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Opinion

“I Flew 100K Miles Last Year. I Don’t Have Status With A Single Airline”

“I Flew 100K Miles Last Year. I Don’t Have Status With A Single Airline”
Anya Kartashova

Last calendar year, I flew almost 100,000 miles (my apologies to Earth). And no, this is not a humble brag. I’m providing context because what I’m about to say next might surprise you: I don’t have elite status with any airline and frankly, I don’t care to earn one.

Award Tickets Don’t Earn Miles

I’ll start with the obvious reason. A good portion of my globetrotting last year was covered with points and miles, and award tickets don’t earn redeemable miles. Still, I flew quite a bit on revenue tickets and probably could’ve earned status with at least one airline had I stuck to flying on a single alliance. But I didn’t.

I Choose Cheap Flights

The second reason I don’t hold elite status with a single airline is rather simple: I don’t spend enough money. When I do pay cash, I like to chase cheap fares, not status, and the operating airline has little to no significance when it comes to decision time (it has to be reliable, of course). I don’t pick a carrier based on which alliance it belongs to or how many elite segments I’d earn. If the price is low enough and I like the destination, then I book it.

This strategy, unfortunately, hurts my chances at earning any kind of elite status. Many airlines have shifted their loyalty programs to award those flyers who spend the most money by either buying last-minute or business-class tickets. And because I buy neither, I earn the bare minimum, which isn’t enough for even the lowest-tier status.

Gone are the days of earning tons of redeemable miles and elite status from buying low-cost and long-distance flights. It no longer works this way, but I won’t pay more just to earn an arbitrary symbol of importance.

Low Status Is Hardly Worth Anything

Which brings me to the next, and perhaps the most important, point. Passengers with low-level elite status are barely a step above the mere mortals flying on the same aircraft. Let’s use Delta Air Lines and its Silver Medallion status, the lowest elite level, as an example. It’s possible to earn it by completing the following requirements:

  • Flying 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments

and

  • Spending $3,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (on airfare only, taxes excluded)

As a Silver Medallion Delta flyer, you’re eligible for complimentary upgrades to Comfort+ (premium economy) and First Class starting 24 hours before departure (when available), or Delta One upgrades on the day of departure (when available). You also get to check a bag for free and qualify for priority boarding. And if that’s not enough to sway you, a fancy luggage tag displaying your status will be mailed to you so you can attach it to your bag.

Seriously? Half of those benefits (the useful ones anyway) apply to the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card members, and the upgrades may not even be available on the day of departure. Obviously, the point is to earn the highest level of elite status to reap the most benefits and earn the most perks, but it’s out of reach for most travelers of the non-road-warrior variety.

Interestingly enough, I keep flying enough miles most years with Delta and its partners to reach Silver. It’s the constantly increasing spending requirement that keeps me from actually earning it.

In Conclusion

In some cases, sticking to a single airline alliance requires spending more money and flying less convenient itineraries, but the reward doesn’t outweigh the cost. To me, chasing status isn’t worth losing control of where I want to travel and how much it’s going to cost me. Upgrades sound nice, but if I really wanted to fly in business class, I have credit card rewards for that.

What do you think about earning elite status with airlines? Do you think it’s worth to pay more and possibly forgo convenience to stay loyal?

 

[Featured Image: Shutterstock]

View Comments (32)

32 Comments

  1. Spikey111

    August 16, 2019 at 4:09 am

    What a totally pointless article!

  2. ulxima

    August 16, 2019 at 4:51 am

    “To me…”
    Right that, to you.
    To me, with a TCO policy in mind, it is worth earning elite status, it is not necessarily true you have to pay more and when it happens the fare difference is usually an acceptable insurance.

  3. whenzuc

    August 16, 2019 at 4:54 am

    I see a big problem that one can only book 3 advance points only reservations at a time. That’s problematic for a big trip. We just back back from a family trip and I booked a total of 7 rez over 2 hotels for 7 people.

  4. DeltaFlyer123

    August 16, 2019 at 5:10 am

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have accrued status on Delta at a time when the rewards were more generous than nowadays. I joined the program in 1983, and through mainly my employment, I am now a 2 million miler with lifetime gold. That potentially gets me and my wife (when we travel together) upgrades to confront+ and sometimes domestic first class a few days before departure (it’s less than 50:50 chance when we travel together), However, gold status has one desirable benefit: access to SkyTeam lounges on international flights. Nearby countries, such as Canada, Mexico and Central America also included.
    We also subscribe to the Skymiles platinum Amex card that more than pays for its $200 annual fee be offering a free domestic companion ticket, and of course the free checked baggage.

