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Getting the most out of Delta’s MQM Rollover policy

November 26, 2012 39 comments

There’s only a month left until the end of year, which means that those with elite loyalty status with airlines and hotels are in a rush to reach the next tier … except some of us with Delta. Delta allows rollover MQMs (Medallion Qualification Miles — the elite status counter) and in a lot of cases, it’s better to stay slightly short of an elite status tier and have a bulky rollover than it is to slightly meet that higher tier.

A brief overview of Delta’s elite tiers

Keep in mind that Silver Medallion (FO) is awarded at 25,000 MQMs, Gold (GM) at 50,000 MQMs, Platinum (PM) at 75,000 MQMs, and Diamond (DM) at 125,000 MQMs. Here’s a rundown of major benefits.

Silver is definitely better than no status, and you do not rollover any MQMs under 25,000. While many of the benefits of Silver can be reproduced with holding a Delta American Express, there are a few things you get that non-status members don’t, including:
– 25% bonus Skymiles when flying.
– 1 free bag (on top of 1 free bag with Amex).
– Priority check-in and security (if available to Silver Medallions at airport).
– A shot at upgrades.

Silver to Gold is a huge huge jump for everyone, in my opinion.
– 100% bonus Skymiles (instead of 25%).
– Free Same-Day Confirmed (SDC) Changes on domestic itineraries (down from $50).
– 2 free checked bags.
– Sky Priority – priority check-in, security, and access to Pre-Check without Global Entry.
– Skyteam Elite Plus, Skyteam’s higher of the 2 alliance-wide elite status, which mainly gives international lounge access.
– Free domestic economy comfort at booking. Silvers have to wait until check-in or pay a discounted price.

Gold to Platinum is a great jump for international flyers and for those who have lots of miles to burn in the next year.
– Free international economy comfort (only 50% off for Golds) on Delta and KLM.
– Free award cancellations and changes outside of 72 hours to departure.
– Platinum choice benefit, such as a $200 gift certificate, 20K miles, or SWUs (only usable on highest fares).

Platinum to Diamond is a huge jump for heavy domestic flyers.
– Diamond choice benefit (on top of Platinum choice benefit).
– 125% bonus Skymiles (instead of 100%).
– Free SkyClub membership (you can use the SkyClub when flying any airline).
– Best shot at domestic upgrades.

Taking advantage of Delta’s rollover policy

If you earned status in 2011, that status is good for the 2012 calendar year, and good until February 28, 2013.

If you earn status this year, that status is good for the 2013 calendar year, and is good until February 28, 2014.

I earned Gold Medallion last year, and that’s good until February 28, 2013. I will end the year at 49,976 MQMs, just barely short of Gold again. I will rollover 24,976 MQMs on January 1. However, if I fly 25,024 MQMs before February 28th, I will requalify for Gold before I lose this year’s Gold status.

The huge benefit to that is I will requalify for Gold in the 2013 calendar year, which means that it’s good for the 2014 calendar year and until February 28, 2015! That’s a full year than if I jump over 50K just 2 months prior. And I’ll have 10 months to rack up MQMs for Platinum status, my final goal.

At any other airline, it would be a good idea to get as high of an elite tier as possible before the end of the year, but not so at Delta. If you’re a mainly international flyer who is Platinum, getting Diamond has barely any marginal benefits for you. You get a 2nd choice benefit and 25% MORE Skymiles. However, you need another 75K MQMs in 2013 for Platinum and 125K for Diamond again. If you stop at 124K for Platinum, you only need 26K for Platinum again, which is useful if your travel is dropping off but you want the Platinum choice benefit and free award changes.

My current trips this year will take me over a threshold but I want rollover … what do I do?

There are two good options here … one is to credit to Air France/KLM Flying Blue, where you can credit any Skyteam flight. What makes AF/KLM miles valuable is that they are American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners, so you can always top off any miles you earn. They also allow one-way awards, so there are instances to use Flying Blue miles over Delta Skymiles.

Another option is to credit to Alaska Airlines if you have flights on Delta, Air France, or KLM, all of which are “free agent” partners with Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Alaska is only partners with Starwood Preferred Guest, but they also have a Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa that offers a way to top off Alaska miles. Also, Alaska is partners with American Airlines and other OneWorld airlines like Cathay Pacific and British Airways, so you can earn/use miles on each of those airlines.

