Deciding Whether to Chase Elite Status

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With the end of the year approaching, we face the question of whether to chase status with airline and hotel loyalty programs. Elite status with certain programs is enticing. But the question we must ask ourselves is whether it's worth spending time, money, and effort to achieve that status. There is no one size fits all answer, but we lay out some factors to consider in reaching your own conclusion.

Overview

You can obtain airline and hotel status in different ways. The most common method is simply flying a number of miles or segments, or spending a number of nights at properties. Some airlines require spending a certain amount of dollars with them on top of any miles or segments flown. Other programs offer spend as an alternative to way to achieve status. Regardless of the method, achieving status requires time, money, effort from even the savviest travelers.

Many of the benefits expected from elite status are pretty obvious. These include free upgrades, lounge access, free breakfast, and higher points earning on spend. But should we all pursue these perks?

Everyone has different travel patterns and needs that affect the amount of work required to get status and how beneficial the perks will actually be. On one end of the spectrum, road warriors typically achieve status without much effort or out of pocket costs through work-reimbursed travel. At the opposite end might be those who go on one or two big trips per year.

What to Consider

How often do you expect to travel over the next year? This is the first point you should consider, even without a pandemic affecting our usual travel. Do you expect any life-changing events that could affect your ability to travel, such as major surgery or starting a new job? If you only expect to travel once or twice in the next year, it might be cheaper  to pay out of pocket for breakfast or a suite instead of getting status for that one stay.

Are you willing to commit to limiting future travel to that one airline or hotel brand? Status perks are only worth it if you actually use them. Are you willing to only fly an airline or stay at one hotel chain in your future travels so you can enjoy those upgrades and other perks? For example, if you are considering Marriott status, make sure Marriott has properties wherever you plan to visit.

Will you have enough points to enjoy your elite status? If you go through all the work of obtaining status, you should make sure you can afford the flight or room you need to enjoy the perks. Many are considering the current overlapping Hyatt promotions to reach top tier globalist status by spending World of Hyatt points. But if you spend most of your Hyatt points, can you replenish that balance in time for your next trip? Will you have other ways to earn Hyatt points, such as by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards or opening the Chase World of Hyatt credit card and receiving the welcome bonus in time?

Will you actually use the benefits? Free parking and free breakfast sound great, but will you actually use those if you’re staying in Paris? Surely you’d like to check out that bakery across the street where locals are enjoying some fresh pastries. And it’s unlikely you rented a car there. On the other hand, free breakfast is a must if you’re staying at a resort in the Maldives or the Seychelles where it can be as high as $50 per person.  Make sure to consider which of the benefits you could see yourself using in your future trips.

Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status can help you receive an upgrade to an overwater villa at the St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort

Do the program’s benefits work for you and your travel needs? Not every loyalty program is created equal. Some airlines offer great flexibility for their elite members, which helps those who often book last-minute flights. Also, you should consider the footprint of the airline or hotel. Status with Southwest Airlines is likely more useful for someone based in Baltimore or Houston than in Detroit.

For hotels, consider what types of perks are guaranteed for elites instead of offered subject to availability. For example, if you travel with children and must have a suite so you can stay up after the little ones fall asleep, Hyatt might be a better option than Marriott, since Hyatt offers suite upgrades to globalist members.

How much effort is required? After considering all of the above points, you should still assess how much time, effort, and money you will have to spend to achieve status. Some hotels make it easy to reach top tier status simply through holding the right credit card. The American Express Hilton Aspire credit card offers top tier Hilton Diamond status for all cardholders. Similarly, the Chase IHG Rewards Club Premier card offers IHG Platinum Elite status to all cardholders. But even then, you should still consider whether those cards’ annual fees ($450 for the Aspire and $89 for the Rewards Club Premier) are worth it.

Meanwhile, 2020 offered many people an easy route to Marriott Platinum Elite status. During the pandemic, Marriott gave members 50% of the elite nights needed to requalify for the status they held in 2019. For instance, if you were Platinum Elite in 2019 (which requires 50 nights a year), you would receive 50% (or 25 nights) as a bonus in 2020. Therefore, many who had Platinum Elite status in 2019 found themselves much closer to achieving Platinum or Titanium Elite in 2020 without much travel. This was even easier for those who hold multiple Marriott Bonvoy cards. Many Marriott Bonvoy credit cards offer 15 elite night credits per year, and members can earn up to 30 elite night credits per year by holding both a personal and a business Bonvoy credit card.

With Hyatt, several travelers are booking stays beginning in December 2020 but ending in January 2021 to take advantage of Hyatt’s ongoing Bonus Journeys promotion, which offers double elite night credits. Double elite night credits go a long way when aiming for the 60 nights required for globalist status. But even with this promotion, you would need to book 30 nights if starting from zero.

Final Thoughts

Elite status with airlines and hotels open up a world of perks. But achieving status almost always requires planning and effort. Before chasing status with any program, it's important to consider the costs and whether you will use and enjoy the perks. Ultimately, you must ask yourself the simple question: is it worth it? The answer depends on each person’s individual situation. We hope that the factors raised here help you make an informed decision on whether to chase status.

Are you chasing status with any program? Come join our Facebook group to share your thought process and learn how others have approached elite status!

Travel on Point(s) has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel on Point(s) and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

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