Robs Travel Status for Flights and Hotels

So if you follow me with any frequency (and so few do), you see me in exclusive airline lounges around the world, in first class on flights, upgraded to suites and executive lounges at hotels and may think "Damn this guy blows a lot of money on this crap".

In many cases, I spend less than most people and get these perks as part of the status I have achieved with airlines and hotels. You might ask why you care or what does this mean to you? Well, in this post, I'll detail how I get it, how you can get it, and what this means in real life.

Airline Status

Top tier airline status - this is the one you want, period. It can be painful reach the first time, but is easier to keep subsequently and the perks are astounding.

I have been an American Airlines Executive Platinum for 15 years running. I used to get it from work because they had me flying 48 weeks a year. This was when you could get your status just by completing a number of flight segments (100), so I would connect a lot and reach that goal in 25 weeks at the most (round trip with a connection each way). Things these days have changed a bit and now they want you to spend money that is converted to points, which in turn garners status. Since I am not flying for work anymore, I am doing this on my own dime with out of pocket expenditures.

On American that means I need to accumulate 200,000 "loyalty points" which are based on mostly spending money on American flights, but there are other ways now too.

What does status get you?

So most airlines in the USA are similar in their rewards but what American offers specifically that I use are free upgrades, extra miles earned, extra flights available on lesser miles requirements, international lounge access, rebooking priority, and priority boarding. I'll spell each of these out below:

Free Upgrades

When you see me sitting in a large seat, with a drink in hand, this is because for the coach fare I purchased, I was upgraded to first class. No extra cost, and I upgrade sooner and with higher priority than the rest of the status levels in American. This applies to flights in North America.
It was as endless as I wanted, but I stopped at one.  Upgraded cabin is better service I look relaxed, why?  Because I paid jack for this first class seat Ok, this one is a cheat, I bought the ticket in first on Alaska, because of the points increase it got me
Also another perk is My Rewards which allow you to choose from a list of items. I always choose what are called System wide upgrades. These allow me to upgrade to business from coach internationally which you won't get as a free upgrade like I talked about above. This is a delightful item to use and I have flown business class to London for $550 among other insanely cheap flights.
This seat which becomes a bed and crazy meal service on American, for how much?  Under $600 for 8 hours to London and the rest of my trip in First in the USA.  System wides are the key here

Extra Miles Earned

On every flight, on every airline in the system, I earn more miles because of my status. Why is that important? Because then I get to go places for basically free using those accumulated miles, in business and first, around the world.
This is less than half of what I earned since January but I have places to go so I booked some good flights already

Better Award Flight Availability

When I search for awards on AA, I find more awards for higher classes of service, and when I am actually flying international first class, there are special things that you just cannot get any other way, like the ultra exclusive true First Class only lounges.
As an Exec Plat, I have more of these special mileage redemptions for better seats than normally someone would
Some places only flying first class will get you in, not status.
The astounding British Airways Concorde Lounge Flagship First dining in JFK, delicious, only available really flying international first class Flagship First dining in MIA, the day was just full of amazing food
Qatar Al Mourjan Business class only (or first as first class lounge was closed) in Doha.  This is as good as many first class lounges Qatar Business or First only lounge in Bangkok, best lounge I have seen in that airport

International Lounges

When flying internationally, OneWorld has an amazing collection of super luxurious airlines with their own insane lounges. Many places around the world have both a Business and a First Class lounge. Being top tier with American gives me Emerald on OneWorld which grants access to many First Class lounges around the world. I feel Qantas has absolutely the best, but there are others I have wanted to live in - like Cathay and JAL. You also get access to Business Class lounges, which are pretty good, just not the same as first which have better drinks, food and space to relax. OneWorld Sapphire also gets access to the Business Class lounges.

