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Muddling through with mid-level elite status and my loyalty strategy for 2020

Dec. 19, 2019
8 min read
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With 2019 drawing to a close, it's time to reflect on elite qualifications for the year, and to potentially secure elite status for next year.

Unfortunately my years of top-tier elite status appear to be coming to a sad end. New qualification requirements have priced me out of the top tiers of most programs. There was a point when I had high-level status in 4 airlines and 3 hotel chains, but those days seem like distant memories now.

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After years of being an American Airlines Executive Platinum, I won't be able to re-qualify this year. I did use my EP status on American to do a status match to Delta Platinum, but I doubt I'll be able to swing Diamond next year. On the hotel front, I lost my top tier Hyatt status back in early 2018. All I can say is thank goodness for The Platinum Card® from American Express which gives me some status in several hotel programs as I won't reach top tier in any hotel programs for 2020. The full breakdown is below.

American Airlines 777-300 interior showing business class in Dallas, TX from October 2019. Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

American Airlines Platinum Pro

When American Airlines decided to increase spending requirements and make spending on the Barclays Aviator silver card less productive, I realized I wasn't going to be able to get to AA EP. AA instituted a new spend requirement of $15,000 for 2019. Then we learned spending 50 grand on the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard would only erase $3,000 of that $15,000 in required spend. (Last year I was able to get $6,000 in spend and the EP requirement was only $12,000.) So that would have meant spending at least $12,000 on AA tickets to get me there. That's just too rich for my blood. I did, however, fly enough to make it to Platinum Pro. I'll end the year with $9,424 in spend (with $3,000 courtesy spend on my Silver Mastercard), and 86,144 EQMs. So I will have Platinum Pro for 2020, but sadly no more Systemwide upgrade certs.

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

Clint Henderson 2019 AA earnings.
American Airlines Boeing 777-300 in Dallas, TX October 2019. Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

Delta Platinum

One of my decisions when I realized I wouldn't be able to get to Executive Platinum on AA for 2020 was to do a status challenge to Delta Platinum. I wrote a longer post about that process, but I essentially decided if I was only going to make it to mid-tier on any airline, it might as well be on a new one that seemed a little more customer friendly. Over the summer, I signed up for a Delta Air Lines status challenge.

I ended up earning 32,309 MQMs and spent about $3,387 for 2019 - successfully completing the challenge and earning Delta Platinum for 2020. This is likely to be my focus for next year as well.

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Clint Henderson's 2019 earnings on Delta.
Clint Henderson's 2019 earnings on Delta.

Hilton Honors Gold

One of the great benefits of holding the American Express Platinum card is that it gives you automatic Gold status in several elite programs including Hilton. That's how I got and keep my gold status with Hilton.You get bonus points, free water, occasional room upgrades and free breakfast. TPG values it at more than $1,200 so it's not a bad deal. I enjoyed the Hilton Colon Quito this year, and they gave me free lounge access just for being a Gold member.

Related: What is Hilton elite status worth?

I'm also thinking about picking up The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. It comes with Hilton Diamond status for as long as you have the card. While the card has a big annual fee of $450 (see rates and fees), there are other valuable inclusions like an up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit, up to $250 yearly airline credit and a free weekend night when you open the account and each year on your card anniversary.

The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex 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.

Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you

I don’t stay at many Hiltons, but I might if I end up with Diamond status.

IHG Platinum

Like my other hotel status, I have Platinum status with IHG Rewards club by virtue of holding their hotel branded card - the IHG Rewards Club Select card (no longer open to new applicants). It includes some nice features — a fourth night free on award stays, better bonus categories and so on, but best of all it gives you Platinum status and a free night award to use at any hotel in the system. I used mine this year in Singapore.

The new version of the card is the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card which also gets you Platinum status, but the annual free night award is capped at properties costing 40,000 points or less a night. Keep in mind the annual fee is $89.

Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite

Like Hilton status, Marriott Bonvoy Gold status comes courtesy the American Express Platinum card. I will end up qualifying naturally for next year by staying 25 nights at Marriotts this year, but going into the year with automatic Gold status was helpful.

Gold Elite is the second status tier in the program. It comes with several benefits. Perks include:

  • Complimentary enhanced internet
  • Ultimate Reservation Guarantee
  • 25% points bonus
  • Priority late checkout (2pm, subject to availability)
  • Welcome gift (points)
  • Upgrades to enhanced rooms
Clint Henderson Marriott Bonvoy status for 2019.
Clint Henderson Marriott Bonvoy status for 2019.

World of Hyatt Discoverist

The status I miss most is being top tier in the Hyatt program "Globalist." I was a Hyatt Diamond back under the old program, and Hyatt threw me a bone when they launched the new program in 2017. Hyatt gave me a soft-landing to Explorist last year. This year, I was in the lowest tier "Discoverist," only by nature of my Chase World of Hyatt Credit Card. Sadly I cancelled that card this year to save myself $95. In hindsight, that was probably a mistake.

There are a few perks for Discoverist including late checkout, free water and preferred rooms when available. TPG values Hyatt Discoverist at about $150-- better than nothing.

Related: What is World of Hyatt elite status worth?

Clint Henderson Hyatt status check for 2019.
Clint Henderson Hyatt status check for 2019.

My 2020 status plan

So I'm at a bit of crossroads when it comes to my own future chasing status. I will likely push for status with Delta, but I'm strongly considering ditching chasing airlines status altogether and focus on earning Hyatt Globalist status like several of my colleagues. I'm honestly feeling a little sad about saying goodbye to EP status on AA, but I'm sure I'll get over it by the time I've burned through all my many remaining AA miles.

Overall, I'm really wondering whether chasing status is worth it; more on that as the year progresses.

My colleague, TPG travel analyst Zach Griff had a lot more luck this year this year than I had. Take a look at his 2019 recap and 2020 plans here.

For the rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, please click here.

Featured image by American Airlines Boeing 777-300 in Dallas, TX October 2019.
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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