Joyous travel headlines are few and far between these days, and most are keenly focused on influencers stranded in Dubai at the moment. But actually, there are some fun and positive developments in the travel world. For a start, countries seem eager to open up to anyone who’s been vaccinated (both doses). That’s exciting.

And while a long and slow recovery is bad news for the industry itself, the silver linings for us, the travelers are pretty swell. Upgrades are everywhere, and those shiny elite status cards they hand out to frequent travelers actually count for something again. Even your points may be valuable again.

Bashful With Points

Are there flights you always dreamed of unlocking with points, but always found that there was better chance of riding on a unicorn, than the cabin and route you were in search of? You’re not alone.

With international travel on the table and looking for a pulse, that’s not the case right now. Previous points ‘unicorns’ are widely available now, like first class seats, business class for an entire family between the USA and Europe and more. Obviously, there’s the question of when border relations will normalize, but points are a great “punt”.

You’re not committing lots of cash, and with few exceptions you can get a full refund on your points if things go wrong, or plans change. If you do anything today, do yourself a favor and see what your dream trip on points looks like.

You might be shocked to find that the airline seat or hotel you’re after is bookable on the perfect dates, even into Q4 and beyond for added comfort.

Hotel & Airlines Elite Status Counts, Again

Having a low tier airline or hotel status in 2019 was a bit like a ‘World’s Best Boss’ mug. It’s a nice gesture, but that’s pretty much where the conversation ends. With travel at all time highs, upgrades were scant even for top tier $50,000 a year customers, and non existent for everyone else.

European airline programs don’t typically offer complimentary domestic or short haul upgrades as a ‘perk’ of elite status, but US airlines do. More on that, shortly.

Holding status with American, Delta and United is now incredibly lucrative, since most flights aren’t flying ‘full’; business travelers are largely out of the mix, and those lovely complimentary upgrade lists are quickly moving to the lower tiers.

Even the most basic elite status seems to be receiving complimentary upgrades to business or first class on a 50% basis. Rewind just two years and low tier elites would be in the single digits for upgrade success. If you have certificates to throw at upgrades its even better. I’ve personally been able to upgrade JFK-LAX tickets, which were all but impossible in recent years.

For European and other international frequent flyer programs, there are still decent hedges to make. On busy routes, booking the premium economy cabin can be a great way to secure business class upgrades, and that’s still true.

Elite members are typically upgraded over any other passengers in the cabin, and the premium cabin is the smallest for most airlines, and therefore most likely to sell out.

Add in the fact that many travelers are trading “up” to premium to secure a bit more extra space, and if you hold elite status, this can be at least a potential route to buying premium and flying business. It’s by no means guaranteed, or if flights remain empty, remotely likely. It’s just a better than “wear a suit” tip, and if you read the comments section on a previous article, you’ll see many agree.

Hotels Too

Hotels are in a greater struggle than airlines, in many ways. Industry bailouts haven’t been as well coordinated as airline sector gifts from the taxpayers, and its harder to fill hotel rooms than it is airline seats. The same upgrade logic applies with hotels.

Suites are the upgrade everyone really wants, and they’re teased as a potential perk of middle to top tier hotel status with the likes of Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton, IHG and Accor. In 2019, the answer was simple: if you want a suite, pay for it. Many did.

In fact, at check in, most would attest that there was hardly ever a suite unclaimed, and the potential ‘perk’ of their loyalty was just left at “potential”.

Catching Up: Quick Status Opportunity

At the moment, there’s one eyeball opening opportunity to perhaps join the fun of buying rooms and getting suites in 2021, and all the way into 2023. Hyatt will award top tier status to anyone who completes 15 nights by February 27th.

They’ll count for double, which gets you to 30, which unlocks Globalist status until Feb 2023. Standard suites which aren’t claimed when you check in are yours for the taking. Registration is now closed for this, but if you followed any of the GSTP advice over the last few months in this article, or this one, you’d be registered. If you’ve registered but not stayed, you can still take up the offer.

The next great opportunity is Hilton. Marriott just closed their status match over the last weeyk, sadly. If you have a status from a competing chain, Hilton Diamond can be achieved in just 9 nights, within a 90 day period when you enroll.

More Flexibility

In pre-times, the only way to really effectively save was to lock in reservations which offered no flexibility. You forked over the money immediately, with no chance of getting it back, but if you made the travel plans work as booked – you saved.

Now, you can save, and benefit from flex. Hotel rates, even pre-paid rates, fall under the blanket flexibility policies offered by each brand, so it’s certainly worth looking into. The same goes for airline tickets to some extent.

The Virgin Atlantic Sale ends in two days, and all tickets benefit from free changes and even money toward any fare difference. For example, an Upper Class ticket booked now benefits from free changes, waived other fees, and up to £350 (circa $480) of fare difference.

So if a ticket is $1000 today, but $1350 for later dates you’d want to change to, the change is entirely free. It’s just one of many examples to consider, before passing on offers which will disappear once timings on coordination on global vaccination become clearer.

Basically – use the flexibility in your favor, because it will go away as soon as airlines and hotels reasonably believe they have a clearer end date to all the madness. For now though, there are some serious upsides to safe and responsible travel in the near term, and planning for trips futrher afield.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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2 Comments

  1. That seems very credible, countries seem eager to open up to anyone who has been vaccinated. Unfortunately for the next at least 3-6 months in EU for and mostly US they are going first to vaccinate people who are in hospitals, with commorbidities, +65 and so on.
    I’m 46 and in health; at the same time my fiancé lives in the US, we’ve been apart for 9 months now and It will take a long time to get a vaccine. Makes this any sense? At the same time, biopharma are now late in deliveries….

  2. I can certainly say that using my GUC’s for international travel this year. Is much easier. Delta extended status for 1 year as well as previous years GUC’s. Totaling 8 Global upgrades I get to use thos year. I am definitely taking advantage of that being diamond medallion. MILEAGE RUNS!!!!!

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