My 2013 Dream Map

I always say that earning elite status, especially when you’re aiming for the top tier, multiple programs, or paying for it yourself, requires a lot of strategy. In my case, I’m trying to do all three.

Strategy helped me earn Premier 1K for the first time in 2011, when 500-mile minimums gave me a 5,000 mile boost over the course of the year (and which I completely forgot about). In 2012, I didn’t follow my year-long itinerary perfectly, but planning did show that I only needed 50,000 miles worth of pure mileage runs. I was able to complete half of that in the first quarter, when prices and traffic are generally lower, instead of waiting until the fourth quarter, when holidays reduce free time and increase demand.

I am not normally the New Year’s resolution type, but I have refined my travel habits as I fly more and more. In 2012 I resolved not to do more than one mileage run to the same destination after suffering through countless hours on regional jets or in the empty Kansas City terminal.

This year my resolution is to add more international flights to the mix and avoid needless connections. I know, that sounds counter-intuitive. But since I estimate flying over 170,000 miles in 2013 (butt-in-seat) I want to get my mileage runs over and done with while also seeing new places. My goals include:

  • 95,000 EQMs with United Airlines MileagePlus to earn Premier 1K. By booking some travel with my MileagePlus Select Visa, I can earn an additional 5,000 EQMs to reach the 100,000 requirement.
  • 40,000 EQMs with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan to earn MVP Gold. By flying exclusively on Alaska Airlines-operated flights, the requirement for this tier is lowered to 40,000 instead of 50,000.
  • 40,000 miles of award travel that credits to no program. I plan to take a honeymoon to Istanbul and Bali, going the long way through Europe and several (un)necessary detours to experience specific equipment types. I also plan to use miles to book all my flights to the Bay Area and Oregon, since it no longer makes sense to pay ~$200-300 for a measly 1,500 EQMs.

I know many people, especially Beaubo, question the value of mileage runs altogether. (He does make an exception for limited cases.) Amol and I are going to do a little head-to-head to discuss their merit more thoroughly, but for now just assume I know what I’m talking about. I know, that’s asking quite a lot. :P

I’ve decided to add MVP Gold with Alaska Airlines as a new goal because both my parents now live in small, rural areas that are a big PITA to get to with United. Flying Alaska, and particularly when redeeming Avios for only 9,000 points round-trip, is much easier. In addition, I’ve just gotten tired of connections in general and think the direct flights that Alaska operates to certain cities, like Boston, Washington-Reagan, Austin, and the Hawaiian islands, make much more sense.

40K miles with Alaska Airlines. Image from GCMap.com

40K miles with Alaska Airlines. Image from GCMap.com

I’m especially looking forward to the benefit of being able to cancel and change revenue tickets with no fee, which I discovered when preparing my comparison tables of U.S. airline loyalty programs. (A European version is due out soon! Let’s just say I officially hate BA Executive Club.)

My other major strategy shift will be to book the majority of Megan’s flights as award tickets. I still need to earn my status, but the benefits of being Premier Gold with United just aren’t there anymore since they dropped the mileage-earning bonus from 100% to 50%. She’ll get my benefits anyway when she flies with me. And with Alaska in my sights, this is a prudent cost-saving move.

Almost 140K miles with United or its partners. Image from GCMap.com

Almost 140K miles with United or its partners. Image from GCMap.com

I’m not sure how the companion upgrade scenario will work out, but I’m hopeful since I have two United-branded credit cards that make award tickets booked from my account eligible for complimentary domestic upgrades. These clear after all revenue tickets at the Premier 1K level, so basically she’ll go from being after all other Premier 1Ks to being after all other Premier 1Ks and their paid companions. She still ranks before Premier Platinum passengers.

Looks like an ambitious year, no? Here’s hoping it goes without too much interruption, or at least the kind that offers lucrative compensation!

2012: My Year in Review
The Best Credit Cards for "Free" Hotel Status

Scott created Travel Codex after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • http://twitter.com/Mileage_Update Mileage Update

    I’d like to see you opinion on all these mileage runs just to get elite. How much is a good number to spend on MR’s? I personally dont do MRs as I would rather just book Biz or FC and not come out of pocket. But since you are willing to do so much to get the status I would love to take a peek inside your head to see why.

