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
"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,
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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."