From Alaska to Radisson: 6 programs I plan to earn elite status with in 2021
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I’ve gone back and forth on earning elite status over the years.
On the one hand, the benefits make travel generally more enjoyable. Lounge access, free checked bags and upgrades make travel cheaper and more comfortable. After all, there’s nothing better than paying $50 for a domestic ticket and being upgraded to business class, even if it’s only a 90-minute flight. This is especially true as paid airfare has remained low through the pandemic.
The same goes for hotel status. I love having access to hotel lounges and room upgrades, even if most of my stays are at mid-tier properties. Plus, having access to a preferred room with a view of a new city or free breakfast at a hotel in an expensive city (think Oslo) are great benefits in their own right, even if they don’t require top-tier status.
On the flip side, during normal travel times, I’ve moved toward using points and miles to cover the bulk of my travel. This is especially true for international flights. I’ve gotten too used to business class seats to want to fly transatlantic/transpacific in coach. So barring any incredible deals or work travel, most of my international travel is booked with points. In this case, elite status doesn’t matter since I get elite-like benefits with my business class fare.
During the coronavirus pandemic, however, most of my travel has been domestic. Air travel and hotel stays have been cheap, and we’ve seen promotions that make it easier to earn status. For example, lower qualification requirements, bonus elite qualifying points promotions and improved status matches. So with that in mind, 2021 will likely be an elite status earning year for me, even if I’m traveling less than in 2019.
Here’s a look at my airline and hotel status plans for 2021. I’ll discuss the status levels I plan to maintain or upgrade this year and give you an outline of how I plan to earn said status.
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Airline elite status
I became addicted to airline elite status at age 19, shortly after I was introduced to the points and miles world.
Back then, I’d book every cheap fare I could find in the pursuit of the highest elite level possible. This was actually great for me at the time. Many of my college classes were online and my college job was flexible, so I traveled once or twice per month. This pursuit helped me see 25+ countries before I turned 21.
Nowadays, I try and plan my trips with a bit more purpose — especially during the pandemic. And while I may not be quite as infatuated with status as I once was, I still love it. These are the statuses I plan to keep (or earn) this year.
Delta Platinum Medallion
I started flying Delta more when I moved to New York City. It’s my preferred carrier for domestic travel, largely because of its great Delta Shuttle service between New York-LaGuardia (LGA) and my hometown near Chicago-O’Hare (ORD). I’ve also found that its service is a step above the other major U.S. carriers.
I plan on earning Delta Platinum Medallion elite status this year. I’d love Diamond, but I’m not convinced that international travel will fully resume by the end of 2021. Because of this, the majority of my Delta status will be earned through domestic flying and by spending on my Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.
Both of these will be even more lucrative this year. Delta is offering a 25% bonus on Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQM) earned with a credit card through the end of the year (offer ends 12/31/21). Likewise, it’s offering up to a 75% bonus on MQM, Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQS) and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) earned on Delta flights through the end of the year. This extends to award travel too.
I also started the year with just over 44,000 MQM I earned last year, thanks to Delta’s 2020 MQM rollover. This puts me in a great position to earn enough MQM to earn Platinum status in 2021 (with some points to spare). Thankfully, Delta always rolls over your remaining MQM, so my excess MQM will give me a headstart toward earning status again in 2022.
United Premier Gold
United was my airline of choice when I lived in Chicago. I used to fly the airline multiple times per month, largely due to its huge presence. Plus, I’ve always been a huge fan of its Star Alliance partners. I still fly the airline when flying with Delta isn’t possible or when the price makes sense. This is in large part because I have lifetime United Premier Gold status.
Thankfully, I don’t need to re-earn this status, but I also don’t plan on earning a higher United tier this year. I generally fly United and Star Alliance partners internationally, and that travel is likely to remain limited this year. Regardless, I’ll use my United Gold benefits when I can.
Alaska Airlines MVP
I never intend on earning Alaska status, but with its huge list of partners, it’s hard not to earn status with the airline if you’re a frequent traveler.
For years now, Alaska has had the best set of non-alliance partners of all the major airlines, so I’ve credited flights with non-Star Alliance and SkyTeam partners to the airline. For example, I recently flew Icelandair to Reykjavik and credited my miles to Alaska. This helped me consolidate my points — which is especially great given how highly TPG values Alaska miles.
Plus, now that Alaska is a Oneworld member, I’ll credit all of my Oneworld flights to the airline too.
This has helped me earn Alaska MVP status year after year, and so long as international travel reopens in a limited capacity this year, I should be able to earn it again this year. In turn, this gives me limited benefits on Alaska and American flights, Oneworld Ruby status and a ton of Alaska redeemable miles. That said, if I come up short of MVP, I don’t see myself mileage running to earn it again.