Qantas First Class lounge at LAX, the best airline lounge in the entire USA The First Class Platinum Wing by Finnair in Helsinki.  Awesome drinks and gourmet food What could be better than your own exclusive check-in wing?  How about a private customs and security point?  All part of the British Airways First Class Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5
What the hell, a private tub and cabana room?  Yes, in the First Class Wings lounge by Cathay in Hong Kong The Red Suite, in the JAL Haneda First Class Lounge.  I could (and have) sat here for hours What I seriously think is the best airline lounge in the entire world, the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney
Small, like for 20 people max, but in PHL Airport the British Airways First class lounge is a sanctuary away from the crap of the Philly airport Cathay Pacific's the Pier.  My favorite place to shower and eat in the Hong Kong airport Malaysia Airlines First Class Golden Lounge in Kuala Lumpur.  What a great way to sit back and relax with usually less than 6 people around
Qantas First Class lounge in Singapore.  The best damn lounge in the airport, hands down (noticing a pattern yet with Qantas?)
Never underestimate the value of a hot shower and change of clothes then sitting down with an exceptional cocktail after 14 hours in the air, before embarking on another flight to your destination. The amenities in the showers are the best of the best and the smells help relax you and make even a 40 hour travel situation melt away. When I step out of the shower, fully changed, I feel like a brand new person, and being away from the noise and bustle of the airport terminal is basically living in another world for that time. I have purposely selected flights that give me an intense amount of time in the lounges on layovers just for this. To dine, to sit, to drink. The serenity is invaluable for your sanity and body.
Exclusive, luxurious, silky bath products at the Qantas Singapore First Lounge Aesop items so good I have purchased them for my home at the Cathay Pacific First Class Pier in Hong Kong Overstuffed leather chairs, $200 a bottle cognac, and 3 hours to my next flight.  The JAL Haneda First Class Lounge is a place you wish you could just have a bedroom in
Serene experience, expensive champagne, and nobody around because it's hard to get into the Cathay Pacific First Class Wing, Hong Kong (they had the $200 cognac too)

Rebooking Priority

When there is a problem with a flight, and this happens more than you would ever imagine, for I am cursed with hitting these a lot, you get priority for getting on another flight. While you might not be upgraded on a really bad day, you will be on a flight sooner than anyone else that was involved in your original mess.
Yes, this looks like the end of the world, doesn't it?  Not as an Executive Platinum on AA, this is just a maybe 4 hour inconvenience or less in most cases

Priority Boarding

As an emerald, I get to board before anyone, even when I am flying economy. I was in Jakarta, and the highest class of service on JAL from there is Business, and people paid many thousands of dollars. I was flying premium economy to Tokyo and I boarded before they did, guaranteeing room in the overhead, extra time without being slammed by people as I got situated in my seat, and feeling more settled in by departure time.
That little green emerald oval is your key to standing in line less time, boarding sooner and calmer than the rabble of the masses.  Every flight

Hotel Status

Thanks for listening to my Ted talk on airline status, but honestly that's only half the picture to traveling well. One should have a very nice, large room, in a high service hotel to properly enjoy a destination. That brings me to hotel status.

I carry top status in two brands, Marriott and Hilton. The Marriott is a lifetime status which now doesn't require me to requalify - I acquired that while traveling for work over 1900 nights. Hilton is one I got through a free status match to Diamond (the top status) based on my Marriott Titanium level and then I was able to reach the goals required and I am continuing on that course.

Let's go through the different programs now and how these things work.

Marriott Bonvoy

Marriott, the largest hotel chain in the world, with a stupid amount of 5 star properties and many 4 stars (Rob doesn't like to stay at a hotel that isn't at least full service, ergo a Marriott, Hilton, Doubletree, Renaissance, - no Hampton Inns thank you!) across desirable destinations in the world.

I am a lifetime Titanium, which is a very special status not able to be acquired anymore. Titanium is basically the top that you get after 75 nights of staying, I also have a credit card that gives me a few status nights every year as part of it. There is also Ambassador status, but with a requirement of spending $20,000 before taxes and fees per year, I no longer keep that status level (I used to have it) and it barely gives you an advantage on your stay for upgrades in my experience.

That may seem like a lot, and it kind of is when you're not traveling for a living. The most they give lifetime now is Platinum after several years of having it. This is not for the casual traveler to acquire I think, and we're going to focus on points for you in this section.

So my Titanium status gets me the following benefits which I have now come to find as indispensable when I travel to, well, anywhere. Room upgrades, up to and including suites. Executive lounge access. More points per stay. Late checkouts. Suite Nights. Now as before let's get into each one of these.

