How and why I’m going to earn higher elite status in 2021 than in recent years
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Like probably many of you, I started 2021 not traveling, not caring much about frequent flyer elite status and unsure where the year would take us. In mid-January, amidst a COVID-19 spike, we got back down to under 500,000 travelers flying in the U.S. each day — a far cry from the more than 2 million daily flyers we just hit again in June 2021.
Now, halfway through the year, things are even better than we could have probably hoped for in January. Effective vaccines are wildly available to those 12 and up in the U.S., domestic leisure travel has virtually fully rebounded and even international borders are starting to reopen at a steady rate.
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My first flight of 2021 didn’t come until March, but the pace has really increased since then to almost pre-pandemic levels. Which is to say, I’m again traveling a lot. This has resulted in what will perhaps be my most successful year when it comes to airline and hotel elite status in a long time.
The convergence of great elite promos at the start of the year, the extra head-start airline and hotel loyalty programs gave when 2021 began far from normal and my own rapid return to the sky and road is leading to earning status levels that have been out of reach in recent years.
Here’s how and why I’m going to probably earn higher elite status levels in 2021, than I have in many years.
First things first, the biggest reason why I’m now going for — or have already earned — United Premier Platinum, Hyatt Globalist and Marriott Platinum status is reduced earning requirements in these programs.
The year did not start off very promising amidst the worst COVID-19 spike some parts of the country ever experienced. To compensate for the lack of travel happening at that moment, most major loyalty programs not only extended status levels into 2022, but also slashed the requirements to earn status in 2021.
For example, the World of Hyatt program cut its elite status requirements in half for 2021. That meant that earning valuable top-tier Hyatt Globalist status, which confers breakfast, suite upgrades and more, only required 30 nights instead of the usual 60 nights this year.
United reduced its requirements to earn elite status by about 25% in 2021. American Airlines also reduced requirements from what was required for elite status before the pandemic, along with counting the last three months of 2020 flying towards 2021 totals.
Hilton also cut its status requirements in half, meaning top-tier Diamond status can be unlocked with 15 stays or 30 nights. On top of that, the program rolled over elite nights earned by guests in 2020 to count towards 2021 status.
Marriott didn’t technically adjust the status earning requirements, but it essentially did when it gave all its members who had elite status in 2020 50% of those required nights towards that status level in 2021. In other words, if you had Marriott Bonvoy Platinum status which requires 50 nights per year in 2020, the program gave you 50% of that — aka 25 nights — to start off 2021.
Promos, promos, promos
While some programs went the route of slashing status requirements, others, like Delta, have leaned into promos to keep the elite status ranks stacked.
But then there are those programs that did both qualification reductions and promos.
To kick off 2021, the World of Hyatt not only offered reduced elite status requirements but ran a double elite status promo where each night you spent counted double. If you did all your stays in that timeframe, just 15 nights would unlock Globalist instead of the usual 60 required in a normal year. We haven’t seen the double elite credit offer from Hyatt since February.
Marriot also ran a double elite night promo on paid stays of two nights or more through late April.
Having noticed that its frequent flyers weren’t on pace to requalify at the rates it had hoped, United recently released a ‘Pick your path’ promotion where current elite members could select from three different ways to earn either redeemable or elite qualifying points faster on summer travel.
On the hotel side of things, the elite status promos have slowed down a bit over the summer, but it is always possible the traditionally slower fall season may lead them to resurface. With business travel still more depressed than leisure travel, airlines have recently a bit more aggressive than hotels with elite status promotions.
Credit card headstart
Even in a normal year, certain travel credit cards can give you a running headstart towards hotel or airline elite status. In fact, some credit cards provide elite status outright just by having the card.
But what’s unique about this year is that while the headstarts that are awarded in nights or elite qualifying miles are the same as always, they are having an outsized impact in light of the reduced qualifications.
For example, the World of Hyatt Credit Card provides five nights toward elite status each year just by having the card. When Hyatt Globalist status requires 60 nights in a year, that’s just a small step forward in pursuit of top-tier status. However, when Globalist status is attainable with just 30 nights, five is a bigger step forward.
