There are loyalty programs for just about everything nowadays.
Airlines, hotels, parking, restaurants, most have some sort of loyalty system. Even the Laundromat I used to go to gives you a punch card to track loyalty! In some ways, this is good – businesses reward you for using their product. However, you have to spend a TON of money to achieve even the lowest tier of travel status. Across the board, the travel industry is catering more and more to the business traveler. That does not mean you cannot get there on your own. But, you will have to pull a little bit of weight to get there. Here, we’ll show you examples on how to do it!
The Basics of Airline Status
If you fly a mainstream carrier, chances are they belong to an airline alliance, such as Star Alliance, Oneworld, or Skyteam. Most airlines have a tiered status system based on how far you fly and how much you spent to fly. Here, I will focus on the Oneworld alliance, specifically for American Airlines and their status system. The discussion can easily extend to other big name airlines, especially United and Delta.
The AAdvantage Loyalty program is far from simple, but it is basically centered around two main requirements.
Time for some ‘Average Joe’ definitions:
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) means ‘butt-in-seat’ miles flown. It’s not the miles you get from purchases on an AA co-branded credit card (unless they have such a stipulation).
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) mean the money you spent on the base fare, not the entire price of the flight. For example, you may spend $900 in total on a flight, but only $775 is the base fare. The rest is taxes and fees which do not count towards your status.
- Alternatively, you can also meet status requirements through flying enough segments. More often than not, EQMs and EQDs decide your status. How many short flights do most people take anyway?
Ultimately, unless you are flying business or first class domestically in the US, it will be very hard to accrue enough miles or status to get to even the first tier. AA’s third longest domestic flight, Los Angeles to Boston, is about 5222 miles round trip. You would need 5 of those trips to meet the first EQM requirement. Your rough total price of about $700/flight to ensure your base fare EQDs add up to over $3000. This will only net you Gold status!
Even flying first class LAX-BOS for more than $1000/roundtrip would take 12 or more of these flights per year to achieve the highest EQD requirement. Yet, that will still not get you the EQM requirement as you would have only flown 62k miles! You will not qualify for Executive Platinum Status!
The quicker route to achieving airline status
Fortunately, there are easier methods to attain status, but it will require international flights on a partner airline. The perk of being part of an alliance is that the airlines in that alliance will recognize your frequent flier account from other airline partners. This means that a flight on another airline will count towards your current status accrual on ‘your’ airline.
Now here’s the kicker: Your airline won’t know how much you spent on the partner airline to be able to adjust your status accordingly. At the end of the day, they are still competitors to each other, and prices change. They will likely not want to share pricing information for the very routes they are competing for anyway.
So, the Oneworld alliance bases status accrual on miles flown only, as that does not change from route to route.
- Your EQMs will increase by the miles flown on a partner route.
- Your EQDs will accrue based on a dollar multiplier per mile flown.
There are two things you have to make sure of:
- You must fly on a partner airline supported by ‘your’ airline
- Book in the cabin class that will give you that EQD multiplier.
Economy will likely not provide that boost, so you will have to fly at Premium Economy prices or above. American Airlines does a handy job of telling you the multipliers that they will honor per airline. You can view them here.
Here’s an example of how partner airline status accrual works:
Currently, I am sitting at about $75000 EQM / $7000 EQD in my status for next year. I want to make Executive Platinum status, but I need $5000 EQDs to get there. Fortunately, I bought a LAX-HKG-AKL roundtrip flight for $2200 in Cathay Pacific Premium Economy.
I provided my AAdvantage frequent flier account number during purchase. The route is roughly 25500 miles roundtrip. The Premium Economy EQD Multiplier that American Airlines will honor for Cathay Pacific Premium Economy is 20% of miles flown.
20% of 25500 Miles is 5100. This means that even though I spent $2200 on the flight, $5100 will count toward my EQDs. This is almost a 57% savings on what I would have had to pay through straight spending alone! Also, the 25500 miles flown will also count towards my status for next year, which pushes me over the 100000 EQM threshold. As a result, I meet both the EQM and EQD Executive Platinum requirements for next year! But, I have to stick it out in non-lie-flat premium economy seats for two 15 hour flights (LAX-HKG routes) and two 12 hour flights (HKG to AKL routes). I’ll trade a 3 day weekend for that – allows me to pull out my laptop and catch up on my shows, and your comments!
Hotel Status is harder to accrue, as in most hotels, you need to log nights at the hotel to gain status – Elite Qualifying Nights (EQNs), if you will. There are very few shortcuts to achieve hotel status. As in the airline loyalty world, higher tiers of hotel status is for frequent business travelers. Even then, business travelers could use a boost! 75 nights a year to achieve the highest Marriott Platinum Elite status is roughly 1/4 of your year spent away from home!
Now, don’t tell anyone I told you about this, but if you go on Google, and you search for a hotel’s co-branded credit card, the perks section of the credit card page will likely have a status boost in qualified nights!The best part is that these perks are usually annual so long as you retain the card! If you maintain loyalty to a hotel, you can start racking up the nights towards higher tiers and reach them faster. It’s nice to leverage your hotel status on international travel. But, depending on the country you go to, you can find cheaper accommodations from their own indigenous hotel chains. You would have to ensure that racking up status and being loyal to a product lines up with your travel goals. It can help you save time and money!
