December is the month for securing elite status. People in the know, those frequent guests and fliers making mattress runs and mileage runs this month, know that a few unnecessary hotel room nights or a few thousand miles of unnecessary airline flights are truly necessary. Some loyalty travelers are frantically booking travel solely for the purpose of attaining the magic threshold of higher elite status in 2010.
And it is magic when after 10 minutes waiting in the elite security line at the crowded airport, you barely get on your plane just before it taxies out of the gate. You reflect on the frazzled family who walked up to the elite check-in airport counter just in front of you, each parent cradling a crying toddler, with a hands-free wandering preschooler lagging behind dragging a backpack, a babystroller under Dad’s arm, two suitcases, two backpacks, and a purse. You watched as you moved closer to the elite member check-in counter while the parents were steered away from the Star Alliance Gold members check-in line to the hopelessly long economy class general members’ line extending halfway down the terminal. They were supposed to depart on the same flight as you, but they hadn’t even arrived at the security zone as you passed through the detectors and rushed off to the gate. They are still waiting in some non-elite fliers’ line while you are comfortably seated in First Class as the plane heads toward the runway.
Elite level status has practical implications in the frequent flier world beyond upgrades and airport lounges.
I haven’t been on a plane in the past few months. I watched scenarios like I described here over a number of years when I traveled as a United Airlines Mileage Plus elite member. I flew over 100,000 miles a year for several years primarily as a means of flying comfortably and having the privilege to hang out at airport lounges during international flights.
Joe Sharkey has a piece posted this week on his blog, Joe Sharkey At Large, “Continental Airlines is the Latest Airline to Diss Lower-Level Elite-Status Customers”. His piece is about how Continental Airlines offers enhancements to the most frequent fliers in the 100,000 flight miles per year category and new super-tier called Presidential Platinum elite for the cream of the Platinum fliers.
Flying 100,000 miles is expensive for a leisure traveler. I held United 1K for a couple of years with less than $2,500 in spending on flights annually, but then there was another $1,500 or so for my wife’s flights. And then add another $4,000 to $5,000 for lodging, and then add daily expenses when traveling.
$4,000 to $5,000 in airfare was one expense I had to cut back, about 30% of my annual travel budget, to have some money available to put into Loyalty Traveler business expenses. Loyalty Traveler was founded as a business for explaining the value of elite status with travel loyalty programs and ironically I had to give up elite status air travel to conserve resources for the business. I hope to get back to a much higher level of air travel in the next year or two.
Right now my focus is maintaining high elite status in a couple of hotel programs – Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest – for my hotel travel. I just suffer like the masses when I have to get on a plane.
Ed Perkins wrote a piece on SmarterTravel.com, “Dollars Trump Miles as a Measure of Airline Loyalty”. Ed had an issue with upgrading a United flight using miles. He could not get an advance confirmation of the upgrade.
My experience of traveling around the world as a United 1K was a blast when I could buy a $600 ticket from California to Singapore, upgrade my ticket to a business class seat with a systemwide certificate (SWU), hang out at the international lounge in SFO before the flight, and then pop into the United Red Carpet Club at Narita Airport Tokyo for a free shower and a couple of glasses from the automatic beer dispenser. My cheap economy ticket also allowed me to earn 40,000 to 50,000 redeemable miles and 18,000 to 36,000 elite qualifying miles depending on promotions.
The problem with all that lovely treatment as a United 1K is that travel with my wife Kelley wasn’t always as fun. I’m not talking about a need for Tiger Woods entertainment without the wifey. I am talking about the fact that my United Airlines Mileage Plus elite status regularly provided upgrades for me, domestic and international. However, Kelley’s low level elite status, and sometimes even as a Premier Executive, frequently did not allow her to clear the upgrade list. We often traveled separately on the same plane to Europe with me in her assigned economy class seat and her in my upgraded Business Class seat.
