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Elite status is amazing, especially top-tier status. It has made a difference a huge number of times during my travels. Until recently, I had pretty high status with all of the US airlines. Now that I don’t have status anymore, I’m starting to realize how much of a difference it makes. There’s a trans-border flight that I have to book in the coming weeks – and I’m already dreading it.
I’ve written previously about Air Canada Super Elite, which is very useful. It’s interesting, because even though I travel a lot, I wouldn’t make top-tier elite status with anyone because of my travel patterns – lots of award redemptions, and splitting my flights and hotel stays among many airlines and chains. Nonetheless, I’m very lucky to be able to do what I do, which most people can’t.
Is Airline Elite Status Worth It?
Acquiring status gets more difficult every year, even though benefits slowly get whittled down. Nonetheless, top-tier elite status is addicting. I do a fair amount of travel to/from the US, so having benefits like improved seating, lounge access, free standby and same day change, and better customer service really makes the experience different. I would say benefits haven’t improved over the past few years, but there are still items that really save you money.
One thing I used a lot was free award change and cancellations, as well as upgrades on award tickets. Upgrade certificates also let me pay for coach fares that were cheaper than redeeming 70,000+ miles and clearing an upgrade into business class. Finally, OneWorld lounge access policies were amazing, because you can use the First Class Lounge even though you’re in coach or business class. There are so many exclusive lounges that I got to enjoy because of my elite status that was pretty much impossible even redeeming points.
You can still copy those benefits to a lesser extent. For example, the American Express Platinum Card gets you multiple different lounge access methods. This includes Centurion Lounges, Delta SkyClubs, and Priority Pass lounges. Upgrades and extra-legroom seats are pointless when you are flying on an award ticket in a premium class of service. Booking Air Canada awards in business class even let you do the same things that paid business class does, with free standby and being able to same day change.
Is Hotel Elite Status Worth It?
Hotel status is also really important to me. I value having luxury while I travel, so having the best suites with free room service breakfast is also really important to me. The one interesting benefit with hotel status is that you don’t necessarily have to earn it, as long as you’re travelling with someone who is elite. So even though I’m not SPG Platinum 50 or IHG Royal Ambassador, I still get those benefits a lot of the time, which is awesome.
I nearly always stay at a hotel chain because I appreciate their uniform standards. I’m not a big fan of non-chain hotels nor alternatives like AirBNB. All of the elite hotel benefits separately aren’t that exciting, but when you add them all together, you really feel like a VIP. From early check-in and late checkout, (suite) upgrades, club lounge access, breakfast, welcome amenities, and more, you really feel cocooned in a world of niceness. That’s how I feel, anyways.
Again, you can still emulate these benefits to a lesser extent. It’s pretty easy to get mid-tier status like SPG Gold, Marriott Gold, and to status challenge a lot of other chains. With luxury hotels, you can either programs like AMEX Fine Hotels and Resorts or Virtuoso to get those same benefits like upgrades and breakfast.
While I value hotel status a lot, I wouldn’t pay much for it. Elite status provide things that are worth a lot at retail prices – like a 100EUR+ room service breakfasts, or $2000 presidential suite upgrades. But, if I wasn’t able to get those for free, I’d just go to a StarBucks to grab a latte and a breakfast sandwich. This is the same with airline status. The value of first class upgrades may be in the hundreds of dollars – and there are people that pay those prices – but I’d simply sit in economy if I can’t get the upgrade for free.
This doesn’t apply to everyone. I know many readers who are willing to splurge. I also know many others that will fly coach and stay at Best Westerns if it lets them travel for free. However, for most people that travel with miles and points, airline status isn’t really necessary. Top-tier status does add some additional benefits, but not worth the cost to pursue unless you know how to work the system. Hotel status is slightly more valuable, but mid-tier status is fairly easy to achieve.
The only exception is if you travel for work and already have some status – in which case you should calculate carefully the marginal cost of gunning for top-tier status compared to the additional benefits you get. The easiest path to elite status is the path of least resistance. If haven’t already grabbed the low hanging fruit, that’s what you should do first (that’s what I do). I just really lucked out by getting all these statuses thanks to my wonderful network of friends. It also helps that I’m pretty good at maximizing loyalty programs. 🙂