Explaining airline status and its benefits: Is it worth it?

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You travel frequently, and therefore, you should be able to jump the line once in a while…right? You’re not going to hold up the boarding process by trying to figure out if you can stuff your carry-on in the overhead bin, and for this, you should be rewarded!

In a round-about way, the airlines often agree. Preferred partners, airline status, member benefits – these terms are enticing. Who wouldn’t want to gain “status” and receive “member benefits” when they travel? Isn’t that the whole point of all of this? Let’s talk for a bit about airline status, what it means, what benefits you can expect, how to get it, and, most importantly, whether it is actually worth it.

The 4 main benefits of having airline elite status

Every airline is slightly different in what they offer, but let’s cut to the chase – these are the most common benefits of having elite status on an airline. 

Earning more miles

There’s that somewhat annoying saying, “you need to spend money to make money.” In a way, this applies to airline status, too, in that the higher status you hold, the more miles you earn every time you book a flight with that airline. 

For example, as an American Airlines Platinum Elite, you will earn 11 miles for every dollar spent. Those miles add up quickly when you’re in the elite tier. Of course, every airline’s elite requirements are unique, but in general, the higher your status, the more miles you will earn for your paid flights.

Upgrades

You didn’t want to pay the extra money for that six-hour flight from LAX to Honolulu, but now you’re stuck in the back by the bathroom and second-guessing yourself. One of the benefits of status that is immediately tangible is seating upgrades.

Upgrade policies vary from airline to airline. Some airlines offer their elite flyers upgrade travel certificates that can be used when you book your ticket. Other airlines will automatically upgrade their status holders before boarding, depending on availability in first and business classes. For example, Alaska Airlines offers free unlimited upgrades to first class for their MVP Elites when there is space available. 

One of the best perks of elite status are the free seat upgrades! (Photo by Jupiterimages/GettyImages)

Lounge access

You don’t need to know the bartender or make up some cute excuse to cut the line and get access to the club. With elite status on an airline, you typically gain lounge access. So if you have Gold Status on United Airlines, for example, you’ll be able to access all of the lounges within the Star Alliance network, which offers several lounges worldwide. It’s a nice benefit for anyone traveling overseas or even those who have an extended layover. But be sure not to forget that certain credit cards offer lounge access, too!

Other service benefits

Every airline will provide a complete list of benefits for their status holders. Some of the other standard service benefits that many status holders can take advantage of include:

  • Priority boarding
  • Free checked bags
  • Free changes or cancellation of tickets
  • An elite phone number for booking

Is airline elite status worth it for you?

What are your travel goals? Are you ready to do what it takes to be in a committed relationship? Or would you rather play the field instead of being tied to one specific airline? Although you can gain status on any airline depending on how much you travel and what credit cards you’re holding, it’s certainly easiest to pick one and focus on ascending to the highest level possible. 

Status isn’t forever; you’ll need to qualify continuously. You’ll typically need to fly a certain amount of qualifying miles within a year to maintain your airline status. And guess what? That’s intended, by design. Airlines are looking for loyal customers who will consider the perks that come with their elite status before booking with a different airline. 

How to get airline elite status

Most airlines grant status based on the number of qualifying miles or segments that you have flown. Often, whichever you complete first (for example, 100,000 miles or 100 segments flown) will award you elite tier status. Some airlines, like Delta, require a combination of spending cash and flying miles

For example, to achieve Delta Gold status, you’ll need to spend $6,000 a year on flights and also earn 50,000 qualifying miles. Once you gain status, you’ll receive benefits for the remainder of the year and the entire following year. 

Bottom Line

It’s nice to feel special, and airline elite status certainly gives status holders some excellent advantages when traveling. That said, it takes some strategy and effort to gain elite status on an airline. And once you do, you might feel locked into only booking travel on that specific airline. Yes, the priority boarding and free checked bags are lovely, but will you end up spending more money on more expensive fares to keep your status? That’s something for you to decide.

Erin Lizzo is a contributor for Million Mile Secrets where she covers points, miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels and general travel. Her work has also appeared in the Matador Network.

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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