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Is Achieving Airline Status Actually Worth It?

Airline status can earn you perks, but is it worth committing to one airline?

There is something about a rewards program that makes us all feel a bit more special. Hotels, grocery stores, and even our favorite independent boutiques all bank on these types of programs to encourage brand loyalty and garner repeat customers. Airlines are no exception to that rule, especially since competition is fierce and prices are more closely compared as the investment is a big one.

To that, airlines haven’t given up on creating rewards and status programs, especially in the face of price wars. But are they really worth pledging your loyalty to one airline for? While the “spend more/get more” model works in other sectors, does it really matter in the world of flight? It turns out that the answer is pretty complicated. 

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“Flight status used to be super important, but in the last decade, due to airline consolidation, airlines have more elites than ever,” says Raj Mahal, founder of PlanMoreTrips. He says that many perks, such as free checked baggage and lounge access, can be attained through a credit card—and sometimes not even an airline-branded one. You can even earn miles with many other travel rewards cards, making the thought of chasing status on one airline seem less appealing.

John Taylor Garner, Founder and CEO of Odynn echoed Mahal’s sentiment, adding that flight status perks really only make sense for those on the higher tiers. It’s worth noting that status levels like AA Gold, Delta Silver, United Silver, and other basic airline clubs do not get you very much in the way of perks. “For instance, with basic status, you don’t have access to lounges, nor do you ever really get upgraded, and you can’t book economy plus seats until the 24-hour check-in window,” he says.

A few perks for those on the low-status side do include free checked baggage and the ability to board the plane early, ensuring you’re comfortable and don’t have to fight for overhead bin space, but, like Mahal, Garner explains that paying the fee for a co-branded airline credit card allows for the same perks as anyone on the lowest status tier. And, adds Nick Mueller, Director of Operations at HawaiianIslands.com, you will usually get the same perks for less with a co-branded airline card. In fact, he says that you will most likely end up with more perks with a co-branded airline card than with basic status.

Mid-, high- and top-tier perks, though, are worth the price of admission, especially for business and frequent travelers. With the chance of being upgraded to roomier and more comfortable seats increasing the higher your status, it’s a welcome incentive to continue flying with the same airline. Additionally, it’s something that could end up making a huge difference during difficult airline travel experiences. Garner says that those with status are usually rebooked on canceled flights or missed connections first. Additionally, extra care goes into finding and delivering lost baggage to those passengers with status.

However, he says, it goes even deeper than that. “Status is immensely helpful when something catastrophic happens, as you have access to a priority phone service line, and the gate staff also treat you with special care,” he explains.

But, says Mahal, the perks may not outweigh the price, especially if you’re just looking for an occasional trip for fun. “If you are a business traveler, it makes sense to stick with one airline to accumulate miles, but if you are a normal leisure traveler, it makes much more sense to go with the lowest price tickets instead of sticking with just one airline for status.”

No matter what, all the experts agree that to double down on the perks, look into getting a co-branded airline card while pledging your allegiance to your top brand. This will allow you to move up the status ladder faster–and use that loyalty club card at your favorite store while doing it.

What Does Each Level Get You?

Interested to see what airline status can do and what perks await you at the next level? Here’s an overall look at what each tier level gets you. Keep in mind that each airline does have its own distinct set of perks, so this is just a benchmark.

Basic Status

– One free checked bag
– Early boarding
– Economy plus for free upon check-in

Mid-Level Status

– Access to lounges for you and guests (subject to airline rules)
– Additional checked bags
– Early boarding
– Economy plus for free upon booking for you and your companions
– Complimentary upgrades (mostly domestic).

High-Level Status

– First-class lounge access for you and your guest (subject to airline rules)
– Three checked bags
– Economy plus for free upon booking for you and your companions
– Complimentary upgrades for you and a companion (higher chance)
– One annual gift, such as a global upgrade certificate or additional points

Top-Level Status

– First-class lounge access for you and your guest (subject to airline rules)
– Three checked bags
– Economy plus for free upon booking for you and your companions
– Complimentary upgrades for you and a companion (highest chance)
– Additional annual gifts, such as a global upgrade certificate or additional points.

1 Comments
M
MsJonesy January 6, 2023

Yes, it's worth it. I'm like a kid on Christmas when I use my airline miles and hotel points for free vacays.