How The Points Guy earns his elite status

Nov 25, 2019

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Better seats, bigger rooms, shorter lines, more-attentive service, fewer fees, more flexibility and freebies. The allure of elite status in the travel world is strong. And for good reason — most of the things you probably dislike the most about the travel process are eliminated, or at least mitigated, with the right elite status levels.

Here at The Points Guy, we talk a lot about earning and retaining elite status, but it’s been a while since we checked in with the original TPG, Brian Kelly, about the elite status that makes his travel life easier — and more importantly, how he earns that status.

Here’s a look at TPG’s airline and hotel status totals for this year and what’s on the horizon for next year.

In This Post

American Airlines: Executive Platinum

Miles flown: 98,106 Elite Qualifying Miles flown (100,000 required)

Dollars spent: 23,302 Elite Qualifying Dollars spent ($15,000 required)

End of year target: Will re-qualify for Executive Platinum

How he did it: This top-tier airline elite status was earned the old-fashioned way by flying on paid American Airlines fares for a mix of work and leisure. There were plenty of flights from New York to the TPG parent company’s headquarters outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, out to Miami for the weekend, across the country to Los Angeles and across the pond to visit TPG UK. That doesn’t even count heading down to South America for filming video in Brazil and Colombia. By the end of the year, Brian will be comfortably above the 100,000-mile threshold needed to qualify.

Why it matters: TPG values Executive Platinum status at around $7,000 because of all the perks. There are unlimited, complimentary upgrades on short- and medium-haul flights (including award tickets) with a high priority on the upgrade list. Exec Plats also avoid paying most fees and get four annual systemwide upgrades (SWUs), which you can use for those fancy lie-flat seats on international flights, assuming you can find availability.

Related: Every American Airlines business class seat ranked best to worst

American Airlines Business Class on Boeing 777-300ER. Photo by Nicky Kelvin.
Business class on American Airlines’777-300ER. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

2020 goal: Brian has some shifting airline priorities for 2020, in part due to Newark (EWR) being more convenient from the new TPG HQ in the Flatiron area of Manhattan than JFK, which has been taking upwards of 90 minutes to reach (one can’t always arrive by Blade). Time will tell what that will mean for his American Airlines status beyond 2020, but he’s still likely to be found on some American-operated flights down to Miami and he’s a sucker for a 787 out to California.

Delta Air Lines: Platinum Medallion

How he did it: The Amex Centurion Card (you know, the fancy “Black Card”) comes with automatic Delta Platinum status. However, even if you don’t have the Amex Centurion Card, you can earn elite qualifying miles to get you closer to Delta status with both the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, along with their business credit card counterparts.

Why it matters: Delta Platinum status is the second-highest status tier at Delta, behind only Delta Diamond, and TPG values it at a little under $4,000 per year. Delta Platinum status will get you some complimentary upgrades, priority waitlisting of flights, waived award-reissue fees, bonus miles, priority check-in and boarding, your pick of Choice Benefits and more.

2020 goal: This one’s easy: He’ll retain Delta Platinum status by holding onto the Amex Centurion Card. (He’ll also get all these other new card perks, too.)

Delta business class from LAX to JFK (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Delta business class from LAX to JFK. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

United MileagePlus: Silver

How he did it: Brian’s low-level United Silver status came via the partnership between Marriott and United. His top-tier status with Marriott gives him Silver status with United.

Why it matters: Low-level status with any airline, including United, isn’t life-changing. However, it does have value and did give him access to additional saver award availability, a higher boarding position, waived checked bag fees and free extra legroom seats, if available, at 24 hours out (which is roughly when many of his United flights were booked). Technically, United Silver elites are also eligible for space-available upgrades. TPG values United Silver status at just under $1,000.

2020 goal: I see lots of Polaris in Brian’s future. He’s a fan of United’s Polaris business class product (especially the pillows and blankets), and Newark is a convenient airport from the new TPG HQ. The fact that Newark now has Clear doesn’t hurt, either.

He is setting his 2020 sights on top-tier United 1K status with its confirmable upgrades, freedom from most fees, extra legroom seats and more. While he mainly flew United using miles in 2019 (since they transfer instantly from Ultimate Rewards and cards such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve), that likely won’t be the case next year. He’s going to coordinate necessary travel with the airline’s new dollars-focused frequent flyer program. Next year, United 1K status will require $18,000 to $24,000 of spending, depending on how many United flights you have in the mix. Based on his AA spending totals from this year, he could pull that off by shifting travel from American to United.

Polaris business class on United's "high-J" 767-300ER. Photo by Zach Honig / The Points Guy.
Polaris business class on United’s “high-J” 767-300ER. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy)

JetBlue: Mosaic status

How he did it: Flying across the country a few times in Mint Suites. If you want Mosaic status without all the Mint flights, you can earn it via spending $50,000 in a calendar year on a JetBlue credit card.

Why it matters: JetBlue Mosaic status means no change or cancellation fees (as long as you aren’t on these new fares), which helps when your plans shift at the last minute. You also get 15,000 bonus TrueBlue points when you qualify for status, along with a few other perks (though you don’t get the bonus points if you earn Mosaic by spending on the credit card).

2020 goal: There’s really no better way to cross the country than in a JetBlue Mint suite, and odds are high that Brian’s not giving up that luxury anytime soon. (Though when United is flying a 787-10 out to California, JetBlue may have some competition due to his push for 1K.)

