Airline elite status is an interesting thing. To some, it is a coveted attainment that they have no intention of ever letting go. For others, it is simply the result of being a road warrior for whatever jobs sends them through the sky on a routine basis.
For even others (such as me), it is something that they’ll likely never obtain, at least to the levels at which you get any real value out of it. Therefore, I don’t really find it worth pursuing or even worrying about. Here’s why:
The loyalty bar is too high for any real benefit
As a predominantly leisure traveler, I typically don’t fly enough to qualify for elite status. Even if I booked all my paid tickets on the same carrier, I would be hard pressed to qualify for even the lowest tier with any of the major U.S. carriers.
Not to mention that most of my air travel is on award tickets, not revenue flights, anyway. Isn’t that part of the point of being a travel hacker? For example, in 2016, I paid out of pocket for a mere 2 segments: a RyanAir flight and a OAK-SAN hop on Southwest. Ok, I guess I did have two work trips as well as a “paid” United round-trip that was 90% covered by a voucher. But those didn’t count for much, either.
So….if the vast bulk of my travel doesn’t even earn miles, it doesn’t really make sense to chase status.
So. Many. Fare. Sales.
Even if I had a lot more paid travel, I wouldn’t focus on acquiring status simply due to the sheer number of fare sales that happen. There have been numerous sub-$500 round-trip sales between the Bay Area and Asia, and plenty more between the Bay Area and Europe.
Plus, there are some destinations that are almost always a good deal on budget carriers. I could plan a trip to Stockholm in October for $360, which is a fairly consistent price on Norwegian. Non-stops to London hover just over $400 much of the time. If legacy airlines could consistently match these prices, they might be worth flying for status’ sake. But is it worth overpaying by $100-300 per economy round-trip as part of earning status? I think not.
I don’t travel for work
Ok, that’s a lie. I do. But I can count the times I’ve flown for work over the past 4 years on one hand. And that rate isn’t likely to change much anytime soon. Anyone who travels for work is obviously an ideal candidate for earning and maintaining elite status.
If work required regular air travel, I’d probably end up a United elite. This isn’t because United is my first choice of airline, or because I think they provide better service than others. On the contrary, they definitely don’t. My “loyalty” to them would be a simple fact of geography since they are
one of two the only airline that flies out of our local airport.
Status and “loyalty” makes you irrational
This is the heart of the matter. I’ve experienced this irrationality with hotel loyalty. I have overpaid a couple times to stay at a SPG property when one down the street for $30 less would have been just fine.
Hotel status is unfortunately far easier to earn than airline status since you can get it via a co-branded credit card with many chains. Granted, it is typically low-level status, and provides few perks. But it’s still status. It makes me feel SPECIAL!
But it honestly shouldn’t. Elite status is a company’s way of convincing you that you matter to them, while simply trying to get you to spend your dollars with them rather than anyone else, even when they aren’t the best deal.
Don’t buy into it. Or at least know what the cost is and honestly determine if it is worth it. At the beginning of 2017, I heard of many people who were mattress-running for Hyatt Globalist.
Save your cash, ditch your status
I’d like to convince the leisure traveler that they will come out ahead by shopping around rather than staying loyal to one airline. Try keeping track of the price difference between the fares of your chosen carrier versus other, cheaper carriers each time you book paid travel, if you’re loyal to one carrier. At the end of the year, you could then determine whether your status is worth that amount you “overpaid” for it.
Can you hack airline elite status?
Actually, yes, but you need to do a little research. I once found an Avianca flight from LAX to MAD via BOG that would have earned me enough miles to qualify for Avianca Silver. The cost? Only 103,000 MR points after the 50% back perk on the Business Platinum card (now reduced to 35%)? Worth it? Maybe. But *only* if I’m shooting for something higher than silver (and if I wanted to fly business class for a 1-week trip to Spain with a 1-day layover in Bogota, which is definitely a yes).
I’ve also found decent fares with Asiana, Air China, and other airlines that can sometimes earn enough elite miles to potentially make chasing status easier. If you *do* want to attempt to “hack” status, consider using a foreign carrier’s program that credits more miles than the U.S. airlines for certain flights. But then remember that the majority of benefits will only be available to you when flying that airline.
Obviously, each person values status differently, and each person also has a unique situation that may or may not make earning status both easier and more lucrative. If you’re a road warrior, by all means take advantage of your situation to earn status. For me, though, there is simply no point in chasing it.
I guess what I *really* want to drive home is that you should not be irrational about earning airline elite status. The airline wants you to think that they care about you. But they don’t.
If an airline can convince you to spend money with them over other airlines, even when it doesn’t make sense, they’ve won. They don’t have to compete as hard for your business. They’ll have you flying them again and again like a patient sky-sheep because…status.
Don’t fall into that trap.
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“Status and loyalty makes you irrational”. Wow, that nails so much about life and explains some of the inane arguments I see online about which cruise line, hotel, camera, or even college, etc, is best.
