Loyalty programs: my assessment for 2023 and plans for 2024

In the end, 2023 was a very quiet year in terms of managing my status on the various loyalty programs of which I am a member, but serious questions are being asked about my strategy for 2024.

You asked us to go into the details of how we manage and optimize our various loyalty programs, and before tackling a more technical dimension, a review of the past year can be a good starting point.

Air France-KLM Flying Blue : Platinum for Life

Not much to report as far as Flying Blue is concerned, since it’s a status I haven’t had to renew for several years.

The only change that hasn’t made much difference is that I finally have this status for life, which marks the end of a long quest.

You have to be a Platinum for 10 consecutive years to get it, and in the past I’ve made it to 6 years before falling back to Gold for a year. So I had to start all over again.

I then pulled out all the stops, since it took me only 5 years to accumulate the necessary 3,000 XP to obtain the lifetime statusand thanks to the rollover mechanism which allows you to carry over excess XP from one year to the next, all I had to do was wait 5 years, during which 300 XP were debited from my account every year until early 2023, when my Platinum became a Platinum for Life.

Bad luck for those in the running for this status: XP rollover will now be limited.

Ironically, when this happened, my XP balance was still copiously topped up thanks to the program’s COVID policy, which maintained the statuses for 2 or 3 years (I can’t remember). I can pretty much say that I’ve flown for 2 years for nothing and earned XPs that were useless to me.

In any case, what’s done is done, and here I am, assured of a status for the rest of my life when I fly Air France, KLM or Transavia, although I can’t find the slightest use for the latter.

Not much else to say except an indirect consequence: my Air France-KLM American Express, which used to earn me 60 XP a year, is no longer of any use to me and I’m going to have to think about cancelling it, or rather transforming it into a Silver card so that if one day I need to, I can take advantage of Air France-KLM’s no-fee 3-installment payment plan, and what’s more, it’s free.

SAS Eurobonus Diamond: one last for the road?

If Flying Blue is my Skyteam loyalty program, SAS’ Eurobonus is my Star Alliance program.

If there’s nothing exceptional about the airline itself (apart from its remarkable long-haul business class service, as I said in my 2023 travels review) I must admit that its loyalty program is a real gem which we didn’t say much about, for fear of the “good plan” getting out too far.

What did I like so much about Eurobonus?

Very attainable statuses, in particular Gold, which is sufficient to obtain a status valid for the entire alliance. What’s more, the program credits flights taken on partner airlines at very attractive rates. I should add that Gold and Diamond members earn a 25% mileage bonus when flying on SAS (award miles AND qualifying miles), and it’s even possible to earn miles when flying with an award ticket.

Diamond members can also gift a Gold status to the person of their choicewhich I’m delighted to do for one of our readers, without whom we’d never have thought of including Eurobonus in our benchmark of Star Alliance programs, and we’d really have missed out on a golden goose.

Eurobonus also enables you to earn Gold status for life, the only important status in the alliance, after 10 years of consecutive status ownership.

So I had no difficulty in retaining my Diamond status, despite the fact that I didn’t fly much this year, at least not as much as I used to in medium-haul. I just had to add a trip to Chicago during the summer when I realized that my trip to Vietnam planned for September wouldn’t be enough.

This Diamond status was therefore maintained with a trip to London (Lufthansa), a stay in Portugal (TAP), and vacations in Malaysia (Singapore Airlines), the USA (SAS) and Vietnam (Turkish Airlines). All at a good price (if I choose my departure city wisely) and by adding a few segments on SAS with the 25% bonus to reach my departure cities.

Not much for the highest status in a program, especially when you know that if I wasn’t having fun chasing Diamond to be able to offer a Gold, Gold would have been achieved with only half of all this and it’s enough to give you Star Alliance Gold status, which is enough for 99% of people.

But as you know, SAS is likely to be taken over by Air France-KLM, so it’s a beautiful story that will come to an end in the next few months, in a year at best. Whether Eurobonus survives or disappears in favor of Flying Blue is of little importance, since if SAS joins Skyteam it will no longer be of the slightest interest to us.

