Hey! You’re reading an outdated Free First Class Next Month series. Check out the latest version published in April of 2015 here.
This is the thirtieth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flier miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go. Previously Using ITA Matrix to Find Cheap Flights and Fuel Surcharge Info
Airlines and hotels offer elite status that rewards frequent travelers who are loyal to a single brand of airline or hotel. These perks can be incredibly valuable, or they can be not worth the time and money taken to earn them. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about status to decide whether chasing it makes sense for you.
Basics Everyone Should Know
1. To earn airline status, you need to fly a certain number of paid miles or segments. Airline elite status starts at 25,000 paid miles flown.
2. You can credit paid, flown miles to an airline or one of its partners. Airlines are always partners with every member of their alliance and some non-alliance partners.
3. Airline elites get perks like priority check in, security, and boarding; seat upgrades; extra miles; waived baggage fees; dedicated customer service lines; waived award fees; waived change fees; and more.
4. To earn hotel status, you need to stay a certain number of paid nights or make a certain number of paid stays at a hotel chain. Or increasingly, you can receive status from carrying a credit card.
5. Hotel elites get perks like upgrades, late checkout, free internet, access to club rooms, priority check in, and extra points.
Very Frequent Traveler: 100k paid miles flown and 25 hotel stays per year
The more you travel the more status benefits are worth to you and the easier they are to obtain. One of the truisms of status is that you are better off having one top tier status than two mid tier statuses.
That means that instead of flying 50,000 miles on American Airlines and 50,000 miles on United, fly 100,000 on one to earn top tier status. 50,000 mile levels may earn a few seat upgrades and waived fees, but the 100,000 mile level will mean nearly automatic upgrades domestically and upgrades to flat beds on a few international flights a year.
It means instead of earning Hyatt Platinum AND SPG Gold to earn Hyatt Platinum OR SPG Platinum.
As a very frequent traveler, you will naturally earn statuses. Your main concern needs to be to consolidate a few top tier statuses instead of a bunch of low- and mid-tier statuses.
Your main value question: is it worth the extra money to maintain complete loyalty to unlock the top tier of loyalty at one airline and one hotel?
Frequent Traveler: 25k to 100k paid miles flown and 5-25 hotel stays per year
This is a big range of travel. At this level, you will earn some status, but not top tier status naturally.
The basic strategy for people in this range is still going to be to focus on staying with one hotel chain and flying one airline and its partners.
The basic question will be: is it worth the extra money to mileage or mattress run to earn the next tier of status?
Mattress running is booking a cheap hotel room you don’t need to earn stays, points, and status.
Mileage running is booking cheap flights that you fly not to reach the destination but to earn miles and status.
If you are close to the next tier of status, it might be worth your time and money to mattress or mileage run.
If you’re not that extreme, you may still be able to make minor tweaks to get to the next status level. Maybe you can break a two night stay at one hotel into two one-night stays at nearby hotels in the same city to double your stay credits.
Or maybe you can route in a slightly longer way to earn more airline miles. For instance Los Angeles to Dulles to Atlanta roundtrip will earn 1,500 extra miles roundtrip compared to connecting in Houston.
One final tip for people at the bottom of this range: You can credit both miles flown on American Airlines and miles flown on Delta to Alaska Airlines. Earning bottom tier status on Alaska at 25,000 miles combined on those partners will earn benefits on American, Delta, and Alaska flights.
Infrequent Traveler: Less than 25,000 paid miles flown and fewer than five paid hotel stays per year
Don’t chase status! It’s that simple. You don’t travel enough on paid itineraries to make status all that valuable, and you can easily get some hotel statuses and mimic airline status.
When you do fly, you can mimic many of the benefits of bottom tier status by getting an airline credit card. For instance, the Delta Airlines credit card comes with a free checked bag and priority boarding.
And you can exceed the benefits of top tier status on international flights by redeeming your miles for business and first class itineraries. Flying beds, first class lounges, and chauffeur service are available to anyone with enough miles.
For hotels, there are a number of ways to get status from credit cards and free sign ups.
You can get instant Platinum status with Accor hotels by signing up here.
You can get automatic Hilton Gold status as well as two free weekend nights at almost any Hilton worldwide by signing up for the Citi Hilton Reserve.
You can get free SPG Gold status if you hold any American Express Platinum card.
For infrequent or frugal travelers, I am down on hotels and hotel status in general. More on better alternatives in the next few installments.