  5. bsmits

    August 16, 2019 at 5:22 am

    Personal preference. For me, having the early boarding of being at least Silver is worth it. I hate waiting, so being assured of overhead bin space and not having to (gate)check plus keeping the underseat area clear to stretch my legs is worth it. Discount on economy comfort is nice for those early morning flights where I want to put the seat back and sleep a bit. My home airport is pretty much a Skyteam hub anyway, so convenience isn’t really a factor for my current flight patterns. If you don’t care, more power to you.

  6. MitchR

    August 16, 2019 at 5:33 am

    That is the airline’s strategy in a nutshell. If a passenger has multiple choices to a destination, the airline hopes that said passenger will choose it over others due to program loyalty. Frequent traveler programs are all about revenue and usage. Welcome to capitalism. True, low level awards don’t do much, but they may give you enough boarding priority to find an empty overhead bin or to have a free checked bag.

  7. Mike Rivers

    August 16, 2019 at 5:38 am

    You fly a lot more than I do now, but we’re both in the same sardine can. I made it to United’s 2nd tier for a while when I was making twice-a-month trips between DC and Los Angeles working for the government, but I retired from that job 20 years ago.

    These days there’s nobody else but me to foot the bill, so I rely on the cheapest flights to get around. I have to say that I’m rather impressed with how low they can go. And, bless Southwest’s heart, when I’m uncertain of travel dates, I can book with them and not lose my money or have to pay a fine of $100+ to change my flight. Admittedly, going coast-to-coast on SW is a little less convenient than taking a non-stop on United, American, or Alaska, but as a retired bum, I’m not in as much of a hurry to get there and get to work as I used to be when I was being paid for it.

    But hotels go along with flying, and cheap-and-decent hotels are getting harder and harder to find. And their loyalty programs are getting less and less useful.

  8. respawn

    August 16, 2019 at 5:40 am

    At the end of last year, I was 3 segments away from getting gold on American. I looked at the benefits and said “why bother”? Especially considering some of the horror stories I’ve heard from colleagues with Exec Platinum. If they are treated that poorly at that status level, why should I bother with Gold.

    Put differently: the lowest tiers on the airlines just aren’t worth any extra effort.

  9. Ag323

    August 16, 2019 at 5:47 am

    I agree with this 100%. I never understood consistently picking a more expensive, less convenient itinerary in hopes that I may do it enough to check a free bag next year. Crazy.

  10. steviebaby

    August 16, 2019 at 6:05 am

    I understand this young lady but do not agree with her.
    Traveling these days, with the great unwashed public is strenous enough and hardly a comfortable activity, so some of us prefer the step up in privilege. The Biz Lounge to have a glass of wine and eat (as most airlines on short haul have cancelled this these days), to board first ahead of all the hoi palloi, get overhead baggage space, and relax whilst all the mayhem continues around you, when things go wrong, like flight delays or cancellations, if you are an elite member you are given 1st priority to change flights, re-route or solve whatever problem professionally. Lastly as an elite member, even when traveling economy or coach as its called in the states, I am upgraded so many times because the airline recognises my value and rewards me.

  11. GoProf

    August 16, 2019 at 6:22 am

    I made the same decision a few years ago. My Capitol One card lets me pay for about any travel bill with my card points and a free, often not used, airline branded credit card gets me priority boarding and one free bag in many cases. No longer worth it to pay more money for loyalty points for me.

  12. jt12321

    August 16, 2019 at 7:10 am

    I’m sorry, but I 100% disagree with this article. I currently have silver/gold elite status on a few airlines, including silver medallion on DL and it is a HUGE step up from mere mortals. There’s even an unpublished status if you book travel through a work Concur/Amex Travel account. In the past year, I’ve been upgraded on every single regional flight on DL with Silver. No, you probably won’t get an upgrade flying into ATL where half the plane has diamond – fly AA into ATL, and fly DL into CLT for a much better quality of life. You have to take some ownership of your travel experience! Also, when weather cancels flights, the phone reps bend over backwards helping you re-route when you have status – there is a night and day difference between layperson and entry-level elite traveler. Sounds to me like this article may have been written by someone who isn’t really a road warrior, or who didn’t follow any mileage program playbook, and now nothing to show for many miles in a cramped seat. Choose better going forward; I’m sure many of the folks here will be happy to provide suggestions.