Keep in mind, if you switch out the mileage number before the flight, you won’t be able to enjoy your current Delta elite status benefits, so there is a tradeoff.

Recap

Delta has an interesting rollover elite status system, where it might benefit some people to stop just short of a higher elite status threshold in order to situate themselves in a better position for next year’s elite status run.

Some people might benefit more from 2 years of mid-tier status than from 1 year of upper-tier and 1 year of lower-tier. Rollover helps maximize those benefits over the long term.

Alaska and Air France/KLM offer substitute mileage programs in which to bank extra miles.

Categories: Delta, Elite Status, Skyteam

Delta selling MQMs for as low as 10cpm

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Thanks to @GCRYAN on Twitter for linking me this … this offer was around last year and it looks like Delta is bringing it back this year.

You can buy 2500 MQMs at 15.8 cents per miles (cpm), 5000 MQMs at 11.9cpm, 7500 MQMs at 10.6cpm, or 10000 MQMs at 9.95cpm.

The main thing here to note is that these are not redeemable miles and will only count toward your MQM and Million Miler totals.

A better deal would be to apply for a Delta Platinum Amex or Delta Reserve Amex that offers MQMs as a signup bonus. This link will let you know if you are targeted for an offer — last year, I got 15000 MQMs and 40000 redeemable miles for a $1500 spending requirement. There was a $150 fee but I got a $100 statement credit as well. I canceled that card recently but Delta still thinks I hold it, so I wasn’t able to see if that deal still shows up. The Reserve offers 10,000 MQMs on first purchase, though has a heftier $450 fee that comes with Sky Club access.

If you are within 1500 MQMs of the next status, you may want to consider signing up for the Delta Sky Club with promo code SCMQM. At least you’re getting a tangible product with that purchase, and the price may be lower depending on your status level.

Note that if you are within 250 MQMs of the next status, you can get 250 MQMs for a 2-night stay at Hilton before December 15th.

If you can’t get a Reserve or Platinum Delta Amex, the only people who should be even be considering this are those at the cusp of a status level and who want to achieve that status level, especially Gold Medallion (explained below).

If you are going to fall short of Silver by less than 2500 MQMs and were considering a mileage run, this might be worth it if you think you’ll fly Delta even more next year. Remember that MQMs achieved before Silver status will not rollover — if you have 24,999 MQMs on December 31, you’ll have no status and 0 rollover the next year. If you have 25,001 MQMs on December 31, you’ll have status and 1 rollover MQM next year. There’s a huge difference there.

I think the biggest jump between status levels is between Silver and Gold, at the 50,000 MQM mark. You go from 25% bonus miles to 100% bonus miles, being able to book free domestic Economy Comfort 24 hours out to at booking, Sky Priority services, and international lounge access. I would definitely say that if you are within striking distance of 50,000 MQMs, this is a deal to consider if you don’t have time for a mileage run. The amount of money I’ve saved in being able to book Economy Comfort for free at booking outweighs the $200 mileage run I did to secure Gold last year. As Silver, I’d have to pay a discounted amount or gamble that a Economy Comfort seat is free at check-in (they’re pretty much never available at check-in).

Keep in mind that status is good until the end of February, not December, so you have 2 extra months of status. I have Gold Medallion until 2/28/2013 and will end the year at 49,975 MQMs. I’ll rollover 24,975 MQMs starting January 1st. I have about 22K miles of travel planned before the end of February, so I might be able to hit Gold sometime in early March. By qualifying for Gold in 2013 instead of 2012, I’ll get an extra year of status.

So, do I think this is a good deal? Not really … I’d rather make a quick mileage run for cheaper to earn both MQMs and Redeemable Miles. If I didn’t have the time, I’d take advantage of one of the other ways to earn MQMs — American Express, Hilton, Sky Club — before looking at this offer. If you have qualified for at least Silver Medallion, you’ll rollover MQMs to next year anyway. But if you’re in a bind and really want that next status level … at least Delta is giving you the option.

