Robs Travel Status for Flights and Hotels
In many cases, I spend less than most people and get these perks as part of the status I have achieved with airlines and hotels. You might ask why you care or what does this mean to you? Well, in this post, I'll detail how I get it, how you can get it, and what this means in real life.
Airline StatusTop tier airline status - this is the one you want, period. It can be painful reach the first time, but is easier to keep subsequently and the perks are astounding.
I have been an American Airlines Executive Platinum for 15 years running. I used to get it from work because they had me flying 48 weeks a year. This was when you could get your status just by completing a number of flight segments (100), so I would connect a lot and reach that goal in 25 weeks at the most (round trip with a connection each way). Things these days have changed a bit and now they want you to spend money that is converted to points, which in turn garners status. Since I am not flying for work anymore, I am doing this on my own dime with out of pocket expenditures.
On American that means I need to accumulate 200,000 "loyalty points" which are based on mostly spending money on American flights, but there are other ways now too.
- I fly on American, and because I am Exec Plat, I get 11 points per dollar on the base ticket price (this is a weird thing - you see a ticket to let's say Madrid for $550, most of that will be taxes and fees and you'll get only credit for $120 "base fare" of it, so you need to look carefully here). This is a portion of my earning averaging about 10 cents per loyalty point.
- I also use AA shopping to earn a lot by ordering from Macy's, Bloomingdales, and various other places I would normally shop, so this is just free points towards my status because I would normally be buying this stuff anyways. On average I pay 12 to 8 cents per loyalty point but since it's an expected expense, it's a free earn. You do have to go through the AA shopping site or install their Chrome widget to earn.
- To make things interesting, there is AA Dining where you earn 1, 3 or 5 points per dollar spent (depends on how many times you dine, so yes, like earning status here too). This is about 20 cents per loyalty point, but if you're going to eat there anyway, it's free earn! There have been times when I didn't know a restaurant participated in the program, so it was a nice surprise to see miles show up. You list your credit/debit cards with the site and any time you use one of those cards, you earn loyalty points/miles.
- Also I have been using AA Hotels searching for deals on miles and those sometimes get me into a new hotel so I can also write a post here. The amount spent per loyalty point varies, but I have gotten it down to 3.7 cents a point.
- The biggest gain in sheer number of miles/loyalty points has been flying a long route to Europe or Asia on an OneWorld Partner airline - these include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Qantas, JAL, Qatar and some others which I don't fly from the USA, but book for travel in other countries - like Malaysia Airlines. As a top tier member, I get a percentage of the actual miles flown based on the class of service I purchase, and then a 120% bonus on top of that which has ended up as 60,000 points for $1300 fare before. Which you can see is a major portion of a 200,000 requirement. This can be as low as 2.1 cents per loyalty point and by far the biggest return on investment I have found. I was able to help someone go from zero status to sapphire on OneWorld with 1/2 of one flight using this trick. That's not terrible thing as it gives you access to all the business class lounges around the system and upgrades when available.
- I also got a few thousand points over the year from credit cards specific to American Airlines. See my rant about advertising credit cards farther along in the post.
What does status get you?So most airlines in the USA are similar in their rewards but what American offers specifically that I use are free upgrades, extra miles earned, extra flights available on lesser miles requirements, international lounge access, rebooking priority, and priority boarding. I'll spell each of these out below:
Free UpgradesWhen you see me sitting in a large seat, with a drink in hand, this is because for the coach fare I purchased, I was upgraded to first class. No extra cost, and I upgrade sooner and with higher priority than the rest of the status levels in American. This applies to flights in North America.
Extra Miles EarnedOn every flight, on every airline in the system, I earn more miles because of my status. Why is that important? Because then I get to go places for basically free using those accumulated miles, in business and first, around the world.
Better Award Flight AvailabilityWhen I search for awards on AA, I find more awards for higher classes of service, and when I am actually flying international first class, there are special things that you just cannot get any other way, like the ultra exclusive true First Class only lounges.
International LoungesWhen flying internationally, OneWorld has an amazing collection of super luxurious airlines with their own insane lounges. Many places around the world have both a Business and a First Class lounge. Being top tier with American gives me Emerald on OneWorld which grants access to many First Class lounges around the world. I feel Qantas has absolutely the best, but there are others I have wanted to live in - like Cathay and JAL. You also get access to Business Class lounges, which are pretty good, just not the same as first which have better drinks, food and space to relax. OneWorld Sapphire also gets access to the Business Class lounges.
