Among travel hackers, elite status is a badge of honor. For business travelers, it’s a reward for miles logged and a key to sanity via upgrades and special treatment.
The perks that elite status brings have become more coveted as airlines have started charging for, eliminating, or making passengers duke it out for things that travelers once viewed as basic amenities meals, space, baggage, upgrades, and boarding rights.
What Does Elite Status Get You?
Most airline loyalty programs have three to four elite levels with names like silver, gold, and platinum.
These are the main perks of the major domestic airline programs. Each level includes the advantages of the previous level. If the perk is increased, the higher level is included.
- Gold: eligible for upgrades 24 hours in advance, priority check-in, 25% additional miles on each cash booking
- Platinum: eligible for upgrades 72 hours in advance, priority baggage delivery, 100% additional miles on each cash booking
- Executive Platinum: eligible for upgrades 100 hours in advance, unlimited upgrades, service fees waived, expanded award availability, free food in economy
- Silver: unlimited complimentary upgrades on full fares and award tickets, complimentary upgrades on discount fares 1 day in advance, 25% additional miles on each cash booking, free checked baggage, priority check-in and boarding
- Gold: complimentary upgrades on discount fares 3 days in advance, 100% additional miles on each cash booking, priority security line access, priority baggage handling, SkyTeam lounge access, waived ticket change fees
- Platinum: complimentary upgrades on discount fares 5 days in advance, one choice benefit such as extra miles or lounge passes, waived award cancellation fees
- Diamond: 125% additional miles on each cash booking, free Delta SkyClub membership, VIP service line, two choice benefits
- Premier Silver: complimentary economy plus upgrade at check-in, complimentary upgrades and companion upgrades, 25% additional miles on each cash booking, Star Alliance silver status, priority boarding, check-in, security screening, and baggage handling
- Premier Gold: complimentary economy plus upgrade at booking, 50%additional miles on each cash booking, international lounge access, no same-day change fees, 3 complimentary checked bags, Star Alliance Gold status
- Premier Platinum: 75% additional miles on each cash booking, reimbursed Global Entry fee, no award ticket fees, no phone service fees
- Premier 1K: 100% additional miles on each cash booking, dedicated service line
When you look at it this way, American’s program seems quite thin. But it’s easy to get into. Which begs the question
How Can You Get Elite Status?
Elite status used to be almost exclusively the provenance of business travelers, who would easily get it by flying the required miles on their favorite airline. Once they had status, they would keep flying the same airline to reap the perks of their loyalty.
But as the airline industry endured bankruptcy after bankruptcy, lower levels of service and sky-rocketing prices have shaken many people from their former loyalty. Now, airlines offer many different ways to gain status, eager to create happy, loyal customers.
The two basic ways to earn elite status are by flying a certain number of miles or a certain number of segments (the legs between each stopover.)
This year, United and Delta have added a minimum spend requirement as well to the tune of around $2,500 per status level in response to one of the most surprising changes in the elite status landscape: how easy it is to flat out buy or charm your way into elite status:
- Though US Airways has merged with American Airlines (so get it while you can), it allows you to purchase elite status with a flat cash payment of $1,499 to $3,999 depending on the desired level.
- If you know you’ll be flying a lot in a short period of time, you can take advantage of elite status challenges. They’re rarely advertised, so you have to call the airline to set it up. You pay an initial fee for the challenge (American charges $120 for gold and $250 for platinum), and then fly a portion of the typically qualifying miles (for American it’s 5,000 instead of 25,000) to qualify.
- Once you get status on one airline, you can get a status match on others. You just need to send over a copy of your statement from the airline you have status on and explain you’d like to switch.
- Bonus: though it’s not exactly elite status, many airline credit cards (notably United’s card which offers priority boarding, free checked bags, and club passes) offer you all the same perks as elite status just for signing up.
With airlines offering fewer and fewer amenities with paid tickets, now is the time to looking into securing some elite comforts. You’ve got all of 2014 to qualify to travel in comfort next year.