Categories: Delta

Maximizing my first FlexPerks redemption

November 2, 2012 3 comments

Many people picked up the US Bank FlexPerks card in late August, when they offered a 33,150-point bonus related to the Olympics for spending $2500 in 5 months. The rewards are best used for paid air tickets, though the rewards categories are tiered. For 20,000 FlexPerks, you can buy any ticket up to $400. For a ticket between $400-$600, you’ll need 30,000 FlexPerks. This means that FlexPerks can be great for a $399.99 ticket (meaning you’ll get close to 2 cents per point value) but not so great for a $400.01 ticket (where you’ll get 1.33 cents per point). It also means that after making minimum spend, it’s best to try to go for 40,000 points to be able to redeem for two 20,000 point tickets.

I decided to take a trip last weekend where using regular airline miles wasn’t an option, and the cheapest fare was pricing out to $397.50. Talk about a good price for FlexPerks! As soon as my bonus points posted, I redeemed 20,000 FlexPerks for the ticket, meaning I got close to 1.99 cents per point value. Not bad! Best yet, I still earned Elite and Redeemable miles on my trip, since Delta saw it as a normal paid ticket. For a Los Angeles – Atlanta roundtrip, I earned 3892 base miles, 3892 medallion bonus miles (100% Gold Medallion bonus), 2000 segment bonus miles (for a targeted promotion), and 7500 customer relation bonus miles (my in-flight entertainment screen did not work on my outbound flight). In the end, I got a flight redemption + 17,284 redeemable miles + 3,892 medallion qualification miles by redeeming 20,000 FlexPerks. Pretty prettttty pretttttty good.

Better yet, whenever you redeem FlexPerks, US Bank will refund up to $25 of ancillary fees that you spend with the airline during your trip. It’s marketed as a reimbursement for checking a bag, but their materials say you can also use it to buy in-flight food and drinks. As a Delta Gold Medallion, I already get bags free (I didn’t even check a bag on trip) and usually get a free snack or drink whenever I print my boarding pass at home (with a free Have One On Us coupon).

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If you are Gold Medallion or higher and don’t get an upgrade before the airport, print out your boarding pass without adblockers and you should get a free “Have One On Us” coupon. I usually go for the $7 Flight Delights box.

I decided to see if buying a Sky Club day pass would work as a reimbursable expense. They cost $50 for a day-pass – Skymiles Amex cardholders can buy a visit pass for $25 that’s good for one club, but day passes can be used at multiple clubs on the same trip, including the next day if your flight is an overnight one. I already have a SkyGuide Club reimbursement membership (that I picked up for $20) to refund up to twelve club passes up to $50 each, so I bought one with my US Bank FlexPerks card. After the charge posted, I called the number on the back of my US Bank card and explained I wanted $25 of that reimbursed. All I needed to do was provide the days of my trip and I was done within 5 minutes! I just sent the club pass to SkyGuide for another $50 reimbursement, so I consider this a free $25 :).

As for the club pass, I used it to access LAX’s SkyClub, which was crowded on Thursday night when I flew out. I arrived in ATL pretty early in the morning, though I wasn’t meeting anyone until mid-afternoon, so I decided to use my club pass within the airport at the various SkyClubs to get some work done before leaving security. I landed in concourse A, so made a quick stop by the newer A17 Sky Club to get some coffee and catch up on emails (believe it or not, there’s another SkyClub just 300 feet away from this one … ATL is definitely the Delta motherland).

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Early morning in the ATL A17 Sky Club

Then I headed over to my favorite SkyClub in E-concourse, the old international concourse. It’s much bigger and quieter in some places. The views look out over a more international crowd of jets, and there’s a quiet relaxation room if you need to catch a nap. Best yet, it’s one of two SkyClubs at ATL with showers, great coming off a redeye.

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Relaxation room, in the back of the SC near the showers.

Afterward, I finally got a chance to try out One Flew South, an eatery in E-concourse. Everyone I know who has eaten there has told me that it is the best airport restaurant they’ve ever been to. I am now one of those people. The prices are a bit high, but that’s normal for an airport. There’s also an included 18% gratuity for every diner, though I’ve heard that you can negotiate that with your waiter — 18% doesn’t seem too high to me, I just didn’t add any extra tip.

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Facade, next to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.

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Sushi at 1FS

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Pulled Duck Sandwich

On the return trip, my flight was departing from the new international concourse F, so I decided to buy another SkyClub pass to check that out. Unfortunately, MARTA is not exactly SMARTA, and 8:30am flights are pretty early for me, so I only got about 5 minutes in there to get a quick breakfast. The new F-club looks nice, but I’m still a bigger fan of the E-club.

