Your Strategy for Retaining Points and Miles Status in 2022

A guide to every major loyalty program that takes into account all the changes and exceptions made in 2021.

By BLOOMBERG

For anyone who plays the points and miles game, keeping up with changing policies this fall felt similar to tracking the status of international borders and evolving Covid-19 changes. From one minute to the next, everything seems to change; on further inspection, maybe it’s staying the same for now.

Take American Airlines and Marriott. Both companies—loyalty behemoths—made announcements in October that they would be completely overhauling the way that customers can either earn or spend their points, entirely throwing out their old systems. (But not until 2022.) Other companies have waffled throughout the year about how they would incentivize business, ultimately opting for either with point-earning multipliers, reduced thresholds and deadline extensions for earning minimums, or by extending loyalty status automatically. It’s made both the short- and long-term outlooks difficult to parse for anyone who gets a high off paying for vacations with accrued rewards rather than dollars.

With just a few weeks left in 2021, here’s a program-by-program checklist to ensure you’re still hitting your loyalty goals, and not missing the fine print that many of the largest companies have imposed over a turbulent travel year. The good news is that even for programs making massive changes in 2022, the 2021 strategies remain relatively straightforward. Just consider a few key tweaks—they can make the difference between letting your status slip or keeping it for another (hopefully more travel-friendly) year.

Alaska Airlines

The big picture: Alaska is helping members reach elite status faster. The airline rolled over elite-qualifying miles from early 2020 to this year for an automatic boost and is also awarding a 50% bonus on elite-qualifying miles for all flights flown through the end of the year. Beyond that, it’s extending all elite status through April 30, which will serve as a deadline to requalify for the remainder of 2022.

In March, Alaska also joined Oneworld Alliance, making the program—popular for its continued prioritization of miles flown over cash spent—far more powerful. Now you can redeem points across partners such as American, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific. In other words: It’s worth fighting to keep your status.

Your best strategy: The airline has said it will lower the thresholds for status qualification next year, but hasn’t yet provided specifics. Don’t play it safe. Take advantage of that 50% bonus on elite-qualifying miles for the remainder of the year, which should offer a fast-track for requalifying. Also useful: Through Nov. 15, you can earn 2,500 elite-qualifying miles for every $2,500 spent on the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card—a rare opportunity for this carrier.

American Airlines

The big picture: Any flying done since the fourth quarter of 2020 will count toward 2021 earnings, and all current elite members will have their status extended through March 31. American has also lowered the elite-qualifying mile (EQM) and elite-qualifying dollar (EQD) requirements by about 20% to help members requalify.

Next year, everything changes. American will throw out its system of earning status through EQMs and EQDs, switching instead to a “loyalty points” system that prioritizes dollar spending either via co-branded credit cards, airfare, or the airline’s shopping and dining partners.

Your best strategy: A current promotion lets you keep your status through March 31, 2023 if you simply earn $2,000 EQDs on American or partner flights by the end of the year. To get a leg up on the big changes afoot, consider reaching for a higher tier of status or signing up for increasingly helpful credit cards, like the $450-a-year Citi AAdvantage Executive Mastercard or the $99-a-year AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard.

Delta Air Lines

The big picture: If you have SkyMiles status this year, you’re all set until Jan. 21, 2023—it’s been automatically extended for all members for another year. If you had status in 2020, it has now rolled over twice.

Your best strategy: Don’t sleep on an opportunity to reach a higher tier of status, as that’s easier to do right now. Since April, both paid and award flights earn bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) and Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD), expediting the path to status. As an added bonus, those who actually earn or requalify for Platinum or Diamond status the old-fashioned way will be extended the highest level of “choice benefits,” like upgrade certificates and Sky Club membership. Bear in mind that next year, first-class upgrades will prioritize those who earn their status vs. rolling it over.

Hilton Honors

The big picture: Hilton is extending everyone’s elite status automatically through March 31, 2023, no questions asked.