Mom & Dad’s Florida Vacation
My parents have learned the value of Starwood Preferred Guest elite status – especially since they do not have it. This morning I received a call from my mom vacationing in Florida. Their hotel travel tally so far is three Starwoods and a Hilton in Florida. I asked them to take pictures of the view from each bedroom window at their hotels.
Hotel websites are generally good about photos of the hotel entrance, the lobby, restaurants, and pool.
Hotel websites rarely show a prospective guest the view from the less desirable side of the hotel. I am struck by the number of times I stay at a hotel and receive the preferred view and think this was a good deal. And I consider all those people I see coming out of their room located on the other side of the hallway and I wonder, “Do you feel like you’ve been cheated with this hotel stay?”
So my mom tells me they had a nice size room at a Sheraton in Fort Lauderdale, but faced the parking lot for the multi-night stay. Then, it was the Sheraton in Key West at a resort property on the beach, but their room was not facing the beach side of the hotel. Then, her description of the room in Coral Gables was “nicely furnished, but the room was miniscule.” She said the rooms are nothing like I get when I stay at Starwood Hotels.
“Elite Status” is my Two Word Response
Earning elite status with a hotel chain is really a much easier affair than airline frequent flier programs. Playing the 100,000 mile game with airlines is a matter of either several long-haul international trips or a whole lot of domestic flying. Hotel loyalty high-level elite-status is something many travelers can earn without even leaving town. You will appreciate your effort when you take that $3,000 beach resort vacation and spend the week looking at the beach from your hotel room window and balcony.
Here is the view from my room when I stayed at the Westin Mission Hills near Palm Springs, California.
I received an upgrade on my Cash & Points stay to a golf course view preferred room. A general member of SPG on the same rate would be more likely to have received a room with this type of view across the parking lot.
- Westin Mission Hills Resort – the other side of the hotel
Stays Count Double through January 31, 2010 with Hyatt Gold Passport
(The Next Big Thing registration required)
Hyatt Gold Passport is offering double stay credit for elite status through January 31, 2010. Elite status is based on paid stays completed in a calendar year. This means you can earn Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum level elite membership with just 3 stays in January or Diamond elite with 13 stays. The elite status you earn with Hyatt Gold Passport in January 2010 during stays count double will remain valid for over two years through February 2012.
Between fast-track elite status and Costco Hyatt Check Certificates at a 20% discount, the cost to earn high elite Diamond status with Hyatt can readily be accomplished for under $1,000 in many places while earning free nights for a fantastic February or March 2010 resort vacation. Check out your local Hyatt Place hotel rates. You can even go upscale Hyatt at a bargain with low January rates in many locations. The Hyatt Regency San Francisco was over $250 per night for most of summer 2009 and is less than half that rate for most weekends in January 2010. San Diego hotels are an incredible bargain right now.
Starwood Preferred Guest instant SPG Gold elite for New Members
Starwood Preferred Guest has offered a “stays count double” promotion every year for the past several years. Take advantage of the offer if it comes around next year and you can set yourself up with high-level elite-status.
Seriously, when you are spending a couple of thousand dollars for a vacation, a little bit of annual hotel planning can put you in that beach resort hotel on the beach side of the hotel rather than the resort view of the parking lot.
If you are new to Starwood Preferred Guest and you would like to receive instant SPG Gold elite membership, valid through February 2011, then just send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. With my SPG Platinum member referral, you can be registered for 1,000 bonus points per night ($35 value) at Starwood Hotels through March 31, 2010 and you will receive an instant upgrade to SPG Gold Elite membership. And I get 1,000 points if you actually stay in a Starwood Hotel by March 31. A win-win-win deal for you, me, and Starwood.
Hotel Loyalty Program Links:
Hyatt Gold Passport “The Next Big Thing” Promotion
Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum elite benefits (lower-tier elite)
Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond elite benefits (higher-tier)
Loyalty Traveler posts: