Thursday, October 03, 2019

Status vs. Status

As a frequent traveler, I belong to all the "award" programs. Platinum this and Gold that. But unlike most frequent travelers, I'm not very strategic about it. If a conference is at a Hilton, I stay at the Hilton (not the Marriott across the street). If it's at a Marriott, I stay at the Marriott (not the Hilton across the street).

Some people are rabid "points" aficionados. They go on and on about how this credit card gets you these benefits, these passes, these upgrades, etc. My brain gets tired just trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B without sitting in the back of a small plane.

I have to admit, I've been Delta "Platinum" for a few years - but I have no idea how to work the system.

I'll easily fly another 30,000 miles between now and early December. So I'll have the miles I need. But I don't think I'll spend enough money to get past Gold. The same thing happened last year, but some stars aligned and I renewed the Platinum.

The reward programs refer to this as Status. What's your status? Are you Silver, Gold, or Platinum?

Of course this isn't real status. You don't buy real status: Your earn it.

As a non-coupon-clipper, I find all the complicated rules too much trouble to keep track of. (This is the same reason I don't follow sports.) In the long run, here's what I think is really going on:

  • If you can afford to always fly Business or First Class, and you fly a lot, you might reach the top tier.
  • If you get the airline credit card, and spend lots of money on it, you are much more likely to get the top tier.

Both of these strategies consist of buying your way to "status." After all, the airlines are in the business of making money. They don't award status points based on your good looks or zip code.

In a separate realm, I'm not a huge believer in credit cards. I'd rather pay cash in advance whenever possible. As a result, I'm never paying $500 for a credit card just so I can get a jump up on the race for status.

No exaggeration here: I will forget to use the benefits. I always do. I am ending 2019 with five suite upgrade nights and a free night at Marriott. Every year I give up a companion pass on Hawaiian because I forget it's there. So if I added a gaggle of additional paid-for benefits with a $500 card, I would forget those as well.

Here's what brings me value (Inside my head. Your mileage may vary.):

1) When I book airfare, I buy it as far in advance as I can. That gets me a great price.

2) I also balance price with convenience and comfort.

3) When it makes sense, I buy airfare and hotel together on Travelocity. The price is often amazing, but you get zero rewards for the hotel nights.

For example, on my recent trip from San Jose to Manchester England to Seattle to LAX, I bought the tickets five months in advance. I paid $930, and was either Comfort Plus or First Class the whole way. BUT the airfare portion of that trip, without the taxes and fees, was just under $360. As a result, it did me very little good toward renewing my Status.

Some people make points runs in order to get status. So, this time of year, they are looking at spending $3,000 or $5,000 in order to get the dollar spend needed to reach Platinum. Inside my head, that doesn't make any sense.

This wouldn't work for me because I would insist on staying wherever I go. I'd spend at least four days at the location before heading back. So that adds hotels, taxis, and food to the spend.

Because I buy tickets far in advance, I can buy legroom and comfort for $50-150 per leg of the trip. It takes a LOT of hops to spend the extra $3,000-$5,000.

The bottom line for me: I'm not buying status. I'll take what I can get. And if I end up paying for my own upgrades next year, I'll be just fine.

No points runs for me.



  1. First of all, status serves no purpose other than ego gratification, if you don't benefit more from it than it costs in terms of time and money. I spend an hour a month reading about the various programs, special offers and alliances within the industry, so lets say $150 monthly. I also carry eight cards that cost about $1,200 annually, so let's say another $100 monthly, making my cost $250 monthly or $3K. That is not insubstantial.

    But the upside is that I benefit, on least of years, three to four times that much and sometimes more. I've had a companion pass, allowing Heidi to fly free anytime I fly on SWA for 20 years. And that has put about 3.2M points in my account in that time providing dozens of free trip. I've been Platinum w/Marriott for 12 years, reaching lifetime Titanium and earning about 3M points in that time.

    For the most part, all I've done to achieve these is fly the flights I would have and stay the nights I would have. I've done one "mileage run" and twice stayed at Marriott properties that were adjacent to, not hosting a show) in 12 years. I run Datto and Sonicwall product and service purchases through Marriott and SWA cards, and pay nothing extra for that but stay Companion Pass and Platinum that way for years.

    The perks have provided me, in the past 12 years at least; six trips to Europe, South America and Australia for free, and a Business upgrade to each, dozens and dozens of free nights at Marriotts and Hyatts, including a this month's free RT to Paris, and five free nights at a Hyatt there as well. And this does not even count getting 2000SF suites in Hawaii, Vegas, Newport and many more over the years.

    And then there are the benefits such as the Priority pass that allows you and two guests free lounge access around the world (which vary from okay to great), free food and drink in most of these hotels), early check-in, very late check-out, and much more. Not to mention primary car rental insurance (which works), lost bag and trip delay expense reimbursement, extended warranties and much more.

    I think the gist of your argument is that you feel that the effort it would take to play the mileage and points games is disproportionate to the gain. Or that it puts an undue burden upon you. You alone can make those judgments, but in my case at least, the rewards far, far outstrip the gains. And, if I "play my cards" right, I'll with enough SWA & Marriot points to enjoy a year or two of mostly free travel.

    It just isn't that hard to score big this way, but you have to know what you are doing. Perhaps some of you will see me speak on this in 2021 at one of the industry shows. But remember, spend wisely and keep an eye on your credit scores so that you can play this game to win. Thanks for letting be rebut your argument Karl, and remember, you will be on tap for the rebuttal after my eulogy!


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