It has been quite the year in terms of travel this year. I’ve been trying to put together a dossier to give you guys a status update, but so much has been happening that I’ve just not been able to keep track myself. I just thought that I would put it out for you and also hear your strategies for the year ahead.
My Outlook for 2019
This year has been a bit fuzzy in the area of airline status for me. The year started on a good note, with me moving forward with my JetPrivilege status as is usual every year. Then the airline collapsed and the status went away for nothing. I still hold the status and it comes handy for Etihad economy class trips, but that is as much of it is useful. So, I’ve now started to figure out again what I need for status. In general, around this part of the world, in India, while most airlines have had no status programmes at all, I think it is a useful tool to business travellers such as myself.
In terms of hotel status, the ask is much more, and I’m putting my eggs in one basket, inspite of everything that went wrong with the programme earlier in the year. More on that later.
It’s 2019. Why are we still chasing Status?
Remember, with hotels as well as flights, I am not just blindly going to the websites of my preferred vendors and booking. I almost always compare prices with other airlines and hotels, as would be a good thing to do, and I don’t mind paying slightly more when it helps me get more perks for the price. For instance, with an INR 200 more fare, I get so much more time to myself when flying Vistara as compared to a no-frills carrier where you need to pay 400 INR just to get faster check-in, and even there they are clueless about whats up. And hotels are a different ball game altogether.
Let me give you an example. In May 2019, I was in Bangalore with Shipra for the Mileage Mentor MasterClass and PointsPurse. For approximately the same price, we stayed for one night at the Holiday Inn Express Bengaluru Racecourse Road and the next at the Fairfield by Marriott Bengaluru Rajajinagar . These were about INR 4000-INR 5000 a night prices.
At the Holiday Inn Express Bengaluru, you couldn’t even get water bottles without paying for them and having a twenty minute phone discussion. And rooms which were as small as perhaps those you would find in Japan. And I am an IHG Elite even though I don’t stay much with them, and this was a direct booking. They indeed wanted to charge me INR 1,000 for two people having breakfast which is complimentary as per the brand standard of Holiday Inn Express (as in, included in the price).
At the Fairfield, on the other hand, not only did I get upgraded to a bigger room (not a Suite, because it was taken) but also got invited to a Lounge for the evening and then breakfast in the morning. That evening it was pouring in the city, so I was happy they had lounge access in spite of being a Fairfield.
The point is, for the same price, one got a better deal by backing the right hotel chain. At the sticker price, our breakfast was about INR 1,500 and our evening lounge access was another INR 1,500 at the minimum. The late check-out was another INR 1,000 at the minimum. So, totally, we only paid taxes for our overnight stay at this hotel.
In terms of airline status, Jet Airways used to go where I needed to go, and hence they were all I ever needed being based out of Mumbai. I still have the JetPrivilege Platinum status, which was to expire in July 2019, but now been extended to December 2019. Like I say, will come handy for those Etihad trips for the moment, but I’m waiting to see what Jet Airways/Etihad manages to do in the coming days.
Vistara Platinum (Status Challenge)
With Jet Airways gone, it has given Vistara the ability to build a stronger network out of Mumbai on the same slots. With my continued preference for a full-service carrier out of Mumbai (Terminal 2 is closer for me than Terminal 1, is a better terminal, prices are about the same), I decided to participate in the Vistara Platinum Challenge by giving them my JetPrivilege credentials.
The challenge is simple. You get three months to complete it, and you need to be Gold or above with any other airline. You get Gold for three months. At the end of this period, if you have done over 12 flights or earned over 9000 tier points, you get Platinum status. If you have done 6 flights or earned 6,000 tier points, you retain Gold status, otherwise you are downgraded to Silver.
At the moment, I’ve already completed the requirements for Gold Tier and I have another four flights coming up this weekend and next week. So with 9 down and 3 to go, I’m sure that I will be getting another opportunity to fly with them in the coming days. I’m thinking of doing the Vistara inaugural to Singapore, but I won’t leave my status quest till that time.
British Airways Executive Club Gold
In terms of international travel, I’ve only headed out twice for this year so far as compared to my usual 4-5 trips which would have happened by now. One of these trips was booked last year with the Jet Airways fares to Japan on board ANA, and the other was a redemption to Paris for the airshow. Soaring airfares and non-connectivity to some of my usual destinations have been a deterrent from getting out and about much. So, I have not been able to put any business to oneworld as a result, and my British Airways Gold requalification has not moved forward as a result at the moment.
