What is Elite Status?
The three major U.S. carriers (United, American, Delta) all have a comprehensive membership program that rewards frequent flyers with elite status. Elite statuses are found in several different tiers and all come with varying benefits. It is more than just a title. Since most leisure travelers only make several trips a year, I will be going over the value of Airline Elite Status and whether it is worth pursuing.
How to earn Status:
Most elite statuses can only be earned through flying. Elite status is earned through the accumulation of Elite Qualifying Miles known as Premier Qualifying Miles(United) , Medallion Qualifying Miles (Delta), and so on. Each airline program could have slight variations for their Elite miles. These miles are earned and calculated by the total distance of a flight. Certain fare classes and tickets such as Premium Economy and Business tickets will give you a 1.5x or 2x multiplier for the number of elite miles earned. In rare cases, certain tickets can earn you a 3x multiplier but those tickets are generally far overpriced.
The Benefits of Elite Status:
Top tier elites receive the best benefits including complimentary upgrades to first when available and access to global upgrade certificates. For mid tier elite, like a United Gold, you get complimentary access to economy plus and economy comfort seats. This is just a fancy term for saying extra legroom. Having mid-tier elite status can get you extra legroom at no charge. Mid-tier elite such as Premier Gold(United) or Gold Medallion(Delta) also grants you access to Star Alliance Lounges. Lounges are an amazing place to relax before your flight. While some lounges are a disaster or crowded, the sheer number of Star Alliance lounges available makes this a nice perk. Since everyone is charging for checked bags, its only fair that Elite members can check in 2 bags free of charge. The usual weight limits still apply.
Top tier elite status is where the real fun begins. As a top tier elite, you’ll be at the top of the list for complimentary domestic upgrades. You will also have several global upgrade certificates. While each program varies differently, top tier status does come with nice perks. Between being at the top of the complimentary upgrade list and a couple of global upgrades, Top Tier elite status is valuable when attainable.
Should you Try?
Unless you are a frequent traveler, or fly a hefty distance, attaining top tier elite status can be daunting and challenging. I am currently on track for United Premier Gold and I will be writing a full review of my experience having United Gold. While I have United Premier Silver, so far the benefits have been minimal, but I did score a free upgrade to economy plus on a short 45 minuted flight(Not Bad!). For most travelers, I don’t think it makes sense to chase program loyalty. The lack of frequent travel makes this extremely difficult and there are better cost effective alternatives as opposed to being loyal to a specific airline or alliance. If you are only making several trips a year, I would stick to the airline that works best for you.
I should have United Premier Gold by the end of the year. As someone who travels to a couple international destinations a year and roughly once a month, earning United Gold was still difficult. Stay tuned for the fully updated review of Gold Status.