A great part of my career I flew, at times, almost daily. My Delta and AA accounts go back to the early 80’s when these things were just getting started. I have been top tier in both those programs. A few years back it was so easy to get upgraded to 1st, but not these days. Therefore, loyalty is not what it use to be. Now, I just work for points in a program that gets us to where we want to fly. I do have lifetime gold with Marriott and close to lifetime platinum. I give that program more attention than other programs.
Don’t forget about the Delta credit card hack too.
For another perspective, I’m SPG Platinum for life and AA Exec plat but can’t fall below Plat because I’m over 6mm. These two programs have paid off the most for me on both paid and mileage/points awards. Let me count the ways:
1. First class boarding and free baggage on every one world flight
2. Complimentary domestic upgrades to first at front of the wait list
3. First to be rebooked when anything happens to my flights
4. VIP Upgrades for use on long haul international service to next class
5. Global Lounge Access to First class lounges everywhere in the world
6. All of the above benefits for my family/traveling companions
7. Ability to status match with Alaska and Alitalia to get all of these benefits with a long list of other airlines – saving money on luggage, VIP travel amenities etc.
8. VIP Desk for booking both paid and award travel that has enabled me to plan RTW trips for my family of 7, Circle Asia, Circle Europe and complex routes through India, Africa and the Middle East. They can find inventory that has saved me almost $300k over 30 years or at least $10k per year.
I will do hotel in next post so I don’t lose data
My rebuttal question is: how much did this cost you on the front end? If you’ve flown 6mm with AA (which is huge, btw), then obviously you’re getting some serious perks from that loyalty, which you’ve described. But was that all from leisure travel? I would bet serious money that you flew back and forth across the country for work for years, which is a very different situation. You also sound like someone with serious financial means. 🙂
What I’m trying to relay to people is the idea of chasing status, if you don’t earn it primarily via other people’s money (i.e. your job), should be questioned. And there are other ways to hack some of those items you mention. One credit card of $450 per year gives me an entirely reasonable amount of lounge access, in addition to other perks. I rarely pay for luggage since we have a couple credit cards that give us enough checked luggage.
I’m cash poor but miles/points rich so I work the system to enable all the business travel I’ve had over my 34 year career to pay huge dividends even when I worked for the cheapest companies on the planet. Coming from the trailer park in rural Appalachia(absolute truth) – I was able to move to California and figure out that sales was just good customer service in the early days of computers….The loyalty that I learned how to generate – I also used to consume. Prior to 2011, I had 5MM due to AA offering all miles to count towards MM status. According to the new system, I’ve only put on 1M in 6 years…whereas with the old, I would put on 1M every two years. Speaking of that Million Miler status is also an elite benefit including 4 extra VIP’s every Million and Platinum for life after 2 Million. My biggest frustration has been the devaluation of miles, benefits and perks in recent years. However, I bought a ton of AA stock when they were in bankruptcy at 50 cents a share…because I had such a lifetime investment in the carrier….so needless to say, I can afford to pay for the perks but prefer to spend my money elsewhere. Also, Business Exxtra gives me Admirals club access…and I double dip on this as well as use cards that give me paid tickets versus points. I gave up my Citi Aadvantage card at $450 a year because I have many more benefits with cards like Flexperks that don’t charge huge fees and give you paid tickets. Example: I booked RT to Paris with Flexpoints this year generating a $780 ticket. Then I was able to upgrade to business class using my VIP Exec Plat upgrades…and get miles towards elite status…And Business Exxtra points. So there was quadruple dipping going on…and that’s not counting my following Buffet’s advice “Use what you own stock in” 😛
One other misconception that I’d like to clear up is this: Elite Status at the top tier is useful across multiple airlines because Airlines are always looking to steal from their competitors. So while a silver level is only good on the airline it comes from – when you get into the rarefied air of the super elite…you just flash your bling credentials and viola – complimentary elite benefits are usually always offered unless there is someone in their own program who outranks you.
So yes, I may have been lured by false promises and made a few mistakes along the way but half the fun is figuring out how to work the system. Not being elitist(pun intended) but figuring out how to work the system. I’ve thought about building a business around how to work the system though because I find that the usual super business traveler has no idea how to optimize their benefits. What do you think?
I think you’ve done quite well, then! I can totally see how you’ve been working the system, and it is paying off. For my own part, though, I don’t travel much for work, and I simply see much of the costs of loyalty as cash out the door that I could save for something else. Glad that you’ve maximized your opportunities so well!
SPG Platinum for life requires 10 years Platinum and 500 paid or award nights – credit card nights count too! Here are the benefits:
1. SPG and Marriott are now one company so I get these benefits under all brands in both chains.
2. Status match to both Hilton and Hyatt Diamond through 2018.
3. Upgrades to amazing premium suites – like Governors Suite at Park Hyatt Tokyo, Presidential Suite at W in Singapore or Connecting suites for family travel at Ritz Carleton Laguna Beach or ITC Hotels in Agra India.
