The end-of-year elite status qualification deadline is approaching, which means two things. Either (1) You’re scrambling for a few mileage or mattress runs to reach your goal of elite status for this year, or (2) You’re already planning for next year. It may be a little of both, but I certainly hope #2 is on your list. The biggest mistake I see people make when they are trying to reach a certain elite tier is that they wait until the end of the year to see where they stand and try to catch up.
Guess what happens at the end of the year? Holidays eat up two or three weeks in November and December. Holiday fares are atrociously high. Office deadlines and other obligations keep you busy the rest of the time. And everyone and his mother is also scrambling for the same mileage runs, so you’re going to face more competition. Besides, the best deals for November and December were published a month or two ago. It’s already a bit late to start looking.
(Even if you don’t think you want or need elite status, I encourage you to keep reading. The benefits you need at a cost you can afford might be easier to obtain than you realize.)
So, take what advantage you have left and start thinking about next year. How much travel do you expect to do? Primarily leisure or business? Will you be paying out of pocket or getting reimbursed? What class of travel? With upgrades or by paying for a premium cabin? Will you be going oversees or staying domestic? What airlines serve your home city, and which are best for getting where you want to go?
There are myriad factors such as these to consider when choosing a preferred carrier, and they are important because every loyalty program has its own strengths at different tiers. I love United because I fly out of Seattle to several United hubs or United-heavy markets, often with a companion. United has both a generous companion upgrade policy as well as generous legroom in economy if that upgrade doesn’t clear.
American, on the other hand, doesn’t go anywhere I fly. I’d have to fly Alaska, and my American benefits wouldn’t carry over well. If I did get on an American flight, their economy class is relatively cramped, or I’d have to pay to get Megan up front with me. But if I were flying alone, and starting from SFO or LAX instead of SEA, I think American would actually work pretty well. I will say that American treats its top elites pretty well, but I think the value proposition is strongly in United’s favor the lower down you are on the totem pole. Delta, JetBlue, etc. all have their own sweet spots.
I’m going to share on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday three posts comparing the major U.S. domestic airlines and what I believe their sweet spots to be. (Even if you don’t fly in the domestic U.S., similar variables can be applied to programs dominant in your own country.) Consider these analyses as we go along so you have some idea of what you want, what you can afford, and which airline is going to be best able to give you what you want. Because once you have elite status with one airline, it can be difficult to switch. You get used to the extra perks, and unless a nice status match opportunity comes along, you won’t want to give them up to start anew with another program.
Once you have some idea of how many miles you’ll need and how many miles you’ll earn anyway through normal travel, you’ll be able to decide if a mileage run makes sense. Do it early. January through February is the best time for cheap domestic runs under 3-4 CPM. You might even find some international fares at affordable prices and to attractive destinations out into April. These deals are already showing up in places like the FlyerTalk mileage runs forum. I highly recommend you get them out of the way early in the year. At least do a few of them. That way, come next fall, you won’t be trying to figure out how you’ll get those last 1,000 or 10,000 miles with no time left to travel.