But this will change going forward. Perhaps it is now an idea to wait up for the membership year to close out because I am definitely not putting up 1500 Tier Points even if I start in August 2019.
I’d been holding Etihad Gold for many years, but last year they cut down the duration of the status to just one year from the earlier two years. Also, the benefits on Etihad Gold and JetPrivilege Platinum were similar, so I got my eye off the ball here. Consequently, I dropped to silver this year.
In terms of Star Alliance, I really don’t have any love towards them at the moment. I hardly even fly Air India, and I don’t see myself building a Star Alliance Gold status given the benefits have been so weak in the longest time that I don’t go out of my way to fly them. I just have one flight booked with them for the rest of the year so far.
In a nutshell, I will be looking at retaining my Vistara status and British Airways status for now.
In terms of hotel choices, I’m mostly drawn towards Marriott BonVoy this year. In spite of the name, I feel BonVoy has largely stabilised and now I’m banking most of my trips there. Besides I still have access to perks in Hilton, IHG (if they have any!) and Hyatt as well.
Marriott BonVoy Platinum Elite
Last year was the last year to qualify for Marriott Bonvoy on the basis of stays, which was the earlier method as per SPG. So, end of the year, I managed to requalify for Platinum, just on the edge of the change of the year. And it has held me in good stead this year.
Marriott is the largest hotel chain in India at the moment. Which means I have a higher chance of finding a Marriott hotel in places I travel to, for work or pleasure. Not just that, they are also the largest hotel chain in the world, which means many more options to stay at. In India itself, I have some high end options and also value options which I use sometimes when budgets are a concern. But eventually, it is a lot about location.
I am already 37 nights done for the year at Marriott, and should comfortably be over 50 nights. So Platinum status is safe for the year ahead. However, from there start the questions. I can’t make it to 100 nights a year because of the 20,000 US Dollar spend barrier. So do I want to head to 75 stays as a Titanium is the question. We will see.
World of Hyatt Explorist
I’ve hardly been visiting a Hyatt this year. I’m holding on to Explorist status for the moment, but the coverage of Hyatt continues to be of concern in India. They have hotels at the top end of the spectrum, but even Hyatt Place hotels are far pricier than some of the other options where they exist. So, I’ve only used my Hyatt points to redeem at the excellent Hyatt Regency Kyoto this year.
IHG Platinum Elite
At the beginning of this year I was an IHG Platinum Elite, which was given to me thanks to my IHG Ambassador status. Given there is are only a couple of InterContinental hotels in India, and one is in my home town and one a resort, I saw the status was not being of much use to me and gave it up. The Platinum Elite status should also expire by the end of the year. It hardly gets any benefits, anyways. Reason enough I am even skipping the extremely generous IHG Accelerate promotion provided to me this time around.
I was working with Hilton Diamond challenge last year, but could not complete it and got kicked back to the base category. Now, with the American Express Platinum Charge Card, I’ve received the Hilton Gold status, which should play out very well in case any random stays at Hilton Hotels come for me. Not just that, I would also have upgrades up to Executive Floor rooms and complimentary breakfast at all hotels, which will save me a pretty penny.
Apart from this, with the American Express Platinum Charge Card, I will also get complimentary Jade Status in Shangri-La, via which I get Taj InnerCircle Gold as well. I have no hopes from Taj InnerCircle at the moment though and while I have status in the programme I don’t stay with them much. I will also get Radisson Rewards Gold Elite Status, which is pretty good for nothing actually. I haven’t triggered these just yet because I want to save them for the day I really need them.
Apart from that, there is the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit for when I need it, and the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts for when I need the extra love.
While I am still finding my feet in a post Jet Airways world, Vistara will do very well for the time being on the domestic status bit. It is simple. I need an airline with a Mumbai hub and connections to places I want to go and they will get the job done.
On the hotel front, it shall be Marriott BonVoy for now. I’ve had an uneven experience with them this year, but mostly they get the job done, and much better than some of the others.
How are you doing with your status this year and what is your strategy going forward. Do share in the comments section.