Here’s Where I’m Pledging My Loyalty in 2017

A new year, a new me.  I’m kidding of course.  I’m still going to be the slightly chubby procrastinating teenager I was in 2016.  However, I do plan on making a few changes in 2017.  With the fall of Virgin America and changes to other frequent traveler programs, I’ve been left to do some thinking.  What airlines, hotels, and other travel companies will I frequent in 2017?


Virgin America is Dead

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America recently closed their merger (Photo by Alaska Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America recently closed their merger making for an interesting 2017 for Virgin (Photo by Alaska Airlines, Bob Riha, Jr.)

Ever since the merger between Virgin America and Alaska Airlines has closed, I’ve been a little down in the dumps.  I only started flying Virgin America a few years ago and was just beginning to pledge my loyalty to Virgin.  Now, with the uncertainty surrounding the airline and its redemption partners, I’ve pretty much come to grips with the fact that Virgin America is no more.  That leaves me with two options regarding Virgin’s Elevate frequent flyer program at which I was a Silver elite.The first option is to ditch Virgin-Alaska entirely and allocate money towards American and Delta.  The second option is to accept Alaska Airlines as my number two frequent flyer program and allocate more money and time toward their Mileage Plan program.  The latter option is becoming increasingly more tempting for a variety of reasons.

The first option is to ditch Virgin-Alaska entirely and allocate money towards American and Delta.  The second option is to accept Alaska Airlines as my number two frequent flyer program and allocate more money and time toward their Mileage Plan program.  The latter option is becoming increasingly more tempting for a variety of reasons.

Alaska Mileage Plan Might Become My Number 2 Frequent Flyer Program

Never in a million years would I have imagined myself becoming an Alaska Airlines fanboy.  I rarely fly Alaska and when I have, I’ve never been blown away by their onboard product or crew.  Alaska is a pretty bland airline.  However, I can’t neglect the fact that their frequent flyer program, Mileage Plan, is fantastic.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan ranks high on my list in 2017 (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan ranks high on my list in 2017 (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines recently announced that you would earn insane bonuses (up to 500% in some cases) when flying on select partner airlines on premium tickets.  For example, you’d earn 125% bonus miles in Emirates discounted business class and 150% bonus miles in British Airways’ discounted Club World.  That’s already very appealing as both Emirates and British Airways business class can be very affordable on occasion.

Second, Alaska Airlines awards miles on a miles flown basis versus money spent.  Both American and Delta, my backup programs, feature revenue based frequent flyer programs.  For a budget traveler and novice travel hacker, miles flown is much more appealing than money spent.

Third, already being elite at Alaska Airlines I’ve experienced the airline’s fantastic partnerships with airlines like American.  Not only could I redeem Alaska Airline’s miles on American but whenever I fly American as an Alaska Airlines elite, I get reciprocal elite benefits.  These benefits include priority boarding and screening and free or discounted preferred seating.  Additionally, Alaska’s redemption partners include Emirates and British Airways, two airlines that boast fantastic First Class products.

Fourth, I can still fly Virgin American and American Airlines and earn miles with Alaska Airlines.  That eliminates the issue of pledging loyalty to an airline that doesn’t fly where I need to go.


SPG All the Way!

I won’t be making any changes in my preferred hotel chain, Starwood Hotels.  I came within three stays of Platinum status in 2016 and only had one negative experience at an SPG property.  I also found Starwood Hotels rates to be competitive in both cash rates and award redemptions.  Starwood Hotels is also home to my favorite hotel brand, Aloft Hotels.  With that said, I won’t be making any changes in the new year.

The Magnolia Hotel, an SPG Tribute Property

The Magnolia Hotel, an SPG Tribute Property

Though Starwood’s recent merge with Marriott did raise concerns toward the end of the year, all available information indicates that the two brands will operate independently in the foreseeable future.  Of course, even if I were faced with SPG and Marriott completely merging and phasing the SPG brand out, I still love Marriott’s portfolio of properties.  Both Gold statuses at SPG and Marriott are fantastic and their Platinum tiers soar above the competition.  Again, no change in the way of hotels in 2017.


We’ll Still Be Renting With National

One age restriction I’m still faced with is renting cars so, I usually take advantage of Uber, Lyft, or public transportation when I’m traveling alone.  However, when I travel with my family, we’re always in need of a rental car.  Another no brainer for my family is National Car Rental.  We love the National Emerald Aisle selection and the ability to quickly earn free rental days.  All in all, National Car Rental not only boasts a tremendous loyalty program but it’s a local brand; Enterprise Holdings is based in my hometown.


Not Sure Where American, Delta Will Fit In

First off, let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of Delta’s SkyMiles program.  It might actually be my least favorite program in the United States.  Still, I find that Delta often has the cheapest domestic premium fares and being an American Express Platinum cardholders, whenever I fly Delta I get access to SkyClubs and have the ability to book insider fares through American Express.   That’s the only reason that I fly with Delta on occasion.  Take away the SkyClub access and cheap first class and there’s no chance I’m flying Delta.

I'm not sure where Delta SkyMiles will fit into my travel in 2017 (Image: Delta Air Lines)

I’m not sure where Delta SkyMiles will fit into my travel in 2017 (Image: Delta Air Lines)

American used to be a no-brainer for me.  I’ve always loved the American Airlines brand and find their first and business class products to be better than Delta and United, for the most part.  American’s AAdvantage program also allows for members to redeem on some of the world’s most luxurious airlines like Etihad, Qatar, and Cathay Pacific.  Plus, their main cabin fares are extremely competitive.

That all sounds great but when you step back and take a look at their subpar revenue based frequent flyer program and worthless elite tiers (other than Executive Platinum) it’s hard to dedicate all of my limited resources to American’s AAdvantage program.  I’m waiting to see what 2017 has in store for American and their frequent flyer program before I dedicate myself to earning miles and status with them in the new year.


Overall

2017 poses some very interesting questions regarding both Alaska Airlines and American Airlines.  Though I’m tempted to ditch AAdvantage and just earn Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, I still can’t work up the courage to do something so radical in the new year.  Additionally, Virgin America’s fate is pretty much determined however, SPG’s fate under Marriott should be very interesting to watch in 2017.  Still, I don’t see that much changing in the frequent flyer/frequent traveler world in the new year.  However, we’ll just have to wait and see!  Here’s to a happy and healthy new year!