The skies are a lot friendlier when you have elite status on your favorite airline. Just about every airline has a frequent flier program that offers a variety of benefits to travelers who gain elite status.
Have you ever wondered whether you could get elite status? Read on for our guide to getting and using elite status in an airline loyalty program.
Understanding the Levels of Airline Loyalty Programs
Most airline frequent flier programs offer varying tiers of preferred status, and the more you fly (and the more you spend), the higher your status tier will become. Many programs use a precious metal theme to name their tiers, such as Silver as a low tier, Gold as a higher tier, and Platinum for the top level. For every airline, the benefits will be different for every level, with the most benefits awarded to the travelers in the top tier of elite status.
What’s the Difference Between Being a Frequent Flyer Member and Being Elite?
Airline loyalty programs, also known as Frequent Flyer programs, are open to everyone, regardless of how often you fly. You can sign up for the loyalty program, and be assigned a Frequent Flyer number you can use any time you book a flight on that airline. Even if you don’t travel at all for a few years, that number will remain valid. With your Frequent Flyer number, you can collect airline miles that you can redeem for award flights or upgrades. You can earn award flights whether or not you achieve elite status.
Elite status on an airline loyalty program is generally reserved for people who truly are frequent flyers! In order to qualify for elite status, you’ll need to hit at least one of the following milestones in one calendar year:
- Flying a certain number of qualifying miles (usually 25,000 or more)
- Taking a certain number of flights (usually at least 30, although if you have a flight with a change of planes, that would count as two flights)
- Spending a certain amount of money with that airline (typically $3,000 or more)
In order to maintain your elite status, you’ll need to continue to meet those requirements every year.
Airline Elite Status Benefits
What kind of benefits can you receive if you have elite status in your favorite airline’s loyalty program? Benefits vary from airline to airline, but at the entry level of elite status, you may get benefits like:
- Upgrades on fights. Change your ticket from Economy to Business Class for free or for a small fee.
- Free checked bags. No more cramming a week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on! You can check a bag for free.
- Priority boarding. Be among the first people to board your flight, and you’ll be certain to get space to stash your carry-on bag in the overhead storage.
- Free preferred seats. Have you ever booked a flight online and had to choose between sitting in the back of the plane near the bathrooms, or paying an extra fee for a seat closer to the front? Elite status travelers can reserve those preferred seats at no additional charge.
- No fee to book award travel. Most airlines charge a fee of $75 or more to book your “free” frequent flyer award ticket. That fee is usually waived for elite status program members.
- Discounted change fees. Need to reschedule a flight you bought with a non-refundable fare? Elite status travelers can change their flights for just a small fee.
- Extend benefits to your companions. Many of these benefits, like priority boarding and free checked bags, can be extended to your traveling companions who don’t have elite status.
At the top level, you’ll get even more benefits, like free alcoholic drinks in economy class and no fees for services like agent ticketing or changing your ticket on the same day of the flight. Perhaps best of all, upper-tier elites are able to access airline lounges at the airport, where you can enjoy free drinks and snacks, business center facilities, showers, and a relaxed, luxurious environment while you wait for your flight or freshen up after a long haul.
Quick Ways to Earn or Maintain Elite Status
When you’re looking to earn elite status in a frequent flyer program, it’s important to remember that all airline miles are not created equally! You’ll earn bonus qualifying miles if you book a Business Class or First Class ticket rather than flying coach. Many airlines will give you as much as a 40% bonus on your qualifying miles for your Business Class or First Class tickets. If you can find a good deal on a Business Class fare for a long international flight, you could find yourself able to earn elite status in just one trip. As a bonus, you’ll also enjoy the more comfortable seats and premium food and drink options during your overseas flight.
If you already have elite status, and realize near the end of the year that you haven’t flown enough to retain your elite status for the next year, many airlines allow you to pay a fee to remain in the elite program. However, those fees can be as much as $1,000 to $2,500! It might make more sense to just book a holiday trip so you can earn more miles before the end of the year. You’re going to spend the money with the airline, so you might as well get a vacation out it!
No Elite Status? Consider an Airline Credit Card
You might be thinking that the perks of elite status sound great, but you don’t fly often enough to earn your way into an elite loyalty program with miles flown or money spent with the airline. Consider getting an airline-branded credit card instead!
Most airline credit cards offer their cardholders special perks when they fly with the airline, such as free checked bags and priority boarding. Some will even give you a pass or two so that you can visit that coveted airline lounge! You’ll also be able to use your card to earn frequent flyer miles on your everyday purchases, helping you earn an award flight even faster. You can expect to pay an annual fee of about $100 for most cards, although many waive the fee in the first year. If you plan to take a trip or two, you could easily offset the annual fee just in checked bag fees!
What’s your favorite airline loyalty program? Tell us in the comments!