My pre-new year thoughts on 2013 status…

The beginning of the year is right around the corner, and it’s simultaneously the most terrifying and exciting time of the year for me.

It’s terrifying because most elite status counters are reset on January 1, so overnight I’ll go from being complacent in all programs (having requalified early for all elite levels this year) to starting my mad rush for status.


And the beginning of the year is also an exciting time for the same reasons it’s terrifying — there’s a sense of excitement as you once again plan your travel strategically, and smile as you slowly see the elite “counters” of various programs grow until you’ve requalified.

This year I was fortunate to requalify for all status levels fairly early in the year, so I’ve been more or less on cruise control for the past couple of months. On one hand it’s a nice feeling, though on the other hand I feel like I’ve been a lazy miles/points addict. For example, I hardly even took advantage of American’s double miles promotion (which would have netted me a minimum of 300% base redeemable miles on all my travel as an Executive Platinum member), since I didn’t really have a need to mileage run.

This is also a year of change for me, having moved from Tampa to Seattle. Frankly this doesn’t present a huge change on the airline front. While I now fly Alaska as well, fares out of Seattle are reasonable, and I’m still living on a coast, which is good for mileage running.

The biggest change has actually been on the hotel front. Tampa was great for mattress running, given that there were several Hyatt and Starwood properties for (substantially) under $100 per night.

The same isn’t true in Seattle, where hotels are generally $150+ per night, which isn’t very handy for mattress running. And speaking of hotel loyalty programs, this isn’t 2010 anymore. Back then hotels had super lucrative promotions that made mattress running not only affordable, but a no brainer. For example, Hyatt used to offer “Faster Free Nights,” whereby you’d earn one free night after every two stays. Two stays at a Hyatt Place for $80 each netted you a free night at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Sydney, etc. And that was only the beginning.

Park Hyatt Seoul courtesy of Faster Free Nights

Promotions simply aren’t as lucrative anymore, so I’m having to think twice about the value of mattress running for hotel status. After all, this hobby is all about crunching the numbers and making the right financial decisions (with a bit of impulse buying and irrationality thrown in for good measure), and not about blindly trying to reach a counter.

With that in mind, I figured I’d share my 2013 elite status goals:


Requalify for Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status — 25 stays or 50 nights

This remains one of my favorite top tier hotel status levels, given that I find they consistently under promise and over deliver. In Tampa they had several properties that were under $80 per night, so mattress running was easy. In Seattle their cheapest properties are $150+ per night, so that’s not great for mattress running.

This is the one hotel status level that I’ll have to qualify for with no tricks. Unlike many of the other chains, Hyatt doesn’t count award stays towards status either, so the 25 stays or 50 nights is in addition to any award stays. Now, Hyatt did add some benefits to their co-branded Chase Hyatt Visa Card just a couple of months ago, including two stay credits and five nights towards Diamond status if you spend $20,000 on the card annually, and an additional three stay credits and five nights towards Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card annually, for a total of five stays and 10 nights towards status. That being said, I really don’t think putting the spend on that card is worth it for the additional credits, though I do still keep the card for the annual free night certificate redeemable at any category one through four hotel.

So I guess I might just try to entice my mom with some staycations in Tampa and see if she’ll mattress run for me. You can usually add a second guest to the reservation and still get the elite credit, so that might just be my best bet. Of course I’ll try to do this as much as possible during whatever turns out to be Hyatt’s most lucrative promotion. They’ve yet to announce any of their 2013 promotions, so I’m curious to see what they have in store for us. Given how good elite benefits are, I’m not necessarily expecting anything great.

Requalify for Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum status — 50 nights

Starwood has been awesome to us over the past year or so, and really made requalifying easier while adding more benefits.

First, just over a year ago they started counting award stays towards status. As a leisure traveler this is huge, since it means you can redeem points for a stay and still have it count towards your status requalification.

After that they added a bunch of new elite benefits for both Gold and Platinum members. One of those benefits was free breakfast for Platinum members as an amenity option, which has proven awesome, at least outside the US (I’ve found most foreign properties offer Platinum members the full buffet, while many US properties simply offer Platinum members a croissant and coffee).

Platinum breakfast at a US property

Platinum breakfast at a non-US property

Another benefit they added is 10 suite night awards for Platinum members that stay at least 50 nights per year, allowing Platinum members to confirm a suite upgrade up to five nights before arrival. While you can qualify for Platinum status through either 25 stays or 50 nights, this benefit has pushed me towards requalifying through the latter, since I value those 10 suite night awards.

