Travel Tuesday Top 10: Tips on Securing 2013 Airline Elite Status
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As the year draws to an end many people scramble to bank as many elite miles as possible to secure their 2013 status before airlines reset elite qualification miles to 0 on January 1. Here are 10 quick tips to help ensure that you won't be left without coveted elite status for next year:
1. Good Old Fashioned "Butt In Seat" Flying: Yes, it’s obvious, but the best way to earn elite-qualifying miles is by flying. Or course, it’s not just as simple as getting from Point A to Point B. To maximize the miles you earn, you need to look at the various routing options between your departure point and your destination. The ITA Matrix software will let you search city pairs and if you select flexible dates, it will show a calendar of the cheapest flights (which you can filter by airline or alliance) so you can use it to search flexible routings and find some great, cheap deals on it. Since the holidays are coming up and planes will be more crowded than ever and tickets more expensive, now would also be a good time to add in a last-minute trip, if you are running short on miles or consider booking a mileage run if you are pressed for time. The Flyertalk Mileage Run forum is a great resource where people post cheap flights, and you can even try to meet up and fly together. You can also check out sites like The Flight Deal or AirfareWatchDog which have some cheap fares.
2. Earn Elite Qualifying Miles with Credit Cards: While most cards don’t offer elite status outright, depending on which card you get and how much you spend, you can earn most if not all the required elite miles to attain elite status. For example, the Delta Reserve card awards cardholders with 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles with the first purchase, and 15,000 more MQM’s if a member hits $30,000 in spend within the calendar year – that’s enough for Silver Medallion status on Delta – plus an additional 15,000 MQM’s if they hit $60,000 in spend during the same calendar year. To get to Delta Gold, then, you’d only need to fly 10,000 more miles – about two roundtrip transcon flights. Not bad. The Delta Platinum Amex offers 10,000 MQM’s for $25,000 in annual spend, and another 10,000 MQM’s for $50,000 in annual spending, for a total potential of 20,000 MQM’s. On American, the only card that helps toward elite status is the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard which yields 10,000 elite qualifying miles after $40,000 in purchases each calendar year – just under halfway to Gold status. The US Airways MasterCard offers 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after cardmembers hit $25,000 in spending each year, almost halfway to Silver status. While most of these cards won’t get you status outright, their bonus thresholds can at least help you with the last few thousand miles you need to make it.
3. Buying First and Business Class Fares: You might think first and business class tickets will cost thousands of dollars, but on many routes these days domestic first isn’t much more than coach, and in some cases, it can actually be less than a refundable coach ticket. Plus, most airlines offer a 50% class-of-service bonus on elite-qualifying miles for booking first or business fares, so though your ticket price might be a little more expensive, your elite mileage can really add up and that can save you time from having to take more flights to hit your desired status level. Also, if purchasing last-minute tickets, always search for both coach and first, as the price difference is usually minimal thanks to inflated economy prices.
4. Same Day Confirm or Change To Maximize Routing: One way to rack up elite qualifying miles is by switching onto flights through connecting cities that are farther away from either the departure or destination or both. For example, if you’re scheduled to fly from Miami to LaGuardia on Delta, you’d normally earn about 1,100 MQM’s but if you same day confirmed to Miami-Detroit-LaGuardia, you’d rack up 1,600 MQM’s, which is about 50% more than the direct flight. Granted, you’ll be spending more time in the air, but it’s basically free to do it. You might have to pay extra taxes on the ticket, but if $5 gets you an extra 500 elite qualifying miles, that’s well worth it. Delta lets Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallions Same Day Confirm for free. United allows free same-day flight changes for Premier Gold, Premier Platinum and Premier 1K members. US Airways has their MoveUp program, which is free for all elites including Silvers. American offers AAdvantage elite members the option to standby for a different flight at no charge.
5. Utilize Partner Promotions: While most of the partner offers that the airlines generally have are for redeemable miles, Delta has had several lately where you can earn Medallion Qualifying Miles. The airline’s current Delta Sky Club holiday promotion for Medallion members offers 1,500 Medallion Qualifying Miles when they purchase or renew a one- or three-year club membership by December 31, 2012. Hilton announced a promotion that offers 250 Delta Medallion Qualifying Miles for each two-night stay from now through December 11, 2012. There is also an offer to earn 250 MQM’s when renting with Hertz on rentals of 3 or more days booked and completed before November 30, 2012. US Airways also just launched a promo awarding 5,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles for signing up for their lounge, which is the most lucrative elite qualifying mile lounge promotion I've seen in a while. While it’s still rare for promos to include elite-qualifying miles bonuses, if you look carefully, you might be able to find some, and though the mileage numbers are low, every little bit helps!
