Every summer, right around July, Danielle Rockett gets ready to send a memo to the majority of her corporate clients. It's not a marketing tool but a reminder to check the frequent flyer miles they've accumulated thus far, then examine what steps they need to take to maintain or achieve elite status for the year.

Rockett said the memo tends to make her life easier come the fourth quarter.

"I spend the whole last part of the year helping everybody figure it out," Rockett, a partner at Seattle-based Twist Travel, said of her clients' frequent-flyer statuses.

The fourth quarter brings a glut of last-minute flight requests to Rockett and other agents, typically from corporate clients looking to maintain status.

Rockett said it usually begins in October with call after call from clients -- mostly corporate executives, but also some frequent leisure travelers -- asking what, exactly, they can do to maintain status. Then the work begins.

Most typical are cross-country flights that rack up last-minute miles, such as from Seattle to New York, Fort Lauderdale or Tampa, she said.

Danielle Rockett
Danielle Rockett

"They'll fly down," Rockett said. "If they can turn around that day and get back on that same flight and come right back, they'll do that. Now that's crazy! ... If not, then they'll do an overnight and then get up the next morning and fly home."

Frequent flyers who need only to increase the number of segments they've flown have it a little easier. For example, if they're based in Seattle, like Rockett, they'll often fly a short route, such as Seattle to Spokane, Wash.

"They'll do that, sit there, read a book, turn around, fly back and then they'll do it again the next day; they just got four segments," she said.

Terri Coon, an agent with Hyland Travel in Englewood, Colo., also experiences the end-of-the-year rush to maintain status, mostly from corporate executives.

"At the very last minute in the 11th hour, they scramble to make sure they get all their miles in for the year," she said.

Coon recently worked with client John Hornsby, vice president of sales and business development at BlackSky Global, to ensure that he'll maintain MVP Gold status with Alaska. This past weekend, he and his wife were returning from Ottawa via Chicago, but the Chicago flight was canceled and Coon ended up routing them through Washington -- which had the added benefit of more miles.

Rockett recently had a client who was trying to get partner miles for his Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program so he could maintain his MVP Gold 75 status. His corporate team was headed to Australia for business, but because of the flights he needed to take on Alaska partner Qantas, he flew on his own and ended up having an extra overnight both in and out of Sydney.

"This is what I live and breathe every day -- mileage accounts," Rockett said. "All day long."

Despite the work involved, though, Rockett said it is not frustrating. She's been in the industry for nearly 30 years and started selling travel in the corporate world, so she's used to it. Even so, frequent-flyer programs have become more complicated in the past 10 or so years, she said, especially considering the myriad ways to earn miles.

Another change is that more and more airlines are opting to grant mileage based on the dollar amount of the fare instead of distance flown.

"It'll be interesting to see how this changes going forward," Rockett said.

Not surprisingly, executives in the travel industry also sometimes find themselves jumping on specific flights at the end of the year to maintain status.

Libbie Rice
Libbie Rice

Among them this year was Libbie Rice, co-president of Ensemble Travel Group. While Rice said her husband, Tom Botts, is usually the one scrambling for last-minute flights, this year she found herself in that position with the AA Advantage program. She realized this summer that she would be close to achieving Executive Platinum status and started tracking miles closely.

She made an extra stopover on a flight home for the miles it provided, bought some business-class tickets and she's getting ready for the last flight that will push her over the finish line: a Christmas break trip to Europe with her husband and children.

"My husband and my two kids are on one airline using frequent-flyer miles," she said, "and I'm on a Oneworld partner to get my last 5,000 miles. So that will be my top-off, and we will meet in Europe."

For Rice, the effort is worth it for the perks that come with having elite status, such as priority boarding and being higher on the upgrade list for flights on which she wouldn't normally buy premium tickets.

"It's certainly in the pursuit of miles," she said. "Since September, I've had my own Excel spreadsheet, and I've been watching each flight, figuring out how close I am."

Another industry executive, who preferred not to be named for privacy reasons, has also been watching his miles carefully to maintain his Diamond status on Delta Air Lines. A post-Christmas, business-class flight from the Midwest to Europe to Asia and back -- with a one-night stopover in Europe -- will push him over the mark this year, and his trip back after the new year will give him an early leg up on miles in 2017.

"There's always a little bit of a game when it comes to these mileage runs and wanting to make sure that you're maximizing all of your possibilities in terms of gaining the necessary credits in order to achieve your status," he said. "And that's exactly what I'm doing."

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