Here’s My Elite Status Update.. And Why I Chose Each Travel Program

I share my thoughts and advice on loyalty programs all of the time, I thought it would be useful — and only fair — to also share what I do and let you evaluate whether I practice my own advice.

At the same time, where I focus my own stays (and how much I’m traveling) may help put my advice in context and illuminate how I think about travel.

Ten months into the year it looks like I’ll fly about 200,000 miles and I’ll have stayed in hotels about 40% of the year.

Not all the miles and nights are elite qualifying.

  • I’ve been flying a bunch of British Airways-issued short haul award tickets on American and US Airways.
  • Add in three major Asia Pacific first class award trips, and one-third of my miles are on points.
  • I always think I’ll travel less than I did the previous year. I start the year not fathoming how I’ll make 100,000 miles and hit top tier status with hotel chains. So I leverage credit cards to help ($40,000 on the American Executive card for 10,000 qualifying miles, $40,000 spend on the Hyatt Visa for 10 qualifying nights and 5 stays, and I have both the personal and business Starwood Amex cards giving me 5 stays and 10 nights with SPG). And then I wind up not needing the help..

Here’s how my elite status programs breaks down and why I’ve chosen to do it that way:

Airline Status

I’ll requalify easily this year for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum. In fact, I will qualify on my next flight:

I should wind up the year somewhere in the 120s with American. This is the airline status I value the most — my upgrade track record on domestic flights is fantastic, higher than it would be with any other airline. And they let me upgrade internationally (8 times a year) from any fare. Right now American’s top tier status is the most lucrative.

Add on three major Asia Pacific award trips (each around 20,000 miles flown or more), Avios redemptions, and a handful of paid tickets on other carriers and I’ll fly more than 200,000 miles total in 2014. Not a personal record, but a fairly average year overall.

American’s is not my only oneworld status, but it’s the only one that I earned. I am also currently a British Airways Silver.

When British Airways acquired british midland, I was a bmi Diamond Club Gold. BA gave me Gold in their Executive Club program, and that lasted for ~ 21 months. Then, since I didn’t credit a single flight to the BA program (I’ve earned my BA miles by getting a British Airways credit card from Chase, and by transferring in points from Chase and American Express), I received a soft landing to Silver.

I carry this card in my wallet. As a Gold member it got me access to American’s Flagship (first class) lounges even when flying domestically. Now my Silver status gets me access to American’s Admirals Club lounges. Sure, I have the Citi Executive card which also gives me access, but as a BA Silver I get drink chits — which I usually exchange for free bottles of water before my flight.

When bmi was acquired by BA, Aegean Miles & Bonus also offered a status match opportunity to bmi’s members. That’s unusual for the program. I’ve held that the past few years, but only get to keep it one more year since Aegean status is no longer lifetime. As I’ve always said, lifetime means either your lifetime, the airline’s lifetime, or until they change the rules. And sadly they changed the rules. (I once lost lifetime Airtran elite status this way, too.)

It looks like a year from now I will be down to a single airline status.

Hotel Status

My favorite hotel program is Hyatt Gold Passport. I will definitely re-up my Diamond status this year, despite booking a dozen or so nights as awards (full points, not cash and points) which won’t count towards status. (With the introduction of a new redemption category 7 I got in under the wire at places like the Park Hyatt Sydney and Park Hyatt Vendome in Paris, plus I booked a couple of non-qualifying Hyatt Visa annual free nights anda couple of straight award nights when prices were high and cash and points were not available.)

In fact, by the time I post this my most recent stay will likely have posted to my Gold Passport account and I’ll have already re-qualified.

If Hyatt hadn’t changed their award chart this year I probably would have stuck with them exclusively. I was often willing to pay a higher room rate (Hyatt Daily Rate) upgrade to a suite at booking for just 6000 points for a stay up to 4 nights. I used to think of that as one of the best values in loyalty.

Now that they increased that price to 6000 points per night I don’t do it anymore. I pay lower rates. And I’m freed to play the field with other programs. Next month I’ll easily earn Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status.

I’m also an ‘accidental’ silver with Marriott Rewards, with 12 qualifying nights.

I’m still a Le Club Accorhotels Platinum member.

This is just from a free Platinum status signup offer and I have only a single Accor stay over the past year. Fortunately, the program’s benefits have gotten better..

I’m no longer an Intercontinental Royal Ambassador. It was a good run dating back to 2006 and sadly it’s no longer as simple as getting a friend to refer you, and then referring them back.

Outside of major chains I’ve stayed at properties like the Charleston Place hotel and also the Breakers for work. Those helped my status quest not at all.