6. Gifted Miles or Status: While it’s not often discussed, there are actually a few ways to get gifted elite status or miles. Some credit cards actually allow you to gift your miles to friends or family members. The Delta Reserve allows you to gift the 15,000 MQM’s you earn after $30,000 in annual spend and the other 15,000 MQM’s after $60,000 in spend. Though it’s been discontinued now, consumers who have been grandfathered into the old Continental Presidential Plus Card can give the flex EQM’s they earn on that card to whomever they like. In terms of gifting status, that’s usually the domain of high-level elites. American Airlines offers Elite Rewards where American Platinum and Executive Platinum members may gift AAdvantage Gold status to a friend. Delta offers Choice Benefits to Platinum and Diamond Medallions. Platinum Medallions may gift Silver status and Diamond Medallions can gift Gold to anyone they want. Another option is to join Delta’s SkyBonus bonus program where you can earn points which can then be redeemed for Silver Medallion status starting at 100,000 SkyBonus points. So if you are finding yourself short, now would be a good time to ask that friend of yours who travels a ton to see if they’ll gift you status. Also keep in mind that if you work for a big corporation with its own travel department, oftentimes those agents will get perks from the airlines they book a lot like elite status to gift to employees, so make nice with your travel department and see if they might have a few spare status gifts to hand out at the end of the year.
7. Double Elite Qualifying Mile Promotions: They don’t come along too often, and are usually limited in scope, but lately airlines have been offering promotions where flyers at certain times or on certain routes are offered double and sometimes even more elite-qualifying miles for flights. American is offering Double Elite Qualifying Miles now through December 31, 2012. To register for the promotion, click here, log in and enter promo code AATHX. Just hypothetically speaking, instead of having to fly 100,000 miles to earn top-tier Executive Platinum status, you would only have to fly 50,000 miles, the amount that would usually just get you Platinum status. Sometimes, it’s the combination of an airline promotion and a co-branded credit card that will earn you multiple mileage bonuses. For instance, US Airways recently offered double elite-qualifying Preferred miles on flights paid for with a US Airways Dividend Miles Mastercard. Unfortunately you had to register by October 31st, but something to keep in mind for the future. US Airways was also offering double elite-qualifying Preferred miles on their East Coast shuttle flights back in September, but that promotion has ended as well. Neither Delta nor United have offered any double elite-qualifying mile promotions this year.
8. Qualify for Elite Status on Segments Instead of Miles: While most frequent flyers qualify for status based on miles flown, remember that airlines also make it possible to qualify for status based on the number of segments or flights you fly. That’s so that flyers who take a lot of short-haul flights (or fly itineraries with several segments) still get the perks and benefits that others who might fly fewer but longer-haul routes do. Earning low-tier status on all four major US legacy carriers only requires 30 segments. Top-tier status varies, from 100 on American to 120 on United and US Airways to 140 segments for Delta Diamond. I couldn’t imagine qualifying for top tier status this way, but segment running is a great way to get you over the hump if do a lot of short-haul flights and need a ton of miles to get to the next status tier but only a few flights. You can also take advantage of the same day confirm option as a segment runner, and try to add in as many segments as you can.
9. Buy Elite Qualifying Miles: When all else fails and it’s the evening of December 31st, and your favorite airline account is going to reset and you have no other option, you could consider buying the elite qualifying miles necessary to get you up to par. Delta announced they plan to run a similar promotion as last year, where they will sell you Medallion Qualifying Miles. Last year it was a maximum of 10,000 miles for $895. While expensive, it’s always an option if time is running out. US Airways has their “Buy Up To Preferred” option in which they sell Preferred miles and segments, and there is no limit to how many you can purchase, and you can actually buy top-tier status on U.S. Airways for $3,999 without even setting foot on one of their planes. If you do have trips coming up but they still won’t get you the mileage you need, you can also consider the various airlines’ mileage multipliers. For instance, United has an elite maximizer which offers the ability to buy miles as well as elite qualifying miles through their Award Accelerator program, though prices increase towards end of the year.
10. Double Check your Mileage Account: Make sure to audit your account and make sure that every single flight you took this year was credited appropriately. It’s shocking how often partner flights aren’t credited to your frequent flyer account, even between close alliance partners. To be sure you get the mileage credit you deserve, always be sure to keep your boarding passes and email or fax them in now if you don’t already see your flight credit so you’re not biting your nails at the end of the year waiting to see if you got credited. In terms of flight cancellations and changes – for instance, due to Hurricane Sandy – you can request original routing credit. So let’s say you had a flight that was cancelled by the airline because of the storm and you took a different airline, you can always ask for original routing credit for the flight you were supposed to take, especially if that itinerary would earn yo more miles. It never hurts to ask, but it can take a while for you to be credited, so email your airline now and ask for those "original routing credit" miles as soon as possible.