Suite at St. Regis Bal Harbour using suite night award

The last thing they made official this year is that up to three rooms per night can count towards elite status. So if there’s a reasonably priced hotel (or if I find myself in Tampa, for example) it could make sense to purchase three rooms in a night to ensure requalification).

Also helping me requalify are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Card from American Express OPEN, each of which offer two elite stay credits and five elite night credits towards Platinum status annually. Between the two cards that gets me four stays and 10 nights towards status annually, meaning I only need 21 stays or 40 nights for Platinum status (and I qualify via nights since I want the suite night awards).

Qualify for Hilton HHonors Diamond Status — $40,000 of spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card

I know, I have two top tier status levels to requalify for, do I really need a third? Probably not, though I can’t help but think it doesn’t hurt either. The thing is that while most destinations are fairly well covered between Hyatt and Starwood, they really don’t have hotels everywhere I travel, especially when traveling to smaller towns. That’s where Hilton, Marriott, and Priority Club shine.

The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Card offers Gold status for as long as you have the card, and that gets you free internet and breakfast, which are two of the most valuable hotel status perks, in my opinion. So in a way I should be happy with that for those occasions where I have to stay at a Hilton.

The funny thing is that there really aren’t that many marginal benefits for Diamond status with Hilton (compared to Gold). Diamond members earn more bonus points on stays, are guaranteed lounge access (while it’s on a space available basis for Gold members), and are permitted suite upgrades at the hotel’s discretion (which basically means nothing), though beyond that any difference in benefits are property dependent and beyond the T&Cs.

However, for $40,000 of spend on the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa card you earn Diamond status, and that spend shouldn’t be too tough to “manufacture” without too much out of pocket. I happen to think the return on the card isn’t bad to begin with, at three HHonors points per dollar spent on base spend, so I think I’ll go for it.

Besides, I have a bunch of Hilton points through the recent American Express Virgin Atlantic transfer bonus, which I’ll be looking to redeem for AXON awards at Conrad properties.

Qualify for Kimpton Inner Circle — 15 stays

I’ve been mildly obsessed with Kimpton Inner Circle since this post a few days ago. They’re an intriguing hotel chain for reasons discussed in that post, and I’ve already status matched to Inner Circle, which requires 15 stays to requalify for.

The program seems totally awesome and I love the fact that they’re all boutique hotels so won’t feel like a standard chain property, though the issue is that they have just a bit over 50 properties, in only a bit over a dozen cities. The funniest part has to be that most of their cities have multiple hotels just a couple of blocks apart, so it’s good for mattress running.

On the plus side their hotels are well located for my travels. They have properties in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, all of which I visit with some regularity.

I’ll have my first Kimpton stay in a few days, so will report back. A friend who rarely cusses just status matched to Kimpton Inner Circle as well and sent me an email about her first stay, summed up as “it was f*&^$(@ awesome.”


Requalify for American AAdvantage Executive Platinum status — 100,000 elite qualifying miles/points

This should be the easiest of all. This year I more than double requalified for Executive Platinum status, though that was in large part thanks to the promotions they ran. This had to be the single most rewarding year in terms of promotions for a single airline, as American offered double elite qualifying miles for the beginning of the year, and double elite qualifying miles (elite qualifying and redeemable) and points for the last couple of months as well.

As usual I’ll do a couple of quick trips to China upgraded with some of my eight systemwide upgrades to start off the year and get a head start on status, and I suspect my regular domestic travel will get me the rest of the way there.

Qualify for Alaska Mileage Plan MVP Gold or MVP Gold 75K — 50,000 elite qualifying miles or 90,000 elite qualifying miles

I status matched to Alaska MVP Gold a couple of months ago, and the status match is good through the end of next year. To maintain MVP Gold I have to earn either 40,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines, or 50,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines and their partner airlines.

That sounds easy in theory, though the primary reason I fly Alaska is for their network up and down the west coast, and it’s really tough to get to 50,000 miles with mostly sub-1,000 mile flights.

I suppose I could take some transcontinental mileage runs when there’s a fare sale, though based on my understand (someone please correct me if I’m wrong!) upgrades are nearly impossible on transcons, unlike up and down the coast. And I can’t imagine voluntarily doing a direct turn transcon mileage run when they don’t have any power ports aboard, because that’s the point at which there’s a huge opportunity cost for time (I find with a power port and wifi I’m more efficient than on the ground, as I have fewer distractions).

