The end of the year is always an interesting time for me as I try to figure out if and how I will requalify for elite status. There is a limited amount of time to book qualifying flights and hotel stays, relatively high prices due to holiday travel, and an interesting mix of secondary factors that need to be weighed to determine the most optimal means of satisfying program requirements. I decided to share some of the ideas that went through my head recently.
Starwood Preferred Guest is one example. I’m adding SPG Platinum status to my existing Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond status this year. I really want to qualify with 50 nights rather than 25 stays because SPG awards 10 suite upgrades only to those with 50 nights (Hyatt awards fewer upgrades, but with fewer restrictions and to all Diamond members).
It turned out I was four nights and one stay away from Platinum status with a three-night stay in Milan approaching. A one-night mattress run in Seattle gave me my 25th stay, so I’ll already have Platinum status when I check in at the Westin Palace Milan, but that stay will give me my 50 nights and the additional suite upgrades for use in 2014. It made a lot more sense to do that mattress run in November rather than wait for the end of the year.
Airline status is far more complicated.
I have pretty much decided to switch my loyalty to American Airlines and Alaska Airlines in 2014. But I am close enough to Premier 1K status with United MileagePlus that it seemed a shame not to complete the task. I can still use the upgrades for friends and family even if I won’t use them myself, or I could try booking trips that I credit to US Airways and hope that those miles carry over to the new American Airlines.
I found myself with 92,779 miles booked or flown and was not sure how I would get the rest of the way to 100,000 Premier Qualifying Miles while flying United Airlines as little as possible. After all, why credit more miles than necessary?
There are several ways to boost the number of elite qualifying miles you earn in addition to your “butt-in-seat” miles, and these sometimes apply to other airlines in addition to United.
Book First Class Fares
Most premium cabin fares (e.g., F, A, and Z fares), as well as full-fare economy class tickets (e.g., Y and B fares) will earn 150% elite qualifying miles. When Megan and I booked travel to see her family for Thanksgiving, I found that on the return journey a ticket in first class was the cheapest option available. So instead of 1,645 miles, I would earn 2,467 toward elite status.
Keep in mind that mixed itineraries can complicate the math. The first segment was on a regional jet that only had economy class seats. That fare class was S and earned only 100% PQMs, while the remaining segments in Z earned 150% PQMs.
Book Short Segments
Even though I would only earn the regular PQMs for the AMA-DEN segment in coach, I could still benefit from the short flight. It was less than 500 miles long, and most carriers have a policy that existing elite members earn a minimum 500 redeemable and elite qualifying miles on all segments.
I said that first class from Amarillo to Seattle was the cheapest itinerary available, but I didn’t actually book the cheapest flight. That would have been AMA-DEN-SEA. Instead, I booked AMA-DEN-SFO-SEA. The extra stop in San Francisco cost just $9 more and added a couple hundred extra miles to my journey. I didn’t do the math to justify if it was the best CPM, but the fact that I could add it on to an existing itinerary rather than book a separate mileage run was attractive.
You can also take advantage of this trick for flights you’ve already booked. Were you planning on flying the nonstop from Newark to Seattle? Passengers with elite status should try changing the flight on the day of departure to include a connection, such as EWR-IAH-SEA. Such a detour can earn hundreds or thousands of extra miles without any additional cost depending on the program’s rules for change fees. Note that you can’t usually do this by flying standby since the airline doesn’t want you stranded at your new connecting airport; you must be able to confirm the change.
Book with a Co-Branded Credit Card
Certain credit cards earn elite qualifying miles when you book flights using that card. United’s MileagePlus Select card is one of the best examples and earns up to 5,000 PQMs per year for $5,000 in United purchases — but it’s no longer offered to new applicants.
I haven’t been very good about using this tool this year as I thought I would qualify for 1K without it. Instead, it became incredibly useful. I was originally looking at booking a mileage run of 4,000 miles or more. As I began booking Christmas flights for Megan and me with the MP Select card, the number of miles needed began to drop. Eventually I was able to settle for a quick run to Boise and back, and I was even able to book my return flight from San Francisco on Alaska Airlines rather than United.
The Net Result?
- 92,779 PQMs booked or flown
- 500 PQMs (minimum) for AMA-DEN
- 2,467 PQMs for DEN-SFO-SEA in first class (and unnecessary detour)
- 2,873 PQMs for SEA-SFO-BOI-SFO-SEA (mileage run)
- 678 PQMs for SEA-SFO (visit family, one-way)
- 739 PQMs for booking flights with my United MP Select card
Grand Total: 100,036 PQMs for 2013
It’s a nice way to end my time with United, cutting it so close to the wire. Don’t give ‘em any more business than necessary. And for you readers who continue to fly United, I mean you no ill will. It just doesn’t make sense for me anymore. Look forward to a few giveaways.