  13. Ronlap

    August 16, 2019 at 7:12 am

    I did what I could to earn status on one airline when the company was footing the bill. I had several jobs which required a lot of international travel and I was as loyal as posable to United. I am now retired, but since I went 1 millions miles butt-in-seat with them, the wife and I are permanent Gold. Free Economy Plus, free checked bags and Group 1 boarding. Those perks make it worthwhile to book United even if they are $100 more expensive.

  14. ConnieDee

    August 16, 2019 at 7:19 am

    I agree with this article. I fly Delta as an intense tourist because I like the way the airline works and because it’s got the itineraries I need. When I’m on a long trip that involves crossing an ocean I just find a reasonable (for me) business class itinerary on Delta and enjoy the service, lounges and flat sleeping.

    One year, I apparently earned some kind of temporary MQ status from flying overseas in business class because I got some socks and a couple of upgrades to Premium Economy on short-haul flights. But every time I see “Medallion Qualification Miles” and “Medallion Qualification Segments” I tune out: just those almost-identical labels are ridiculous (why should there be two?) Then there are all those metals. Is titanium more valuable than platinum? Is there a carborundum out there?

    Usually I understand what’s coming out of marketing departments, but when it comes to loyalty programs, I don’t get why they are so byzantine – maybe endless complexity is some kind of attraction in itself – a type of game or something? (Actually I suspect they are just ongoing lures to Get The Credit Card.) Anyway, I like the socks.

  15. drussum

    August 16, 2019 at 7:32 am

    I am in a similar situation with over 39K miles on AA flown this year, but not enough $ spent. I’m happy to have found some low fares and the travel experiences have been positive. That said, AA is doing exactly what they are supposed to do for their shareholders – maximize profit. I am not a valuable customer to them from a monetary perspective. I seek them out from DFW as I have found great fares by planning ahead. Gold status would be nice primarily for the partial mileage multiplier, but the low fares have allowed me to enjoy some great places.

  16. ckfred

    August 16, 2019 at 7:58 am

    A lot of people have fly one airline, because their employer has a contract with a carrier.

    I have lifetime Gold status with American. So, I get to use first class check-in, get a free checked bag for every member of my family, and get to board before those who paid for priority boarding or have an AAdvantage credit card.

  17. Burittoman

    August 16, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Not for nothing, but I am the complete opposite.
    I live in the PHL area so AA has a lock on most flights out of this area. Between flights to the west coast to see our son, an annual vacation abroad and business travel that others pay the fare, I am on the verge of Plat Pro with AA.
    Having been a high status flyer and then losing that status, I can say without hesitation that status matters. FC upgrades? Not so often. Early boarding so that you get space overhead? Very important to me. Not paying for a checked bag, not so much, but a nice feature when you need to use it.
    I would ask the OP to get status for a year, then compare the two and see which one they prefer more.

  18. daniellam

    August 16, 2019 at 8:29 am

    I just fly paid first or business class on whichever airline that offers the best seat/service and convenient time and routing period.

    Travel mainly for vacations.

    Not a road warrior so only get the lower tier status which is not very useful unless I fly economy which I never do.

  19. Mediaink

    August 16, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I couldn’t disagree more. I have flown 135,000 miles so far this year on Delta, and four of those trips were international flights. Because of my status, I was upgraded twice to Delta One – a suite that typically runs $3,000 round trip to Japan – from my main cabin seat that I’d paid $750 for. And because I flew that class, I had lounge access from an Asian Delta partner in Tokyo. That amounts to free alcohol and food, a much more quiet and comfortable experience, and as one comment stated above, far less stress. Delta proactively reaches out via text and a phone call, if (which is very rare) any of my flights are delayed, and offers to find an alternative flight. I have several upgrade certificates I can use if I don’t want to hope for a complimentary upgrade, and all of my privileges extend to my husband when he travels with me. The miles I earn are used to fly family, or to buy down the price of an airfare if it’s a last minute, pricey fare. This article makes it sound like status is just some elitist flag to wave, but in reality, it will have made the estimated 180,000 miles I will have flown by the end of 2019, much easier.