Coach transcon on Alaska last week

At the same time, taking a completely opposite approach, if I go for MVP Gold it seems worth the marginal travel to go for MVP Gold 75K, which requires either 75,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines, or 90,000 elite qualifying miles on Alaska Airlines and their partner airlines. That’s because you get 50,000 bonus miles for earning MVP Gold 75K, so when you factor in how many bonus miles you’d earn (in addition to base miles and the 100% mileage bonus), it almost seems worthwhile…

What are your elite status goals for 2013?

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  1. Re-qualify for UA 1K
    Hit Exp Plat status challenge on AA (25K by end of March) – found AA harder for runs out of SEA than UA
    Hilton Gold
    Hyatt Gold

    I love Kimpton Hotels – they are amazing with pets!

  2. Hoping that requalifying for US CM will turn into AA Ex Plt via merger since I can’t get AA to give me a status match :). DL PLT, Marriott PLT & Hyatt Diamond

  3. Well regarding AS MVPG: 8-1/2 R/T’s from OAK/SJC/SMF to HNL/OGG/KOA will earn you 40k AS BIS for around $290-320 each max (+/- $2500 a/i). Not to mentioned the destination isn’t exactly bad for a weekend visit.

    While SEA flights are full of paid F pax going to the islands; the Bay area is a piece of cake and you’ll likely clear at your MVPG window with any decent job of advanced planning.

    Time for another move? or Just bag out a couple Bay area-Hawaii r/t’s over a weekend and you should be good.

  4. Do you happen to know when Gold status kicks in with your Citi Hilton linked credit card? Do you turn Gold as soon as you are approved or is there a waiting period?

  5. I am always reassessing. I’ve had status with Delta for about 3 or 4 years now. Mostly silver, but was Gold the past year. I’ve considered moving away from Delta to either United or AA.

    But, I haven’t made that choice yet. For starters, Delta does rollover miles which makes requalifying based on my travel habits much easier. And almost as important, with my home airport being a regional airport I much prefer connecting in MSP or DTW rather than ORD, which is the most likely connection on both United and AA. So, for now, I am sticking with Delta. The first sign of a revenue based program I’ll switch, just not sure to where.

    As to hotels, I don’t care enough about hotel status to bother. If I get it, great. If not, just as good.

  6. @ John — I was Gold before I got the card so I’m not sure, though based on what I’ve heard it kicks in within a couple of weeks. Not a huge waiting period, but not instant either.

  7. It is interesting that you are shooting for MVPG75K when I am doing the opposite, settling for Gold after two years at the top.

    The 50K bonus was nice, but you’d have to do almost 2x the flying just for that bonus. At first, it seemed worth it, but usually sets me back ~$2000-2500 where I could buy 56K miles during one of AS’s 40% bonus promotions for $1100 or half of the cost of shooting for 75K. That is when I decided that the trade-off of flying more and shelling out an additional $1000-1200 just to get the 50K bonus was not worth it. In other words, you will earn 120-130K via shooting for 75K for $2000-2500 or 112K for $2200 via purchasing miles with 40% bonus [I know you can’t buy more than 40K miles in a given year, but for the sake of this analysis]. Seems to me the cost is roughly the same whether you fly or purchase miles.

    This is one of my biggest frustration with AS, there is little or no differentiation between 75K and Gold. I don’t care much for a n outdated DigiEplayer in Y when they have WiFi. If AS offered some kind of differentiation between both levels then going for 75K would make more sense for me.

    Anyway, if you want a decent shot at upgrades on transcons then fly down to PDX and take the BOS flight. SEA-DCA/EWR/BOS are incredibly difficult and more difficult than UA’s SEA transcons for 1Ks.

  8. DL Platinum (need 50026 MQMs to qualify with rollover)
    UA Platinum (challenge from DL once I hit PM, unless AA does DEQM, I’ll go for EXP).

    Don’t really care for hotel status. I’m Hyatt Plat, Hilton Gold, SPG Gold from CC, good enough for the few hotel nights a year I have.

  9. Ben – What’s the rationale behind doing runs to China and for what price? Guess it might be different for you in SEA, but I live in NYC and have been seeing a lot of runs to HNL =<$500, where you get the free EXP upgrade, 10k miles RT, and not have to burn a SWU, not to mention China visa fee?

  10. @ Albert — I have a Chinese visa anyway since I go multiple times a year. I can usually book SEA-ORD-PEK roundtrip for $800, so with upgrades and double miles as an Executive Platinum member it’s a pretty amazing deal.

