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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!

a man sitting in a chair holding a glass

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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