Is Elite Status Worth the Effort?

What does it take to achieve Elite Status, and is it really worth the effort?

Just about every airline and major hotel chain has Elite Status memberships, and most now have tiered programs. Elite Status is a classification given to loyalty program members when they’ve reached a threshold by traveling a certain number of miles or making a number of repeat visits or purchases. Once you reach this status, you’ll have access to benefits not offered to other travelers including, late check-out, room upgrades, priority booking and boarding, executive lounge access and free checked luggage, to name a few.

I’m not far away from achieving Elite Status in one of my favorite programs and have wondered, is it really worth the effort?

Beyond enjoying perks like free checked bags, access to cushy airport lounges and the elusive seat upgrades, Elite Status supercharges your points-earning abilities. Elite members rack up points faster per dollar spent or mile flown, compared to regular customers. On American Airlines, AAdvantage Members receive mileage bonuses of 40% up to 120% on each flight, while Delta Medallion members receive an additional two to six miles per dollar spent compared to regular customers. That means I could be earning reward nights and flights faster.

What Do I Get as an Elite Status Member?

Specific perks and benefits vary from airline to airline, but you can generally expect to receive the following as an Elite member.

  • Complimentary upgrades:  Access to preferred seats and fare-class upgrades, on the day of your flight or even days prior to departure. Some airlines offer upgrades to guests or companions flying with you, too.
  • Baggage: Free checked bags and priority baggage handling.
  • Flexibility: Waived fees for ticket changes, same-day flight changes and the ability to fly standby.
  • Travel assistance: Access to exclusive customer service phone lines. Top-tier Elite members may also enjoy gate-to-gate connection assistance and concierge services at their destinations.
  • Better earning potential: Earn points faster than regular customers.
  • Crossover benefits: Enjoy Elite Status perks at partner facilities like hotels and car rental agencies.
  • Lounge access: Free beverages and snacks in comfortable lounges with workspaces, some with spas and salons.
  • Hotel perks: Elite members of hotel programs (like Starwood Preferred Guest, for example) can expect late check-out, welcome gifts, room upgrades, complimentary access to executive levels and health clubs as well as guaranteed room availability when booking at least a few days in advance.

What Does It Take to Get There?

Airline and hotel programs typically have a minimum spend or flight requirement within a set period of time – usually a calendar year. Once you’ve reached the predetermined number of points or earnings, you’ll be bumped up to the next tier. Most programs have three or four-tiered structures, allowing you to enjoy better rewards and more earning power as you fly and stay more.

Elite Qualifying Miles vs. Elite Qualifying Segments

Keep in mind that most airlines have two distinctions for reaching Elite Status. Elite Qualifying Miles represent miles earned based on the distance flown, while Elite Qualifying Segments represent miles earned for the number of flights taken.

For example, Flyer A earns 1 Elite Qualifying Segment and 8,000 Elite Qualifying Miles for traveling from New York City to Hong Kong. Flyer B taking two 4,000-mile flights from New York to Berlin earns the same total amount of 8,000 Elite Qualifying Miles but gets 2 Elite Qualifying Segments — one for each flight. Airlines typically allow customers to reach Elite Status by earning a minimum number of Elite Qualifying Segments or Elite Qualifying Miles. This means that frequent short-haul business travelers can reach Elite Status just as quickly as occasional long-haul travelers.

Using a Co-Brand Credit Card

Credit-card spending has long been associated with travel bonuses, and status perks are no exception. Many airlines may also have an elite credit card that comes with premium benefits. For example, the United Airlines’ MileagePlus Club Card offers access to affiliated airport lounges (manicures and margaritas make layovers way more tolerable) and free checked bags.

Once you reach Elite Status, using your airline credit card can also help you earn points and miles faster for every dollar spent.

To Get Status Sooner, Be Strategic

If you want to reach Elite Status sooner, be strategic in how you book flights and collect miles. Airlines usually offer more miles for booking flexible fares or seats in higher classes. Although these tickets will cost you more, they could get you across the threshold into Elite territory. You may also want to plan your flights so that you accrue enough qualifying segments or miles before the current calendar year or accrual period is up. That might mean I’ll visit my cousin down in Florida before the end of the year, instead of waiting until next February as planned, so I can bump up from Premier Silver to Premier Gold.

Check to see whether you’re closer to reaching status via Elite Qualifying Miles or Elite Qualifying Segments, as this may change the type of trip you take.