Attaining elite status with your favorite airline or hotel is a way to get more for your money and make your travel more pleasurable. Getting and keeping your status can be possible even as your travel fluctuates. Status experts narrow their smart strategies down into five simple rules.
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Imagine spending a ton of time in the air or staying in hotel rooms and having nothing to show for it.
Every once in a while, I’ll run into a business traveler spending more of his or her life on the road than at home. Inevitably, I’ll ask what elite status they’ve gotten over the years. And the response is, “Oh, nothing! I don’t pay attention to the flight and hotel details. The company just takes care of it.”
Don’t waste your time or your effort scattering your airline or hotel loyalty, especially if you have to travel anyway (and double if your business is paying for it).
Attaining elite status with your favorite airline or hotel isn’t an ego boost, it’s a way to get more for your money and make your travel more pleasurable. It also ramps up the points you get per flight or stay, opening up the door to free travel in your future.
Getting and keeping your status can be possible even as your travel fluctuates, too. Status experts narrow their smart strategies down into five simple rules.
5 secrets to get and keep your elite status
Rule 1: Stay loyal, and use your home hub
“I would recommend picking a single airline to be loyal to – one that has a hub near you and offers a lot of domestic and international routes,” says Kayt Sukel. author of the book “The Art of Risk.”
Sukel spent years traveling the world as a single mom with her baby, Chet. Focusing on a specific brand allowed her to leverage points and raise her status with each flight.
Recognizing and respecting your home hub, though, may be the most important lesson here. For instance, I recently gained Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K status – just as our family unexpectedly moved from the West Coast to the Midwest.
Not only was I not able to maintain my status with the Pacific-centric carrier, but I rarely got the opportunity to take advantage of it, since Alaska has so few Midwest flights.
Don’t go after elite status with an airline or hotel you rarely can enjoy. At minimum, strategize where you think you’ll be in the next year and a half (the length of the average elite status year) and choose to focus on the most supportive brand.
Rule 2: Use cards that increase your status
Depending on your needs, the right credit card can help you maximize your status privileges.
“I use hotel credit cards to get more points,” says B.N., a longtime international traveler who uses the Marriott Bonvoy suite of cards. “In combination with that and many nights in a hotel, I earned enough for lifetime status with Marriott. I continue to be brand loyal and actively use their cards.”
Even if you are fortunate enough to have Marriott lifetime status, getting the right credit card could increase your status even further.
For example, you may have lifetime Silver Elite status, but the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card gives you Gold Elite status after spending $35,000 annually. And the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card includes complementary Gold Elite status on sign-up and Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 in eligible purchases annually.
See related: The best airline credit cards
Rule 3: Keep actively earning points
Another way to stay elite is to earn enough points to achieve or even buy elite status.
Earning points via an airline credit card is a smart strategy, Sukel says. She uses Chase cards co-branded with United.
“They have ‘flexible miles’ – the regular spending just gets me frequent flyer miles that can add up to a ticket somewhere,” she said. “These flexible miles count toward status.”
Additionally, if you run a business and you’re already in a frequent flyer program, you can join a second, business-focused program to double dip your points. Special business points from American, Delta or United can be used to purchase your elite status.
As an example, American Airlines’ Business Extra program allows you to use 3,200 Business Extra points to buy Gold status. American also has the American Express Business Extra Corporate Card, which offers rebates on purchased flights and bonus Business Extra points for every dollar spent.
Rule 4: Pay now to earn status later
It also pays to strategize how you are going to get and keep status based on your expectations for upcoming travel. Will you be on the road more this year than next? Is it worth adding an extra leg or time to your next flight, if it will start or extend your elite status?
“The craziest thing I’ve ever done is to book a flight to Kansas City, fly there and then turn right back around and head home,” Sukel said. “I needed a couple thousand miles to get the next level of status, so I found the cheapest flight that would get me those miles and took it. I never even left the airport.”
B.N. said he’s had friends fly to L.A. from the Midwest for lunch and then flight right back home to earn miles.
For B.N., the last quarter is always the most important travel period, since it would be the last opportunity to push to the next status level.
“I just did my calculations for October to determine if I am on track to hit status,” he said. “If it is off, but obtainable, then I’ll take a necessary vacation.”
Look into your desired status and find out the unique timing and requirements of your favorite brand. For instance, earning American Airlines elite status in the spring is much more valuable than in the fall, as you’d be elite for an additional six months (the remainder of the current year and all of the following year).
Rule 5: Create your own ‘elite status’
Lastly, putting yourself in the right airport or hub can help create elite status outside of your flights and hotels, too. You can have a first-class experience, even when you aren’t able to fully utilize elite status.
Writer Randy Dotinga spends most of his time on the road and specifically schedules his travel around the benefits of The Platinum Card® from American Express.
“I go out of my way to schedule layovers in airports like DFW and SFO that have Centurion Lounges, and I make sure to give myself an extra hour or two,” he said.
The high-end card experience creates something comparable to elite status and, unlike traditional status, cannot be lost by not flying as much.
There are comparable benefits in programs like Priority Pass. The third-party service initially launched to give free or heavily-discounted lounge access, but now it has expanded into past-the-gate restaurants and other venues.
Priority Pass is included with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Platinum card, among others.
Elite status isn’t always worth the effort
Credit cards and smart spending can help offset those times when elite status simply isn’t worth it. The key is to know what elite-level perks are important to you and what ways you can earn them within your current budget and lifestyle.
However, sometimes it’s better to let go of the next status tier for sanity’s sake.
“Know what the benefits are worth,” B.N. said. “There comes a time when you will want to spend the extra cash to reach status. Other times, it is not worth it.”