  20. arh1

    August 16, 2019 at 8:46 am

    I am about to lose BA gold Status due to travel restrictions this year and no active plans to travel during the rest of my year. The problem with losing status is it becomes substantially more expensive to travel. You have to pay for seats; pay for luggage etc. You also lose the other benefits like lounge access, increased ability and chance to spend miles and priority boarding. While I never went out my way to fly BA, BA was always the ‘cheapest’ but only when I factored in the items status pays for. Without status I will be booking purely based on cost and schedule – 90% of the time BA will still win that (I think).

  21. PaulMSN

    August 16, 2019 at 8:47 am

    I gave up chasing status when the airlines went to revenue parameters. I had elite status for many years on at least two airlines, and had Diamond status two years running on DL in which I did over 100,000 BIS miles both years, but then the perks were worth it and cheap flights could earn it. Once they started counting revenue, top status was out of the question, and only Silver was reasonably achievable, but I get half the perks of Silver from airline CCs anyway, so why bother? As far as comfort, I simply use airline miles when I want to fly business class overseas.

  22. ERtraveler

    August 16, 2019 at 8:56 am

    Lifetime Gold on United and honestly the best perk is boarding in time to stow the stuff. A little extra legroom is also nice. My home airport is SFO so unfortunately we rarely get upgrades to business. But now that I have the status we use a Fidelity cash back credit card for everything and fly the airline with the best timing and routing and just pay for upgrades. It feels great to not be tethered to any one airline.

  23. TheBarron

    August 16, 2019 at 10:07 am

    This is a totally worthless article for people on Flyer Talk. Pointless

  24. BC Shelby

    August 16, 2019 at 11:15 am

    …I still remember Northwest’s old World Perks programme. No tiers, and pretty simple. 10,000 miles was an upgrade to domestic first (or business on Hawai’i flights), 20,000 miles was a free roundtrip domestic coach tickets (except Hawai’i and Alaska) 30,000 miles wasa free round trip coach ticket to Hawai’i or Alaska or upgrade to Business international, and so on. There were no “silver”,” gold,” or “platinum” levels and one could upgrade from even a discounted coach fare. Northwest also awarded mileage for each flight segment with a minimum of 750 miles (so that connecting flight between Minneapolis and Milwaukee was effectively worth double the miles). The airline would often offer various double mile promotions as well such as when travelling to a new destination or route, and would in the case of delays/being bumped with additional compensatory mileage rewards.

    The interesting part, was also receiving preferential service. I once missed the last flight out of Philadelphia because of a huge wreck on the way from Cape May New Jersey that backed up traffic. I stayed in contact with the airline during the situation and they held the flight as long as they could but had to let it go. When I got to the checkin counter, they booked me on the first flight out in the morning that made a connection to Portland, then put me up at the then new airport hotel (in a suite no less), A couple weeks after I got home when I received my updated miles statement, I discovered an additional 5,000 miles was credited to my account.(on top of what I was awarded for the trip

    Likely the plan (as well as practises like the above) no doubt contributed to their economic woes as it was one of the most liberal rewards programmes in the industry. Even though I was a bit more of a “casual” flier, I often would rack up enough miles for a free domestic trip (including Hawai’i). Most often, I would use my awards for the upgrade to First (or Business to Hawai’i).

    Oh, and those First Class upgrades awarded me the bonus miles.

  25. blue2002

    August 16, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    @Spikey111
    +1

  26. jrpallante

    August 17, 2019 at 6:10 am

    I agree fully with Anya. Virtually everybody with upper tier status is traveling on somebody else’s nickel. As a small business owner, every dollar spent comes right out of my pocket, so I buy the lowest price seats for every trip (though I won’t stoop to Spirit!). Having all the co-branded credit cards, I still get priority boarding, and I have never been forced to gate check a bag, though I often volunteer to do so. On those rare occasions when I need to check a bag, it is free on the big 3. With three Chase United cards in our family, I get 6 passes per year to the United lounge, and they usually go unused. The benefits of elite status are simply not worth the cost if you are paying for your own travel.

  27. SamirD

    August 17, 2019 at 10:44 am

    So having been just cattle class for most of my life, having stepped up to the lowly AA Gold showed me a world of change in comparison. It’s not perfect, but it does add up when you are checking bags and just need a little extra here or there like a seat change request.

    That being said, I always look at the overall value of each trip I have to fly. A lot of times, the cheapest fare isn’t that when you add up any additionals you need for your trip. And when the difference between an a la carte flight and one with status is $20-50, it’s easier to just go with the status flights. And if you’re flying regularly enough, even those add up.

