Happy Elite Status — er…I Mean New Year 2012!

This is a bittersweet time of year for many FlyerTalk members as the qualification miles for elite status in their frequent traveler accounts — in many cases, anyway — have reset back to zero.

Unless they have earned lifetime elite status, January 1 of each year represents the date where those FlyerTalk members who wish to attain continuous elite status must start all over again, concocting ways of earning elite qualification miles, whether by flying as a passenger wildly indirect routes such as from Atlanta to San Diego via London both ways — as I did several years ago, and it was less expensive than a direct non-stop flight — or by “mileage runs,” or even perhaps by simply needing to book multiple itineraries before the end of the year for doing business or visiting family members.

Additionally, FlyerTalk members are also devising ways to retain elite status in their favorite hotel frequent guest loyalty programs for suite upgrades or executive lounge access. Even some rental car companies have loyalty programs where one can achieve elite status and drive nicer vehicles without paying more for renting them.

Why would anyone go through the trouble of achieving elite status? Some people — Christopher Elliott, for example — point out that it can be silly to do so, especially when one does not take the opportunity to question the intrinsic and quantitative values of elite status. After all, if you only travel a few times and are lucky enough to secure that upgrade to the first class cabin in an airplane or that suite in a hotel, was the cost of time and money spent really worth it?

The answer is that it depends on such criteria as your travel habits, how much time you spent, how much money you spent, as well as the frequent travel loyalty programs of which you are a member and attempting to attain elite status. Loyalty programs with “rollover” options — such as Delta Air Lines SkyMiles and Marriott Rewards — can help by taking excess elite qualification miles and points earned the previous year and applying them towards your total for the coming year. After all, think about it — how often do you precisely reach the next elite tier without earning excess miles or points, which would otherwise be worthless?

The benefits of elite status help as well. For example, if an airline offers checked luggage free of charge for you and your family primarily because of your elite status, and you can secure an upgrade and eat a meal for each person — and this is done only a few times per year — the time and money cost could potentially be worth it.

Ahh, but if the equation was only that simple. With the proliferation of ways to procure elite status — some without even traveling at all — the answer is not always clear. Credit cards are but one way to procure elite status — if you are willing to spend the money and pay an annual fee, as well as adhere to the terms and conditions of the credit card. However, the annual percentage rate of interest on unpaid balances can also throw this option totally off kilter as well.

Then again, many frequent travel loyalty programs offer bonus miles or points, amenities, discounts and special offers of which only elite members are eligible to take advantage, which could further justify the effort to attain or retain elite status.

So what is one to do? Fortunately, help in resolving this quandary about whether or not to earn elite status is available in many places — and the good news is that there is no one expert with a single point of view. FlyerTalk is certainly one place where one can do the necessary research and ask the pertinent questions. BoardingArea has a plethora of experts — many of whom I know personally and respect — who will relate their opinions based on personal experience, as well as their points of view.

However, the bottom line is that only you can decide what is best for you regarding striking that perfect balance between convenience, comfort, cost and time regarding travel during the new year. If elite status happens to fit into your equation, then definitely go for it.

We at The Gate wish you and your loved ones a very happy new year. May your travels be safe, and may your wishes and dreams come true in 2012, which will hopefully be the best year yet for you!

By the way, if the photograph above has you sick and tired of champagne — and I certainly do not drink it myself — click here.

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