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Miles and Points, Posted by Amy
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Getting Elite Status and How Loyalty Pays Off

I was looking at my upcoming itineraries the other day and realized I had booked a flight from SFO -> SEA on the wrong day. Oops! But no biggie… I just called the special Delta Diamond Medallion Line and an understanding agent changed my flight for free.

Usually when you make a flight change, there’s a steep $200 change fee. However, the customer service representative changed my flight and waived the fee. Why? Well, I can’t say for certain but as a Delta Diamond Medallion, I get some really great customer service.

I’ve had a lot of good experiences recently due to having elite status in various programs, and I wanted to post about a few of them so you can see the real, tangible benefits of sticking with one hotel, airline, or car rental program.I also want to emphasize this: Getting to the first tier of elite status is probably easier than you think.

Getting to the first tier of elite status is probably easier than you think.

Ways Elite Status Has Made My Life Easier

Here are a few things that have happened to me just in the past week that were totally awesome:

Upgraded to first class because of elite status
Airline:

  • I was upgraded to first class on the 4.5-hour flight from DTW to SFO
  • Good customer service when I made a mistake.
  • Instead of waiting on hold, I called the special Delta elite line and got through right away
  • My Friday afternoon meeting got cancelled, so I changed to an earlier flight out for free (called “Same Day Confirm” on Delta).

Hotel:

  • The hotel I wanted was fully booked, but I called and they gave me a room anyway.
  • Free wifi
  • SPG points when checking in as a gift
  • Upgrade to a nicer room
  • Received an email from a hotel VIP manager confirming my special requests and asking if I needed anything for my upcoming stay in Seattle.
A welcome letter from the Sheraton Seattle. They are already winning me over with this customer service!

In addition to the things that happened just this week, I also often make use of the following:

Free breakfast at the St. Regis Bankok (top) and the St. Regis Mauritius (bottom)

  • Earning more points, which leads to more free trips
  • Priority security and boarding lines
  • Access to the club lounge in the hotel (stocked with drinks and snacks)
  • Free breakfast (At some resorts, the breakfast is $75!)
  • 4pm late checkout at hotels
  • Generally awesome customer service and smooth sailing when things don’t go according to plan
  • Free premium economy seats when I don’t get upgraded to first class
  • Same day flight changes for free

Having status with a hotel or airline makes everything a little easier, and little more convenient, and every once-in- a-while a little luxurious!

Getting Hotel Elite Status

Most business travelers have this stuff down pat, but even if you don’t travel a lot for business, elite status can still be attainable if you travel even a few times a year.

If you’re new to hotel programs, check out this post that explains how they work and how to earn points for free stays.

Starwood Preferred Guest Example

I have gold SPG status for next year but am hoping to get to Platinum again!
SPG Gold status can be achieved after 10 stays, or 25 nights. Anytime you check in and then check out, that counts as a stay.

Gold status gets you:

  • 3 SPG points for every dollar you spent (rack up the points for free trips!)
  • 4pm Late checkout
  • An enhanced room at check-in when available, and upgrades to suites using points
  • an elite customer service line
  • A welcome gift: free points, free wifi, or a complimentary beverage
  • Earn 1 Delta Skymile per $ spent (they have a crossover rewards program)

I know I was really stoked when I first achieved Gold status with SPG. They send you a little packet in the mail with a gold card and everything.

How do you Get it?

Well, if you have 10 hotel stays planned in places where they have SPG hotels, then not to worry, you’re golden.

But if you don’t, here are some things you can do:

  • Stay at different hotels during the same trip. One night here, one night there… if it’s not a huge inconvenience, you can rack up stays really quickly
  • Get the SPG credit card. It gives you credit for 5 nights and 2 stays. So now you only need 8 stays to make gold. (Also it helps you collect valuable SPG points faster. My family trip to the St. Regis Mauritius was funded entirely on points we earned from this SPG credit card.)

