Airline status: 2017 and 2018

In 2017, I’ve enjoyed status on the following airlines:

  • United (Gold)
  • American (Platinum)
  • Alaska (MVP Gold)

Each of these are “second tier” levels, but since Alaska only has three tiers, I’m “higher up” on Alaska than on American or United.

I don’t fly enough to maintain status on all three airlines.  I earned my American Airlines status last year the old-fashioned way — I flew a lot on AA.  I received my United status via a status challenge, where I flew 10K miles within 90 days.  And Alaska matched my American status.  This year, I wanted to be able to flirt with all three airlines and decide which of the three airlines made the most sense with which to focus my flying.

Early in 2017, I flew two United alliance partners (Asiana and Austrian) and really enjoyed having Star Alliance status for those flights.  But I kept finding that flights for work were consistently cheaper on American than on United, so I haven’t really flown on United much at all this year.

While most of my flights were on American, I found that crediting my flights to Alaska often yielded me more elite qualifying miles.  Not to mention that until July, keeping my status on Alaska meant that I effectively had status on American: I could select American’s Main Cabin Extra seats for free, I could board early, I could use the priority ticket lines when there was a snafu.  About the only thing I couldn’t do was get free upgrades, but since American was getting stingy about upgrading its elite flyers, that didn’t seem like much of a loss.

So earlier this year, I decided to renew my Alaska status, enjoy American and Alaska (and Virgin America) perks, and let go of United.  And my flying was getting frequent enough that I began to think I could reach the top status on Alaska.  (I’ve never had top status on an airline.  I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.)

Then this summer, Alaska and American decided to break up.  Not really, but they butchered their reciprocal benefits.  No more free Main Cabin Extra seats starting in 2018.  No more priority boarding or priority check-in.  No more earning Alaska miles on the vast majority of American flights.

I was not a happy camper.

In addition, my flight schedule slowed down in the second half of 2017.  So top-tier status on Alaska was not looking likely either.  Not to mention that since I won’t be able to credit American flights on Alaska next year, I’m not likely to re-earn status on Alaska for 2019.

So when the AA/Alaska break-up was announced, I had the following options going forward:

  • I could just enjoy my mid-tier Alaska status while earning status on American or United in 2018.
  • I could try to match my mid-tier Alaska status with the last major US airline that I hadn’t yet challenged or matched to: Delta.
  • I could do a mileage run for top-tier status on Alaska in 2018, then try to match that status with a airline for status in 2019.
  • I could do a mileage run for bottom-tier status on American in 2018 so that I don’t have to start from scratch with AA next year.
  • I could try to do a status challenge with AA to regain Platinum status.
  • I could just give up on status starting with 2019.

I was tempted by the mileage run options, but there were few cheap/economy flight that met my needs.  I would have needed to spend about $1500-2000 to get this done and I wasn’t sure that either top-tier status on Alaska or bottom-tier status on American would be worth the price.

I thought about matching to Delta, but I decided it wasn’t worth doing because I rarely fly Delta.  My hometown, Chicago, is a hub for American and United but not Delta.  So there are fewer direct Delta flights and Delta is often more expensive.

I did start to consider whether airline status was worth the effort anymore.  I have United and American credit cards that give me many of the perks that I value with status (early boarding, free checked bag).  But my favorite perk right now is being able to choose a “premium” seat on American (Main Cabin Extra) and United (Economy+).  The extra leg room is nice (especially for Chris when he travels with me) but, more importantly, I really prefer to be as close to the front of the plane as possible so that I can get off the plane as quickly as possible.  The only way to get these seats for free (because work won’t pay for them) is to have status.

So, now that the end of 2017 is in sight, what did I do?

In August, I started to credit all possible flights to American to try to earn Gold (lowest-level) status.  I also started to shift as many hotel stays as possible to Starwood properties: if I could obtain Platinum status with Starwood, that would match to Platinum with Marriott, which in turn would get me Silver status on United.

Half of my plan worked: I’m now Platinum on Starwood and Marriott, so I’ll have Silver status on United (and in Star Alliance) next year.  While Silver status doesn’t get me much, it does get me free access to United’s Economy Plus seats when I check-in.

But the other half of my plan did not work: I didn’t fly enough during the back half of this year to get to Gold (lowest-level) status on American.  So I’m going to be starting over on American in 2018.  What stings a little is that I would have earned enough miles to get to top-tier status on Alaska if I had just stuck with Alaska this year.  Oh well.

The rules of the points/miles game are constantly changing: all one can do is adapt.  I made a judgment call early this year to switch to Alaska and it didn’t pay off.  But in the meantime, I have a healthy stash of valuable Alaska miles with which to plan fun vacations and I still have status on two major airlines (United and Alaska) in 2018.

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