And as you can guess, this will be one of the topics of reflection for my 2024 strategy.

British Airways Executive Club Gold: thank you Olivier

It’s less obvious from my reviews, but I’m also Gold with British Airways. No particular pride: it’s Olivier who is Gold Guest List and who can therefore gift me a Gold every year.

But the end of the SAS adventure may well mean that I’ll be flying more with Oneworld airlines in the future.

Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite: in serenity

Titanium Elite is Marriott Bonvoy’s second-highest status, behind Ambassador, and is earned with 75 nights per year. I’m not looking to go any higher, as the Ambassador (100 nights) also requires a minimum spend of $23,000, which I never reach (I do less than half, in fact).

Nevertheless, it’s an excellent status with more than significant benefits (suite upgrades almost systematically, late check-out guaranteed at 4pm on all my stays….). By the way, even the Marriott Platinum (50 nights) is interesting, which is why it’s my favorite loyalty program.

There are years when I reach 75 nights at the end of the year in pain, but this year things have been serene to say the least. In fact, I made the most of a promotion in the spring that allowed me to credit two nights for every one I stayed. To sum up, with lots of short stays in Europe and France in fairly inexpensive hotels, I easily exceeded 50 nights in the spring, which ensured a peaceful end to the year with some big trips planned between September and December.

So I ended up with 83 nights, without having to force myself or do a mattress run (the hotel equivalent of the mileage run in the airline industry, where you fly or stay for no other reason than to maintain your status).

Radisson Gold, Hilton Gold: thank you Amex

My Gold status at Radisson and Hilton has also been maintained without the slightest effort, and for good reason: whatever my stays, I automatically have them as an American Express Platinum holder (the real one, not the Air France-KLM one).

Scandic Friends Level 2: who cares? It’s fun!

I spend quite a bit of time in Scandinavia and you’ll find very few international chain hotels there, apart from Radisson, so by dint of exploring the local hotel scene I ended up with a little status with Scandic.

It’s nice, but it won’t change my life.

United Mileage Plus Silver: I’d totally forgotten about that one!

I was about to close this review by forgetting that I’m also Silver at United. No point, but I have this status because I’m a Titanium at Marriott.

Accor Live Limiteless Gold: thank you and goodbye

I go to Accor as little as possible because I’m not convinced either by the service or the consistency of the loyalty program, but when you live in France you sometimes have no choice.

Gold status ultimately brings few significant benefits, and the “price” of obtaining it (30 nights) is quite high considering the paucity of what is gained.

Up until now, I’ve enjoyed this status by purchasing the Ibis Business card. I hardly ever go to Ibis but for 90 euros a year it automatically offered Gold status. Since the umpteenth overhaul of Accor’s loyalty program, this is no longer the case: the Ibis card only gives you a 10-night credit, equivalent to Silver status.

Not interesting enough given the frequency of my stays at Accor. Bye bye.

IHG One Rewards: no status but it came close….

I don’t have any status with IHG (Intercontinental, Regent, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn…) but I asked myself the question at the end of the year when I was going to stay in an Intercontinental in Australia.

For 200 euros a year you can join the Ambassador program, which in addition to certain benefits at Intercontinental gives you Platinum status, the second-highest in the IHG One Rewards program. Very interesting, and I’ve done it in the past.

So I asked myself the question this year and finally decided it wasn’t worth it. Unlike Marriott, IHG and Intercontinental do not grant access to hotel lounges based on membership status, but rather on the room booked. I therefore preferred to pay a little more for a room with Lounge access than to pay for a status that didn’t allow it and that I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to enjoy other times during the year.

Now let’s talk about 2024.

Airline loyalty programs in 2024: the SAS dilemma

As you can see, my real concern for 2024 is what to do about Eurobonus and which program to adopt at Star Alliance.

