They cut in line, get bags checked for free, and then get upgraded to first class. Who are these lucky elites? They’re savvy fliers who have obtained what’s called status in their airline’s frequent flier program.
The traditional way to obtain status in a frequent flier program is simple: just fly every week and wait until your new status card arrives in the mail. Yet as companies cut their employee travel budget, many have lost their elite status – and now must pay baggage fees and wait in lines with everyone else.
If you’re on the verge of losing your elite status or have never enjoyed it in the first place, don’t give up hope. Here’s how to reach and maintain elite status with your airline’s frequent flier program…
- Know the rules inside and out. Each airline’s program is full of complex terms and conditions that few travelers take the time to understand. For example, Delta now allows customer to roll over to next year any elite qualifying mileage beyond what was required to reach the last tier of status.
- Consider an end-of-year mileage run. If, by the end of the year, you’re just short of achieving the elite status, consider taking a short trip just for the miles – you’ll come out ahead in the long run. In fact, spending a little extra money now to earn unlimited upgrades next year is one of the 3 Lessons From Travel Reward Gurus that I recently learned.
- Buy elite qualifying miles. Instead of taking a mileage run, you can simply buy elite qualifying miles from some airlines. US Airways will allow you to buy the needed miles or segments, while Delta is also allowing customers to purchase up to 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles.
- Get the right credit card. All airline-affiliated credit cards earn miles, but only a select few earn the special miles that qualify travelers for elite status. Those cards include the Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Platinum cards from American Express, the Continental Presidential Plus card from Chase, the US Airways MasterCard, and the American AAdvantage World Elite card from Citi.
- Find the right promotions. Airlines give away regular miles all the time, but they occasionally award elite qualifying miles for certain activities. For example, Delta has been known to give its Medallion-qualifying miles for some charitable donations.
- Fly out of your way. Aside from the occasional promotions, elite miles are earned based on the miles flown. To reach elite faster, simply choose connecting flights with longer routes. For example, a traveler from Orlando to Los Angeles on American Airlines could probably accept a connection in Chicago rather than a nonstop flight, earning an additional 1,064 miles round-trip.
- Concentrate your flying on a single airline. If you don’t concentrate your flying on a single carrier, you can travel every week and never earn status. Even if the flights cost slightly more, it may be worth paying more to obtain qualifying miles in order to enjoy upgrades and other privileges of status.
- Get credit from partners. Airlines make it easier for customers to obtain status by crediting mileage earned on flights operated by their partners. Unfortunately, this only works when customers take the time to learn which partners qualify and remember to enter the correct frequent flier number in their reservation. For example, United fliers can earn qualifying miles for flights on US Airways, Air Canada, and 30 other airlines – but only if they supply their United frequent flier number when purchasing their ticket.
- Get a status match. If you had status in one airline and have since switched to another, you don’t have to be treated like any other traveler. Contact the airline and inquire about status matching. This is the process by which an airline offers you the equivalent status in their program as you enjoyed at their competitor. All the major airlines do it, but they rarely advertise the terms of these offers.
When it comes to obtaining elite status in airline programs, your best strategy is not to beat them but to join them!