Your best strategy: If you really want Hilton status, this is your year to earn it, thanks to lower-than-usual thresholds for each tier. Silver currently requires seven stays (not 10), and top-level Diamond status is yours after 42 nights or 21 stays (rather than 60 nights or 30 stays). If that translates to basically living at a hotel for the rest of 2021, consider signing up for the Hilton Honors Aspire credit card from American Express instead; it currently comes with automatic Diamond status.

IHG Rewards

The big picture: IHG Rewards has extended current status for program members through February 2023.

Your best strategy: Roughly 30% reductions on nightly stay or qualifying point requirements make it easier to qualify for status or hit a new tier. Entry-level Gold Elite can be obtained with just 7,000 qualifying points or seven qualifying nights—a good opportunity to join the fold if you haven’t done so already.

Marriott Bonvoy

The big picture: Marriott is automatically extending all current elite status through February 2023, which gets users not just through the end of the year but also what may be a bumpy adjustment period as Bonvoy moves to a dynamic pricing model. Starting in March, your points won’t be redeemable at fixed values—say, 70,000 points for an offseason night’s stay at the new Ritz-Carlton Maldives, Fari Islands. And fluctuating prices will make it harder to assess the amount you’d need for a future trip, to some extent lessening the value of those hard-earned points.

Your best strategy: As a rule this year, you only need half of the typically required number of points to achieve the next level of status, so a last-minute trip can pay off. And some co-branded cards, like the Platinum Card from American Express, come with automatic Gold Elite status, too. The points multipliers that come with each tier (25% bonus points on stays for Gold; 50% for Platinum) will be more valuable than ever in 2022.

Southwest Airlines

The big picture: Pre-pandemic loyalists should have already received an automatic boost with 15,000 tier-qualifying points and 10 one-way segments to inch them closer toward tier status for the coming year. This vastly reduces the amount of flying you need to do by yearend, but it doesn’t eliminate it altogether.

Your best strategy: The airline is offering a double tier-qualifying points promotion on flights through Nov. 30. Log in to your Rapid Rewards profile to register. You can also earn tier-qualifying points by spending on a Southwest-affiliated credit card (1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 spent between now and the end of the year). If you’re already an A-List or A-List Preferred Member, check your account. Southwest is offering a targeted promotion allowing elite members to fly four one-way flights before Nov. 19 to keep status in 2022.

United Airlines

The big picture: United is going the strict route this year: no automatic rollovers, no extensions, no exceptions. But it did launch two promotions that make it easier for MileagePlus members to requalify for status in 2022. Both are valid through Nov. 30 and require you to either “fly to the finish” by hitting personalized Premier Qualifying Point (PQP) thresholds or reaching the required Premier Qualifying Flight (PQF) minimum with co-branded credit card spending and award flight redemptions rather than new trips. In theory, they should act like fast tracks to retaining status or hitting a new tier.

Your best strategy: Don’t wait until the last minute. With offers expiring in November, the typical December mileage run will be less lucrative than acting now. Also look into spending targets on your United co-branded cards; doing all your holiday shopping early and hitting minimums there can help earn extra PQPs.

World of Hyatt

The big picture: World of Hyatt slashed the elite status requirements in half for earning status, but isn’t rolling anything over. Discoverist, the first tier, now requires only five nights or 12,500 base points, while top tier Globalist status now takes 30 qualifying nights or 50,000 base points.

There are key changes when it comes to redeeming points, too—Hyatt recently introduced off-peak and peak pricing to its award chart for stays starting on March 1, 2022. For example, Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in the Bahamas (a Category 5 property), would cost 17,000 points for an off-peak night, but 23,000 points for a peak-night redemption. Consult this handy guide to figure out how many points you need for an award redemption for stays between now and the end of February. When you search for spring travel dates, the new pricing will appear in the calendar.

Your best strategy: If need be, accelerate your way to status with the World of Hyatt Credit Card, which comes with five automatic elite-qualifying nights plus two elite-qualifying nights for every $5,000 spent. This means you can technically spend your way to status without much travel. The program also has a promotion awarding double elite-qualifying nights for every night you stay at an Andaz property between now and Dec. 23.