As for why my domestic flight left the international terminal, that’s just a lucky aspect of having my life exist between two Delta international gateways. My flight was flown on a Boeing 777-200, which arrived in ATL from Johannesburg and needed to be at LAX for a flight to Tokyo. While I didn’t get upgraded to First class (which was actually Delta’s lie-flat BusinessElite offering), I was able to get an international Economy Comfort seat. I guess Delta doesn’t bother to change the in-flight entertainment system settings between international and domestic flights, so I also got free HBO/Showtime/movies. While I did miss out on having wi-fi (no wi-fi on primarily international aircraft), we arrived an hour early, in under 4 hours. That’s the fastest I’ve ever flown ATL-LAX westbound. Just another reason to pay attention to aircraft offerings on hub-to-hub routes ;).

Categories: Delta, US Bank

Delta Showing Korean Air Award Space Online!

October 14, 2012 5 comments

This is huge news! Korean Air is a member of Skyteam and one of Delta’s premier partners in Asia. It’s been really difficult to search for award space on them since Delta didn’t show it online, nor did they show up on most online systems like ExpertFlyer (on the other hand, Air France, KLM, and China Southern show up on ExpertFlyer, while Virgin Australia shows up on Delta.com).

I’m seeing A LOT of business class space online to Asia. Just check out these screenshots!

LAX to Seoul on KE A330 (via Tokyo-Narita).

JFK to Seoul on a mix of Delta and Korean Air (getting the new Delta 747 Business Class + getting the Korean A380)

It even works for destinations beyond South Korea. For example, I want to take my mom to Angkor Wat in Cambodia sometime next year, and it’s well setup for Delta miles with service on Korean, China Southern, China Eastern, and Vietnam Airlines. A simple “LAX-REP” (Siem Reap Airport) search shows me this:

Combine with ExpertFlyer for China Southern availability, and all of a sudden, this is a rather easy award to book with Delta miles!

Delta’s routing rules also allow you to fly Korean to the South Pacific, so long as Korean publishes a fare. Check out Los Angeles to Sydney:

An additional way to book Australia online!

However, you’ll notice that, in typical Delta.dumb fashion, this is an impossible connection, since it arrives Seoul on Nov. 1 at 7:45pm (despite it saying Nov. 2) and departs Seoul on Nov. 1 at 7:15pm … which means you should stick to multi-city searches and plugging in each segment at a time. Unfortunately, the multi-city search doesn’t work as well on Delta’s site …

Korean Air’s destinations in the USA are

  • ATL – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • ORD – O’Hare International Airport
  • DFW – Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
  • HNL – Honolulu International Airport
  • LAS – McCarran International Airport
  • LAX – Los Angeles International Airport
  • JFK – John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • SFO – San Francisco International Airport
  • SEA – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  • IAD – Washington Dulles International Airport

Korean also has some blackout dates per this FlyerTalk thread:

TRAVEL IS NOT PERMITTED
* 07DEC 12 THROUGH 06JAN 13
* 07FEB 13 THROUGH 12FEB 13
* 01MAR 13 THROUGH 03MAR 13
* 17MAY 13 THROUGH 30JUN 13
* 19JUL 13 THROUGH 25AUG 13
* 14SEP 13 THROUGH 23SEP 13
* ON 03OCT 13
* 05OCT 13 THROUGH 06OCT 13
* 07DEC 13 THROUGH 31DEC 13

I could post screenshots upon screenshots of availability, but I’ve seen availability from all of these cities using Delta’s online search!

If you are searching for economy class space, it will show up as “KE.X” (X is the booking class for economy class awards).

If you are searching for business class space, it will show up as “KE.O” (O is the booking class for business class awards).

First class is not bookable with Delta Skymiles. The A380 serves both LAX (KE flight 17/18) and JFK (KE flight 81/82).

Lastly, don’t forget that Korean Air serves a very interesting fifth-freedom route in LAX-GRU (Sao Paulo, Brazil) on KE 61 (LAX-GRU) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday, and KE 62 (GRU-LAX) on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Los Angeles to Brazil direct for 100K miles roundtrip in business! World Cup 2014, anyone?

Keep in mind that the Brazilian government is also very anti-YQ, so no fuel surcharges departing Brazil either. I’m in the process of trying to find some fun open-jaws to include this flight on but the Delta website is pretty glitchy.