Room Upgrades

As it says, upgraded rooms. Buy a cheap room, get a better one if the space is available. I get suites a lot. Actually more than 75% of the time. These rooms are many times more than you what you would expect a suite to be. Like a 1500 square foot ocean facing double wide room in Bali at the Ritz, or the Presidential Suite at the JW Atlanta (2200 square feet). It's a toss-up whether this or lounge access for most valuable perk I feel.
Largest room in the Le Meridien Angkor, because of status
Ritz Carlton Chicago Watertower Suite, 900square feet of status gained upgrade
Minneapolis Marriott Southwest, another suite thanks to status
JW Marriott Los Angeles, this suite, yes, you guessed it, from status

Executive Lounge Access

Ahhh, the executive lounge. The retreat away from the madness of the rest of the hotel, including free hors d'oeuvres at night with a discounted bar service for drinks, free breakfast in the morning, usually soft drinks and water available all day and some snacks, and this is just in the USA. When you get overseas the lounge in absolutely insane. The food offerings for breakfast increase 7-fold and evening snacks becomes a dinner service. Alcohol is free and of excellent quality. You can stay in here all day if you want, and well... no, I haven't, I have places to see, but some people do. It's that good.
The best exec lounge I have seen so far in my travels, Bangkok JW Marriott's Where to get bacon and drinks in a Muslim country?  The Executive Lounge of the JW Marriott Jakarta Ok, too much Asia, so here is the very solid and reserved JW Marriott Chicago's lounge
Best Executive Lounge I have found in the USA, at the Los Angeles JW Marriott The best aspect of the Singapore JW, their lounge Marriott Sky City in Hong Kong exception executive lounge

More Points

As a Titanium, I get 75% more points on my stay, after already getting 10 points per $ I spend. So that adds up pretty quickly. I also get exclusive bonus offers for more points faster, which turn into stays at the most expensive and exclusive resorts in the world.

Marriott has credit cards that give you points on spend, and there is the Marriott Dining program that gives you points per $ spent based on your Marriott status level. As a casual traveler, my advice earn the points and use them for reward stays that include the executive lounge. Then you're basically getting my experience. If you're doing dining linked to your airline status account, you cannot double up on that same credit card. You have to choose one or the other.

One more thing, Marriott has what is called Instant Redemption, which means you can use your points to pay for almost anything you can charge to your room over your stay. This has been used for thousands of dollars of food at locations over the years. I would say, and I feel by now I am an expert on this, your goal for average stays in major cities is around 50,000 points a night. Then you can shop around for dates/properties to get the best usage on your stash. Redemption is 250 points per dollar, average meals are $40 a person in a hotel, you can figure out your budget there based on your situation.
As you can see, I collect a decent number of points, some suite nights, and free night certificates from credit cards
St. Regis Maldives overwater villa, all on points, no upgrade needed
Ritz Carlton Bali, Ritz Carlton Suite, points and status, didn't use money

Late Checkouts

Generally you have to get your ass out of your room by 11am on the day you are leaving. I regularly can stay until 4pm. Many times after 4pm, they just put me back in the executive lounge while I wait til it's time to leave for the airport since my flight out always seems to be hella late at night when in Asia. This is astounding service, and what a relaxing way to not have to stay in the airport terminal until boarding time.

Suite Nights

After 50 and 75 nights stayed, you can pick 5 suite nights per each reward level (the only option I feel is worth picking). Those will lock in a suite for you before the hotel even evaluates your potential upgrade 1 day or day of arrival for you. Quite a nice thing and I wish there was a way to earn more because I have killed it on these. They don't always get you a suite, but greatly increase your odds.
A suite 3 times the size of a regular room at the JW Marriott Tucson Starr Pass, thanks to suite night awards
A suite in Bangkok, at the JW Marriott, courtesy upgrade of suite night awards

Hilton Honors

Hilton Honors, or HHonors used to be the best hotel program there was. It's still pretty good but they have really downgraded many aspects of the program. I still keep it because I have access to some great rates with them.