  11. Ben, I have been MVP Gold for the past seven years running and would recommend that you merely credit some of your AA miles to AS. I do agree that MVP Gold 75k is probably not worth the stretch to get to. Upgrading on AS is easier than you may think although it certainly is easier on runs that don’t go out of SEA. Try BLI/ SJC/ OAK – HNL for example. LAX-DCA is great for getting across country.

  12. AA EXP
    SPG Platinum (nights)

    Not going to bother with DL (currently an unimpressed Diamond) or with Hyatt. I love Hyatt and will continue to redeem liberally with them, but I just can’t bring myself to do 25 paid stays.

  13. my goals for this year are spg plat, 25 stays (around 35nights), maybe 50nights, ua 1k for sure, and maybe some aa status, because i’m based in miami after all.

  14. @Lucky ; Do you think the merger btw AA and US could cut those advantages ? If they do, what’s your backup plan ? BA ?

  15. SPG – requalify Platinum with 75 nights (may go up 100 but I haven’t seen much value of the Ambassador) as opposed to 125 nights in 2012
    Hilton – requalify for Diamond via Reserve card instead of Surpass
    Marriott – a sprinkling of a few nights when its the most convenient option. The recent change will put me at lifetime Gold status and I will give back with 10-15 nights (as opposed to just 3 nights in 2012)
    United – requalify 1k with 100,000 miles only (as opposed to 320k in 2012). Living in Singapore means I need to travel on SQ but I am going to move some of my travel to OneWorld flying MH, QF and JL when feasible.
    AA – requalify EXP with 200,000 EQP (points not miles). AA will see more activity than UA in 2013 since I’ve lately had poor experiences with UA and SQ.

    Note that I travel on business – so schedule is important to me, which is why I end up on SQ a fair bit.

  16. @lucky, I am thinking of switching to SPG or another hotel program as I lose Hilton gold starting tomorrow (Happy new Year!). Do you think SPG is better than Hilton?

  17. @Lucky-I’m surprised you can’t find any low weekend rates at any of your suburban SEA Hyatt Place or Hyatt House hotels. In the DC area, where I live, most of them drop to the $80 range Friday and Saturday nights except during the high tourist periods.

  18. Prio 1: SPG Platinum – will be done by June if I keep my project in Munich

    Prio 2: Miles&More Senator / *G – with the reduced mileage accrual for cheap biz tickets I have to be careful during bookings. Air Canada has nice low fares for 100% accrual. And I always wanted to visit the Niagara falls on my way from GER to ARG…

    Prio 3: Avis – what is required for Chairman’s club? President’s one should be no prob. And we don’t have any other global rental company anymore available for biz rentals.

    Prio 4: Well due to the changed qualifications rules I would wonder myself if I keep my Platinum at Priority Club. The wide availability in Europe and South America was the great benefit of them. And looking at the fact that benefits at HIs are limited not even guaranteed they either should rethink about this or open more InterConti or Crown Plaza properties. Or the will loose many biz customers…

    HHounors Gold is secured due to company contract…

    Outlook for 2013: Time to look to One World. It really depends on LATAM’s decision. I am expecting that TAM will move to OW instead LAN to *A. And with Air Berlin and future Golf carriers it will be more than just an alternative to *G for me. Hmm – I have to review my flights and credit cards to optimize the programs. Let’s get both alliances!

  19. Lucky —

    Longtime reader of this blog & many others, but have never commented. Have you ran across this yet, though? When I saw it I was pretty certain it was you:

    “I met a kid once who liked flying. Loved it. To the point that he would book flights with the goal of trying to win more flights. Like, he’d wait to be one of those flights where they asked if anyone would be willing to give up their seat in exchange for ticket credit. He would then run up to the desk and offer to wait a few hours or whatever, and they’d give him a free flight. Then he’d hope that on that next, free flight, the same thing would happen. He told me that one year he flew 25 times, all for free.

    I asked him where he went with all those flights, and he told me, I think, but we were also six whiskeys deep at a bar called Ms. Mae’s in New Orleans and I don’t really remember where he went or what he did. I just remember him wanting to go on all those flights. Some real Up In the Air type shit.”

  20. Ben- The 2 free weekend nts you get with the Citi Hilton card, do you have to use the nts within the first yr? Also the annual free weekend nt given each yr, is there an expiration date? Also, both offers say at “select” hotels. Does that mean high end hotels such as the Maldives and Ko Samui are excluded?