Or if you need to get between Vienna and Zurich on Skyteam for some reason (stopover on a Europe award?):

Fifth Freedoms are AWESOME

To me, this really increases the value of Delta miles. It’s an actual enhancement! Okay, let’s forget the no cancellations within 72-hours rule, or the lack of low-level domestic feeder availability for now …

I can’t say that I’ve gone and booked one of these awards, since I still only have Gold Medallion status and need to wait until Platinum Medallion status to make free award changes. But I was able to hold an award through Delta’s website.

Tips and Tricks: Free Experian Score, Avoiding Authorization Charges on Gift Cards, and Boarding with a Frequent Flyer Card

October 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Free Experian Credit Score from US Bank
If you got in on the US Bank FlexPerks Olympics deal, you can get a free Experian Credit Score by logging into your US Bank online account.

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What’s great about this is that it’s an Experian score. CreditKarma checks TransUnion, which is useful, but Experian is the most used credit bureau whenever I apply for new cards. You can imagine how ecstatic I was when I saw I had a 768 even after 10 inquiries in the past 2 years! For comparison, my score was a 744 in October 2011 from the same Experian site. Not bad!

US Bank also sent out letters with credit scores if you applied for the card. I got this in order to see where I stood after all my applications, as I won’t be applying for any new credit cards until 2013. I don’t know how long this offer will last, but it would be a great thing to check before your next set of credit card applications.

Avoid temporary authorization charges online
Kudos to gezzuzz at Flyertalk for bringing this my attention.

This really has to do with gift cards or prepaid cards. When you add these cards to your online accounts (on places like Amazon.com), the merchant takes a $1 temporary authorization to validate the card. On a non-credit card, this temporarily reduces your balance by $1, which can make it difficult to cash it out completely.

For example, if I get a $25 Visa gift card and add it to an online payment account, the merchant might take a $1 temporary authorization, making my balance only $24. The authorization can last for as long as a week, meaning I have to wait 7 days to cash out the gift card. It’s really a #FirstWorldProblem more than anything, but with multiple gift cards, this can add up.

One way to try and avoid this is to enter the card with a wrong expiration date. After the card is in the system, go back in to edit it and change the expiration date. In true science nerd fashion, I experimented with 2 gift cards, using one as a control: entering a correct expiration date at first created a $1 test authorization, while entering a wrong one and editing it a minute later did not.

Use a Delta Skymiles card to board
Lucky recently posted about 7 things not to do while flying.

One of the things to not do was to use an e-boarding pass. I have had mixed experiences with e-BPs and so usually have a paper boarding pass with me. However, one trick I learned last year is that many Delta airports will take a Skymiles or Skymiles Medallion card as a boarding document. If the gate machine is the one that scans a ticket barcode, it should be able to read the barcode on the back of your Medallion card. When you scan it, a receipt should print with your flight number and seat assignment.

You still need a BP for security, since those aren’t Delta-specific readers, but many security stations accept e-Boarding Passes as well. I know from experience that these technique works at LAX (I was running late for a flight and had just enough battery life to get through security, then pull out my Gold Medallion card to board).

I’m not sure what other airlines allow this — feel free to comment if you know of another airline that allows this!

Categories: Delta, Gift Cards, US Bank

A Medallion’s Dilemma: Rollover or Make a Run For It?

August 30, 2012 4 comments

Despite having flown close to 100,000 miles this year, most of my travel has been on award tickets that don’t earn elite or redeemable miles. My main elite program is Delta Skymiles, in which I achieved Gold Medallion through the end of February 2013. My secondary is Aegean Gold, which helps for any flights I have on Star Alliance (including United and US Airways), and is valid through 2015.

I’m currently sitting at 33,607 Medallion Qualification Miles for the year, and have 10K on the way, meaning I will hit Gold Medallion through February 2014 with just 6,393 more miles. If I fly 6,392 miles of less, I’ll qualify for Silver Medallion and roll over however many miles above 25,000 I have to start next year’s qualification. So if I end with 49,000 miles, I’ll have 24,000 MQMs on January 1. I’ll have Gold until the end of February 2013, then Silver from March 2013 onward.