Diamond status can be gained by staying 60 nights, which is much more approachable than Marriott's 75 for the top tier, but as you'll learn, all programs are not equal so the cost to get to Diamond is probably equal to its value as a program status level. There is also a credit card with $450 fee that gives you Diamond just by having it, but I kinda refuse to mention or pump credit cards on my site. It's a personal grudge against them.

Hilton has properties all over, not nearly as many as Marriott, but they have an impressive array of 4-star or better in more of the elegant travel spots of the world. Waldorf Astorias are pretty amazing and Conrads are a consistent winner for luxury and elegance. So as a Hilton Diamond I use the following benefits with glee and frequency: Room upgrades, even to suites. Executive Lounge Access. More Points. Food and Beverage discounts at property dining establishments. Late checkout. As now is a standard established by me, let's drill into each one.

Room Upgrades

You can get upgraded to better rooms, even suites and even Presidential Suites if the person really likes you at the property (ergo, don't be an entitled dick, but be gracious for the treatment you are given). In practice though, and potentially through some of the GO program rates, my upgrade success has been really poor. I have only gotten to suites on 3 properties in 45 nights of staying this year and 35 last year. This is significantly lower than Marriott does. It's definitely a concern for me as I continue this journey with Hilton.
An excellent suite upgrade at the Westminster in London
The presidential suite at the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis, I had stayed a few times before and one time I was rewarded with this amazing upgrade

Executive Lounge Access

Almost identical to Marriott's offerings in each market, the Executive lounge is a bastion of calm to hang out in, drink and eat. I swear they clone each other on this one, no lie. They are so equivalent I cannot come up with a comparison to differentiate. But given the difficulty of the suite upgrades, this has become my most valued perk at Hilton.
Virtually identical offerings to the JW Marriott in Bangkok, the Conrad in Bangkok's Executive Lounge Tower Bridge Hilton Executive Lounge, great lounge spread, but it gets so busy during happy hour Quiet, was hardly used, which was great for me!  London Heathrow Hilton at Terminal 4 Executive Lounge

More Points

As a Diamond status member, I get 100% more points as bonus over the 10 per $1 that is the base level. This adds up quick and there are exclusive bonuses for many thousands of points bringing me to my goals much quicker. Points stays give the hotel you are at, a full room rate reimbursement from Hilton corporation. This is usually more money than they'd charge you to stay there normally, so they are much kinder on upgrades.

Hilton also has a dining program, and the amount you earn is based on the amount of times you dine on it in a year.

And of course, there are various credit cards that get you various points per dollar spent at the hotel (7-14 per dollar at my last checking), and less in the real world, with various annual fees attached to them.
Not a bad way to grab some extra points along your journey Most of the points are from stays, funny the colors are the same as on the Marriott app.  Slow start for me but I am ramping up

Food and Beverage Discounts

Mostly overseas, especially in Asia, diamonds get a discount (I think it's around 25% but it seems to vary) while dining on property. I took a local friend to dinner at the Bangkok Conrad's Chinese restaurant to thank her for showing me around the city like a local. Between the amazing costs, exchange rate and discount, dinner at this high end establishment that usually has a waiting list was $30. That's for two people. It really makes a difference for sure.
Liu, in the Conrad Bangkok where I had an excellent meal with a great discount too Chyna, the Chinese place (shocking by the name huh?) in the Hilton Kuala Lumpur, where among the 5 other dining places, the discount applies

Late Check Out

I hate being rushed. Hilton also allows me to defer up to 4pm for a late checkout. This is worldwide and I have used it quite a few times. Especially at very nice properties. When a place does it right you don't want to leave. Also it really helps me schedule around work meetings so I can move on when I don't have to take a call. That's seriously stressful when in another country and time zone.

Is Hilton worth it? Now that is the real question isn't it? I'm still working on that one and I'm giving it a couple more years to settle down before I evaluate the possibility of moving on.

In Conclusion

Now you see, I do not break the bank here. I do spend money but I have worked at this for so many years that I find acquiring status just becomes a part of what I do, and I really feel (and hopefully have shown you this also) that it's worth having and keeping. Traveling like a rock star for pennies on the dollar has been my life for the last decade plus.

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