One of the cool things about being an expert on credit card rewards is that I know how to earn award travel around the world. But the problem with all of that award travel is that airlines and hotels are not interested in bestowing elite status on a freeloader like me. These companies are so greedy that they actually want me to pay for travel before they will bestow me with elite status and give me preferential treatment. Fortunately, my credit cards often come to the rescue.
Hotels loyalty programs are the easiest to earn status from without actually paying for travel. For example, the Starwood chain offers Gold status to holders of their Starwood American Express cards who spend $30,000 in a calendar year. This status is also awarded to those with an American Express Platinum card, although they do have to request it. Hyatt offers Platinum status in their Gold Passport program for those who hold their Chase credit card. They also grant credits towards higher levels of status. The Hilton HHonors Reserve Card from Citi will actually grant you top level Diamond status to cardholders who spend $40,000 in a calendar year.
Airlines make it a bit trickier to earn status from just credit card spending. For example, Delta offers 10,000 Medallion qualifying miles as a sign up bonus for its American Express SkyMiles Reserve card. Each year, cardholders can earn 15,000 more qualifying miles each time that they reach $30,000 and $60,000 of spending. So it is possible for someone to get both the personal and business cards, earn 20,000 qualifying miles and another 60,000 if they spent $120,000. While that is some pretty serious spending, a more conservative approach would be to meet the spending thresholds in order to reach the next level of status. United, American, and US Airways also offer high end credit cards that offer some elite qualifying miles.
But what is status worth?
I am achieving mid-level hotel status for at least two chains this year through credit card spend, but I am forgoing any effort to earn airline status. I like getting upgraded rooms, free Internet service, and a late checkout, but when it comes to the airlines, status has much less appeal when traveling on an award. First, you can’t be upgraded on an award with most airlines (Delta is an exceptions). But also, I do most of my domestic travel on Southwest which already has free checked bags and no change fees.
Plus, when traveling internationally, I typically use a business class award. Therefore, I already get to use the priority security and boarding lines, lounge access, and a huge checked baggage allowance. In fact, most of the benefits of status are only relevant to those who pay cash for coach seats, something that I rarely do.
So if you are trying to earn status with a hotel or airline, look to your credit cards as one tool to reach your goals. Otherwise, it will take a lot of trips and a lot of spending with a single travel brand to achieve status levels that actually provide good benefits.