Rebooking PriorityWhen there is a problem with a flight, and this happens more than you would ever imagine, for I am cursed with hitting these a lot, you get priority for getting on another flight. While you might not be upgraded on a really bad day, you will be on a flight sooner than anyone else that was involved in your original mess.
Priority BoardingAs an emerald, I get to board before anyone, even when I am flying economy. I was in Jakarta, and the highest class of service on JAL from there is Business, and people paid many thousands of dollars. I was flying premium economy to Tokyo and I boarded before they did, guaranteeing room in the overhead, extra time without being slammed by people as I got situated in my seat, and feeling more settled in by departure time.
Hotel StatusThanks for listening to my Ted talk on airline status, but honestly that's only half the picture to traveling well. One should have a very nice, large room, in a high service hotel to properly enjoy a destination. That brings me to hotel status.
I carry top status in two brands, Marriott and Hilton. The Marriott is a lifetime status which now doesn't require me to requalify - I acquired that while traveling for work over 1900 nights. Hilton is one I got through a free status match to Diamond (the top status) based on my Marriott Titanium level and then I was able to reach the goals required and I am continuing on that course.
Let's go through the different programs now and how these things work.
Marriott BonvoyMarriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, with a stupid amount of 5 star properties and many 4 stars (Rob doesn't like to stay at a hotel that isn't at least full service, ergo a Marriott, Hilton, Doubletree, Renaissance, - no Hampton Inns thank you!) across desirable destinations in the world.
I am a lifetime Titanium, which is a very special status not able to be acquired anymore. Titanium is basically the top that you get after 75 nights of staying, I also have a credit card that gives me a few status nights every year as part of it. There is also Ambassador status, but with a requirement of spending $20,000 before taxes and fees per year, I no longer keep that status level (I used to have it) and it barely gives you an advantage on your stay for upgrades in my experience.
That may seem like a lot, and it kind of is when you're not traveling for a living. The most they give lifetime now is Platinum after several years of having it. This is not for the casual traveler to acquire I think, and we're going to focus on points for you in this section.
So my Titanium status gets me the following benefits which I have now come to find as indispensable when I travel to, well, anywhere. Room upgrades, up to and including suites. Executive lounge access. More points per stay. Late checkouts. Suite Nights. Now as before let's get into each one of these.
Room UpgradesAs it says, upgraded rooms. Buy a cheap room, get a better one if the space is available. I get suites a lot. Actually more than 75% of the time. These rooms are many times more than you what you would expect a suite to be. Like a 1500 square foot ocean facing double wide room in Bali at the Ritz, or the Presidential Suite at the JW Atlanta (2200 square feet). It's a toss-up whether this or lounge access for most valuable perk I feel.
Executive Lounge AccessAhhh, the executive lounge. The retreat away from the madness of the rest of the hotel, including free hors d'oeuvres at night with a discounted bar service for drinks, free breakfast in the morning, usually soft drinks and water available all day and some snacks, and this is just in the USA. When you get overseas the lounge in absolutely insane. The food offerings for breakfast increase 7-fold and evening snacks becomes a dinner service. Alcohol is free and of excellent quality. You can stay in here all day if you want, and well... no, I haven't, I have places to see, but some people do. It's that good.
More PointsAs a Titanium, I get 75% more points on my stay, after already getting 10 points per $ I spend. So that adds up pretty quickly. I also get exclusive bonus offers for more points faster, which turn into stays at the most expensive and exclusive resorts in the world.
Marriott has credit cards that give you points on spend, and there is the Marriott Dining program that gives you points per $ spent based on your Marriott status level. As a casual traveler, my advice earn the points and use them for reward stays that include the executive lounge. Then you're basically getting my experience. If you're doing dining linked to your airline status account, you cannot double up on that same credit card. You have to choose one or the other.
