Should You Switch Airline Allegiance Mid-Year?

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Reader Bill K asked the following question in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

My brother (Allen) typically harasses me for ruining his life when it comes to miles and what airline to fly and why.

Background:

  • Allen has lived in Seattle for the last 4 years, traveling mostly in the last 2 years
  • I am entrenched in the Delta Medallion Program and hitting Platinum this year
  • I advised him to status match his Alaska Status to Delta when Delta were raiding the Alaska fortress as they were offering things like double MQM’s and still rewarded miles based on mileage flown (never mind upcoming devaluations)
  • Allen instead, decided to keep earning miles on Alaska (great)
  • Allen is jealous of when I get upgraded on Delta

Fast Forward one year:

  • Allen recently flew Delta trans-con and was somehow upgraded to first class on one of his legs through his Alaska status (yes, it does happen)
  • Allen SWOONS head over heals for Delta’s flight operations and that they put him on an earlier flight to Seattle from Salt Lake City and avoided a 3 hour layover
  • Allen Status matched to Delta (now Delta Silver) and has declared that he is making the switch to Delta for the remainder of the year.
  • Allen will be the benefactor of a Gold Choice Benefit next year [which is to say, Allen will be gifted Gold Medallion status as part of someone else’s Diamond Medallion Choice Benefit].

So – now to the question:
Should Allen keep flying on Alaska given the following factors:

  • Currently an MVP
  • Likely to hit gold status on Alaska this year (numerous benefits like Upgrade Certs)
  • Greater bonus for redeemable miles
  • Better award redemption choices
  • Allen is west coast based

OR should he switch to Delta?

First of all, I don’t know why, but when I first read the question I kind of felt like I was taking the SAT (that’s a compliment!). And it sort of reminded me of one of those “if Bill is setting next to Jack, and Jack is sitting next to Sue, who is sitting next to Mike” questions (or maybe I just haven’t had enough coffee yet… or both).

Anyway…

There’s a cost to switching loyalty

There are many downsides to switching preferred airlines, including:

  • Many airlines don’t status match, so you’ll often have to work your way up to a specific status level, which puts you at a disadvantage compared to where you were
  • While something new can be exciting, there are all kinds of new “ropes” to learn when switching airlines; for me that’s a big reason not to switch, since I know the systems so well on my “preferred” carriers, that I really don’t want to have to learn new systems (for example, US Airways’ standby policy has caught me off guard)

As noted by Bill, Delta does indeed have a status challenge program… which (unfortunately) his brother has already taken advantage of. Here are the details of that challenge:

Delta-Status-Challenge

Why wouldn’t I have done a challenge from Alaska MVP to Delta Silver? Because as an MVP you already get many reciprocal benefits on Delta, including upgrades (based on availability — they’ll rarely clear on “premium” flights), priority boarding, etc. So when you factor in how much more valuable Alaska miles are than Delta miles, I do think it’s worth crediting to Alaska… assuming crediting to Delta won’t help achieve a higher status this year (and it doesn’t sound like it would, since Allen will receive gifted Gold Medallion status next year).

Alaska-Delta-Benefits

Is one good experience a reason to switch?

Allen had a great experience on Delta… which isn’t surprising. Delta runs a really solid operation. They’re the best US legacy carrier operationally, and that’s why they don’t need to have a great frequent flyer program. People fly them for other reasons.

That being said, Allen seems to be slightly twitterpated with Delta because he got an upgrade on a transcon and was put on an earlier flight. Which is totally valid. Except I wouldn’t expect this to happen regularly as a Silver Medallion (at least the transcon upgrade part). Sometimes we all luck out on upgrades.

Heck, I recently got an upgrade to Delta first class on a transcon as an Alaska elite as well. But I wouldn’t expect it to happen again.

Delta-First-Class

What I would do in Allen’s shoes

It sounds like Allen is lucky to have a Diamond Medallion friend who will give Allen Gold Medallion status next year as a Choice Benefit. (It’s worth clarifying that, as a Platinum Medallion, Bill can only gift Allen Silver Medallion status, which he already has.) So regardless of where Allen chooses to credit the miles, it doesn’t sound like he’d have higher than Gold status with Delta next year.

Therefore I would advise Allen to continue to credit the miles to Alaska this year. Then he’ll have MVP Gold status, which will get him four confirmed upgrade certificates. He can use those to confirm upgrades to first class on Alaska next year, and can still credit those miles to Delta if he would like.

It also gives him the most diversification next year. He’ll have Gold status with both Alaska and Delta, so if one program makes major changes, he still has his choice of airlines.

