For the first time since I became a serious frequent flyer, I am carefully tracking all of my traveling metrics for elite status. Every flight and hotel stay is logged and I am sharing my results – my expectations didn’t match my reality.
I try to capture as much data as I can but sometimes I fail. I have simplified my travel down to a few entries in a table which I will share below. Some of the accounts have asterisks because there is a caveat for the account. For example, how could I have less than 30 nights in a Hilton but have already re-qualified? I had a very long stay last year that closed in 2018 so all of the accumulating status nights credited this year and not last. IHG has rollover nights (when they eventually post) so that also skews the percentages. Here are the numbers:
|Provider||Segments Number||Upgrades||% Toward Top Elite Status|
This year was particularly key because last year I lost the will to continue with American Airlines after the deterioration of value in their elite program. The carrier released the fewest amount of award seats of any carrier in the US and made eVIPs (system-wide upgrades that could be used on long-haul flights) worthless. Upgrades customers can’t use don’t add value to your program. Putting my money where my mouth is (I don’t always do what I say… typical parent) I challenged with United and they matched me to 1K (though they don’t advertise it). However, since I had already re-qualified with American, this year was particularly unique as I would hold both American Airlines Executive Platinum status and United 1K.
The most important thing to me is the ability to upgrade and side-by-side the results are surprising. The chart lists flights by segment as opposed to miles flown or dollars spent which may not be a full reflection of the amount of time spent with the carrier. On a flight-by-flight basis, I clear my upgrade with American more than United departing from the same city (Pittsburgh) and usually going to hubs (Houston/Denver on United, Charlotte on American). Where the destination is someplace neither has an advantage, I opt for another carrier when it makes sense. For example, $14 Frontier fares from Seattle to Denver kept me off of United’s direct flight and Pittsburgh to Fort Myers has put me on Spirit (which I surprisingly love) and Southwest because of companion pass.
Between award flights and one-offs, I have already flown 100,000 for the year, but between United and American on revenue earning flights I am at just 37,000 combined EQM/PQMs for the year and $5800 in combined spend.
In short, American upgraded me 10/15 segments (66.67%) vs United 11/18 segments (61.11%). Segments with United have been longer distance flights than on American so while I get upgraded less, it feels like the upgrades themselves are more substantial.
I have posted more nights with Hilton in 2018 because of a stay that closed out in this earning year instead of last which brought with it a ton of elite qualifying nights. I am re-qualified with them despite less than 10 nights in 2018 (because all of those 2017 nights checked out in January 2018). In full-service Hiltons I was surprised to see that they upgrade me often. Some might be surprised because they are not known for their suite upgrades in the same way that Hyatt and SPG are, though they upgrade me nearly as often. Last week I covered the Tale of Two Hiltons (DoubleTree Presidential Suite vs. Tru’s very small room) and before that a Tale of Two Waldorf’s. To say that the chain has mostly exceeded my expectations is fair but they do strike out occasionally too. Regardless, if I had to pick just one hotel chain with which to re-qualify it would be Hilton and at least for 2018, that work is done.
Last year I rolled over 40 elite qualifying nights with the chain en route to 75 to re-qualify for Spire. But their Accelerate offers have not been as good for me this year as they were last year and that has reduced my need to prioritize the chain higher than I have. As of today, I sit 23 nights short of re-qualifying with the chain and I just don’t know if I will get there. I also don’t know that I’m bothered if I don’t. It’s no secret that IHG hates their elites and doesn’t offer anything special in terms of benefits for top-tier guests, nor in terms of aspirational properties with Kimpton being the lone exception. I have stayed in nice Intercontinental hotels before, but they are few and far between in my travels. When I travel to a city where they have one, I can go across the street and find a chain that will give me a suite upgrade if they have one, free breakfast and 4 PM checkout (Hyatt, Hilton, SPG). When I stay at those hotels I can earn points that I want to redeem for amazing hotels where they continue to show the appreciation.
During my 20 nights in Hyatt properties this year I have used just one upgrade instrument but received an upgrade 75% of the time (the instrument covered 15% of all nights). The other five times were in select service Hyatt Place hotels where they did not offer suites.
Maybe I should reconsider my bitterness toward the brand, even though I think we can both agree that the new requirements remain too high for most Globalists given their limited footprint.
It was great while it lasted. I participated in the Marriott Unpublished Marriott Platinum challenge last year and completed 9 stays in 90 days then matched it to SPG. I started this year with Platinum and knowing that there would be changes to the program, I quickly achieved the required 25 stays in SPG this year re-qualifying for both brands on the off chance they would be more generous than not. But Marriott/SPG’s combined requirements for next year mean that this was probably one and done for me.
Looking Ahead to 2019
United has been pretty good to me, but there are some problems in my flying patterns that prevent me from continuing with them in 2019. My behavior shows that when I have the option to take a direct flight as opposed to a connection, I do, which will likely leave me short in either program for re-qualification. However, with American, their EQDs and EQMs post differently from partners. I can scoop up inexpensive long-haul partner tickets (Qatar seems to run business class sales from Asia every year that qualify me in two trips) and re-qualify inexpensively. American’s eVIP system also seems to have improved as of late as have some of their redemption opportunities, two of the principle reasons I left. I may look for a challenge or expedited “Welcome Back” type promotion to return to Executive Platinum on American next year.
For hotels, I need to reconsider my stance on Hyatt. I shouldn’t let my bitterness get in the way of a chain that seems to reward me more than any other. Hilton is a lock and I won’t have to stay a night in their hotels to hit status next year, but for the following year, I will make sure I have Hilton first before all others. Marriott/SPG is probably going to fall away. I just don’t trust them enough and my own experience within SPG for suite upgrades was not as good as Hyatt, Marriott just doesn’t inspire me. IHG would have to inspire me with Kimptons so much so that I would forsake all other hotels and that just isn’t going to happen. If they decide they don’t hate elites any more then maybe I will come back, but I doubt it.
How about you? How is your march to re-qualification going? Have you recently made a notable switch in allegiance? How did it go?