In addition I’ve had 4 nights with Hilton. I should wind up with just over 140 actual nights in hotels for the year, once I back out the 20 elite nights earned via credit cards.

Rental Cars

Here’s my current rental car status:

I rent mostly from National. I like the ‘Executive Aisle’ choose your own car concept. And I do well with National’s free rental days and especially when paired with their annual 1-2-Free promotion. Avis gives out far more miles, though.

I don’t worry about requalifying for their top tier ‘Executive Elite’ status as Executive status is nearly as good (and Executive status comes with the American Express Platinum card anyway), the key benefit to me is picking from the Executive aisle of better cars when renting a midsize (instead of the standard ‘Emerald aisle’).

So I’m going to miss re-qualifying for Executive Elite. I’ve been renting too often from other companies, last week I rented 6 days from Alamo — hated the experience, even as a program member and checked in online I was sent to the rental counter before I could go back to the booth in the garage. There were no employees working and the kiosks were broken. But it was just too cheap..

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Congrats on making AA Exec Plat again! Of the 120k you fly with AA, roughly what percentage of that is work-related (meaning work will pay for the airfare) and personal related/mileage running? Also, I thought you’re a Hilton Gold member as well?

  2. Weren’t you an Avis Chairman’s Club member at some point?

    Here’s mine:

    BA Gold Guest List and Concorde Room
    Lufthansa Senator
    Air Berlin Gold

    LHW Unlimited
    Hyatt Diamond (37 stays/65 nights)
    SPG Plat (42/87, 477 lifetime, thus close to lifetime Plat)
    Hilton Diamond (22/45, requalified through base points)
    IC RA (recently referred, 12/50)
    CC Gold (14/14)

    Avis Pres. Club
    Hertz Gold Plus
    Sixt Diamond

  3. @joey I haven’t gone back to look but the majority of my paid travel is business-related rather than personal. I don’t generally do mileage runs, not needing to.

    I was a Hilton Diamond last year and for several prior years. I expected a soft landing to Gold, which is why I did not:
    * use a Milepoint Premium Hilton Gold for myself, giving away about a dozen of those on the blog instead
    * take advantage of the end of 2013 Amex Platinum Hilton Gold offer

    I planned to sign up for the Hilton Reserve card but haven’t done it yet, I’ve had so few Hilton stays (which is abnormal for me, but I’ve found myself at more Marriotts)

  4. Gary I am AA Plat and thinking about going for EXP in 2015. Can the 8 SWU’s be used at time of booking? Are they capacity controlled similar to mileage upgrades?

  5. @Another Steve – yes, at time of booking if there’s availability, and it’s the same inventory as mileage upgrades [so, yes, capacity controlled]. Of course as an Executive Platinum you’re up front in the upgrade queue.

  6. Gary, fellow ex-Talkboard member 😉 – I’m interested in that Avis Chairman’s Club thing – I rent every week from Avis (mostly in Europe, but also USA). Presidents’ Club mostly gets me “ok” upgrades, but I’d love to get the Chairman’s Club benefits. I saw that one could purchase membership last year (which I would have done, had I known about it) – do you know of any good way to get it? Thank you!

  7. @Football Fan – tons of folks on Flyertalk used to get it via a passed around/photocopied application you’d just fax in. 😛 But Avis seems on the verge of announcing a new elite program anyway so let’s see what they do (I haven’t scavengered for intel on what they’re doing)

  8. Just curious because I see you (and others) mention Aegean’s “lifetime” status – they never promised it to be lifetime, did they? Wasn’t that merely an assumption because of the way they rolled the status?

  9. Thanks! Your status is amazing and definitely shows how passionate you are in this hobby! Are you also Alaska MVP? If you were, I’d say you and Lucky are almost twins when it comes to status! 😉 jk.

  10. I was Executive Platinum but examined my costs closely. I was spending thousands extra to be Executive Platinum. For what 8 SWU’s that rarely allowed me to upgrade me and my wife at booking. We often had to ask people to switch seats or just tough it out in separate seats. Forget that!

    SWU’s out of DFW, especially on the 77W to London were tough.

    Add to that I have found a ton of business fares for only $200-$400 more with fares to Europe for around the $2000 mark!

    Personally I am finding elite status just doesn’t have the same ‘value’ as it used to. I add up the costs, and buying/churning credit cards is better then chasing the status wheel.

    So instead of my wife and I being executive platinums, we spend thousands less, fly paid business or use award tickets and don’t bother with mileage running.

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