For example, I planned to stay in Kyoto and Tokyo during my Japan trip. But, the Japanese Marriott properties that are within my price range are few, and literally far, in between. They are certainly not in those urban centers! Even at Courtyards, the going rate was $200+/night. So, I stayed at Super Hotels and other Japanese hotels which were far cheaper by almost half. They were just as accommodating as most Marriott properties too. If you plan on racking up Marriott status in Japan, you may find it cost-ineffective to do so.
Internationally, you are probably better off using the points you accrued on the road to status. This is what I did with the Marriott Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia. They were very nice in acknowledging my Marriott Platinum Elite status, and put us in a high floor room too! Having breakfast in their executive lounge saved me a ton of time and money from eating elsewhere, and allowed me to save my pennies for the more cultural dinners with my wife!In short, a little bit of research before applying to a hotel co-branded credit card, both on the cards and your potential destinations themselves, can go a long way towards building meaningful hotel status.
Rental Car Status
Want to drive the fancier cars at no extra charge? Rental Car Status is how you do it. I currently retain National Car Rental’s Executive Aisle status in their Emerald Aisle Loyalty Program. You can meet their status requirements either through total rentals, or total rental days. Ultimately, the more you rent from them, the more you accrue enough points to earn free rental days! This came in handy during my short wedding trip to New Jersey. I was only there for a weekend, and I used a free rental day to subsidize the rental, saving me $55 dollars. I was also able to rent an Audi Q3! It’s a sweet ride, if I do say so myself.
Yes, there are even loyalty programs for parking at the airport! Personally, I would not pay to park at an airport facility. They are overpriced, and all you get is a space to park your car. Your dollars can work for you elsewhere in terms of building status at other companies that provide parking structures and shuttles to your terminal. It also helps that their rates are marginally cheaper than the airport, at least.
I am a fan of The Parking Spot. They not only provide status for nights parked at their facilities, but their points can be redeemed for free nights as well!
For example, I spent about 12 days in Australia last year, and while I could have used an Uber ride to and from the airport, I had enough points (roughly 6000) to not spend a cent to park there! After a 13 hour flight, I did not want to wait 30 minutes for the Uber driver pick up. I simply waved to one of the Parking Spot buses outside the terminal which come roughly every 5 minutes, swiped my loyalty card on the drive out, and continued on home at no cost (apart from gas of course). I plan to do the same thing during my Europe trip this year.
You don’t need status to have a good time, but it sure doesn’t hurt!
Take these tips at face value – you ultimately don’t need to be loyal to an airline or hotel or whatever to enjoy yourself on your travels. It is ultimately cheaper to not reach for status if you’re not a business traveler nowadays. Besides, there are plenty of backpackers that drop it all and explore on foot for months at a time, spending the minimal amount to achieve THEIR travel goals.
However, for people like me that like the stability of a full-time career, the perks of status can help make some aspects of the travel experience smoother, nicer, or even hassle-free.
For example, just retaining AA Executive Platinum status alone allows me these perks:
Four systemwide upgrades that I can apply on international flights.
I did this earlier this year to Japan, and it made a 12 hour LAX-NRT flight a dream, literally; I upgraded my wife and I to business class on lie-flat seats! My other systemwide upgrades also already cleared for my LAX-LHR flight later this year on my trip to Europe!
I get to board before most people.
I value this a lot. It ensures that I get enough overhead bin space for my carry-on luggage. Back when I had no status, I sometimes found myself without overhead space, as most of us have at some point. I can’t tell you how many times people in coach have thrown shade my way for simply asking them to put their backpack/purse/bag/sweater in the empty space under the seat in front of them. Then I had to get the flight attendants involved, had to go wait at luggage claim, tell my friends picking me up to drive in a ‘holding’ pattern because the cell-phone lot was full; it’s a whole big mess. I don’t want that drama, and I’m sure you don’t either.
I can check extra bags complimentary.
This came in handy on the Japan return. My wife and I bought too many things and needed to check more bags than we came with. Sure, you have to wait for your bags, but because of my status, my bags have priority. By the time my wife and I got through customs and got to the baggage claim, AA workers had already lifted our bags out of the carousel and set them aside with orange tags labeling my bags for priority! We simply just had to walk up to our bags, lift their handles, and take them.
Being Executive Platinum allows me to be higher up on the upgrade list.
This is huge from a domestic flight standpoint. Shorter flights that ‘Exec Plats’ don’t usually fly in typically result in an almost guaranteed upgrade for me to First Class. Upgrades can happen even on the long haul domestic flights!
Best of all, domestic upgrades for Executive Platinum members are complimentary.
As I wrote this post during my business trip from LA to Boston, I was upgraded from an Exit-Row seat to a First Class Seat. This was simply due to my EQDs and my Status being higher than most people on that flight. I literally typed this post 35000ft in the air in First Class! For a 5 hour flight, the comfort you get form of wider seats, larger entertainment screens, snacks, a free hot meal with dessert, pillow, blanket, and leg room is definitely not taken for granted.
Status is within reach for most of us!
You should perform your own assessment as to whether it makes sense for you to reach for it. Maybe you only need or want to reach for the first tier. Have a family? Maybe a higher tier is for you. If it is in line with your travel goals, especially if you can accrue it within executing to those goals, then it may make enough sense for you to go for it!
Got any additional tips or stories to share? Provide your feedback in the comments!