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5 ways to keep your elite travel status

Erica Sandberg

If you’re like me, you’ve racked up so many air miles and points that you’ve earned some perks at the airport (lounge access, for example). That’s wonderful, but know that your elite status for 2017 will be fixed the moment you flip the calendar over to January.

Act before Dec. 31 ends, or you could be downgraded if you haven’t flown or spent enough in 2016. There’s still time – though it’s running short – to save your special status.

Here’s your five-point to-do checklist:

1. Call to find out what you need to do.
You have precious hours left to make sure everything is OK – or to find out what you can do to keep your elite status in the new year. I’ve always found the best way to gain clarity is by talking the situation over with an airline representative instead of trying to sort it out online. Pick up the phone.

2. Pay to keep your status.
Travel expert Johnny Jett says one way to keep the perks percolating is to simply buy your way in. “It could be $699, $899 – the actual amount ranges so you’ll have to call the airlines.” If you’ll be flying a lot in the future and want to have all the goodies that come with elite status, the price can be well worth it. For example, you may value kicking up your feet at airport lounges. The annual fee for the American Airlines Admiral Club for an individual starts at $450. By paying to keep your elite status, you’ll get that lounge access and all the other valuable travel benefits.

3. Pick up a pack of gift cards.
Another method to make up for deficient qualifying points is to purchase a bouquet of gift cards with a credit card affiliated with the airline. Be sure to contact the card issuer and have a representative guide you through the process. You don’t want to wind up buying too many gift cards – or too few – than what you need to maintain your status.

4. Go on a mileage run.
Ready to be impetuous? Torsten Jacobi, founder of MightyTravels.com, says a smart strategy to keep your status intact is to book a last-minute trip “to get the elite qualifying miles or points before the end of the year.” It’s called a mileage run, and since at least some of you aren’t back to the office or factory until Monday, there’s still time to get away.

5. Check into a fabulous hotel – tonight.
Another option to add necessary points to the pool is by doing business with a partnering hotel chain. Many travel reward credit cards are connected not just to airlines but hospitality companies. Chase Sapphire Preferred card, for instance, offers a 1:1-point transfer to airline and hotel loyalty programs. A night or two in a luxury room close to home might be all you need to keep your airport lounge access and more.

Of course, you may not want to go through with so much bother. Elite status has got to be worth it to you, so analyze your own needs, wants and financial capability. Although I adore priority boarding, more spacious seats and free snacks in the chic lounge, I too had to do a major evaluation at the 11th hour.

I weighed whether to keep my annual fee United MileagePlus card, with its lounge access. I decided for me, it’s worth it for all the perks I get.

So here’s a bonus travel tip for the new year and beyond: If you want to fly first-class every once in a while, pay attention to dropping fares. “Airlines like JetBlue have made certain routes like Los Angeles to New York more affordable,” Jett says. Flying in style for less. Love it!

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