From reduced requirements to best-ever promotions: Why this is the year of easy elite status
Elite status can do wonders in the travel world. It can put you at the front of the plane, get you a more spacious room, unlock airport or hotel lounge access, provide free breakfast, help you save on fees, open up better customer service and much more. However, these lucrative perks typically come at a cost.
If you want to earn airline or hotel status, you'll usually need to spend a good chunk of time on the road and shell out serious money. To give some examples, earning entry-level status on most major U.S. airlines requires spending at least $3,000-$4,000 each year, while entry-level hotel status typically requires racking up at least 10 nights. If you want to play in the big leagues and chase top-tier status, expect to fly the equivalent of over halfway to the moon or spend at least 60 nights at hotels.
But this year is different.
Between reduced elite qualification requirements, bonus elite qualifying credit and other lucrative promotions, earning elite status this year will be easier than ever. Although some may argue that elite status has gotten less valuable over the years, now may be the best time to chase it, even if you aren't usually a road warrior.
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Elite status extensions
First things first: If you held elite status with an airline or hotel last year, chances are it has been extended through at least the end of 2021. So, even if you haven't left your house to travel in over a year, there may be an upgrade waiting for you on your next trip — no need to chase status from the beginning.
With demand picking up again, especially among leisure travelers, loyalty programs don't have much reason to extend status further. That said, I don't think the possibility is completely out of the picture.
At the end of March, Air Canada announced that it would extend elite status through 2022. It was the first — and so far only — North American airline to announce a second status extension. Although Air Canada's situation is slightly different due to Canada's stricter border restrictions, business and long-haul travel are still down significantly stateside. U.S. loyalty programs could follow suit by offering elites a partial extension.
Related: Why airlines should consider adjusting elite requirements again
Reduced elite qualification requirements
Even if U.S. programs don't extend status any further, or you're starting from scratch, it will still be much easier than usual to lock in elite status this year. That's because most airlines and hotels have adjusted their qualification requirements. For example, American Airlines reduced elite requirements by about 20% to 33%, United by roughly 25% and Delta announced a 50% to 75% status accelerator. Most hotels have slashed requirements by around 25% to 50%.
Take, for instance, Globalist status in the World of Hyatt program. It's often considered the holy grail of hotel elite status levels, unlocking perks like confirmed suite upgrades, free (full) breakfast, waived resort fees and parking fees, and much more. When fully maximized, TPG has that status level valued at nearly $5,000 per year.
Globalist status normally requires staying 60 nights at World of Hyatt properties in a calendar year. But this year, you only need 30 nights — or less when you factor in any elite night credits, you might have from the World of Hyatt Credit Card and other promotions (more on those later). Although spending 60 nights in one year with Hyatt is out of range for most people, the reduced threshold is much more attainable. Plus, it's important to remember that any status earned this year will be valid through February 2023.
Related: 6 strategies you can leverage to snag Hyatt Globalist status in 2021
Or take a look at JetBlue. You can earn Mosaic status this year with just $2,500 of spending on JetBlue flights (excluding Blue Basic fares) and 15 segments — half of what it usually takes. With airfare on the rise again, it shouldn't be hard to meet the qualifying spending requirement. And if you always choose itineraries with layovers, you can meet the segment requirement in as little as four round trips. Take two trips this summer, one over Thanksgiving and another during the winter holiday season — all with a layover in each direction — and you'll be set.
For more on 2021 elite qualification changes, see this guide.
Rollover elite credit
It's not just reduced elite qualification requirements that make earning elite status easier this year. If you checked your progress toward earning status recently, you might've noticed that you already have a head start toward qualifying, even if you haven't traveled yet this year.
Several loyalty programs — including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Hilton and IHG, to name a few — rolled over at least some elite qualifying credit earned in 2020 to 2021. Although Marriott technically didn't roll over any nights, it did deposit 50% of the elite night credits needed to earn the status held in 2020 into members’ accounts. So, you could already be well on your way to requalifying or even earning a higher status tier.
Related: 6 hotel loyalty program changes I want to see in 2021
Over the last few months, airlines and hotels have been offering extremely lucrative promotions that would have been unheard of before the pandemic. Many of these promotions included unique opportunities to fast-track elite credit.
Remember how I said you might not even need to spend 30 nights to achieve World of Hyatt Globalist status? A couple of months ago, Hyatt was running a promotion that offered double tier-qualifying nights. So, it was possible to earn the top-tier status with just 15 eligible nights during the promotion time frame — before factoring in elite night credits from the World of Hyatt Credit Card.
