WSJ: Silver Status Loses Its Luster for Frequent Fliers
While I think this makes some good points, it overlooks some benefits which don't come with credit cards. 14 months ago I was Silver on Delta (now Platinum) and I received upgrades (part of Delta's unlimited domestic upgrade program) on almost every flight. While I recognize this is not everyone's experience, it does reflect a benefit that clearly isn't available with a credit card. In addition, when it comes to irrops, being silver will still give you a leg up over those with no status (I say this from personal experience as well).
Airlines have cut and crimped perks awarded to the silver-level frequent fliers—the lowest and most populous tier of elite status.
On Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, silver elites purchase premium coach seats with extra legroom if they want to reserve them before check-in, a perk that used to be free. American Airlines will give its lowest elite tier free access to new extra-legroom seats at the front of its coach cabins through next year, then they must pay. Both Delta and United stopped giving silver-level customers a free second checked bag in March. Delta and Alaska Airlines don't give lowest-level elite members access to priority security lines.
The loss of perks comes as nabbing complimentary domestic upgrades has gotten harder. One factor: Airlines are selling more upgrades to fee-paying fliers rather than giving them to low-tier elites.
Non-USA carriers have handled status much better. You can't compare BA Silver to UA Silver just because they are both called "Silver."
First, BA doesn't dole out freebie UG's to elites. So, doesn't matter whether you are elite.
Second, US carriers hand out status like candy. This creates too many people entittled to too many perks. The story notes that elites are estimated to be 10% of travellers and that Silvers are the bulk of those.
Third, With capacity cuts, something has to give. Either UA dumps its GS or its Silvers. Which one goes?