While I’m cynical in regards to “status” in general, there are many great benefits and bonuses out there to be had. When thinking of crediting business flights, good fares, or mileage running, elite status can be very important. Status can give upgrades or just more miles, and if you know what you’re doing it can be really lucrative.
The main benefits of status which we’ll focus on at first are:
- Earning more miles
- Lounge access
- General service benefits – like free cancelations and priority boarding
Earning More Miles /w Elite Status
Having status with an airline, means that you earn more miles when you credit miles to that airline. When I fly with AA I get 100% redeemable miles per mile flown, and then another 100% as a bonus for status.
As of recently, as a top tier member of Alaska Airlines, I get a 125% bonus when earning Alaska Miles. Plus, if I requalify for status the hard way, I would get a bonus 50,000 miles.
Each program is different, but in general, the higher your status the bigger the bonus is for earning miles. Typically, I’d say top tier status will earn you a 100% bonus.
One thing to understand, is that having status doesn’t earn you “elite qualifying miles” faster, it just gives a bonus on the base miles earned. In other words, status doesn’t help you earn status faster, it generally just helps you earn redeemable miles faster.
Getting upgrades from elite status
What varies the most between airline programs is probably the upgrade policies. The best programs write in specific benefits about either complimentary upgrades or give actual upgrade certificates. The best example is again AA. They give complimentary upgrades domestically, and then they give 8 System Wide Upgrades for all American Airlines flights, including international. Of course, these have to be paid flights to make use of the upgrades.
Fare Class Restrictions
What’s quite annoying is when an airline gives the “benefit” of upgrades and you have to have booked a certain fare to even qualify for an upgrade. This gets a little confusing, but see the post on finding your fare basis code.
Basically, there are different economy fares. Most give you regular economy seats but they have different rules or cancelation policies. The absurd thing to show how much an airline intends on being a scam, if not just that they make you book extremely over priced economy tickets, but that as an elite member they generally don’t do any good. Sure there are exceptions, but most of us don’t need to book the double priced economy tickets or already have a status that would allow us to change seats.
Read if there is a fare class restriction on the upgrade “benefit” and then go on ITA Matrix and look up what the price difference is for flights without class restrictions and then the same route with the class restriction required for upgrades. The price difference can sometimes be incredible, and sometimes it’s not much at all. Depends on the airline, route, and fare.
Finding fares with ITA Matrix
One way to find eligible codes is by using ITA Matrix. Use the advanced routing codes box to ad “bc=”. If you’re searching for “Y” fares do “bc=y”. The exact example I gave for Lufthansa (note: its companion pass can only be added to h, m, b, and y fares) is the following:
LH+ / f bc=h|bc=m|bc=b|bc=y
Not to push AA some more, but for the record, AA upgrades have no fare class restrictions.
Generally your status with the airline gets you an equivalent status with the alliance. For example, because I am AA Exec Plat, I am also OneWorld Emerald. Now Emerald status is the equivalent in its ranking of status and not the equivalent in terms of benefits. You do not get upgrades on every airline in the OneWorld Alliance.
But what it does do is give me access to any OneWorld First Class lounge as long as I’m flying on a OneWorld ticket.
In this case top tier status with AA gives me lounge access to OneWorld first class lounges, and mid tier status would give me access to business class lounges (while flying OneWorld airlines). Same is true with any airline that’s in an alliance.
What status doesn’t get you
Just to ensure people aren’t confused about how status with an alliance works, I want to clarify a bit.
Having status with one airline doesn’t generally help you too much with another. Or rather the benefits aren’t honored with other airlines. Similarly, having status with an alliance (via another airline) doesn’t give you the same benefits for all airlines in the alliance. Let me give a specific example.
If I have status with United I can earn miles roughly twice as fast. However, having status with partner Aegean does not at all help me earn United miles faster. It could get me into a lounge while on a United ticket, but it doesn’t give the benefits talked about above with upgrades and earning miles quicker.
Now some airlines do upgrade based on status with the alliance but I’d say it’s rare. We got an upgrade recently on a flight with Cathay to Premium Economy. Not a super big deal, but more importantly, I don’t at all think it’s a regular policy of theirs. If anything the circumstances were right and when prioritizing OneWorld status, we got lucky.
You can earn United miles while flying other airlines (although you wouldn’t be able to use your upgrades), and you can even earn twice as fast with status. But still, there are many benefits that don’t translate.
Upgrades don’t work on other airlines
I want to be crystal clear that AA SWUs are not going to help you on Cathay Pacific. There may be exceptions, like right now you can use the SWUs on US Airways during the final stages of the merger. But you need to look at the specification of the upgrades.
To me this is an important thing to consider. Especially given that Alaska’s program is incredibly generous in many ways but more so in terms of earning miles. And while you can earn miles on other airlines, you can’t use your upgrades. Complimentary upgrades, plus 4 domestic upgrade vouchers just doesn’t do me any good given that I dwell mostly on the east coast and have never even flown Alaska.
Last but also least…
Other smaller benefits include being able to change or cancel a ticket, free checked bags, priority boarding, an elite phone number, and many more things. These aren’t things to chase but whether or not there is a “close-in” fee could determine what miles I’m going to use on a last minute trip. These things aren’t essentials but they can matter.
For that you just need to see the long list of offered benefits on the status page of each airline.
Qualifying for status
Status for most airlines is earned via the number of miles flown. There can be variations of this, and a common alternative to miles flown is segments. So whichever task you complete first, for example, 100,000 miles or 100 segments, could get you top tier status.
The fact that you earn bonus miles with top tier status does not help you earn status faster. Meaning, the 100% miles bonus you get for having top status does not give you double elite qualifying miles. Elite qualifying miles is usually the base at which you would determine the bonus.
The new way of earning status for Delta and United (as I talked about in New Ways of Earning United Miles) is based on revenue. The more money you spend the higher the status you get. This is completely targeted to business travelers who don’t have to pay for their travel and are willing to pay for expensive last minute tickets and higher fare classes.
You have a year to earn a status and once you meet the requirements for the status, you get the benefits for the rest of that year and the complete next year.
If you earn status by flying in 2015, you get the benefit for the rest of 2015 and all of 2016. To requalify I suppose you could do it once every two years, for example in 2017 try to requalify again for 2017 and 2018. However, the problem is that in 2017 you’ll be doing all your flying without status. So no double miles, no upgrades, etc…
Therefore most loyal status enthuisist go for their status every year.
When an airline “pulls a United” and wrecks their program and you want to change without starting over, you can try status matching. AA hopefully stole some of United’s business by publicly offering status matches and challenges a little while ago. However, you can try emailing the airline you want to transfer your business to, asking about status matches or challenges, or check statusmatcher.com
If you’re chasing top tier status, these are some things to consider. A combination of what earns you the most miles and what gives the best benefits. But the dimension I can’t write about are your specific cirmumstances.
You may never fly on Alaska to use upgrades, or a specific alliance may not have a direct route you commonly fly for work. These are things to consider, and I’d say routing is a rather large convenience to be weighed.