Update On My Plan For Airline Elite Status

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about elite status, and what my strategy and plans are for airline frequent flying. I’ve held elite status with Delta for many years including both Diamond and Platinum levels. I still enjoy flying with Delta, and operationally the airline is very good. I also find the Delta front line employees to be some of the best. They genuinely enjoy their jobs, and most of the time I see it reflected in my interactions with them.

Delta’s frequent flyer program, Delta SkyMiles, is another story. Several years ago, the company started making drastic changes to the way customers earned, managed and used the program’s miles. They also made changes to elite status, and how that is earned by the frequent flyer. I detailed the most negative part of these changes in a couple posts last year titled “Delta, The Long Goodbye – Part 1” and “Delta, The Long Goodbye – Part 2“.

My strategy at that time was to achieve Diamond status with the Delta SkyMiles program during 2016, and make 2017 my last year of high level elite status. Since those posts I changed my strategy, and decided to rollover a large quantity of Delta MQMs to 2017 to achieve platinum status for 2017 and 2018. Since then, I have also reached the One Million Miles mark with Delta, which includes “lifetime” silver status.

So, my updated strategy and plans for airline elite status are:

I’m still dropping elite status in the Delta SkyMiles program

The 2018 Delta SkyMiles program year will be my last year of planned elite status with Delta. If I make status accidently or some other way, fine, but I’m not expecting that to happen. To keep status through 2018 I will fly and earn enough MQM miles with Delta during 2017 that, when combined with my 2016 MQM rollover miles, I will have the 75K of required MQM miles for 2018 platinum status. In addition to the flying, I’m spending $30,000 on the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express. That will give me an additional 15K MQM bonus, as well as the needed MQD waiver for 2018. This all will allow platinum status for program year 2018 and January 2019. During 2018 (and maybe some of 2019) I plan to use the remaining of my Delta Regional Upgrade Certificates and the companion ticket offered on the Delta Reserve Credit Card. After January 2019, I’ll have to purchase higher class, and more expensive, flight tickets from Delta if I want any special treatment.

I status challenged my way to Virgin America Elevate Gold last year

And thoroughly loved it. Last April 2016, Alaska Airlines announced they would be purchasing Virgin America. Realizing that Virgin America would be absorbed by Alaska I immediately status matched, using my Delta SkyMiles Platinum Status, and stated flying with Virgin America. The 2016 Virgin America status match program ended being the last status match that Virgin America would offer.

Normally I wouldn’t have invested time in a revenue based loyalty plan like Virgin America’s Elevate plan, but this would be the last chance to enjoy Richard Branson’s American airline before they were absorbed by Alaska Airlines. It was also an opportunity to enjoy all the benefits that an acquiring airline, in this case Alaska Airlines, shower on their members during a merger. Since the DOJ approval of the acquisition, Alaska Airlines has quickly been very generous toward existing Virgin America Elevate members, including auto-matched Alaska Airline elite status, extra gifting of bonus points, and outright gifting of elite status. You are essentially receiving the benefits of two programs for keeping status in one.

Virgin Elevate is a revenue based program, and to maintain Elevate gold status you need to spend $10,000 with the airline during a program year (ouch). This can be reduced to $7,000 if you spend 30,000 on the airlines Premium Signature Visa Card. For many persons, that’s too much spend for elite status, especially with Virgin America. If you add MVP Gold status with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program the deal does look a little better. My current day job gives me discretion in how and who I spend my travel dollars with, so making the Elevate Gold spend levels are not an issue.

I will finish out 2017 renewing Gold Status with the Virgin America Elevate program. That will be auto-matched to Alaska Airlines MVP Gold for 2018. During 2018 I will then most likely work for Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K, just as I’m finishing out my last year of elite status with Delta SkyMiles.


What About the Southwest Companion Pass?

Last year Southwest Airlines ran an amazing promotion offering the Southwest Companion Pass for 5 roundtrips, or 10 one way flights, in California. Many of us took advantage of this generous offer, including both myself and Brent Snyder of the Cranky Flyer blog. Brent wrote a great post of his one day of flying with southwest to achieve this promotion. Susan and I have enjoyed this companion pass now for 6 months. While it’s wonderful when we fly on Southwest together, we just don’t use it enough to justify requalification.

In Summary:

I think this post demonstrates how effective airline loyalty programs are. I’m planning on downgrading my status level with Delta, but it will take close to 2 years to make the change. I planned on enjoying Virgin America for a year of elite status, that will end up being over three years and eventually with Alaska Airlines.

I’m glad my exit with Delta will take a couple years. I enjoyed their product and preferential treatment for a long time, and this slow exit takes the sting out of flying less with them.

That’s my planned elite status program earning for the next 18 months. I may also look at United at the end of 2018, but will take some time to consider this.

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