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I posted some on elite status last year, and even spoke on the topic at the Chicago Seminars in October. Elite status isn’t for everyone (and isn’t even necessary if you only travel a couple of times per year), but timing is everything when deciding whether or not elite status is a goal for your family. For example, if you decided in October that you wanted to go for elite status, then unless you were already very close to getting it anyway, it isn’t necessarily a good time to start pushing for it since it is based on a calendar year.
However the timing is now perfect since it is the start of a calendar year, and you have almost a full 365 days to earn the status you are after. Everyone’s situation is different, but here are a few things to keep in mind to help decide if pushing for elite status is right for you and your family.
Do you travel enough to both get reasonably close to elite status anyway, and reap the rewards of elite status?
There is no magic cut-off, but for example if it takes 25 elite qualifying stays to get the hotel elite status you want (such as Hyatt Diamond status) and you probably only have about 5 elite qualifying stays in a calendar year with a given chain, then it likely does not make sense to try and get the other 20 stays. Not only will that cost too much out of pocket, but you probably won’t get a ton of value out of having the status if you will continue to only have about 5 stays per year in the future. However, if you have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 stays per year, then it may very well make sense to consider pushing to get to 25, especially if you are able to obtain the needed stays relatively easily and cheaply.
This is true with airline elite status as you need to look at the trips you already have on the books for 2013, estimate the trips still to come, and see how far off from elite status you are. If the status you want requires 50,000 elite qualifying miles per year, and you are already sitting at somewhere close to 40,000 then it may make sense. However, if you only forsee about 10-15K elite qualifying miles for the year, then it probably does not make sense to get to the 50,000 mile level.
Would you be closer to elite status if you consolidated your travel to fewer hotel chains and airlines?
Some folks travel enough they could earn elite status, but they utilize so many different hotels and airlines that they are spread too thin to earn any meaningful status with any one company. However, if it is reasonable to focus your paid stays on fewer companies, then elite status may be within reach. For example, it takes an awful lot to get to me not book at a Hyatt since I barely hit the 25 paid stays in a year to keep my Diamond status as it is. I would personally pay a little bit more, or stay a little bit out of the way, to have my stay go toward Hyatt instead of another company (though I do give some stays to Starwood as it is my secondary program). Sometimes you can’t always do this due to work restrictions, logistics, price differences, etc. but it can really help to consolidate your focus when possible.
Would it be feasible to purchase your airline tickets and use miles for other members of the family?
One of the things we did when I first decided to try to get status again with United was to stop using miles for some of my airline tickets, and purchase my tickets so that the miles I flew were elite qualifying. This isn’t always possible if you are going on a premium cabin or expensive international trip (or just otherwise can’t afford to purchase the ticket with cash), but for some of those trips that are kind of on the line of whether you would want to use miles or purchase the ticket anyway, it can be a good strategy to purchase your ticket and save the miles for the other family members who aren’t pushing for elite status. This works because only one person in the family really needs status for all to benefit. This is true for both hotels and airlines, though exactly how those benefits will translate to others traveling on the same trip does vary some from company to company.
Which elite status would be valuable to your and your family?
This requires you to really look at the different benefits offered by the hotels or airlines that you would consider having elite status with. Some companies are more generous than others with the benefits offered, especially if you are looking at a mid or lower tier elite status. For example, if you are trying to choose between mid-tier Gold status on United or mid-tier Platinum status American Airlines (both requiring 50,000 elite qualifying miles in a calendar year), you would want to take into consideration that Gold status on United awards 50% bonus redeemable miles, preferred (extra legroom) seating to the elite traveler plus one companion, and does not charge for same day flight changes. However, Platinum status on American offers 100% bonus redeemable miles, preferred seating for up to 9 people on the reservation (though this is not the same as extra legroom seats), but does have a $75 fee for same day flight changes. So, you need to look at what benefits are most important to you among the carriers you have to select from, and then make the decision as to which carrier to focus on. It wouldn’t matter to me if American Airlines handed out a free pony on every flight for elite status members because I live at a United hub, and want non-stop flights whenever possible.
A very useful resource in comparing elite status benefits for different tiers for airlines can be found on Hack My Trip.
You should do the same exercise with hotel elite status benefits. One of the reasons that I give preference to Hyatt is top tier status provides full breakfast to all registered members of the room, not just a continental breakfast that is limited to two guests. I need to feed my whole family (and we don’t usually love just a muffin and juice on vacation), so this meets our needs better.
Can you get most of the benefits you want just by having a co-branded credit card?
If you are considering just pushing for a low or even medium tier status, I highly recommend considering whether simply having a co-branded credit card would get you most of the benefits you are after. It can be a much cheaper and easier alternative to pushing for elite status. Most airline co-branded cards will offer priority boarding, free checked bags, and even a couple lounge passes, which isn’t tremendously different than low tier elite status with some carriers (since you very rarely actually get complimentary first class upgrades with low tier elite status). Many hotels now even award mid-tier elite status simply by having their credit card. A perfect example of this is the Citi Hilton HHonor Reserve Card which gives you HHonors Gold (mid tier) status. This is good enough for breakfast for two, possible club access, free internet, etc. Without the card it would ordinarily take either 40 nights or 20 stays in a calendar year to attain Gold status, so clearly getting the card is an easier path.
Some co-branded cards can also help you achieve elite status faster. For example, if you have the SPG Amex or SPG Business Amex then you automatically get 2 stays and 5 nights toward elite status annually. If you have both cards, you get 4 stays and 10 nights toward elite status each year. Couple that with the fact that award nights count toward elite status with SPG, and it makes their top tier Platinum status more realistic for some families.
If you do want to go for status, consider mattress runs and/or mileage runs to help get you there.
If you have made the decision that elite status is realistic and attainable for you, then do the math to determine if some mattress runs or mileage runs are needed to help get you to the status you desire. These are flights or hotel stays done almost entirely for the purpose of qualifying for elite status. I will say upfront and in big words that MILEAGE RUNS ARE HARD ON FAMILIES. It is very hard, especially on a a young family, to have a parent gone purely for the purpose of earning elite qualifying miles. Not only is it hard while that person is gone, but then they return a little tired from the trip, and that is hard as well. I have now done a couple quasi-mileage runs and they all took a toll on me and my family. If you are going to do them, space them out and don’t bunch them all together. It helps to make that decision now so you can jump on good fares if/when they are available throughout the year. I recommend keeping an eye on the Mileage Run forum on Flyertalk and follow @theflightdeal and @airfarewatchdog on Twitter. While you are at it, feel free go ahead and follow @Mommy_Points as well. 😉
Assuming you have some affordable hotel options near you, then “mattress runs” aren’t typically as hard on families since you just need to be able to check-in, and don’t really have to spend the whole night there. Even though it is easier than a mileage run, I do always feel terrible wasting money on a hotel stay I don’t need. I know that in my case the benefits earned way outweigh what I am spending on a handful of un-needed stays, but it still always feels very silly. If you want a little more info on qualifying for hotel elite status on stays vs. nights then check out this post.
Having hotel and airline elite status has made my family’s travel smoother, more comfortable, and a little less stressful. If it could be attainable for your family with a little extra investment or strategy then I recommend giving it a good long thought. On the other hand, keep in mind elite status really isn’t necessary or attainable for everyone, so don’t feel bad at all if it isn’t in your family’s immediate future.
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