4. Best View suites at places like Westin Vendome Paris, Park Hyatt Sydney full Opera view using minimum points and Le Meridian Hong Kong, Santa Marina in Mykonos.
5. Concierge desk for VIP finds best room, rates and combination of cash, points and upgrades to enable me to stay in 5 star hotels at 3 star rates.
6. The money that I have been able to save over many years of travel lets me stay at amazing hotels while keeping within company budget. So if I want to stay at the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles for 5 nights – I will cobble together their lowest room rate, a cash and points offer and even throw in one of my points nights so that the €550 a night room will only cost my company about $100 per night.
7. As a woman traveling to places like India, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East – safety is priority #1. My status guarantees that I will never be bumped at an overbooked hotel and more than 50% of the time – I will get car service comped with someone meeting me at the airport or arranging safe transport in places like Istanbul or México city.
8. VIP lounge access that covers breakfast, snacks and water throughout the day and cocktails with food in the evening. Some of these lounges are amazing like the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour.
9. Vouchers and discounts for everything from breakfast if a lounge isn’t available to spa services to special activities like the Managers reception or the gift shop. Free internet and many concierge services.
10. Waiving of things like resort fees, dry cleaning or butler service.
For people who now how to work the system, VIP status has amazing privileges and enables travel to be extremely pleasurable, safe and in the end saves money on rooms, food, transport and other services that can enable business, family and pleasure travel. Note: all of the above usually includes everyone staying in your room(adults) and many hotels offer special perks for kids.
So not sure how much money has been saved but I’d never give up all these benefits to save $30 at the holiday inn.
@Ian —> Not many travel bloggers take your position. Obviously. So there is a part of my cynical self that says you’re being a contrarian for the sake of “ratings,” if you will. The other part says you’re being serious about this, which gives me pause to think . . .
I am Virgin America Elevate Gold (their highest tier), which now gives my Alaska MVP Gold (but not their highest, MVP Gold 75k). Pre-merger, I was getting automatic upgrades to MCS, 24-hour clearance for upgrades to FC (at a price, but a reduced one), 3 free bags, and more from VX. Being relatively new to AS, I’ve been able to take advantage of a few perks, but — obviously — the “perks *really* will come into effect once the merger is final. That said, I have re-qualified for VX Gold for 2018, and thus AS MVP Gold. I did it not on total status points — I’m well short of the requirement — but on total segments: I need 30 flight segments for Gold, and with the help of two extra round-trips (i.e.: four flights which were just “segment runs”), I’ve already qualified. Those four segments cost me a total of $238, which was well worth the benefits I receive — especially with the added 140% bonus miles/points I receive as a current Gold member, and the extra points earned using my VX co-branded credit card. Since these points translate to 1.3x the AS miles, I think I’m doing fine . . .
I’m also Gold due to my Hilton Honors Amex card (though every Hilton stay CY2017 has either been on points or a combination of points and cash), and Gold with SPG (translating to Marriott Gold as well) due to stays . . . with NO “mattress runs involved.
IN THE FUTURE, there is no doubt in my mind 2018 will be the LAST year I will be an AS MVP Gold. To qualify on segments, I would need SIXTY flights (rather than 30 on VX), and I’ll never even come close. But I will actively seek to maintain my SPG Gold — presuming Marriott won’t **** it up. I find it is worth the benefits I receive. But here, too, I know I’ll never achieve Platinum or higher with Starwood, so there’s no point in even trying. As for Hilton, since the Gold status comes automatically with the credit card, I’ll keep that status as well.
Thanks for your thoughts. I am being a bit contrarian, but at the same time, I’ve been trying to honestly analyze the true cost of earning and maintaining status versus shopping the fare sales, as a primarily leisure traveler.
If a lot of your travel is for work, and it only cost you $238 personally to maintain the status, I would probably jump on that as well. That is a relatively small incremental cost. Flying on other people’s money is a different ball game, as long as work doesn’t mind you always flying DL/AA/UA/AS….pick your favorite.
In my case, I flew 44,000 miles from Jan 2016 through Jan 2017. Over 90% of that was award travel. Chasing status simply isn’t worth worrying about.
>>> If a lot of your travel is for work, and it only cost you $238 personally to maintain the status, I would probably jump on that as well. <<<
Ian, I'm retired; none of my flights/hotel stays are for *my* work. I occasionally travel with my wife for HER work, but the flights are on my own dime. (Work covers the hotels, which we generally book in my name for status/points purposes.)
As far as which carrier(s) I fly, it *does* change. For CY2016, it looked as follows:
— VX, 31 flight segments
— HA, 4
— BA, 2
— B6, 2
— UA, 2
— VS, 2
For CY 2017, I've either already flown or have booked to fly:
— VX, 32
— IB, 6
— AA, 4 (on Citi points before the devaluation; miles credited to AS — while that was still an option)
— AS, 4
— EK, 2
— B6, 1
For 2018 and on, who knows . . .