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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Matthew, who’s getting a lot more value from his flights after a status match. Here’s what he had to say:
Over the past few years, I’ve done a lot of flying between New York and the Bay Area. Until recently, most of those flights were on JetBlue between JFK and either SFO or OAK. In 2017, I spent approximately $5,000 on 13 economy flights, earning 6 points per dollar spent on my base fare, plus another 6 points per dollar spent on my JetBlue Plus Card. I also earned other bonuses along the way (like the qualification bonus for earning Mosaic status), for a total haul of approximately 100,000 TrueBlue points.
However, after Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America (and assumed Virgin’s JFK-SFO routes) in mid-2017, I saw an opportunity to get even more value out of my travels. First, I realized that flying on a long but competitive route like JFK-SFO, I’d get more out of a distance-based (rather than revenue-based) points-earning model. Alaska’s Mileage Plan program would give me approximately 5,100 miles per round-trip flight right off the bat.
Second, I saw that I could leverage Alaska’s outstanding status match program. After earning Mosaic status on JetBlue and requesting a match, Alaska awarded me MVP Gold 75K status due to the mileage I had flown in 2017. In addition to more in-flight perks (such as complimentary upgrades to premium economy and first class), this would also provide me a 125% bonus on all base earnings. Make that 11,600 miles per round-trip flight!
Finally, I’ve been able to earn an additional 3 miles per dollar by using my Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Card. With an average $325 round-trip fare, that brings my haul up to approximately 12,600 points per round-trip flight. I also earned 30,000 points and a $100 statement credit when I completed the minimum spend requirement.
Over my past three round-trip flights between NYC and the Bay Area, I’ve earned approximately 36,500 miles while spending about $800. Based on TPG’s valuation of 1.9 cents for Mileage Plan miles, I’ve earned back nearly the full value of my flight purchases. I’ve also enjoyed one complimentary first class upgrade on an Alaska flight from EWR to SJC, and five complimentary upgrades to Virgin America Main Cabin Select on flights between JFK and SFO. While it has yet to play out over the full year, I’m happy with my new strategy.
Last year I decided to jump off the hamster wheel of airline status, because I wasn’t satisfied with the value and experience I got from American Airlines as an Executive Platinum member. I’m happy with that decision, but Matthew’s story is a good reminder that airline status has a lot of upside. Even aside from upgrades and other perks, switching to Alaska allowed him to earn more valuable miles (and in much greater quantities) than he could with JetBlue, and thanks to the status match, his move began paying off immediately. I still think most flyers are better off favoring price and schedule over loyalty, but you should keep an eye out for ways to make your flights more rewarding.
Getting an airline credit card is an easy shortcut to perks like free checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases. Many of those benefits are redundant when you already have status, but some cards also offer elite miles to help you qualify (or re-qualify). On the other hand, those cards might not be your best option for purchases, even from the airline itself. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card earns 3 miles per dollar (better than most co-branded airline cards), but I’d rather earn 5 points per dollar with the Platinum Card from American Express or 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Those cards have much higher annual fees, so it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but the higher return adds up quickly if you spend a lot on airfare.
I love this story and I want to hear more like it! To thank Matthew for sharing his experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending him a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to email@example.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.
Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!
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