The Elite Status Cliff Approaches: Audit Account Balances to Ensure Proper Credit
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February 28 fast approaches and that means the elite status countdown is in its final moments. Many airline and hotel loyalty programs reset the elite status benefits year (not qualification - which is based on the calendar year) at the end of each February and now is the time to audit your accounts to make sure all the miles, segments, points, stays and night credits you earned during 2013 are all included.
Starwood actually just sent out reminders to elite members who did not requalify for their current elite status level to check their accounts. Here's what SPG said in the reminder to Golds:
"It's the time of year when we review all elite member accounts for renewal. Based on our current data, it looks like you might be short the necessary stays or nights to renew your SPG® Gold status.
Please take a moment and check your account to make sure all your 2013 stays have posted. Remember, Gold status typically requires 10 stays or 25 nights in a calendar year. If you find discrepancies or have questions, please contact your local SPG Customer Contact Center."
I applaud SPG for being proactive about reminding its members to audit their own accounts (though I bet it saves SPG from a slew of angry phone calls come March 1 as well!).
There are a coupleAs a reminder about SPG Gold status in particular, remember there are plenty of ways to earn it beyond staying those 25 nights or 10 stays. There are a few American Express credit cards that either help you on your way to elite status or give it to cardholders outright.
Both the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and the Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card from American Express offer cardholders 2 stays/5 nights credit toward elite status each calendar year, and if you have both, you get a total of 4 stays/10 nights - almost halfway to SPG Gold already. However, if you spend $30,000 within a calendar year on either card, you also just get Gold status outright, so check your year-end account summary and see if you came anywhere close to that.
All three American Express Platinum Cards - The Platinum Card from American Express, Mercedes-Benz Personal and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express give instant Gold status with Starwood Hotels (as does the invite-only Centurion card). Simply call the number on the back of your card and ask them to upgrade your Starwood account- they will call Starwood directly and within minutes your account should show Gold. If you already have one of these cards, check out this post for tips on how to renew your SPG Gold status for Amex Platinum cardholders. For more information on how your Amex card can help you with Starwood status, check out this post.
In the meantime, here are some other helpful tips about making sure all your qualifying activity from 2013 counted, and where to look for stray elite-qualifying miles and nights.
In terms of airlines, it's actually pretty shocking how often partner flights are not credited to your frequent flyer accounts, even between close alliance partners, so if you think you're a couple flights short of your correct balance, it pays to double check. This is also why you should always keep your boarding passes from the past year until you are certain your mileage has posted because from time to time, you will be required to email or fax in a copy of the actual boarding pass itself to prove you actually took a flight. If you do need to do that, email or fax them in now if you don’t already see your flight credit so that you don't have to wait for the weeks it can take for an airline to process a claim in order to have your elite status reinstated.
Also remember, that even if your travel plans went awry, like mine did to Costa Rica at the end of December, or if your flights were cancelled because of the huge winter storms we've been having and you took a different airline, you can request original routing credit for the flight you originally booked, especially if that itinerary would earn you 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.
Here are the other things to look out for:
Class of Service Bonuses: Most airlines offer a class-of-service bonuses of 50% on elite-qualifying miles, and varying award miles bonuses for booking first and business class or full-fare economy tickets, so be sure these extra miles have posted, especially if you find yourself short a couple miles for elite status.
Miles From Alliance Partner Flights: One of the great things about airline alliances is that you can earn miles for the flights you take on your primary airline’s alliance partners. So if you are a United or US Airways flyer, but flew other Star Alliance carriers like Singapore or Lufthansa this year, you could still earn United miles for those flights. Mileage accrual rates vary based on the fare class of your ticket, and you can often get class of service bonuses, so be sure to double check your itineraries and make sure everything is credited properly. The other issue that usually comes up is that alliance partner credits can take a long time to post, so be sure to keep checking back with your airline if you don’t see credits that should have posted.
Double Elite Qualifying Miles Promotions: If you took advantage of campaigns like Alaska’s Double Elite Qualifying Mile or Delta's Double MQM promotions, make sure all your bonus elite qualifying miles posted. Airlines have gotten better with these promos posting, but make sure you see the miles - it is possible that your registration didn’t process correctly (or you actually forgot to register!)
Credit Card Sign-Up and Spending Bonuses: Many credit cards actually offer elite miles for meeting certain spending thresholds. American’s Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard gives cardholders 10,000 elite-qualifying-miles when they reach $40,000 in purchases each calendar year. Delta’s Reserve card offers 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles with the first purchase, and 15,000 MQMs if a member hits $30,000 in spend within the calendar year, plus an additional 15,000 MQMs if they hit $60,000 in spend during the same calendar year. The Delta Platinum Amex offers 10,000 MQMs for $25,000 in spend, and another 10,000 MQMs for $50,000 in spending, for a total of 20,000 MQMs. The US Airways Mastercard offers cardholders 10,000 Preferred Qualifying Miles after they hit $25,000 in spending each year, so make sure all the bonus elite qualifying miles are properly reflected in your account. For instance with the Delta Reserve, you must select that you want the MQMs deposited in your account, otherwise they will not be deposited for 90 days after hitting the spend requirement in case you wanted to gift them to a friend or family, so make sure all these miles are credited before the end of the year if you need them to hit your elite status goal.
Other Promos: Some airlines have been offering bonus award and elite qualifying miles through other promos, such as purchasing their lounge membership. US Airways was offering 5,000 bonus Preferred Qualifying Miles to folks who joined the US Airways Club or renew their membership by December 31, 2013, for example, so if you took advantage of one of these promos, be sure those miles posted.
Buying Extra: Several of the airlines offered their elites the chance to buy elite-qualifying miles in order to requalify for 2014. Delta was selling Medallion Qualifying Miles. You could buy between 2,500-10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) that were supposed to post to your 2013 MQM balance - so if you took advantage of that, be sure they posted, and if you used United's Premier Accelerator be sure your balance reflected the boost as well.
With hotels, you usually have to book directly with a chain to earn points and night/stay credit, although there are some exceptions, like booking through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. While that usually ensures the crediting process runs smoothly, it always pays to double check your balances to make sure that all the stays that should be credited are - especially if you find some FHR bookings are missing from your balance.
The other thing to look out for is multiple room earning. Many of the hotel chains allow you to earn points and stay credit for multiple rooms when the reservation is under your name and point account number. For example, Hilton allows members to earn base points for up to two rooms per stay if all eligible charges for both rooms are paid on one folio. Base points will be earned for all eligible folio charges incurred on both rooms. Hyatt allows their Gold Passport members to receive Hyatt Gold Passport points for up to three rooms (member’s room and two additional rooms) and Starwood allows members to earn points for up to three rooms when they stay in one and pay for them all, though they only get one stay credit.