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The year is now half-way over, and if you travel with some regularity, that means it is a good time to check on your progression toward qualifying or re-qualifying for elite status in the various loyalty programs that matter to you. I’ve written some about elite status before, but in case you are new to the concept, for me elite status isn’t about any sort of inflated ego that comes from being Platinum/Diamond/Gold/Zinc Oxide with a program (if there is such a thing). It is about the very tangible benefits and rewards that you can get as a result of that status. I have had some low- or mid-tier status with various hotel and airline programs off and on for the last ten years, but I didn’t get really serious about elite status until recently. That change was partly due to status becoming more attainable as my travel patterns increased, and in part because I have seen what tremendous value elite status can have for a traveling family. Often, you don’t just have one person in the family benefiting from elite status, you have several. That makes the benefits all that much more valuable.
If you are only going to take one or two trips a year, and those trips are primarily on points, then elite status isn’t something to give a second thought about (and there is nothing at all wrong with that travel pattern!). It probably isn’t attainable with just one or two trips per year (other than through credit cards or special promos), nor are the benefits really worth it if you are only going to get to use them a couple times a year. However, if your family is like mine and you find yourself on the road for work, pleasure, or both on a pretty consistent basis, then you very much should be tracking your progress toward elite status.
Part of tracking isn’t just looking to see where you stand, but strategizing based on the upcoming trips that you will definitely, or even just possibly, have. If you have ten trips a year and want to go for some type of elite status, it doesn’t really make sense to spread those ten trips across three or four different hotel chains and airlines. Depending on the length of each trip, that could be enough for some decent status with a family of hotels, but only if the stays are concentrated within that one brand. Where that gets complicated is when either that brand isn’t consistently available where you travel (in which case, you may be better served by considering a different family of hotels), is significantly more expensive than other options, or when their is a better bonus available with a different chain. A great example of that is the Club Carlson promotion many of us have been involved with this summer. It is hard to exclusively stay with your preferred chain when you can stay one night with Club Carlson and get enough bonus points for a free night from that one stay. My point in saying that is to acknowledge that even if you are after elite status, sometimes there are very valid reasons to leave your chain of choice and stay elsewhere. Similar issues arise with flight schedules, airfare prices, and airline bonuses which can make sticking with one airline alliance difficult or unwise at times as well.
That being said, when you can concentrate on one airline alliance or one family of hotels, the payoff is often worth it. This year I am focusing on United, Hyatt, and Starwood. I will give an update on each one individually, as well as discuss why I am going for status in that program. My hope is this will give you some insight into why I find elite status to be “worth it” for my family, and help you decide if it is realistic or beneficial for your family as well.
I was gifted Hyatt Diamond status last year as part of Star MegaDo 3, and I have received a tremendous value from the four annual confirmed suite upgrades, the 30% point bonus, the food/beverage amenity or 1,000 point bonus on every stay, Regency Club access, and free breakfast for my family. I know that just on my most recent New York trip where I visited the Grand Hyatt and Hyatt 48 Lex, I received about $100 a night in value from my Diamond status, and that was with just me traveling. Had my family been with me, that number would have increased to close to $200 a night.
My husband has actually already re-qualified for Hyatt Diamond for next year due to a busy work travel schedule, but I am not content to have him be the only one with this status since I take so many trips by myself or just with my daughter to Hyatt hotels. Even if I end up having to do a few “mattress runs” toward the end of the year (meaning I check-in to the hotel solely or at least primarily for the stay credit and points), I plan to do what it takes to re-qualify with Hyatt. It’s hard to give an accurate estimate of the value I will receive from my Diamond status for the entire year, but based on the additional points, the food and drinks from the free breakfast and the Regency Club, free internet, the suites, and the additional points I receive, the value is certainly over $1,000. Possibly well over that amount when you consider that it is often my whole family that is enjoying the food and beverages, which can often be pricey on vacations. The luxury of having extra space on our vacations is something I do not take for granted.
As of 7/1 I have completed 12 of 25 required stays to re-qualify for Hyatt Diamond (top tier) status. I am just under half-way to re-qualfiying with six months to go in the year, so I am feeling pretty confident that I will re-qualify for Diamond status for 2013.
I have had Starwood Gold status (mid-tier) for a couple of years, but have never had Platinum (top tier) status with Starwood. However I do want to try it out in the near future. At the beginning of the year this goal seemed attainable since I had pretty consistent SPG stays for my day job, and award nights counted toward status as well. Starwood revamped their loyalty program benefits a few months ago, and Platinum status now includes a free breakfast benefit, though it is not as generous as Hyatt’s free breakfast. This makes the Platinum benefits more valuable for my family. They also introduced more benefits for those who stay with SPG hotels for 50 and 75 nights per year. Those benefits don’t really matter to me since I will not come anywhere close to 50 or 75 nights with SPG in a year.