Related: Promotions that will make your next hotel stay more rewarding
Other programs, such as Marriott Bonvoy, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, American Airlines AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, also offered bonus elite qualifying promotions. For instance, right now, American Airlines flyers can register to earn 250 to 1,000 bonus elite qualifying miles per segment flown this summer. AAdvantage elites are also being given elite qualifying dollar boosts and are given the opportunity to buy more EQMs.
For the first time, some airlines are even allowing you to earn elite qualifying miles on award tickets. With Delta, if you redeem miles for a ticket this year (including Miles + Cash tickets), you’ll receive Medallion Qualifying Miles, Medallion Qualifying Segments and Medallion Qualifying Dollars for those flights. This is great news for those looking to cash in on all those miles you earned from home during the pandemic.
Related: Delta’s latest promo helps you earn elite status faster, includes award tickets
Cobranded credit card shortcuts
Cobranded credit cards have always been a great way to jump-start elite status. Most of these cards let you fast-track extra elite miles or night credits, while many will even give you status outright. However, over the last few months, cobranded credit cards have become even more valuable for elite status qualification.
Many cards are letting cardholders progress toward elite status through at-home spending at rates never before seen. For instance, last year, United cobranded credit cards like the United Explorer Card and United Club Infinite Card increased the number of Premier qualifying points that can be earned with credit card spending. Similarly, Delta is offering extra MQMs when you hit specific spending tiers on its premium credit cards. Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue will also let you earn status entirely through cobranded credit card spending this year. Meanwhile, American offered cobranded AAdvantage credit card holders the opportunity to progress toward lifetime Million Miler status through credit card spending. American is now also letting cardholders waive the EQD requirement up to Platinum Pro status by spending $30,000 on their card during the calendar year.
On the hotels side, World of Hyatt Credit Cardholders were able to earn three elite qualifying nights for every $5,000 spent on the card. As of last year, those who have both a consumer and small-business Marriott cobranded credit card can now earn 30 elite status nights each year just by having those credit cards with no spending requirement attached. In addition, bonus points earned on Hilton credit cards will count as base points on eligible purchases through Dec. 31.
Related: The best credit cards to jump-start elite status
Generous status match opportunities
Finally, airlines and hotels are making it easier to earn status through status matches. Status matches aren't anything new, but this year, they're much more generous than usual.
Earlier this year, Alaska Airlines offered a status match opportunity for select elites with no challenge component. Delta, Southwest and United elites were able to get automatic Alaska status valid through the end of 2021 instead of the usual 90-day trial period. This match also awarded 50% bonus elite qualifying miles on all Alaska Airlines flights flown through the end of the year. For the first time ever, Spirit also introduced a status match offer.
Related: 5 reasons I love having entry-level elite status with Alaska
But perhaps the most enticing status match opportunity currently available comes from TAP Air Portugal. The airline's Miles&Go loyalty program is currently offering to match existing status with a number of U.S. loyalty programs for a minimum of 12 months.
Instead of a traditional flying challenge, all you need to do is either sign up for Club TAP Miles&Go, which starts at $122 per year, or purchase TAP Miles&Go miles, which can potentially be done at an even lower cost. Then, if you fly four flights with the airline and earn 25,000 status miles in the program (i.e., by crediting United flights to the program), your status will be extended by a further 12 months. This is an easy way to shortcut Star Alliance Gold status and unlock benefits like lounge access, even when traveling domestically.
Hotels have also become more generous. For instance, Hilton Honors cut status challenge requirements in half for 2021. If you successfully match your status, you can get top-tier Diamond status through March 2023 with just nine nights. In normal times, this level of status requires 30 stays, 60 nights or 120,000 base points in a calendar year (which equates to $12,000 in spending).
Related: Get a full year of lounge access and other Star Alliance Gold benefits with this status match offer
Being loyal to an airline or hotel has become harder to justify over the last few years. Loyalty programs have been cutting elite benefits and making status harder to earn.
However, this all changed when the pandemic struck.
2021 has opened up a slew of unique airline and hotel status opportunities. This year, even infrequent travelers may be able to earn elite status. As travel ramps up again and lines and hold times creep up, having even entry-level status can make all the difference.
Although some of the promotions discussed today have ended, I'd expect new ones to roll out as the year progresses, so keep following along to stay up to date.