Club Carlson Example

As a Club Carlson Silver Elite, you get the following:

  • Complimentary room upgrades
  • 20 points/$ spent + a 15% bonus (that’s insane!)
  • Early check-in and late check-out
  • Food and beverage discounts
  • Free internet
  • Elite member services line

You can get Silver Elite status for 10 stays or 15 nights.

Thanks to my Club Carlson points, My friend Marti and I stayed 6 nights at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bucharest for free.

Gold Elite ups the game a little more for 20 stays or 35 nights.

How do you get it?

So you could stay a bunch of nights… or sign up for the Club Carlson credit card and get Gold status automatically. I have this card and it totally rocks. You get a lot of points for signing up, even more points for spending money on the card, and a free night on every award stay of more than 1 night.

Club Carlson doesn’t have a ton of great hotels in the US, but they do have a lot in Europe/Asia, and it’s really easy to accumulate points. I use my card here and there and collect enough points to redeem for nice award stays while traveling.

Marriott Example

As a Marriott silver elite, you get:

  • An elite customer service line
  • 20% on Marriott points
  • Free internet (in some hotels, not all)
  • Late checkout

How do you get it?

This requires only 10 nights. Or you could get a Marriott credit card. (Do you see a theme here?)

I actually have the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa which gives you 15 credits towards Elite status every year. That means I automatically get Silver status with Marriott. Like the other cards, it comes with a nice sign-up bonus and good points earnings potential.

There are many other hotel programs, these are just a few of the programs I personally use the most. These are also just the first tier of elite rewards – it only gets better the higher up you go!

Getting Airline Elite Status

All of the major US airlines start their first tier of Elite status at 25,000 miles, as I outlined in this post on how to be a more efficient traveler.

If you fly a few times a year, 25,000 miles is not all that much. You can get that with:

  • 6 round trip flights between Detroit and San Francisco (this is my work route) 🙂
  • 2 round trip flights from the US to Europe plus one transcon (that’s traveler lingo for a coast to coast flight)
  • I got bored making this list but you get the idea

You get sky miles credit for some partner flights as well, but not all so always check the chart before you book. And then hire someone who speaks corporate airline to interpret it for you.

On Delta, Silver Medallion gets you:

My Delta Sky Miles status so far. I am hoping to re-qualify for Diamond Medallion next year but need 36,000 more miles.
  • Complimentary upgrades to first class when space is available
  • Preferred seats at booking. If you’ve ever noticed that there are a lot of greyed out seats in the front when you book, it’s because they are reserved for elites.
  • Free economy comfort seats at check-in (more leg room!)
  • Rollover Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). This means that if you fly 30,000 miles you get Silver Elite status plus 5,000 miles towards elite status for the next year.
  • Free checked bags
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in (some airports)
  • Priority security line (some airports)

You can get 5,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles for signing up for the Delta Platinum Amex, 10,000 more for spending $25,000, and another 10,000 for spending $50,000. If you have to spend a lot of money for something, you could get Silver Elite status just sitting at home on your butt.

The Points Guy has a thorough review of all of the major airlines first status tier, so if you are thinking about going for it on your airline of choice, check out these reviews:

Car Rental Elite Status

I’m not going to write a lot here because I don’t care that much about car rental elite status. Generally, elite status gets you upgraded cars, so if you care about that, it’s a good reason to stick with one car rental company. I only care about skipping all of the car rental lines, and you can do that for free.

I don’t want upgraded cars since I’m much more comfortable driving a compact, but I stick with one car company because I save up points towards free rentals.

A few months ago, out in small town Oregon it was going to be $900 to rent a 5-seater SUV for 3 days. YIKES. Luckily I had enough points saved up to cover it so I paid $7 in taxes and that was it.

As you can see, even if you don’t travel a lot there are some huge benefits to sticking with one airline, hotel, or car company, and these benefits can make your travel experience easier and more pleasant. You might be surprised at what you can get out of travel!

Earn points, then relax on the beach during your free vacation.
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