The impact is even greater with Marriott. There, Platinum status still requires 50 nights, but those who had it last year were given 25 nights as a head-start. Add to that the 15 nights you get by having a Marriott co-branded card, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card, and you start just 10 nights away from requalifying for Platinum status. And in fact, you can actually earn up to 30 nights toward status if you have the right combo of two Marriott credit cards.
Pent up travel demand
And then there’s the current travel binge.
Some families, like mine, are sitting on canceled flight vouchers, redeposited points and delayed travel dreams leftover from 2020. And we’ve all learned that there’s no time like the present to turn a travel dream into a travel memory.
So, on top of the promos and headstarts, there’s lots of actual travel happening this summer.
For example, we aren’t going to see one side of the family or the other this summer. We’re seeing both. We aren’t choosing between the beach, mountains or a theme park, we’re doing all three.
We are using up flight vouchers, redeposited points and some cash that wasn’t spent in all the usual ways last year, and doubling down on travel this summer. The grandparents in our family are now all in their 70s, so we aren’t (again) waiting ‘for next year’ for a trip we can make happen now.
How this is all giving me higher elite status
For me, together, this all intersects in a way that I’m on track to have more elite status by the end of 2021, assuming no new catastrophes.
Hyatt Globalist status
I earned Hyatt Globalist status in 2021 through a combination of the 50% reduced requirements, affordable stays done early in the year via the double elite night promotion and having the World of Hyatt credit card. I’m sitting at close to 40 nights now, but am likely to hit between 50 – 60 nights before the year ends based on a combination of travel and spending on the Hyatt credit card.
While Globalist status is already in the bag, I actually enjoy staying at Hyatt properties and Hyatt Milestone Rewards are awarded at 40, 50 and 60 nights, so there are more Hyatt stays to come for me in 2021.
I hadn’t been a Hyatt Globalist in several years, so I’m thrilled to again reap the perks of free breakfast, potential suite upgrades and some waived parking and resort fees. This has already proved immensely valuable on stays this year at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek and the Andaz Mayakoba in Mexico.
Marriott Platinum status
Thanks to the Marriott credit card headstart and the 25-night bonus provided by Marriott thanks to being a Platinum member last year, I was at 40 of 50 needed nights to requalify without doing anything in 2021. I’ve since had eight real nights spent at a Marriott (including at the new Cloudveil in Wyoming and the ski-out Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch), putting me at 48 nights earned with another 10 nights or so already penciled in for 2021.
United Platinum status
While I was a top-tier United 1K years ago before having our second child, I’ve spent the last several years as a mid-tier United Gold elite … and even that has been a struggle to maintain at times.
However, the reduced requirements to earn status, the lucrative promotions and some increased spending on my United credit card (thanks to charging taxes and some significant home building expenses) has opened up a potential pathway to higher tier Platinum status. That’s still not 1K status, but second-tier Platinum status comes with some better-than-Gold perks.
This includes earning PlusPoints that can be used for confirmed first class upgrades and the ability to confirm up to eight travelers into Economy Plus extra legroom seats at the time of booking. That’s really handy for me when traveling with the family since Gold status only conveys the ability to book two people in Economy Plus at no extra charge.
Halfway through the year, and I’m sitting at 5,830 United Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) in my account. You need as few as 6,000 to unlock Gold status, assuming you hit the flight segment requirement. That status will be easily earned within the next couple of weeks with travel already booked.
United Platinum status is a big jump up from there with the need for 9,000 PQPs and 24 flight segments by the end of the year (or 10,000 PQPs without the flight segment requirement). It’ll be a slower climb from 6,000 to 9,000 assuming elite promos don’t continue at the previous rate, but with half a year left and a lot of travel on the books, it could very well happen this year. That would be the first time I’ve had more than United Gold status in at least five or six years.
I didn’t set out to earn more elite status in 2021. But, as soon as it was safe enough to do so, I did set out to make up for lost time and take those trips that got shelved. Along the way, the promotions and headstarts provided by airlines, hotels and credit cards turned this into a boom year for those who like to chase and use elite status travel perks.
Unless something dramatic happens, it’s very likely I’ll end 2021 higher on the elite food chain than I’ve been in many, many years. That sets 2022 up to be an extremely rewarding travel year when more of those delayed travel dreams and ‘one day’ trips become realities.
Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.
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