Gold Medallion has treated me well since I achieved it late in 2011. I’ve gotten lounge access on international itineraries, been able to use same-day confirmed for free (which helped me get an elusive LAX-JFK upgrade to BusinessElite by being able to play the odds), helped my general upgrade percentages on Delta and Alaska, and got me 100% bonus miles instead of just 25% (= 33K extra miles based on how much I’ve traveled as GM).

More … I must have more!

However, I’ve got my eye on Platinum Medallion, Delta’s 75K level, for several reasons:

1) Platinum Medallions get free award redeposits (outside of 72 hours to departure). As a Gold, I have to pay $150, the same as a general member. This is huge, because I’d love to be able to make speculative bookings and have the fallback of being able to cancel without a fee. This is worth at least $300 to me, since I could imagine using this at least twice.

2) Platinum Medallions get a choice benefit, which ranges from a $200 voucher, to 20K Skymiles, to nominating someone for Silver status, to 4 Systemwide upgrades (which are useless to me for international flights but could be useful for domestic flights out of LAX). I’d probably take the 20K Skymiles or the SWUs, depending on my travel plans. I’d call this benefit to be worth $225.

3) Having Platinum Medallion puts me in a better position to status match to United’s Premier Platinum level. With my family’s credit card signups yielding tons of Ultimate Rewards points and lots of expected travel with United miles starting in 2014, having status with United will help me with award bookings and cancellations (and I’m hoping the glitches with United should be ironed out by then ;)). I’ll likely have to fly a certain amount on United to challenge for Premier status, but my Aegean Star Gold should help out during that in case I need club access or general Star Gold benefits. Trying to figure out the value of this is difficult, since I don’t know if the challenge will be available next year, but if it is, it’ll be worth about $300 to me.

Decision Time! – do I:

A) make a late push for Platinum Medallion this year (which will require about 31K miles flown, or 21K miles + $25K spent on my Amex)? I’d then have PM through February 2014.

or

B) hold short of Gold this year and rollover 18K-24K MQMs to start off a run for PM next year? My idea is to fly as many miles before the end of February so that I can take advantage of all my residual Gold benefits and to limit the amount of time I’m stuck at Silver Medallion. If I reach 50K before the end of February 2013 (with the help of rollover), I won’t even have a lapse in my Gold status, and will actually keep Gold through February 2015 if I re-qualify in February, rather than 2014 if I re-qualify this year.

If I do B, I would work to hit PM by June so that I could look at available status matches, since most airlines offer matches for a year longer if you match in July rather than June. I’d cancel my Delta Platinum Amex this year (after I hit the $25K required to activate the 10K MQM bonus), and possibly hope for another MQM signup bonus with a business Delta Amex Platinum card or the Reserve card to help with Platinum qualification. I also have a few hundred dollars in vouchers plus 2 <$400 tickets or 1 <$800 ticket courtesy of my new US Bank FlexPerks card. That's at least $1000 worth of travel that I could book for early 2013, which could earn upwards of 25K MQMs at 4 cents per mile.

I don't have any Delta travel planned for the rest of the year, and even if I did, I could credit to Delta only on flights where I get upgraded, so long as I don't hit 50K, and credit any remainder flights to Alaska Airlines.

So, anyone other Delta elites in this quandary? If so, what are you all thinking? It is a unique part of the program, whether we like it or not. I was leaning towards option A until I thought more about it, and now am leaning toward option B (especially since my travel will have to slow down at the end of this year, and won't be able to pick up until the end of January).

Oh the things we do for elite status … 🙂

Categories: Delta Tags: ,

Trying to find value out of Silver elite status? Look north …

August 20, 2012 3 comments

A friend of mine recently asked me to explain airline status, and how easy or hard it is to obtain and keep it. He flies mostly domestic on paid tickets, about 30,000 to 35,000 miles per year, and uses miles for international awards. Since most of his trips are for leisure, he’s price sensitive, and will choose whatever the cheapest option is within reason. Since we live in Los Angeles, no airline has a big monopoly on our major airport — on one trip, Delta could be the cheapest ticket, while on another, United could give the best value.

I’ve already gotten him on track for Star Alliance Gold Status with Aegean Airlines. With only 19,000 miles over a period as long as 2 years, it’s fairly simple to achieve. He flew 3 cross-country trips on US Airways in the past year as well as some regional intra-California trips on United, and will reach Star Gold status on his next paid transcontinental in a couple of weeks, meaning that he should have Star Gold status until the end of 2015 (3 years!).

