Today is the first business day of 2013. One of my goals this year is actually to travel less – last year was 178 segments / 158K elite-qualifying miles and 149 nights in hotels. This year I’m setting the goal of reducing my flying 30% to 125 segments (I’m primarily a short-haul segment-based qualifier), but my hotel nights will likely stay about the same.
Given that reduction, it’s time to look at what makes sense for status. My primary carrier is American Airlines, where I fly enough to maintain Executive Platinum status. It’s safe to say that the majority of my travel will be on American this year, but American still has a “hole” in the southeast… and I travel in/through southeastern cities quite a bit. Normally, AUS-DFW-ATL (or any other destination) isn’t bad, but something like Atlanta to Charlotte becomes a problem on AA unless I’m willing to fly through Dallas, Chicago, Miami or New York to get there (and pay the price to do so).
Last year, that southeast-region travel was flown on Delta, primarily because of the “Alaska loophole” for status, earning, redemption and day-of-flight upgrades on Delta flights for Alaska Airlines MVP’s. But to maintain MVP Gold status on Alaska I need 60 segments on partner airlines. Given that EP status requires 100, and that’s my focus, that leaves me with about 25 segments to use towards status elsewhere… if possible. Even Alaska’s lowest tier, “basic” MVP, requires 30 segments on partner airlines.
After reviewing the programs, route maps, schedules and general fare competitiveness I’ve decided to move my southeast travel to Airtran. Recently acquired by Southwest, Airtran is a large player in the region with exactly the connections I need – and their Elite status is simple to obtain and keep. Earning status requires 10 one-way coach class trips (or 5 round trips) in 90 days; keeping it requires 25 one-way flights in a year – exactly the number I needed. The one “catch” is that only Airtran flights count toward Elite status. Although flights on Southwest can earn points convertible to Airtran credits, those credits do not count towards Elite status. Given that my travel overlaps Airtran’s route map well, though, I don’t foresee a problem with this.
Making this move, though, required two concurrent actions. First, I switched my American Express Airline Reimbursement Program choice to Southwest/Airtran. This gives me $200/year towards incidentals, including bag fees – enough to cover the flights I’ll need to get Elite status and free checked bags on Airtran. Second, I requested a status match from Southwest. Southwest has a history of status matching programs, albeit selectively, but I wrote a concise email with the request/reason and hope to hear back (and will post the result) soon.
I’ll still have the MVP Gold status I earned last year to fall back on should I need to fly Delta, and the occasional need for flexibility with Southwest will make earning points with them nice because I’ll have a way to use them on Airtran.
I’d love to hear feedback from readers about the ins and outs of Airtran, Southwest points/credits converting to Airtran credits, etc. I’ve read ThePointsGuy’s article on the program – what else should I know?