Elite Focus - Which Loyalty Programs Are Worth It?

 Being an elite member with any of the many, many companies that offer it, can be very beneficial. Most airlines offer generous bonuses on points, reduced bag rates and more. Hotels offer free room upgrades, bonus points, and even little gifts at check in. No one can travel enough to get top tier bonuses with every airline, every hotel and every rental car agency ever. So that leaves us with one question… who should we focus our attention on to get the most out of our money?

As a start, I’ll let you know who I have chosen, and why. Keep in mind that your travel needs will likely be much different than mine. I tend to stay in large cities and that causes me to focus in a certain way. See if your goals align with mine and adjust your preferences accordingly.


Let us start with the big one, airlines, the way we get from place to place is often one of the biggest parts of traveling. So who should we choose to fly with? Currently I am an American Airlines Elite flyer, but why did I go with them? Well that was a bit of an accident. My first elite program was with US Airways when I took a trip from Little Rock where I lived at the time, to Washington DC, then soon after moved to Philadelphia. Luckily, Philadelphia was a hub for US Airways and being a hub gives a ton of advantages for frequent flyers, there are many more direct flight options from a hub.

As many people now know, US Airways has been bought by American Airlines and is in the final stages of merging the two airlines. As a result I was moved to the American frequent flyer program with my elite status in tact. This was probably a lucky move for me as I went from a good program to a company with another good program. There is still this question though… why do I still fly American?

For now, American Airlines has one of the best flyer programs, gaining miles based on how many miles are flown. Delta and United have gone to revenue based models where you earn miles based on how much you spend. American rewards you for flying long distances, no matter if you grabbed a cheap flight or not. The other two major carriers in the US reward you if you spend lots of money with them. American award redemptions are great, they have a very good partner network and finally Philadelphia is still a hub. Hubs make all the difference in the world.

Delta or United may work better for you because you are near one of their hub cities and that gives you better options for them. See which one has the best redemptions for you, which gives you the best options and use them. American is amazing right now, but I do expect them to eventually move to a revenue based mileage system after the merger with US Airways is behind them.


Up front I’ll tell you I have elite status with 2 hotel chains right now, and by the end of October will have my third under my belt… However, I haven’t stayed in more than 2 hotels this year… How did I do this? Well you should all see this coming by now; credit cards. IHG hotel branded card and Club Carlson cards give elite status just for owning them. In both cases the cards give you the middle tier status. Club Carlson elite status gives room upgrades and a free gift at arrival, IHG gives room upgrades and both give bonus points when staying. It’s also good to note that the Hilton branded cards also give status,  depending on which card you get will give you different status levels.

Which hotel do I stay in and want to use my elite status the most… Starwood Hotels. Yet I don’t have elite status with them, however, that will change in October after I grab Gold Elite. So Why do I prefer Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points over the rest? SPG points are just that much more valuable. SPG points can be transferred to over 30 airlines at 1:1 ratio on most, their elite status gives bonus points, free gift option (one of which is more points), room upgrades and more. Not to mention that properties like Westin are really great hotels. Starwood is my preferred elite hotel program. Pick up their credit card to get fast tracked to elite status as well.

Before settling on one choice though, remember that IHG is everywhere, including many of the small towns that Starwood doesn’t service, so keep that status around. If there isn’t a Starwood nearby, there is almost always an IHG to stop in at. Once again, tailor your hotel choice to your needs, pick the one that matches more of your destinations.

Rental Car

Not going to spend a whole lot of time here since I have little experience in this area. Currently my preferred choice is Hertz. Unsure if it’s momentum, or what, but they have always treated me well and provided great prices. Hertz Gold program is great for picking up your car, and the points add up quick.

I am very aware Hertz does not have elite status programs. National has a very highly respected elite member program, but I just don’t rent enough to ever make use of that program. If you do, national may be the way to go. One thing I can give advice on, don’t use Enterprise… well I don’t use them at least. They aren’t a bad company, just one I have not been impressed by.

Car pickup is so much nicer with Hertz, Enterprise car pick-up wasn’t hard, just more of a hassle than it needed to be. So, this one I’m leaving in your capable hands, reader. Pick the car rental company you have had the best luck with, my experience is a little lacking in this department.

Those are my picks for the time being, you can follow suit, or adapt my choices to fit your travel arrangements. The best way to go depends on how you travel, just keep grabbing those points and making the most of your stays so you can travel more and save money.