or hold the United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card (which is no longer offered to new applicants).

One unique aspect of this program is the ability transfer points and miles back and forth between programs. United MileagePlus miles can be transferred to Marriott Rewards on a 1:1 basis, but it’s hard to imagine that being a good deal for anyone. More attractive is the 20% savings (compared to transfers from other programs) you get when converting Marriott points to United miles, which works out to one mile for every 2.24 points (when you transfer to receive at least 25,000 miles).

That’s close to an even trade based on TPG’s latest valuations (0.7 cents apiece for Marriott Rewards and 1.5 cents apiece for United MileagePlus miles). Furthermore, that’s twice the value of Marriott’s standard offer of 10 points or two miles earned per dollar spent at their hotels. You’d come out ahead by banking points to Marriott Reward and then transferring them later.

While one could earn United Premier Gold by taking just a few long international trips, qualifying for Marriott Platinum status is much harder. The requirement is to stay at Marriott properties for 75 nights in a year, more than one out of every five nights! That’s the equivalent of 19 week-long business trips with four night stays.

If you’re on the threshold of achieving status in either program and trying to decide whether it’s worth putting in extra effort to qualify, the reciprocal benefits should factor into your considerations.

Members of both programs can link their accounts at either the United or Marriott websites.

Hilton American Airlines partnership 2
Hilton and American Airlines have a targeted reciprocal offer.

Hilton HHonors and American Airlines

Not to be left out, American and Hilton came out with this targeted offer for those with elite status in the Hilton HHonors program. Those who signed up by October 15, 2014 received American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status through January 31, 2015. Status can be retained through February 29, 2016 by earning 9,000 Elite Qualifying Miles between October 27, 2014 and January 31, 2015.

Unlike the other reciprocal arrangements, this one is almost all one-sided, as those who complete the challenge receive 20,000 HHonors points, but no other hotel benefits.

Other mutual benefits offered

Beyond these, airline/hotel partnerships, there are a few other status offers out there to consider. First, there are many credit cards that offer elite status with car rental agencies. As mentioned previously, the American Express Platinum also offers Gold elite status in the Starwood Preferred Guest program, but you have to request it. Finally, Marriott touts that their Gold members receive Hertz#1 Gold Status. While I believe that Hertz once charged a fee for this program, the Hertz website currently lists Gold as a “fee-waived membership”.

Do reciprocal benefits encourage you to go for elite status?

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