Mid-year Status Considerations for Airline Loyalty Programs

Mid-year Status Considerations for Airline Loyalty Programs

Now that the year is half over it’s a good time for savvy travelers to reflect on the awesome and free trips they’ve taken, on the miles they’ve flown, and on the status they’ve achieved or hope to.

As many of you likely know, most airline and hotel loyalty programs have status levels that can be achieved through regular flights and stays. These status levels vary wildly from program to program, both in requirements and perks, but generally speaking they offer various benefits like priority check-in, bonus mile/point earning, complimentary upgrades, etc. Some are particularly valuable, while others are rather uninspiring.

If you’re working on status for a particular airline, the mid-year point is a good time to double check if you’re on track to earn status by the end of the year. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • The majority of status-earning programs operate on a calendar year basis. That means you’ll need to complete all eligible travel before the end of the calendar year. If your travel patterns are uniform over the course of the year, you should already be more than halfway done qualifying for next year’s status
  • Many programs’ status levels kick in immediately, and last until the end of the following calendar year. That means that if you earn status now, you’ll have those benefits until December 2018
  • Sometimes miles/points can take a while to post, so it’s a good idea to make sure to complete your eligible travel with some time to spare before the end of the year
  • If you have pending points and the end of the eligibility period is near, you may be able to call in and expedite the posting of those points
  • In some cases, it might make sense to complete mattress runs (hotel stays) or mileage runs in order to earn status.

“Running” for Status – Does It Make Sense?

Every heard of a mileage run? How about a mattress run? These terms refer to taking flights or staying in hotels purely for the miles/points. In other words, taking unnecessary trips to earn miles. These kinds of activities used to be quite lucrative, but have since diminished in value. Nowadays, it’s generally only worth “running” if you are working on a status level and need a few extra miles/points to push you over the edge.

Mileage run
A mileage run could be just what you need to earn the miles needed to achieve status

Determining whether completing runs is worthwhile is a complex process with a lot of variables. Here are some things to consider:

  • What status level are you chasing, and what are those benefits actually worth to you?
  • How much will you need to invest (both in time and money) in these runs in order to qualify for the status level you want?
  • Can you reach the desired status level through organic/natural travel?
  • Are there any current promotions going on that might make it more worthwhile to run for status (such as super cheap flights, targeted bonus point promotions, etc.)

Among these factors, two things really stand out: the value of the benefits you could enjoy from achieving your target status, and the value of your time. Both of these are somewhat intangible and difficult to put a firm number on and also vary significantly from person to person, but if you’re considering a mattress or mileage run, it’s important to take a step back and think about it.

The value of status benefits really depend on how often you travel on that particular airline/stay at that particular hotel. Something like a free checked bag could potentially save you $50 or more on every paid flight – which could mean $50, or $500, depending on how often you fly. Also try to keep in mind the opportunity cost – for instance, if you hold status with an airline you are likely to always fly that airline, even if another carrier may offer cheaper rates for certain itineraries – this could end up costing you more in the long run than simply paying for that checked bag or priority seat every time you fly. Lastly, be sure to value the time it takes you to complete these runs – you can even assign an appropriate hourly wage to yourself, if you want.

One Golden Opportunity for Status: The Southwest Companion Pass

Most airline status programs offer great benefits, but perhaps none is as valuable as the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass. This status requires earning 110,000 Southwest miles in a calendar year but it offers a free companion ticket on every booking, whether you book with miles or with cash. All you pay for the second ticket is taxes & fees.

Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable perks of the elite status
The Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most valuable perks of elite status

For regular domestic travelers who are coupled up, this can translate to massive savings. Also, the Companion Pass, once earned, is good for the full calendar year it’s earned in, plus the entirety of the following year. That means if you earn it right now, it’s good until the end of 2018.

So, why is this important to consider right now? Because you can earn the Companion Pass with points earned from credit card sign-up bonuses, and, more importantly, all three Chase Southwest cards are currently offering 60,000 miles each as sign up bonuses! That means if you apply for two of the cards, and meet the minimum sped requirments, you’ll automatically earn the Southwest Companion Pass plus 120,000 miles (which is really more like 240,000 miles if you can take advantage of the Companion Pass on your award flights).

The standard bonus on these cards is 50,000 miles each, and we rarely see bonuses higher than that. There are two versions of the personal card, and one business version. Keep in mind that these cards do fall under the Chase 5/24 rule, so if you’ve opened more than 5 cards in the last 24 months, you will not be approved for these cards.

What Status are You Chasing?

It’s nearly August, and the year is going quick! What status level are you chasing, and how close are you?