Since I left my previous day job and no longer have those SPG stays, I’m actually not so sure that I will hit Platinum status with SPG this year. Though truthfully, I’m not too upset about that. The reality is that while I do travel more than the average bear, I’m not really gone enough to obtain or maintain top tier status in two hotel programs. My husband starts a SPG “Platinum Challenge” on 7/1 where he has to stay 18 nights in three months in order to obtain Platinum status. Given his current work travel patterns, that should be attainable for him. I want to try out SPG Platinum status, but I am okay if the way I try it out is through his status on our family trips to SPG hotels. I will write more about his Platinum Challenge in the near future, but it is a quicker route to Platinum status for those who have a large number of nights in SPG hotels in a three month window.
As of 7/11 I have completed 10 of 25 required stays to qualify for SPG Platinum (top tier) status. I received two of those stays just by having the personal Starwood Preferred Guest Amex, and plan to pick up two more stays by obtaining the Starwood Preferred Business GuestAmex, but unless several unexpected SPG nights appear on my calendar on the second half of 2012, I will quite possibly end the year short of 25 SPG stays.
It has been several years since I had airline elite status since I fly so often on miles and points. Additionally, I am located in the middle of the country, and most of my trips are domestic trips. So, even if I am flying to the East or West Coast, my trips are still at most only around 3,500 miles round trip. It takes 25,000 miles to obtain bottom tier elite status, so that is quite a few paid domestic trips. However, this year I have had quite a few paid domestic trips, and am currently at about 21,000 elite qualifying miles for the year. I have a trip booked for early July that will put me just over 25,000 miles if everything goes as planned. So, United Silver status is pretty much locked up. I know people mock low tier airline status, but honestly those folks probably haven’t flown with no status in quite a long time. Having no status, yet flying frequently, is pretty frustrating. Here is a shot of a security line I was recently in – this may have been the day that I promised myself I would obtain elite status so that I would not have to wait in this line with a toddler every time I travel. If we flew just once or twice a year it wouldn’t be a big deal, but as often as we travel, that is a lot of extra time just waiting in line. For the record, the line stretched around the corner, and the actual line started just where the roped off portion starts at the bottom left.
So I am definitely looking forward to the expedited security line, access to complimentary E+ seats at the time of check-in, access to the elite phone line, and a 25% mileage bonus on paid flights. There are some other benefits that come along with silver status such as priority boarding and a free checked bag, but since I already get those with the United MileagePlus card, those aren’t big motivators for me.
I likely have enough trips booked (or almost booked) through the end of the year to obtain Gold status on United. Gold status requires 50,000 flown miles in a calendar year. Once I reach Gold status I will have access to two complimentary E+ seats at the time of booking, will receive a 50% mileage bonus on paid flights, will be able to make “same day” changes to my flights for free, and will have a better shot at complimentary upgrades. The E+ seats are a big thing for me since I usually pay for them when traveling with my family, and at an average of $50 a piece for the routes we fly, that is an extra $300 per trip. However, my husband is 6’3″, and my toddler likes to kick the seat in front of her if it is too close, so it is worth the premium to keep everyone comfortable. Getting some E+ seats for free will be a real tangible savings for us.
There is an outside chance I will obtain Platinum status by flying 75,000 paid miles this year. This would only happen if I take a couple big trips I have been considering, but I say it is an outside chance at best. However, the benefits take a pretty decent jump up at the Platinum level, so it would be nice if I did happen to fly that much. I would then have access to 8 E+ seats at the time of booking, would receive two confirmed regional upgrades to first class, would earn a 75% bonus on miles earned on paid tickets, would be able to make fee-free changes to awards including changing award tickets, re-depositing the awards, and booking awards at the last minute. That would actually be pretty phenomenal. Additionally, I would have a much better chance at some complimentary first class upgrades.
Mileage runs aren’t really practical for me due to both financial and time constraints, but if I just needed one more trip or so to hit the next elite level, it would probably be worth it to me.
Okay, that is where I stand at the half-way mark of 2012 as well as some thoughts as to why each status goal matters for my family. Where do you stand with the programs that are important to you for 2012? Which elite statuses are you pushing for and why? Have you noticed that having elite status really helps your family on vacation, or is elite status irrelevant for you and your family? I’d love to hear what you are thinking six months into the year!
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