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Now that we’re more than halfway through 2017, we’ve asked several TPG staffers to share their progress toward elite status with a selection of airlines and hotel chains. Next, it’s TPG Points & Miles Writer JT Genter’s turn to share.
Before digging in, it’s important to explain my unique situation. Ever since starting off at The Points Guy with a series of three economy flight reviews — Air China, Lufthansa and Air Canada — I’ve tried to continue to bring my budget traveler’s perspective to the site. I still continue to fly mostly in the main cabin, racking up over 200,000 miles in economy since the beginning of 2016.
It isn’t that I don’t enjoy business class; I’d jump on a Qatar A350 business or Lufthansa 747-8 business award anytime it’s available to where I need or want to go. But, I’m thrifty (maybe even cheap) with my miles/points and cash, so I need to see a compelling value differential to pay double the miles or thousands of dollars more for business or first class.
So, while I fully agree with TPG’s reasons to “jump off the AA elite status hamster wheel,” my travel patterns continue to make sense for me to seek AAdvantage Executive Platinum status. This was the only airline elite status I planned on getting in 2017. That changed a few weeks ago, but more about that later.
Also, beginning in June, my wife and I are living full-time out of hotels, hostels, Airbnbs, homestays, etc. Focusing on budget options, we hadn’t planned on earning hotel status, but we’ve done so naturally.
- Economy/budget traveler
- Lots of international flights, many times not even touching the US
- Occasional need to check a few bags
- Need a flexible schedule
- Just need a clean room and fast, free Wi-Fi for lodging
Airline Elite Status
There’s no doubt: The value of airline elite status depends on your travel style. For travelers like TPG who are paying for business-class awards or revenue flights, many elite status perks (lounge access, baggage, priority check-in and boarding) are already provided by the premium-cabin ticket. However, as a primarily economy flyer, I find that airline status significantly upgrades my travel experience.
Just one of many examples: For a recent flight out of Tokyo, Katie and I skipped the long standard Japan Airlines check-in line and walked down the empty carpet to first-class check-in. After clearing through the separate first-class security checkpoint, we spent a few hours in Japan Airlines’ first-class lounge. All of this on a $80 one-way economy flight thanks to our Oneworld Emerald status (check out my photos of the experience in the TPG Lounge).
Another example: The photo at the top of the article was taken in American Airlines 777-200 business class on a $95 one-way fare and thanks to a free Executive Platinum upgrade. This was on the way to a robotics competition, so we each were able to check three overweight bags of robots for free thanks to our status.
In addition to these perks, we get a lot of value out of being able to book award flights with the flexibility to cancel and redeposit the miles for free if a better routing or date opens up. And, when availability pops up that isn’t bookable online, the elite status line lets me get straight to a generally knowledgeable agent.
American Airlines AAdvantage
Mostly thanks to a series of pre-devaluation mileage runs, I earned AAdvantage Executive Platinum status in 2016 for under $4,000. I initially wrote off requalifying for AA’s top-tier status when the airline announced new revenue requirements for 2017. Then, I figured out that you don’t actually have to spend $12,000 (plus taxes) to get 12,000 Elite-Qualifying Dollars.
Through a combination of American Airlines Special Fares and utilizing partner earning charts, I’ve requalified for Platinum status for 2017 and have flights booked through the end of the year to take me over the top for Executive Platinum status. I’ll end up spending about the same on AA/Oneworld flights as in 2016.
How will I do that? Well, not by booking many revenue flights through AA.com. While AA will give you EQDs based on the price you paid less taxes for its own flights, the airline uses a percentage of flight miles for some flights booked elsewhere.
Certain flights booked through American Airlines Vacations and credit card travel portals will credit as Special Fares. The rate varies on the fare code, but you’ll earn at least 10% of flight miles as EQDs. These are great for cheap long-haul AA flights like flights to Sydney where you’ll earn ~2,000 EQDs if booked as a Special Fare — no matter how cheap the ticket. And there’s not a downside; you’ll still earn elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) at the same rate as if booked through AA’s website.
Next, there are partner fares. Since AA slashed certain EQM earning rates on partners, long-haul economy partner mileage runs have lost their luster. However, cheap premium-cabin partner flights are a nice sweet spot. Remember that amazing Qatar business-class “Golden Ticket” deal we posted about a few weeks ago? The $685 round-trip I booked to fly home from Asia will earn 4,544 EQDs and 34,000 EQMs. Just three of these round-trips would get you Executive Platinum status for a little over $2,000.
I had a cheap long-haul United flight at the end of 2016. After researching my options, I decided on crediting it to Singapore’s KrisFlyer program. In addition to earning 100% of the flight miles vs. just a few hundred miles with United’s revenue-based program, the KrisFlyer elite status earning period is a rolling 12-month clock. So, instead of these elite miles getting reset at January 1, 2017, I’d have the opportunity to credit Star Alliance revenue flights to KrisFlyer through October 2017.
Problem is, I made a rookie KrisFlyer mistake on the return leg: I assumed mileage credit worked similar to AAdvantage. I flew a transpacific ANA flight with United flight numbers and assumed it would credit 100%. Instead, since ANA — the operating carrier — isn’t a Singapore KrisFlyer partner, the flights credited at 0%. Ouch.