  21. I am pretty much a one airline one hotel kind of guy, so UA and Starwood again for me. UA due to their route network and the ease in booking Star Alliance awards online. Starwood for the value of their points and the suite upgrades.

    I usually hit 150k on UA, so get 8 systemwides and 8 regional upgrades, plus as a MM, my wife shares the 1K status with me. The downside vs AA is SWUs require a W fare, but to me that is offset by the other benefits.

  22. Going into ’13:
    UA lifetime 1K and earned GS
    Marriott lifetime Platinum
    AA lifetime Gold and earned EXP
    Hilton Gold (credit card)
    Hyatt Plat (credit card)

    Goals for ’13:
    Renew UA GS
    Renew AA EXP
    Upgrade Hilton to Diamond

  23. @ Christine — Too funny!

    @ John — Both expire roughly a year after they’re issued. They are valid at the Conrads in Koh Samui and the Maldives. Not actually sure which properties they exclude, as I’ve yet to see any.

    @ snic — One. Only one.

  24. @ nycflyer75 — The benefit of Hilton over Starwood is that they have a LOT more properties. I do think Hilton mid-tier is better than Starwood mid-tier, while I think Starwood top-tier is better than Hilton top-tier.

    Have you considered getting the Citi Hilton Reserve card so you can maintain Gold status with Hilton?

    @ JetAway — Even in the suburbs can’t find any cheap rates, unfortunately.

  25. @ Thomas — There’s no doubt that if/when a merger happens it’ll ruin some of the value of the AAdvantage program (it always happens with mergers), though I do still think the program will be among the strongest of any US airline. So I doubt it’ll have me going elsewhere.

  26. I agree with glenn, since AA is a partner of Alaska Airlines and you said you qualified twice over for EXP on AA, why not credit some of your AA miles to AK instead to get MVP Gold? If you do, keep the merger in mind, as AA may/may not be a partner of Alaska Airlines afterwards? (Sounds like a good blog subject 😉 ). As such, maybe it would be a good idea to credit AA miles early and qualify for MVPG fIrst, then EXP? Just think’in. Good luck!

  27. @ Chris B. — Because I believe you can’t get a complimentary upgrade on American if you credit to another airline. Or am I wrong?

  28. My goals for 2013 continue from this year, which are to position ourselves to be able to enjoy our favorite vacation destinations (Disneyland and Walt Disney World) for the least amount of cost. We only started the game last year, but it has progressed nicely and has entailed cards with benefits. This year’s actions center around:

    – Attaining Star Alliance Gold via Aegean Air (for the boarding and baggage benefit, mainly)

    – Re-qualify Hilton Gold and maybe do status match to Marriott Platinum

    – Watch merger news to see who gets US Airways (to be known as AA) credit card business (Barclays or Citi), and maybe get US Airways card early to get companion fare booked before merger

    – Begin shift to Alaska Airlines mileage program, since it primary to Anaheim from PDX and has relationships with AA and DL.

  29. Not sure, Ben, you’re the expert :), That’s why I listen to you instead of myself :P.

    Now your biggest question for 2013, Bucs or Seahawks LOL!

  30. Question on the Starwood AmEx cards and the 2 stays/5 nights benefit. I was approved for the card on Dec 17 and the stay/night benefit has not posted. AmEx said it takes 7-10 business days to post to my SPG that time it will be 2013 and I’m afraid it won’t count for 2012 and my qualification towards 50 nights. Any suggestions? Or is there someone I can tweet to for help at SPG or AmEx?

  31. @ Mary Beth — They should be able to retroactively apply it. I wouldn’t be too worried. Doubt there’s anything that can be done to expedite it, unfortunately.

  32. Thanks Ben. I’ll see what happens when they post and call again to get it fixed. My concern is that they’ll say the ones that have posted are for 2013. Today an SPG rep and supervisor both said you only get the benefit one time even if you have both cards. This of course was wrong so I’ll need to hangup-call back next time. Happy New Year and many fun travels in 2013!!

  33. Correct, you can’t get EXP complimentary upgrades when crediting miles to AS instead of AA. Some people have reportedly switched out FF # after the upgrade has been processed, but that is against my morals.

    However, if you are using an eVIP and you are already confirmed in F or J, I don’t see any point of crediting to AA since you will get all of the benefits of being in the front cabin. That is a good strategy to rack up EQMs with AS without diluting the travel experience.

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