Lunch a la Mint. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

Alaska Airlines: MVP

How he did it: A single paid British Airways First Class flight credited to Alaska’s Mileage Plan was enough to unlock Alaska’s entry-level elite status level since the airline awards up to 200% of miles flown, plus another 200% bonus depending on the type of BA First Class fare booked.

Why it matters: You might be surprised by how much this lower-level Alaska status matters. Alaska MVP status gets you some reduced fees, faster mileage earning rates, better seats and an outside shot at an upgrade. But, that’s not the best part in this case. When it makes sense to purchase miles instead of paying cash for flights, buying miles is a trick in TPG’s playbook. (And mine, for that matter.) With Alaska, you’re capped at purchasing 150k miles per year, unless you’re an elite. Alaska elites can purchase miles to their hearts’ content free of caps.

2020 goal: Brian will likely find a way to credit a flight to Alaska to hold onto this status and the ability to buy as many miles as he needs. There’s certainly no such thing as too many Alaska Airlines miles since they’re so valuable on partners such as Cathay and Emirates.

Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy
Cathay Pacific first class. (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

Hilton Honors: Diamond

How he did it: The Amex Centurion Card card provided Brian his automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status. But, you don’t have to hope for an invitation for that fancy a credit card to get Hilton Diamond status for yourself. The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express costs just a fraction of the annual fee for an Amex Centurion card and will give you the very same Hilton Diamond status.

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.

Why it matters: Hilton Diamond status may not be quite as good as top-tier Marriott or Hyatt status, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to earn. Diamond status unlocks space-available upgrades, lounge access, breakfast benefits, bonus points and a fifth award night free, just in case Brian actually stayed somewhere for five nights … which is rare. (Maybe the new Waldorf Astoria in the Maldives could do the trick.)

(Photo courtesy of Waldorf Astoria)
(Photo courtesy of Waldorf Astoria)

2020 goal: Hilton Diamond status is easy to get with the Centurion Card, or even a card like the Hilton Aspire, so it’s staying in his lineup.

Marriott Bonvoy: Ambassador, but may drop to Titanium

Nights spent: 103 nights (100 required)

Dollars spent: $15,272 spent ($20,000 required)

How he did it: From work travel to North Carolina to more exotic stays, such as at the new St. Regis Venice and one of his all-time favorite Marriott hotels in Medellin, Brian racks up lots of Marriott nights. It helps that award stays count toward status and that the cobranded Marriott credit cards give you 15 elite nights per year, but Brian has plenty of paid Marriott travel, too.

BK at the St. Regis Venice (Photo by Sergey Usik for The Points Guy)
The Points Guy at the St. Regis Venice. (Photo by Sergey Usik for The Points Guy)

But, outside of a last-minute end-of-year big trip or two (which isn’t ruled out), Brian may drop to Lifetime Titanium, since he’s coming in a few thousand dollars shy of the Ambassador spending requirement.

Why it matters: If he doesn’t requalify at the Ambassador level, he may lose his personal Marriott Ambassador and the Your24 benefit that lets Ambassadors choose their check-in and checkout times to use the room up to a full 24 hours. But he’ll still have plenty of perks, including Suite Night Awards, space-available upgrades, bonus points, breakfast benefits, lounge access and the previously mentioned United Silver status.

2020 goal: If he doesn’t hit Ambassador level again by the end of 2019, then he’ll land at Lifetime Titanium, which isn’t too shabby. For 2020, he wouldn’t fall below that level thanks to his business with the brand over the past decade.

World of Hyatt: Explorist

How he did it: Status matches make the world of elite status go round, and it was a status match that allowed Brian to score Hyatt’s mid-tier Explorist level status.

Why it matters: Hyatt Explorist status doesn’t matter a ton these days, with lounge access certificates tied to nights spent, not a particular status level. But Explorist status can be helpful if you’re heading to Vegas and want to continue the status match dominoes with M life. It should also help keep you out of the worst rooms, and gets you some bonus points, plus a 2 p.m. late check-out.

2020 goal: Without a credit card that easily unlocks status with Hyatt (outside of significant spending), Hyatt elite status is not currently on Brian’s road map for 2020. However, as an American Airlines elite, he should keep an eye open for a fast-track to Hyatt Globalist offer as those are floating around. If he gets the urge to shift to Hyatt, he could also charge his way to Globalist status on the World of Hyatt Credit Card

The Park Hyatt St. Kitts. (Photo via The Points Guy)
The Park Hyatt St. Kitts. (Photo via The Points Guy)

Hertz: Platinum

How he did it: Once again, it’s the Amex Centurion Card to the rescue here, as it confers Hertz Platinum status. However, you can create your own Hertz status with much more down-to-earth cards and programs. For example, Delta and United elites can get Five Star or President’s Circle Hertz status. Even The Platinum Card® from American Express can get you Hertz status. Enrollment required.

Why it matters: Hertz Platinum status is cool. You not only get upgrades at the time of rental, but there’s also courtesy pickup and delivery of cars, and free child seats in case the Points Pup has a little competition at some point.

2020 goal: This status is safe as long as the Amex Centurion Card is in play.

Bottom line

Between business requirements and leisure travel, The Points Guy himself has lots of spending and paid travel expenses to leverage into elite status. However, he loves this game as much as the rest of us, so some of his status is thanks to matches, strategic crediting of flights and holding the right credit cards. TPG: he’s just like the rest of us — except with a Black Card… and probably a lot more points.

Featured image by Ileana Ravasio/Attimi Photography for The Points Guy.

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