The conclusion is simple: after a thorough benchmarking of the programs, it turns out that none is as interesting to me as Eurobonus.

The selection criteria are quite simple: statuses that can be reached without too much trouble, and the possibility of obtaining lifetime status.

In practice, either the statuses are very high (Lufthansa Miles&More), or do not credit all the partners’ fare classes (Turkish Airlines Miles&Smiles), or there is no lifetime status, or the airline requires a certain number of flights (not always easy).

In the end, the only two programs of any interest were those of Aegean (but you have to do 4 flights a year with them) and TAP (but without lifetime status, and which in a year or two will move to Lufthansa and adopt Miles&More or join Air France in Skyteam). Not very motivating.

And after all, why a status? It’s only useful when traveling in economy, which is less and less the case for me, otherwise a business class ticket gives you the same benefits.

It is also said that, when SAS leaves Star Alliance, Lufthansa is likely to offer its members a status match.. If I find Senator status very very complicated to acquire and maintain in my case, being Senator once in my life and then saying to myself that I’ll give up the hunt for status and choose my airlines according to the opportunity of the moment could be an option that appeals to me a lot. What’s more, the Miles&More redesign means that I’ll have to fly a lot with Lufthansa Group airlines, and when you see the German airline’s business class, it’s not exactly appealing… so Senator for a year just for fun, then goodbye…. sounds tempting.

Or bet on Aegean… after all, the 4 compulsory flights represent two round trips to Athens or one to a city in Greece with a stopover in Athens. Not that huge, and the thresholds are quite low, but they don’t offer lifetime status.

Let’s just say that I don’t see myself going through another 10-year cycle (although I’ve already got 5 years of the 10 required on Eurobonous), so my current idea is to continue playing the game with SAS so as to have the highest status the day Lufthansa or others offer a status match, and on that day choose my new “home” in Star Alliance. After that, I’ll have to wait and see, but there’s a good chance that I’ll forget any logic of loyalty to an alliance or airline and decide on a case-by-case basis.

Still, it’s with a twinge of sadness that I’ll be seeing SAS go, as I’d come to have a real fondness for the airline.

And then I would have had the highest statuses on all 3 alliances at once at least two years in my life. It’s a shame it’s coming to an end, especially as I was well on the way to having two of the 3 for life, but that’s the way it is and there’s nothing you can do about it.

My hotel loyalty programs in 2024: Marriott first, then I’ll figure it out!

As far as hotels are concerned, things are clearer: renew my Titanium at Marriott, maybe upgrade to Ambassador at IHG if the context justifies it, and the rest will be a bonus.

I’m going to start by looking out for the usual early-year offer to double the number of credited nights, stay as much as possible in this period and then see where I stand when it comes to planning the rest of the year.

What’s more, this year will allow me to obtain my lifetime platinum at Marriott (lifetime Titanium was only given for one year when the Marriott and Starwood loyalty programs merged, and since then there has been no lifetime status above Platinum).

In a year’s time, I’ll have to decide whether to keep going for the Titanium every year, or settle for the Platinum and go to the competition when I find interesting plans.

Bottom line

In the end, with a bit of organization and smart thinking, it’s not that complicated or expensive to multiply statuses… at least not as much as many people think.

As you can imagine, my main subject of reflection is the global rethinking of my strategy in airline programs, following SAS’s departure from Star Alliance for Skyteam. It used to be clear-cut (Platinum for life at Air France-KLM / Skyteam and Gold for life at SAS / Star Alliance), but now it’s much less so, even if it means abandoning the loyalty program approach altogether.

In any case, if you’re wondering about this, you should know that loyalty pays much better in the hotel business than in air travel, and that if you have to choose between the two, it’s in your interest to optimize your hotel statuses rather than your air statuses.

What about you? Anything noteworthy in 2023? Have you finally achieved the status you’ve been coveting for years? Decided to give up? Tell us in the comments.

Image : loyalty program by Constantin Stanciu via Shutterstock.

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrinhttp://www.duperrin.com
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.
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