While I’ve continued to credit my paid United flights to KrisFlyer, these haven’t been enough to get me close to even Silver status, although I still have a couple more months:
EgyptAir / Asiana / SAS
A few weeks ago, a friend messaged me with a flight deal: Vancouver (YVR) to Sydney (SYD) for $600 round-trip in ANA business class! Even though it was the middle of the night in Japan, I scrambled to book an option before availability dried up — which it did almost immediately after I booked. With these flights in December and my KrisFlyer elite clock resetting in October, I’ve been taking a fresh look at Star Alliance options. After researching, I’ve limited the options to EgyptAir, Asiana or SAS.
We have covered EgyptAir elite status in a separate article. The gist for my situation is that we can credit both of our flights to my EgyptAir account to earn Star Alliance Gold from just these $1,200 in ANA business-class flights. But, I’d be the only one to get the status. Alternatively, we can each be just a few thousand miles shy of Star Alliance Gold via SAS. Or, we can credit to Asiana and have another 23 months to get the ~15k miles required to get Star Alliance Gold status through late 2021.
Since we’ve got a few more months before the ANA flights, I still have time to decide. Perhaps another Star Alliance deal or two will pop up in the meantime.
Hotel Elite Status
As mentioned before, Katie and I live on the road now. While it’d be a dream to earn top-tier hotel status and live out of hotel suites, our budget doesn’t allow for nightly stays at these type of hotels. We often are staying at the cheapest option with solid Wi-Fi reviews — and which is bookable through the Citi Concierge if we are staying more than four nights.
That said, early check-in, late check-out, room upgrades, and other perks can be quite helpful. So, we will pay a bit more to score these benefits.
Thanks to my IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card, I’m granted IHG Platinum Elite status plus a free hotel stay annually for just a $49 annual fee. It’s one of the biggest no-brainers in travel. For my travel needs, I’ve found IHG properties to be well worth their cost, particularly in Asia:
Category 1 properties can be had for 10,000 points each, which costs just $57.50 per night if you purchase IHG points at the frequent 0.575 cents per mile purchase rate. Even better, the PointBreaks list can let you score hotel nights for half this cost.
IHG Platinum Elite status doesn’t get you all that much: late check-out, priority check-in, 50% bonus points on paid stays, guaranteed room availability and room upgrades (excluding suites). But, I’ve found status provides some extra attention. Just this week, I was able to check in hours before check-in time — saving me from having to work from the lobby for those hours. My upper-floor corner room was already set up with a fruit plate, and I had choice of free drinks. Not bad for a $70/night stay.
With plans to head to Japan and Europe — homes of some outstanding Choice award options — I requested a status match to Choice this summer. My IHG Platinum Elite status earned me immediate mid-tier Platinum status. What’s the value of Platinum status? There’s no early check-in, late checkout, welcome amenities (outside the US/Canada). The 25% point bonus gets you a few more points – but only if you’re paying for the stay.
So, why did I go through the trouble? Platinum status gets you a 75-day award booking window, rather than the standard 30 days for domestic bookings and 60 days for international award bookings for non-elites. When you can score suites in Germany for 8,000 points per night — valued at $48 per TPG valuations — getting a 15-day head start on booking awards can make a huge difference.
In addition to great rates, Choice is also flexible on award cancellations. Each Choice award I’ve booked has allowed free cancellation and points redeposit up until 6pm the day of check-in. This is incredibly helpful in case something comes up to change our plans.
Since award nights count toward elite status, I’ll likely requalify for Platinum status for next year. Between completed stays and upcoming bookings, I’ll have 16 of the 20 required nights to requalify, and we will make sure to get those other four nights.
Wyndham has been my dark horse for elite status so far this year. Between rollover nights from previous years and one-off nights at the Ramada Plaza Newark, I stumbled into Gold status without realizing it. After a few recent stays at the Days Inn in Guam, I suddenly find myself just three nights away from Platinum status.
There’s nothing terribly exciting about elite status with a hotel chain that includes brands such as Baymont Inn and Knights Inn. But, Platinum status does grant a “preferred room,” late check-out, early check-in, 3,000 bonus points annually and a $10/night “Plus Award” for award nights.
Will I go out of my way to get those last three nights? Probably not. But, I’ll probably stumble into them over the next four months.
Other Loyalty Programs
I’ve picked up elite status in a few other programs through status matches or other promotions that I haven’t had use for yet:
- NH Hotel Group Rewards Silver
- Hilton Honors Silver
The value of elite status is going to vary based on what you value and your travel patterns. Just look at the night-and-day difference between Zach’s midyear elite status progress and mine. On the airline side, Zach shuns AA status in favor of United. I do the opposite. For hotels, Zach focuses on high-end programs. For me, hotel elite status is only important when it can get me incremental benefits where I’m actually going to be booking stays.
Neither of us is right or wrong (at least that’s what I’m telling Zach), but we are just working toward elite status where it’s most important to us.
Which elite statuses are you working toward this year?
Know before you go.
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