    Status isn’t about a card or some sort of ‘I’m better than you’ (although you’d definitely think it from some of those that have status, lol). It’s really about rewarding those that bring the most loyalty and core business to an airline, that’s all. And if that’s not you, that’s okay. But to snub your nose at the programs is just doing yourself an injustice because if every penny matters, so does what you’re getting for that penny.

  28. flyingdutchman

    August 17, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    With Spirit now having (1) an excellent on-time record, (2) low ‘Big Front Seat’ prices compared to business class, and (3) participating in TSA Pre, having low-level elite status is becoming less important for me. Electronic check-in avoids most airport lines as well. Travelling light helps too and in-flight meals have never been very important to me. And on international flights low-level elite means nothing anyway.

  29. chadbag

    August 17, 2019 at 7:17 pm

    I never really “chased” status but used to fly a lot and was loyal to Delta whenever possible. I had the Delta Platinum Amex card (actually 2, one business and one personal), and booked Delta whenever I needed to fly. Some years, especially pre 9/11, that was a lot, and as the family came, the frequency of flying went down, but we still did some flying and I used the Amex cards whenever possible. Getting full mileage on flights and achieving Silver or occasionally Gold was nice and made me feel appreciated by Delta, and hence loyal. Then came the “revenue based” miles and also devaluation of miles, such that certain sorts of trips we did on miles could no longer be done without a lot more miles, often twice as many.

    So I used up my existing Delta miles on some domestic flights, dumped my Amex Delta branded cards, through each of which a large amount of money had been spent annually, and now I fly whatever airline (of the reasonable airlines) has the best fares and/or itineraries available for where I want to go. I got a Chase Sapphire Reserve (and a Chase business card and a Chase Freedom) and my wife has a Capital One card, and we use those for most all of our purchases, depending on what we buy. So now I have a few miles in each airlines program, but no status, and years to rack up enough for any sort of flight. But we just got back from Japan for which we paid no airfare, had almost free JR passes [Green Car, 21 days], and out of 9-10 nights of hotel, only paid for 2.5 of them (1 night at a Japan hotel, and 1.5 nights at the Hilton Tokyo Bay, the other 1.5 nights covered by points). All using CC points.

    Instead of paying Delta for our every other year trip to Japan, I’ve sent the money to whatever airline had good connections and low fares (or twice in the last 5 times with points). Same with multiple family trips to Florida, a tyrip to Boston, etc.

    But Chase has sent our family of 4 to Japan twice [one time I had to chip in a small amount as I had not quite enough points] and my wife an additional time to Japan and paid about 85% with points on that. I’ve had lots of hotels on Chase as well and the Capital One has paid for our JR Rail passes several times, as well as a bunch of nights at various hotels in Japan. I’ve never not gotten overhead bin space (I just make sure to pre-queue in the boarding line so when my “zone” is called I am at the front of the line). And when I buy international tickets on one of the US carriers, I make sure the flight is on a codeshare partner, if possible, to avoid the crappy seats and service of the US airlines. An AA coded JAL flight was the same cost as the actual AA flight to Tokyo on offer, but was a lot nicer.

    I am not a road warrior, though some years we put in some good mileage in the air, and for me, the loyalty to an airline is gone, as they stopped being loyal to me by devaluing miles, going revenue based, stuyffing seats smaller, nickel and diming me for everything, etc.

  30. MimiB22

    August 18, 2019 at 4:37 am

    When I was a true road warrior, flying so often I felt homeless, airline status meant convenience and comfort, with flights paid by my employer. But it’s all changed these days. Now I fly for pleasure or professional necessity on my own dime and pick flights based on price and convenience. I don’t chase elite status as it’s become harder to earn and the rewards are relatively insignificant and not cost effective. I’d rather book the best flights for ME and not to boost a particular airlines bottom line through misguided loyalty that doesn’t pay off well enough to make it worthwhile.

  31. mhrb

    August 19, 2019 at 10:14 am

    My god, I would pay $100,000s to avoid doing half the things people chose to do to get status. And my god, I’m not poor but the “value” you get from even top-tier status is shocking. I’d much much much rather spend my money on actual premium life experiences.

  32. canyonleo

    canyonleo

    August 20, 2019 at 7:16 am

    What a worthless article. I won’t even board a plane without an exit aisle (or F, but on domestic I prefer the greater pitch of the exit to F), and this is only available (in advance) as an elite. We (and most readers for other reasons granted, maybe because of check baggage fee, desire to upgrade, etc.) are different than you, duh!

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