Photographer: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Luxury Travel

A Travel Hacker's Guide to Elite Status in 2017 and Beyond

An urgent year-end checklist for frequent fliers and the status-obsessed

With only a few weeks left in the year, it’s time to take stock of your points and miles and make sure you start 2017 with VIP status—at least as far as airlines and hotels are concerned.

From auditing your loyalty-program accounts to leveraging credit-card promotions, there are several ways to earn your gold or platinum status without necessarily going on a mileage run halfway around the world. Here are nine quick and painless strategies to employ before the ball drops on Dec. 31. The more you can squeeze in, the better.

 

1. Audit your airline frequent-flier accounts.

airport-spas-lounges-bloomberg-emirates-02

VIP treatment—in the form of airport lounge access—for frequent Emirates fliers.

Source: Emirates

Check that you’ve received credit for all eligible flights you have taken with your primary airline and its partners; then see how that stacks up against the carrier’s flight and spending requirements. Remember, on carriers such as Delta and United, there are new rules governing how many dollars you need to spend on airfare (in addition to flying a certain number of miles or segments) to earn your elite credentials.

Need a last-minute boost? There’s still time to take a few more flights. But there might be an easier way. Credit cards, including the Delta Reserve from American Express and the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, will give you elite-qualifying miles in exchange for hitting spending thresholds through the calendar year. Doing all your holiday shopping on the right card could tip you into VIP territory.

 

2. Cash in on bonuses and affiliate hotel stays.

A room at the Las Alcobas, a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel.

Las Alcobas, a Luxury Collection (SPG) hotel that should be on top of your points-redemption wish list in 2017.

Source: Marriott International Luxury Brands

Hotels calculate your loyalty status based on the number of nights or stays you complete from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31—just as airlines do. But there are two things you may not think to double-check when you’re reviewing your year in travel.

First, make sure that stays at affiliated properties have been counted, then check to see if your co-branded credit card entitles you to any elite-status bonuses. For example, if you have the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, you’re entitled to two stays’ and five nights’ worth of credit toward elite status each year; the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card from Chase, meanwhile, offers cardholders a full 15 nights’ credit each year. That’s enough for silver status on its own, so make sure all those credits show up on your account.

 

3. Don’t let good points and miles go to waste.

travel-frequent-flyer-guide-03

A snapshot of the AwardWallet app interface

Source: AwardWallet

Don’t lose your miles just because you haven’t flown on a specific airline or stayed with a particular hotel group in a while. Instead, download AwardWallet, a free app that keeps track of your points balances and expiration dates.

If you find that some accounts are on their last legs, you can give them a quick jolt—often without spending any money (or time) on flights or stays. Make a token purchase through an airline or hotel’s shopping portal. Dine out at a restaurant partner. Buy something via a co-branded credit card. In general, all you have to do is earn a single point to keep your account alive.

 

4. Use up your travel credits or vouchers.

dollar airplane

You wouldn't throw away money. Don't throw away a free flight.

Photographer: IMAGEMORE Co.,Ltd./Getty Images/Imagemore

Airline and hotel vouchers (such as those you get for being bumped from a flight) have expiration dates, so use them while they’re still good. The same goes for annual travel credits from premium credit cards such as those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, and the Platinum Card from American Express—use them up by Dec. 31.

 

5. Spend more to earn more.

Shoppers walk through the Menlo Park Mall in Edison, New Jersey, U.S., on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. As Black Friday ushers in the year-end shopping rush, chains are touting larger price cuts than in 2015 -- a gamble that maintaining market share is worth squeezing margins.  Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

Holiday shopping—the easiest way to elite status.

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

You’ve already learned that some cards will give you elite-qualifying miles or points for dollars spent. Others go farther, offering elite status or companion tickets just for meeting certain spending requirements during the calendar year. The British Airways Visa from Chase, for instance, offers cardholders who spend $30,000 or more per year a “Travel Together Ticket” that amounts to a two-for-one award ticket. (You can redeem it up to two years later.)

Similarly, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card confers automatic top-tier Hilton HHonors Diamond status on cardholders who ring up $40,000 or more on purchases in a calendar year. If you have a card with such a perk and are close to meeting the spending threshold for it, put on your Santa hat: Generous giving can buy you more than good karma.

 

6. Apply for a new card with a big sign-up bonus.

credit card apply shopping HP

New credit cards mean new opportunities for bonuses.

Photographer: Colin Anderson/Getty Images/Blend Images

Don’t have a spending requirement to meet? Get one. Figure out how much you’ll spend on holiday gifts and travel this month, and pick a card that’ll reward you with a bonus just for making your already-planned purchases.

If you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, or the Platinum Card from American Express before Dec. 31, you’ll get to use their annual bonus credit before the end of 2016 and then again in 2017, since these credits are based on the calendar year rather than the card-membership anniversary. Yes, these three cards each come with a $450 annual fee (which is calculated on your membership year, not the calendar year)—but you will also get $400 to $600 in value right off the bat, depending on the card for which you apply, because you can use their annual travel credits now—and then again, as soon as January commences.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers new cardholders 100,000 points when they spend $4,000 on purchases within three months, which you might rack up over the holidays with travel and giving. Or go for the limited-time offer for the Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express, whose new cardholders can earn up to 100,000 membership rewards points by spending $15,000 in total within the first three months. (It's a little more ambitious.)

 

7. Milk those retail partnerships.

travel-frequent-flyer-guide-evr

EVReward will help you find the retail partnerships most worth your while.

Source: EVReward

Double-dip on some of the strategies above by using an airline or hotel’s online shopping portal. When you log in and click through to a merchant, you’re eligible for earnings multipliers that can triple or quadruple the points or miles you’d make on any given purchase. Merchants can range from Target to Bloomingdale’s and electronics outfitter TigerDirect—making it incredibly easy to take advantage. To compare the bonuses each portal is offering at specific retailers, use a site such as EVReward.com.

 

8. Be a traitor—and cash in on it.

television-hotel

Play for a different team, and you can (potentially) kiss those basic rooms goodbye.

Photographer: Getty Images

If you’re likely to lose your status in 2017, now is the perfect time to apply for a match or challenge with a different program. You’ll enter the new relationship with leverage—and won’t have to play by the strict rules applied to those who are starting from scratch.

This strategy works best with hotel programs, which more often match your current status with that of a competitor without imposing minimum stay requirements. Airlines, on the other hand, tend to match your status after you’ve completed a challenge—which usually means taking a couple of flights. Learn about these types of offers  and how to go about asking for them at StatusMatcher.com, a message board of sorts for available promotions.

 

9. Maximize holiday travel promotions.

TOPSHOT - Performers parade in Hong Kong on December 15, 2015 to promote a funfair and festival taking place during the Christmas festive season.  Christmas is celebrated worldwide on December 25. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez / AFP / PHILIPPE LOPEZ        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Go see Santa in Hong Kong (center), or take advantage of travel deals closer to home.

Photographer: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re dreading a family visit this holiday season, here’s your silver lining: big opportunities for bonus points or miles. With Marriott’s current “MegaBonus” holiday promotion, for instance, you have two redemption choices: 5,000 bonus points after two paid stays or 10,000 bonus points after 10 nights. It’s valid for stays through mid-January, and you can redeem it multiple times (up to 50,000 points)—as long as you sign up by Dec. 15.

Here’s one more secret: None of these strategies are exclusive to the year-end period. Use this cheat sheet to close in on your 2017 goals and continue to reorganize yourself with it every few months in the coming year. We promise it will eventually lead to an even more elite 2018.

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