My 2018 Airline Status Review And A Look Forward To 2019

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s time for me to take a look back at what 2018 looked like from an airline status perspective.  At some point I’ll need to log all my flights and produce a map of my travel, but that won’t be happening this week.  For now, it’s time to break down what 2018 looked like and cast an eye towards 2019.  We’ll also take a look at my predictions for 2018 and see if they lined up with my actual results.

United Airlines

United Airlines was my primary airline in 2018.  I was 99% certain that would be the case when the year started.  That wasn’t necessarily good news from an airline status standpoint.  But, it did get me home to my family quickest, which far outweighed any benefits I received as a result of my 1K status with United.  Here’s how the math looked as we close out the year:

I accrued 25,000 less Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) than I did in 2017.  That doesn’t necessarily mean I flew 25,000 fewer miles.  I had a mix of coach and discounted first class fares throughout the year.  I also had a few Star Alliance flights that accrued odd amounts of PQMs.  In the end, my lifetime miles counter jumped up about 80,000, which should equal my butt-in-seat miles on United in 2018.

American Airlines

I predicted at the end of 2017 that the number of flights I’d take on American Airlines would decrease in 2018.  While I spent 10 years as an Executive Platinum member and have lifetime Platinum status, they just don’t have enough flights from my home airport of Washington-Dulles (IAD) that are both well-timed and priced competitively.  Something changed with American’s pricing strategies last year on routes I travel frequently.  United Airlines prices nonstop flights to places like Denver and Las Vegas pretty aggressively.  In comparison, American Airlines connecting itineraries through Charlotte aren’t really much of a savings and can frequently be more expensive.  My American Airlines flying went down from 2017 to 2018:

I am missing at least one flight from these numbers that I need to call and get credit for.  The numbers are down considerably from last year, which you would think would be hard considering I only flew AA 9 times last year.

Southwest Airlines

I flew almost the same number of flights on Southwest as I did on American this year.  That’s never happened in 15 years as a business traveler.  At first blush, I’d say that Southwest Airlines would represent a bigger portion of my flying than AA in 2019.  However, they seem to be retreating on routes from IAD to Florida.  If we don’t use them for IAD-MCO in 2019 I could see AA being a larger portion of my flying than Southwest.

The Rest Of It

I booked a few Frontier flights and a Spirit flight in the past twelve months.  Neither of them killed me, no PTSD.  They both represented good values and saved me time.  And, Frontier’s new loyalty program is actually something to consider if I had more nonstop options from IAD.  I also had a couple of flights on Delta.  Heck, I even booked a ticket on Allegiant, though I had to cancel it due to a change in plans.  All of those flights were booked because they were significantly cheaper than choosing the main domestic carriers.

Looking Back And Looking Forward

I don’t see many surprises in my 2018 flight history.  United Airlines makes the most sense in terms of getting me home more often to my family.  I tend to think American still has better customer service than United, though I know there are folks out there who would disagree.  Delta runs a better operation than United or American does, as does Southwest.

However, all of those other airlines don’t offer me the nonstop options that United does.  I’m an hour further to airports like DCA and BWI or I’m frequently forced to take a connection when I choose someone else.

United gets a lot of my connecting traffic as well, though maybe not for the reason you think. I have plenty of PQMs and money on United to qualify for 1K status.  I could easily move 5-10 flights somewhere else and still qualify.  However, neither American or Southwest have Midwest connection points for me.  American abandoned ORD-IAD long ago.  I think Southwest flew MDW-IAD at some point.  Neither route exists today.  So, if I need to get to Des Moines or Grand Rapids, American and Southwest can’t get me there without a really troublesome routing.

United Airlines increased the amount of spending required to earn their top-tier 1K elite status in 2019 and beyond to $15,000 from $12,000.  We discussed those changes with Zach Honig from The Points Guy on my podcast recently.  I still cleared the $15,000 hurdle by a decent amount in 2018, so I don’t see much in the way of changes to my travel patterns in 2019.

The real question comes if/when I have to make choices to hit that spending hurdle.  For example, would I have foregone flights on TAP Portugal this year for my trip to Lisbon to fly a connecting flight on United?  The TAP product was sub-standard, so maybe this year I would have.  But, with their new business class product, I’d prefer the nonstop option versus having to connect.  Similarly, would I take a connection on United to avoid an American or Southwest flight because I needed that spending on United to qualify for 1K status?  For now, I don’t have to answer those questions.  I suspect I will at some point.

What are you doing for elite status in 2019?

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8 Comments

  1. Hyatt Globalist and United 1K for me too. Same planned in 2019. Booked 40k miles today for travel through the next few months. Happy New Year to all.

  2. Airlines: I made United 1k again (maybe 5 years in a row?) but this October, I status matched to Alaska Gold 75, and will fly them on my routine SFO-NYC route as much as possible. The UA loyalty tipping point was raising the minimum $12k spend to $15k spend AND reducing the benefits …again. I very rarely get upgraded any more, even as a 1K using the “confirmed upgrade” regional or global upgrades. I can’t find any real benefit to 1K status. It really seems like UA is explicitly out to punish their best customers because they know we’ll roll over and take it. So I quit them. I am UA Gold for life, so after my 2019 1k expires in Jan 2020, if I have to fly UA (and I will for several business trips) at least I’ll be treated somewhat like a human. But I am going to try to earn my way to renewing Alaska Gold 75 this coming year and going forward. SFO is somewhat of a hub for Alaska, so I realize that I have an advantage most living outside of the West Coast won’t have.

    Hotels: I went from loving SPG to hating Marriott Rewards in a few short months. In 2018, I earned Platinum Premiere Elite (75 stays) for the coming year… but Marriott’s case-study mishandling of the merger, and horrendous customer “service” since August have made me angry and open to Hilton or Hyatt. I’m just not sure where the hotel stay cards might fall this coming year. I am Marriott Gold for life earned through years of SPG loyalty (but virtually useless) so in 2019 I’ll enjoy my PPE status if I stay at Marriott, but otherwise I’m a free agent for hotel loyalty right now. I get Hyatt, Hilton and IHG status through credit cards, so I’m not all that concerned about concentrating stays with one brand.

    Wishing safe and upgraded travels for everyone!

    1. Mark, I understand your frustration with United’s decision. I do indeed think they believe most business travelers at $12K will find a way to get to $15K. I think I’d consider Alaska in your situation as well. Alas, not an option for me geographically.
      I’d recommend you give Hyatt a closer look. With the new credit card you can earn elite night credit from spend. That might be enough to get you to a higher level of status when combined with your business travel.

  3. I’ll be going for delta gold for 2019. Wife had it in 2018 from credit card spend and lesure travel. MSP is our home base.

    We are Hilton silver for 2019 but my happiness lies with the IHG brand because of the credit card.

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