However, his question this past week was if there was anything similar for American and Delta. While there are some random backdoors to Skyteam status (see: 15,000 miles on Vietnam Airlines for Skyteam Elite and 40,000 miles on Middle East Airlines for Skyteam Elite+), they’re not as easy or lucrative as Aegean’s 19,000 for Star Gold.

I told him to check out Alaska Airlines, which is a free-agent when it comes to partners. They’re not part of an alliance, but they partner with Skyteam members like Delta, Air France, KLM, and Korean, as well as OneWorld members like American, British Airways, LAN, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas. They’re not a part of either alliance, but they independently partner with these airlines.

Alaska’s lowest elite level, MVP status, takes 20,000 miles on Alaska metal or 25,000 miles including partner airlines. This is in line with Delta’s Silver Medallion and American’s Gold elite level (actually easier if you fly just Alaska). However, there are some neat benefits, including:

– Complimentary upgrades on Delta Air Lines within the U.S. (excluding Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, and select Caribbean destinations — Seeing as how Alaska members would be below Delta’s Silver Medallion members for upgrades, I wouldn’t count on an upgrade, but it’s still possible.
-Checked Baggage Fee Waiver for first two bags on Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, and for the first checked bag on Delta Air Lines.
– Priority AAccess Check-In and Security Lines at select airports when traveling on American Airlines.
– Preferred Seating on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines (though no Economy Comfort for free).
50% Bonus Flight Miles on Alaska Airlines, Air France, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, KLM, or LAN — this is actually pretty good, considering that a Delta Silver Medallion or American Gold member would get only 25% on the same flights. At 25,000 miles per year, that’s an extra 6,250 earned redeemable miles.

If you can get to 50,000 miles on Alaska, you get all the above plus:
– 2 bags + Sky Priority check-in/boarding on Delta flights
– Express security lines at certain airports (including our local LAX)
– 100% bonus on flown miles, on par with Delta’s Gold Medallion and American’s Platinum status.
– Benefits on Alaska Airlines, such as free same day standby, and one free premium drink in the main cabin.
Waived cancellation fees: if you book a ticket on Alaska ticket stock, you can cancel for a full credit to your Alaska.com account. Most airlines deduct $100 to $150 off the value of a non-refundable ticket if you cancel … this is pretty huge.

MVP status can be attained with 25,000 miles with partner airlines, or 20,000 miles just on Alaska Airlines. That means that flying 5,000 on Alaska Airlines, 10,000 on Delta, and 10,000 on American would be enough for low-tier benefits. If you credited those amounts to American AAdvantage or Delta Skymiles, it wouldn’t be enough for any status. Double these numbers and you get MVP Gold, which has some decent benefits if you actually fly on Alaska Airlines.

What’s important to note is what this status doesn’t include international lounge access, since Alaska isn’t a part of an alliance. However, the Amex Platinum ($450/year, though you do get $200 in airline credits per calendar year, which can come out to only $50/year out of pocket if you time your membership right) allows lounge access at Delta Sky Clubs and American AAdmirals Clubs, and the Priority Pass that comes with it gives you access to Alaska Board Rooms. Boom! Lounge access!

I still think that chasing Silver status isn’t really worth it, considering that most of the benefits can be attained by carrying that airline’s branded credit card. However, I think Alaska’s MVP status is still worth something, considering it’s flexibility and ease of attaining if you’re someone who flies both Delta and American, but not enough for status on either of those airlines.

As for redemptions, Alaska’s program allows you to book only one partner + Alaska Airlines metal for a trip. Even though American Airlines and Cathay Pacific are OneWorld partners, you can’t book them together on an Alaska Airlines award. However, you could Alaska Airlines to the gateway city and then connect to Cathay Pacific. Being in Los Angeles, this is a non-factor, since many airlines already serve LAX, and Alaska Airlines has decent service out of LA to reach other gateway cities if necessary.

Alaska is only a partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, which gives a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 transferred, though like many others, I believe SPG points are more valuable used for hotels. There are ways to build up mileage balances with Bank of America cards (25,000 on first purchase + 15,000 bonus with $7500 spend over 6 months right now) and I’m very interested in seeing what their Emirates chart will look like at the end of the year.