In the meantime, there’s not a huge advantage to Allen having Silver Medallion status rather than Alaska MVP status, even when traveling on Delta. It’s one thing if he were Gold already, but it doesn’t sound like that will happen before he becomes the lucky recipient of Gold Medallion status thanks to his benefactor’s Diamond Medallion Choice Benefit anyway.

Furthermore, next year I’d suggest Allen do everything he can to maximize his return on the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express. The card offers MQMs upon sign-up, and then if he spends at least $30,000 on the card he can earn even more MQMs. That’s a great way to boost your status, and a strategy Nick uses as well. Even if it doesn’t help him achieve a higher status level in 2016, he can use it to get rollover miles to count towards status for the year after.

Bottom line

Ultimately there’s no right or wrong answer here. But in general I do think you’re better off following through on your mileage “goals” for a particular year, and then reevaluating at the beginning of each year.

At least I think that’s the case unless there are truly major changes in circumstances. In this case it doesn’t sound like anything substantive has changed in Allen’s situation, aside from him realizing Delta is a great airline operationally.

My answer might be different if he weren’t already going to be nominated for Gold Medallion next year. Given that, I think he’s best off diversifying his options and getting MVP Gold with Alaska, while also getting Gold Medallion next year through someone else’s Choice Benefit.

What would you do in Allen’s situation?

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Comments

  1. Ben –

    So, I would suggest staying with Alaska and trying to get the highest status possible, THEN go over to American (after June 16th, 2016) and ask for a Status Match based on Allen’s Alaska MVP status…and then maybe going upwards to AA EXP if possible in 2016.

  2. Just a quick note on Rollover MQMs they only apply to earned status rather than gifted status. So if your reader gets gifted gold medallion and only earns 24,000 MQMs they will go and won’t be rolled over. Similarly if he only earns 26,000 only 1,000 will be rolled over. So I would say, unless he values the miles and other benefits of the Delta reserve card, or won’t be gifted status in future years the Reserve card won’t be worth his while unless he has a shot at Platinum.

  3. @Ed — actually if he is gifted Gold and earns 26K MQMs he still rolls over nothing. Only if he is gifted Gold and earns 50,001 MQMs does he start to get rollover.

    But, it also depends what year’s Gold status he is being gifted. If someone is earning 2017 status (based on their flying/credit card spend/rollover in the Jan 1 2016-Dec 31 2016 period), then the gifted Gold status lasts until Jan 31, 2018, and Allan would need to earn at least 50,001 MQMs in 2016 to have any roll over.

    But, if Allan is being gifted 2016 status (based on someone’s flying Jan 1 2015-Dec 31 2015), it expires Jan 31, 2017, and any MQMs over 25,000 would roll over (and he would have Silver status Feb 1 2017-Jan 31 2018, if he earned between 25K and 50K MQMs).

    Hopefully his benefactor is gifting 2017 status, since gifted status is most valuable if it is gifted early, since in theory you could get as much as 24 months of status out of a single gift (if someone had a ton of early-year flying and qualified for Diamond right away, or more likely if they had a ton of rollover and hit a credit card MQD waiver right away). But it is possible the benefactor is holding back to give Allan the gift because the benefactor wants to choose their other choice benefit later, since upgrades as a choice benefit are only valid for 1 year from when they are selected.

  4. Alaska is headquartered in Seattle. Delta is headquartered far away.

    Delta is a great airline and I have flown them many times. As you say, operationally, they are very professional. Reliable, good service trumps extra miles or status any day.

    But, if Alaska falters, it will cause job losses in his home town. Not so good. And, with a weaker Alaska, will Delta continue to be as competitive in Seattle? I think not.

    So…

    Better to support the home team as long as they are doing a good job. FWIW, I think Alaska is doing a darn good job.

    Seattle area flyers are blessed to have two very professional organizations fighting for their business.

  5. Something you said hit me as I was reading this post. I recently flew Delta from Sea to JFK and it was one of the best flights I have had in a few years. Comfy seats, good food (yeah I know) great service, overall a very pleasurable experience. Then the return flight…by far the WORST experience I have ever encountered in the 30 years I have taking an airplane. So many things made it bad, it was a complete train wreck. It was so awful, I don’t know that I will take a Delta flight for quite some time.

    Living in PDX, I’m a huge fan of Alaska. Sure their planes aren’t the greatest, but the service is unbeatable. Especially on the jumper Horizon flights. I would stay with banking with Alaska. Sure the Alaska partnership seems to be getting stronger with AA as one poster mentioned, though not sure how much that benefits us in the PNW.

    I do have to say to Delta’s credit, when I complained on how awful my flight was, I did receive several emails investigating and an apology, followed by $100 in gift cards (I chose Amazon) and even a phone call as a follow up. Sky pesos or not, the follow up was a class act.

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