With one week left in 2014, its time to wind down and enjoy some much earned time at home. As the year ends, I find myself conducting a 2014 travel review and formulating a plan for 2015.
What a year it has been – my travels covered fourteen countries/territories and yet I only took three round-trip flights out of the United States. Thanks to some savvy travel planning (and four separate cruises), I tackled my leisure travels in a slightly different way. My business and volunteer travels took me all over the United States although I spent a concentration of my time on the west coast, the southeast, and the Ohio River Valley.
I was disappointed to see my travel taper off steadily in the second half of the year but through some careful planning, I managed to not lose any of my statuses. My personal travel leaned towards cruising over flying.
Here’s what I earned or was comped in 2014:
- American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum (earned on segments)
- Hyatt Gold Passport Diamond (earned on stays)
- Starwood Preferred Guest Platinum (earned on stays)
- Hilton HHonors Diamond (earned Silver on stays, comped to Diamond)
- Marriott Rewards Silver (earned on nights)
- National Emerald Club Executive Elite (earned on total rentals)
- Seabourn Club Silver (earned via points)
- Princess Captain’s Circle Gold (earned via cruise segments)
- NCL Latitudes Bronze (earned via cruise nights)
Analysis and 2015 Strategy
I had intended to qualify for status with another airline (at the beginning of the year, that was United, where I once held 1K status) but my travel patterns did not allow for that. It was also unusual for me to qualify on segments, but not on miles, probably because all but two of my segments were domestic short-to-midcon flights.
In 2015, I’m planning to continue to requalify for Executive Platinum. This will be my 15th straight year with the status and as I am currently DFW-based, it makes sense to fly considerable volume on American. I right now also have a surplus of SWUs (systemwide upgrades) to use so I foresee more discretionary travel in my future.
I do however want to diversify, particularly as I cannot predict what disruptions might occur as the merger nears the integration phase. I lived through a very rocky merger for United and Continental and may wish to stay off American during the initial hiccups in service and technology. Right now I’m leaning towards Delta. I know that many naysayers feel that the program has been ransacked but I have liked my limited Delta experiences and their fares and schedules are competitive to the cities where I know I’ll be traveling. The Crossover Rewards program with Starwood gives me benefits on Delta as I start that journey.
When splitting airline programs, unless one does heavy international or transcontinental traffic, it’s best to have one to focus on for longer mileage flights and one to focus on for more segment-oriented itineraries
- American (mileage)
- Delta (segments)
I took a hit this year as I attended several events where my hotel was paid on a master bill and I did not receive stay credit. I also decided to burn off some of my Hyatt points, even though that meant forfeiting those stays. I consider Hyatt to be the best of the programs where I am a member and will bend over backwards to requalify again in 2015. I am 20 nights away from Starwood Lifetime Platinum status so that program may shift to a backburner.
I travel to many cities where there are no Hyatt or Starwood properties so it’s essential that I have either Marriott or Hilton status. I had intended to throw all my business to Marriott this year but then Hilton dangled comped Diamond status in front of me. Still, I think Marriott has more long-term value to me. I may change my mind after I see the lifetime status plan for Hilton (I have had Diamond probably 10 of the last 16 years so I may be well on my way), but currently Marriott has the edge.
With hotels, I try to divide up my nights credits (often several days in the same location) and my stays credits (frequently single night stays, the bulk of my travel)
This year I’ll focus on Starwood for nights before switching to Marriott and Hyatt for stays.
- Starwood (nights – want to get to lifetime so I can stop worrying)
- Hyatt (stays)
- Marriott (nights)
Cars & Cruises
I don’t really think much about these programs. My business presently has a direct bill arrangement with National so that’s where most of my rentals go and I never have a problem qualifying for their top tier. I use Hertz as a backup plan where there is no National location or where they are sold out. I really enjoyed renting with Silvercar, however, and will consider them in their limited cities when the price is right.
I consider myself cruise line agnostic at this point – I don’t have high enough status in any program to make it worthwhile to place preference for a program over the itinerary or amenities of the ship.
- Whoever has the best itinerary for the price
I’m already booking travel for 2015 – 7 segments, 3 hotel nights, and 2 rentals just for the first week of the year. I will be checking in quarterly to see how my strategy is holding up.
What is YOUR strategy for 2015? Share in the comments below….