At the beginning of the year, I did a reflection on 2015 and made some projections about what statuses I had earned, whether they’d be useful, and if I’d aim to re-qualify for them by the end of the year:
Which of my predictions reached fruition?
I certainly reaped the benefits of Alaska status, whether they be the extra ~50,000 redeemable miles I earned, the Premium Economy seats on my upcoming AA flight to Madrid or the occasional exit row seat on Delta that isn’t considered part of its Economy Comfort offering. I also got upgraded a few times on Alaska metal itself, which, while nice, was nothing mind blowing. I still consider it an auxiliary benefit more than anything, although it might be more valuable now that Virgin America’s SFO-JFK route will be owned by Alaska. We’ll see when the upgrade policies coallesce.
Virgin America proved to be worth about $200 in miles, so I rightfully didn’t pursue it, nor did I partake in this year’s renewed Membership Rewards transfer promotion. That said, I’m getting it for ‘free’ in 2017, so I’ll happily take the $200.
Orbitz completely fell off the map for me, as points redemptions for hotel reached a peak this year. I paid ‘cash’ (and by that I mean Orbitz money and a Hotels.com cert) for only about 1/3 of all of my travels this year. If we’re being honest, I don’t expect this trend to continue, since it’s not all that easy for me to (efficiently) earn hotel points, nor do I tend to redeem for outrageously fancy hotels (the Park Hyatt New York and Park Hyatt Sydney being the two main counter-examples). The value proposition is just not there.
Plans for 2017
Alaska MVP Gold
Believe it or not, I earned this with butt-in-seat miles, and I plan to do so again this coming year. Somehow they keep making the program better (sudden Emirates award devaluation and reduced earnings on AA excepted). They still offer mileage-based earning when every other U.S. carrier has switched to a revenue model. They still offer free cancellations outside of 60 days to non-elites and until day of departure for MVP Gold. It’s clear that they listen to feedback, giving us four months notice of the end of the Delta partnership after we all complained about the Emirates and AA changes. They upped upgrade benefits despite adding an E+ product. They negotiated absurdly reasonable rates with JAL for premium cabin redemptions, and they expanded their domestic route network through the Virgin America acquisition to make them a relevant option for my domestic travel. The 1:1.3 transfer ratio from Virgin America points is higher than I expected, and underscores their commitment to treating Virgin customers well. I could go on, but you get the point. (You can find more details on the AS-VX merger here).
JetBlue True Blue Mosaic
The JetBlue Plus and Business credit cards (these are NOT affiliate links) offer Mosaic status after $50,000 in spending in a single statement year. Having gotten an opportunity to try out Mosaic status through a status match, it’s evident that JetBlue treats its customers well, and the free award cancellations have come in handy three times in just three months of having status.
As I’ve already locked in $24,500 of the $50,000 required spending (my statement year already started), it’s a no-brainer for me to go the rest of the way. From an opportunity cost standpoint it will cost me $1,000 (although as mentioned, opportunity cost isn’t the right metric for me anymore), but in exchange I’ll get 50,000 JetBlue points worth ~$650 towards flights before the 10% rebate offered by the credit card, deep discounts (~90% if paying with points) on Even More Space seats, free booze, and my favorite benefit, free changes and cancellations. All this for two years, since I’ll be earning 2017/18 status in January of 2017.
In practice, it’s not the best airline for me in terms of connections and destinations since they connect to few of the major alliance carrier hubs, but I can foresee it being my ticket to/from New York as well as places like D.C. I’ll re-evaluate in two years, but I think this is a good bet for now.
What about Southwest? It has a better footprint than JetBlue, and there’s no need to be an elite to get the benefits I described above. Simply — I don’t have the same mileage-earning ability on Southwest as I do JetBlue in the wake of my Chase shutdown earlier this year. We’ll see how this shakes out, but again, given that I’ll be able to earn status good for two years as of mid-January, I think this is the right play.
Virgin America Elevate Gold
I was planning on letting it lapse, given that the primary purpose was to parlay it into Alaska status, but they’re giving it to me for another year for free again because of the Alaska merger, so who am I to refuse?
None of the airlines I mentioned above are major alliance members, but for those, I’m content to be my own elite. Alaska status gets me fairly far, with seat selection benefits on AA and Delta (sadly, the Delta benefit is ending in April). I **may** try to MS my way to Delta status, which is something I consider basically every three months, but it’s unlikely I can justify it based on my travel/spending habits. Besides, I’m going to have enough trouble re-qualifying for Alaska status, given how few revenue fares I fly.
Hotels (SPG/Marriott Gold, Hilton Diamond, IHG Platinum)
All of these I got either via match or credit card, and to be honest, I care very little about any of them. My revenue nights are few and far between, and although suites are nice, they are a pretty low value-add since I travel alone or with at most one other person. Mid-tier status is usually enough to get free breakfast and sometimes club or lounge access, which are good enough for me especially since I’m getting my status for free.
This year helped me flesh out a lot of my values in terms of comfort, luxury, and non-flying benefits, so I’m pretty confident in my plan going into next year. I continue to be unconvinced of the benefits of mainline carrier status (AA, UA, DL) for someone who rarely flies revenue nor flies for business, although if someone can make a case for the value proposition for my situation, I’m all ears.