    • Dee Tee

      I have discussed it with Scott before. It actually does make sense for him to pursue 1K. He does enough flying that having all the perks of 1K actually make total sense.

      I, too, do not fly MRs (have not flown one yet).

      I think Mileage-Running makes sense for folks who at least have some “mandatory” travel for work, school, family, or other purposes. If you are not traveling as much or at all, then I can see why MRs would not seem as a waste of either time or money.

      • Scottrick

        I’m also mildly insane and just have fun doing it…

  • Jane

    Are you sure about getting 1K with credit card EQMs? I know that for my old CO Presidential Plus, EQM from the credit card doesn’t count beyond Platinum

    • Scottrick

      That’s because pre-merger CO’s OnePass had 75K as the highest tier, so you’re still allowed to reach 75K using CO’s credit card (no lost benefits, in theory). I have a pm-UA credit card, the MileagePlus Select Visa. This and several other pm-UA credit cards allow you to earn 5-10K EQM each year that have no such restriction. However, they’re no longer offered to new members.

  • jarvis

    Looking forward to your comparison of European loyalty programs. I am based in London and and trying to work out which programs would be the best to join.

  • http://twitter.com/nambrot nambrot

    Can you estimate how much this strategy is going to cost us in total?

    • Scottrick

      I expect to pay an average of 5 CPM, including mandatory travel and mileage runs. At 135K in paid travel, that’s just under $7,000. Fees and taxes for award travel should be another $200-400. This is just for me. Megan’s costs are likely to be far less because she travels less and she will fly more on awards.

      I’ll go into cost in more detail when Amol and I debate mileage running, but let me make one point: This is my hobby. I don’t go to the bar every night. I don’t gamble. I don’t buy CDs or concert tickets. I don’t buy the latest gadgets from Apple or even subscribe to cable TV. My largest entertainment expense besides travel is $200 a year for my WSJ subscription.

      • nambrot

        Love the quick and real replys. I’m always debating to do this as well, to make this my hobby, but there obviously is a minimum spending level at which it becomes worthwile, and as a broke college student with no regular income that doesn’t do much mandatoy travel, it’s currently hard to justify

  • elgrande007

    I am curious about the credit card that allows miles to be awarded to 1K status on United. Last year I had 92,000 miles, plus 9,000 “EQMs” from a United Presidental MC. I was told those 9k miles can not be used for 1K status. You may want to check the fine print.

  • Todd

    Very informative post!

    I live in BC, and am about 2.5 hours from SEA. Given the higher cost of travel out of YVR, SEA will be my home airport for the purposes of obtaining elite status. I am also interested in getting elite status with AS, but in looking at various cities they serve, say on the east coast, it seems the lower cost flights are on partner airlines (AA, DL).

    In general, have you calculated the maximum you’d pay to obtain MVP Gold @ 40k miles?

    It would be interesting to look at what the total cost savings (if any) would be by flying the lower-cost partner flights, but having to accrue 50k miles instead of 40k.

  • Diana Wu

    Are you flying ANA SEA-NRT?
    Thanks for the tip about using Avios on AS. may start doing that for our trips to the Bay Area. BTW, how are you earning Avios? Flying on BA/partners, transferring from SPG, other?

    • Scottrick

      I wasn’t planning to, but I am now! Last-minute availability changes…

      I don’t have any Avios yet, but I plan to get the BA Visa card. If I need them, I can transfer from Ultimate Rewards in a pinch.

  • tassojunior

    DCA-SEA nonstop on Alaska is very hard to get seats on.

    • Scottrick

      Megan and I didn’t seem to have any trouble a few weeks ago. If it’s an issue, there is also SEA-PDX-DCA.

  • Newb

    The 1k perk of being able to upgrade up to 8 people to economy plus is worth it’s weight in gold. I have a family of 4 and flew transcontinental with 2 inlaws and did around 10 legs rt. economy plus cost about 50 pp per leg so that’s about $500 value just for that trip. Oh btw you have that perk with plat as well.