As 2015 was my first full year of travel/travel hacking, it was also the first year in which I achieved status with airline and hotel loyalty programs. In the spirit of being analytical in my decision-making, I figured it would be worth doing an accounting of the statuses I attained and the benefits that they ended up offering me in practice (I only have about three months of data since I qualified for most of these in October or November). So, without further ado:

What I’ve earned

Virgin America (VX) Gold:

Benefits (restricted to the set I care about):

  • Main Cabin Express at booking
  • Main Cabin Select (MCS) at 24 hours from flight departure
  • Waived Elevate redeposit fee (which effectively means unlimited award bookings/cancellations).
  • 100% points earning bonus (10/dollar)

What I earned in 2015:

  • $60 from being able to re-book an award flight at a lower price
  • One MCS upgrade

How did I get it?

American Express and Virgin America were offering a promotion where if you transferred 80,000 Membership Rewards points to Virgin America at a (n atrocious) 2:1 ratio, you would be granted VX Gold (top-tier) status until the end of 2016 (at the time they were offering a 25% bonus, so I ended up getting 50,000 VX points for my troubles). As our friend Vinh from Miles Per Day wrote, I immediately saw this less as an opportunity to get VX status and more as an opportunity to get Alaska (AS) status via their status match. More on that later.

Am I going to keep it?

Obviously, it’s hard to project based on two months of data, but it’s both really hard to attain (requiring $10k in spending on flights) and not particularly valuable to me. MCS is the best domestic PE product out there, but it’s certainly not worth the 50-100% premium Virgin America typically charges. The free award rebooking is amazing, and if it were offered as a VX Silver benefit, I would happily MS my way to it (the VX Visa Signature offers 5,000 tier points per $10k spend), but alas, it doesn’t.

Alaska MVP Gold


  • 100% bonus mileage (RDM) earning on Alaska and its partners
  • 4 gold guest upgrades
  • Reciprocal benefits on American (AA) and Delta, including Main Cabin Extra seats and free checked bags on AA
  • Free award changes

What I earned:

  • 11,000 bonus RDM
  • Crew rest seat (with leg rest!) on an SFO-JFK transcon (it was a TATL 757 configuration).
  • Three exit row seats on Delta

How did I get it?

As I mentioned above, after getting my Virgin America Gold status, I immediately sent an email to Alaska Mileageplan asking for a match to MVP Gold (75k). They only gave me MVP Gold, but I’m sure as heck not complaining. Unfortunately, matches are once per lifetime, but I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and it was the right choice for me (particularly because Alaska will be the only US loyalty program left that offers distance-based earning).

Am I going to keep it?

Yes. Or at least I’ll try. By the end of this month I’ll have another 11,500 bonus RDM. So I figure I’ll get upwards of 20,000 bonus RDM per year (this year will have fewer revenue tickets than last because I don’t have any mistake-fare travel planned). That in itself is worth $250 to me. Throw in Main Cabin Extra seats on American and the occasional exit row on Delta, and it’s conservatively worth $500 all-in.

Orbitz Platinum


  • Tier bonus (Once $100 → then $50 → now $0) on Best Rate Guarantee claims
  • Two checked bag refunds (up to $25 back in Orbucks) per year
  • Free TSA Precheck

What I earned:

  • 800 bonus Orbucks
  • 50 Orbucks in checked bag fee reimbursements
  • TSA Precheck code that I gifted to my mother

How did I get it?

By staying 12 nights in hotels I paid for through Orbitz.

Am I going to keep it?

Given that all bookings (including those covered fully by Orbucks) count towards the stay requirements for status, I’ll probably hit it passively. It helps that my Orbitz Visa card gives me 5% on all bookings (hotel AND flight). Unfortunately, when Expedia bought Orbitz they gutted the best rate guarantee program (so now you only get $50 irrespective of your status), so it won’t be nearly as lucrative, but Orbitz will continue to be my go-to OTA.

Other Stuff

American Airlines Gold: I got this by crediting my US Airways leg between DFW and BOG to American while it was offering its end-of-the-year status challenge. As long as I have AS MVP Gold, this doesn’t offer me much, since I get Main Cabin Extra seats as an MVP Gold benefit, in addition to better (+100% instead of +25%) mileage earning.

Hyatt Diamond: Thanks to that ridiculous, instant match via Twitter, I attained Hyatt Diamond with a screenshot of my IHG Platinum status (from the credit card) plus three (award 😉 ) stays.

Hilton Diamond: Matched from Hyatt. November was quite the month.

Both of these give increased earning, but given that hotel expenses are my largest cash expense and hotel loyalty programs aren’t nearly lucrative enough to cover all of my travel (and that Orbitz was immensely profitable for me this past year), I don’t get much value out of these. I’m sure a suite upgrade will be nice, but without a behavior change, I wouldn’t normally stay at Hyatts or Hiltons. That, and I get mid-tier Hilton status from my Amex Platinum card anyway.

IHG Platinum: This is a benefit of the IHG Rewards Mastercard from Chase. IHG is the only hotel chain where I actually have paid stays, but I had none this past year, so the 50% earnings bonus netted me nothing. And even if I had paid stays, I can buy IHG points at 0.6 cents per point, so the bonus is nothing special.

What I’ve learned

You’ll note that none of my statuses except for Orbitz were earned in the traditional way (i.e. actual flights, stays, etc), because I rarely travel revenue, and when I do, its typically on a mistake fare.

However, that doesn’t mean I can’t be strategic about where I credit and what I do pay for when I am forced to pay for a flight or a night. My initial conclusion is that any improved mileage earning is most valuable, followed by a benefit like free award cancellation and lastly, access to E+ seats. Why are they ordered this way? For each successive item, the monetary value has diminishing certainty. I know and can fairly easily predict how many extra miles I will earn in a given year and what they’re worth, but it’s hard for me to put a ‘price’ on the extra legroom of an E+ seat.

So for 2016, I’m going to shoot to re-qualify for MVP Gold and pretty much let everything else lapse. I’ll probably qualify for Orbitz Platinum again, but now that they’ve gutted the best rate guarantee program and my entire family has Global Entry/Precheck, it’s not something I’m going to bend over backwards to do.

How do you think about status? What are your plans for 2016?