I’ve mentioned the benefits of elite status before and how traveling cheaper = traveling more = traveling better. There are few things more satisfying to a travel hacker than reaching this trifecta of traveling excellence.
However, you can’t devote your energies toward every airline or hotel program. There will always be a couple of trips that involve making travel arrangements with someone who sees you as just another nobody. That’s why a clever hacker also takes advantage of opportunities to obtain free or relatively inexpensive elite status.
The offers I’ve listed below are drawn from this MilePoint thread. I have simply weeded through them, removing the offers that were pulled or expired, and added my personal commentary. To the best of my knowledge, everything left is still active and has a working webpage. I plan to continue working on this, clean it up further, and post it as a static (but regularly updated) page on my blog under the “Resources” tab above. But for now it will just be a blog post. Of course, there are also many offers and programs that exist to match elite status between competitors. I consider that a separate topic and will discuss it at a later time.
Star Alliance Gold and Silver
Aegean airlines is one of two hidden gems in the Star Alliance for getting elite status on the cheap. The other was BMI, but their planned acquisition by British Airways parent company IAG strongly suggests they will be changing allegiance to Oneworld.
Aegean provides 1,000 free RDM and EQM just for signing up. At 4K EQM you earn Silver status with Star Alliance, giving you a free checked bag at United and US Airways but not much else. At 20K EQM you earn Star Gold, earning you much better baggage benefits, priority check-in and boarding, and complimentary lounge access. The exact benefits awarded depend on the carrier with which you are flying, but this means you can get elite status with a single one-way trip across the U.S. as long as you credit it to Aegean.
Here’s the kicker: Gold status gets you lounge access on US domestic carriers, too, but only on international flights. If you have Gold status with Aegean, then all of your US domestic flights will be “international.” 😉 You also have a full year from the date you earn Silver status to earn the additional 16K EQM (20K total) necessary for Gold status. Remember, Aegean is a program for earning just enough EQM to get your Gold status and then switching to another carrier. In fact, unless you already know you’ll only be flying 4K or 20K miles that year, it probably makes more sense if you try to get status and most of your RDM with United or US Airways first, and only then give any extra miles to Aegean to try to reach Gold and get free access to the U.S. lounges. Those RDM will be a little harder to redeem if they’re sitting in Aegean’s account, and you won’t be able to use your elite status with Aegean to get perks like elite upgrades on domestic flights.
There have been several deals recently offering instant complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status to people with a Visa Infinity credit card. This card is not offered in the United States, but they were confirming possession by asking for the first four digits of the card number, which identifies the issuing bank. That deal died eventually (not before I took advantage of it 🙂 ) and a new deal appeared targeting Australians that asked for the card details as well as your Australian address. Of course, that can be faked, too. Keep an eye out for future offers to get free Gold status.
Sometimes having status with an airline is an easy way to get Gold status for cheap but not for free. For example, all United MileagePlus members get complimentary Silver status with Hilton HHonors, but that isn’t terribly special. If you stay four times, however, you will be bumped up to Gold.
Various Hilton credit cards will also get you elite status without signing up on any websites. The HHonors Amex provides complimentary Silver status. Again, this is not that special, so get the HHonors Surpass card instead. It comes with complimentary Gold status for one year. If you spend $20,000 in a year that Gold status will be renewed. If you spend $40,000 you will get top-tier Diamond status. Learn more about Gold and Platinum status on Hilton’s website.
I don’t even come close to making $40,000 a year, so pulling this off would probably require some “creative” purchases of gift cards and other merchandise that can be sold for near face value. It’s a big headache. That or somehow convince my parents to run all their purchases through me.
Club Carlson, the loyalty program that includes Radisson and a few other less well-known brands, was in the news late last year for offering 50,000 bonus points just for staying once at any Radisson hotel. Those 50,000 points could be used at a variety of hotels in the U.S. and abroad either over time or all at once for a high-end Radisson Blu property. Then again, you could stretch it out by spending 9K points per night at a low-end Country Inn & Suites. Learn more about Club Carlson here.
Honestly, it never really appealed to me because I don’t stay at their hotels and there are plenty of more compelling programs, but for those of you with thousands of Club Carlson points, you can get free Silver status by signing up through this promotion by claiming to be a customer of XING. (Some kind of German LinkedIn, but do you really care. 😉 ) This offer is good through the end of February 2012.
Starwood’s SPG program offers “SPG Preferred Plus” status to members of certain groups like AARP, AAA, and international auto clubs. Benefits are comparable to SPG Gold status but do not include an elite point bonus. See the full list of auto clubs here.
You can get real Gold status if you have an American Express Platinum card. Contact SPG customer service and give them the Amex confirmation code “UI.” They will also ask for proof of your Amex Platinum account, such as screenshot of a recent online account statement.
Although Gold benefits weren’t terribly exciting in the past, this could be a great incentive to join AAA now that SPG has announced new benefits for Gold and Platinum members that go into effect on March 1.
Accor was offering free Platinum status in it’s A|Club, which includes many European brands such as Sofitel, Pullman, Novotel, and Mercure. The benefits of Platinum status are most generous when you stay at a Sofitel, Pullman, and MGallery hotels but can probably at least get you late check-out and a potential room upgrade at other brands.
Read more about A|Club benefits here.
Again, this offer was on a German website, but it popped up more than once, so keep an eye peeled and make sure you use Chrome, which has Google Translate integrated into the browser.
Marriott was also providing instant upgrades to Gold status earlier in 2011, but those were targeted offers and the links are no longer available. I honestly don’t have any special information at this time, but you can still learn about the program’s benefits here.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status is a great mid-tier hotel status and is surprisingly easy to get. My preferred option is the Hyatt Visa credit card from Chase, which comes with two free nights upon opening a new account. The Platinum status will also get you free wireless access and a better room (e.g., a higher floor, a view, etc.) although access to Regency Club-level rooms is still limited to Diamond guests. Learn more about Gold Passport tiers on Hyatt’s website. No, you do not get a room for your giraffe.
If you don’t want a Hyatt credit card, the Continental Presidential Plus MasterCard from Chase will also get you Hyatt Platinum status; just call up Hyatt’s Gold Passport office and give them your details. The Presidential Plus card also gets you a membership in the United Club (the name for the combined United/Continental airport club), which costs about the same as the annual fee for the credit card.
Avis President’s Club
Another benefit of the Continental Presidential Plus card is complimentary Avis President’s Club membership. This includes guaranteed availability without a reservation, complimentary two-class upgrade on intermediate-class rentals, and various discounts.
Hertz #1 Gold Club
I usually book my car rentals with Thrifty/Dollar or Hertz. Hertz is a real pain in the ass with its lines and upsells, but if you have a Hertz #1 Club Gold card (isn’t that a mouthful…) they’ll store all your information and give you access to a dedicated check-in counter. Perhaps not as awesome as National’s Emerald Aisle, which lets you just pick any car you like and drive off, but it’s still a time saver.
You can get a free #1 Club Gold membership (normally $60) if you have elite status with Delta or Continental. I’ll update this information once I have news about the new MileagePlus.
Delta link (hertz.com/goldcorp)
- Program name: SkyMiles
- CDP number: 165385
- Promo code: 4001
Continental link (hertz.com/ftgold)
- Program name: OnePass
- CDP number: 391867
- Promo code: 4482
Sixt, a car rental agency predominantly located in Europe, offers complimentary Platinum status to members with top-tier status in a variety of other hotel and airline programs. It includes complimentary upgrades, various discounts, and guaranteed availability without having to meet the normal requirement of 20 rentals per year.