Possibly: JetBlue Mosaic
A friend gifted me JetBlue Mosaic status last year during limited-time promotion. I’ve used Mosaic’s limited benefits a handful of times over the past year. Mostly, I’ve enjoyed free upgrades to Even More Space seats, same-day changes and free alcoholic beverages. That said, these are minor benefits and aren’t something I’d actively earn.
At the same time, JetBlue status is easier to earn in 2021. The airline has lowered flying requirements and added a hybrid qualification method that uses both flights and credit card spend. I won’t actively try and meet these metrics. Still, if I do end up flying on JetBlue frequently, I may spend more on my JetBlue Plus Card to meet this year’s temporary qualification of $30,000 spending on a JetBlue credit card and 4,000 Mosaic Qualifying points. The information for the JetBlue Plus card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I truly hope that JetBlue revamps Mosaic status with more useful benefits soon. Its upcoming London routes, massive domestic expansion and partnership with American Airlines put JetBlue in a good future position. A more powerful loyalty program would — in my mind — make JetBlue an intriguing option for frequent leisure travelers and business travelers (when business travel resumes) alike.
Hotel elite status
I’ve started to focus a lot on hotel elite status over the past year or so. It’s the status I’ve consistently used through the pandemic on road trips and short domestic hops. Likewise, I’ve started to focus on earning more hotel points recently as I work to lower my overall travel costs. These are the hotel statuses I’m going to earn or re-earn this year.
I’m currently a Marriott Platinum status member and plan to earn Titanium this year. While Marriott Bonvoy isn’t the perfect program, the hotel group has hotels where I travel most. Plus, I really like their mid-tier and high-end brands. The W and Ritz-Carlton brands are two of my favorite upscale brands for vacations with my girlfriend, while solo trips often take me to Aloft, Courtyard and Le Meridien properties.
I enjoy the benefits of Platinum status already and am quickly making progress toward Titanium. I started the year with 55 nights in my Marriott Bonvoy account — 15 from my Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, 15 from my Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card and 25 as a bonus from Marriott. I’ve also spent just over a week in Marriott properties this year and have another six nights planned.
I’ve enjoyed lounge access, Suite Night Upgrades and bonus points as a Platinum member for the past few years. Titanium will be a nice jump too — some extra benefits include another Choice Benefit, higher upgrade priority, and a 75% points bonus. I wouldn’t go out of my way to earn this status over Platinum, but it should happen organically with my upcoming stays.
Here’s a strange one. I closed my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card in 2019 to open a different Amex credit card. The Hilton Diamond status included with the card was never removed from my Hilton account and was actually extended in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
I’ve had a handful of Hilton stays last year that rolled over to this year. Plus, I’ve already had two Hilton stays this year. This puts me just 12 stays (or 16 nights) away from requalifying under this year’s lower qualification requirements, which I should be able to make organically.
I’ve never found Hilton Diamond status overly useful, but I enjoy room upgrades and free breakfast when available. This was a huge benefit on my recent trip to Reykjavik. I spent two nights at the Hilton Reykjavik Nordica and ate the free breakfast both mornings. This helped me save a nice chunk of change since food is expensive in Iceland.
I don’t stay at Radisson Hotels often, but I have mid-tier Radisson Gold status with the Radisson Rewards Premier Visa Signature® Card. I’ve had this card for a couple of years and keep it open for status and 40,000 annual bonus Radisson Rewards points. This covers the annual fee and ensures that I have limited benefits on the off chance I stay at a Radisson. This is generally quick one-night stays in Europe or Asia.
I have no plans to close the card this year, so I’ll keep the status as well.
Possibly: Hyatt Globalist
I’ve always been tempted to earn Hyatt Globalist status. Its benefits are undoubtedly the best in the hotel loyalty space, especially when it comes to upgrades and free breakfast. At the same time, however, Hyatt’s limited footprint has typically made it hard for me to justify earning. It doesn’t have properties in some of my favorite cities, including a few I frequent in Central and Eastern Europe.
That said, Hyatt lowered Globalist qualification to just 30 nights in 2021. I have two upcoming stays at Hyatt properties and may book more later this year if it makes sense. With this in mind, I may end up earning Globalist (or a lower status tier) through normal travel. It would be beneficial, given I’m taking more domestic trips this year, but I won’t go out of my way to earn it.
The coronavirus pandemic may have shut down travel for close to a year, but it’s opened up unique hotel and airline status opportunities. I plan on taking advantage of promotions and lower elite requirements to earn higher elite status when it makes sense. Likewise, I’ll continue to earn some elite status tiers with credit cards.
That said, I won’t mileage or mattress run to earn status this year. Frankly, I don’t find the cost worth it anymore. And since we’re still making our way out of the pandemic, it doesn’t make sense to try and find cheap long-haul flights or international hotel rooms solely to earn status. Border openings (and closures) are just too unpredictable to plan a trip like that far in advance.
I’ll revisit this topic in 2022 to compare and contrast my elite status plans once international travel is (hopefully) operating near 2019 levels.
Feature photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
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