One more thing, Marriott has what is called Instant Redemption, which means you can use your points to pay for almost anything you can charge to your room over your stay. This has been used for thousands of dollars of food at locations over the years. I would say, and I feel by now I am an expert on this, your goal for average stays in major cities is around 50,000 points a night. Then you can shop around for dates/properties to get the best usage on your stash. Redemption is 250 points per dollar, average meals are $40 a person in a hotel, you can figure out your budget there based on your situation.
Late CheckoutsGenerally you have to get your ass out of your room by 11am on the day you are leaving. I regularly can stay until 4pm. Many times after 4pm, they just put me back in the executive lounge while I wait til it's time to leave for the airport since my flight out always seems to be hella late at night when in Asia. This is astounding service, and what a relaxing way to not have to stay in the airport terminal until boarding time.
Suite NightsAfter 50 and 75 nights stayed, you can pick 5 suite nights per each reward level (the only option I feel is worth picking). Those will lock in a suite for you before the hotel even evaluates your potential upgrade 1 day or day of arrival for you. Quite a nice thing and I wish there was a way to earn more because I have killed it on these. They don't always get you a suite, but greatly increase your odds.
Hilton HonorsHilton Honors, or HHonors used to be the best hotel program there was. It's still pretty good but they have really downgraded many aspects of the program. I still keep it because I have access to some great rates with them.
Diamond status can be gained by staying 60 nights, which is much more approachable than Marriott's 75 for the top tier, but as you'll learn, all programs are not equal so the cost to get to Diamond is probably equal to its value as a program status level. There is also a credit card with $450 fee that gives you Diamond just by having it, but I kinda refuse to mention or pump credit cards on my site. It's a personal grudge against them.
Hilton has properties all over, not nearly as many as Marriott, but they have an impressive array of 4-star or better in more of the elegant travel spots of the world. Waldorf Astorias are pretty amazing and Conrads are a consistent winner for luxury and elegance. So as a Hilton Diamond I use the following benefits with glee and frequency: Room upgrades, even to suites. Executive Lounge Access. More Points. Food and Beverage discounts at property dining establishments. Late checkout. As now is a standard established by me, let's drill into each one.
Room UpgradesYou can get upgraded to better rooms, even suites and even Presidential Suites if the person really likes you at the property (ergo, don't be an entitled dick, but be gracious for the treatment you are given). In practice though, and potentially through some of the GO program rates, my upgrade success has been really poor. I have only gotten to suites on 3 properties in 45 nights of staying this year and 35 last year. This is significantly lower than Marriott does. It's definitely a concern for me as I continue this journey with Hilton.
Executive Lounge AccessAlmost identical to Marriott's offerings in each market, the Executive lounge is a bastion of calm to hang out in, drink and eat. I swear they clone each other on this one, no lie. They are so equivalent I cannot come up with a comparison to differentiate. But given the difficulty of the suite upgrades, this has become my most valued perk at Hilton.
More PointsAs a Diamond status member, I get 100% more points as bonus over the 10 per $1 that is the base level. This adds up quick and there are exclusive bonuses for many thousands of points bringing me to my goals much quicker. Points stays give the hotel you are at, a full room rate reimbursement from Hilton corporation. This is usually more money than they'd charge you to stay there normally, so they are much kinder on upgrades.
Hilton also has a dining program, and the amount you earn is based on the amount of times you dine on it in a year.
And of course, there are various credit cards that get you various points per dollar spent at the hotel (7-14 per dollar at my last checking), and less in the real world, with various annual fees attached to them.
Food and Beverage DiscountsMostly overseas, especially in Asia, diamonds get a discount (I think it's around 25% but it seems to vary) while dining on property. I took a local friend to dinner at the Bangkok Conrad's Chinese restaurant to thank her for showing me around the city like a local. Between the amazing costs, exchange rate and discount, dinner at this high end establishment that usually has a waiting list was $30. That's for two people. It really makes a difference for sure.
Late Check OutI hate being rushed. Hilton also allows me to defer up to 4pm for a late checkout. This is worldwide and I have used it quite a few times. Especially at very nice properties. When a place does it right you don't want to leave. Also it really helps me schedule around work meetings so I can move on when I don't have to take a call. That's seriously stressful when in another country and time zone.
Is Hilton worth it? Now that is the real question isn't it? I'm still working on that one and I'm giving it a couple more years to settle down before I evaluate the possibility of moving on.