Thursday, February 13, 2014

Is Elite Status really worth it?

This year, in anticipation of this new combined American Airlines, I decided to give up my goal of hitting Elite Status with Delta Air Lines, and instead am trying to hit Platinum Elite status with American's Aadvantage program.  Granted, I have a long climb ahead of me, on either airline.  I only had 7,000 Elite Qualifying Miles on Delta, and 5,000 Elite Qualiying Miles on American.  Gold Status on American is 25,000 EQM's.  Silver Medallion is 25,000 EQM's plus a Qualifying Revenue Threshold of $2,500.  Whoa, hold on a sec, Revenue Threshold?!  What is that, you ask?  Let me tell you.

Lately, airlines are getting more and more creative to find ways to give passengers less service for more money.  Delta and United have implemented these Revenue Thresholds ON TOP of the Qualifying Mile Minimums.  They almost guarantee you have to fly more than the minimum qualifying miles on those deep discount airfares, or you can fly the minimums, at a higher fare (usually a mid-range fare, still below the full "Y" fare will do the trick, but check the fare rules and terms to make sure) and hit the Status level of your choice.

American still hasn't implemented this, but in any case, when I buy a Coach ticket on American, I always go for the slightly higher priced "Choice Plus" fare, which give you a 1 free checked bag allowance, bonus miles, Group 1 Boarding (which helps in hubs like Los Angeles, New York/JFK or American's fortress at Dallas/Ft. Worth), no change fee for any changes made to your reservation, Same-day flight change as well as same-day flight standby, and another little perk I like, the free premium beverages.  Usually this only costs anywhere between $70-$150 more than the lowest fare, but it is still a great pick, especially on those longer flights or the business-heavy transcontinental flights.

Now back to the thresholds.  As I stated above, Delta's beginning Elite level is Silver Medallion, at 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles plus the $2,500 Qualifying Revenue Threshold.  It's not that unattainable, but is it worth it?  Depends on who you ask.  Those folks looking to rack up miles at the lowest possible fare, Elite status would never be worth anything to them as they are not loyal to any particular airline.  To the folks who fly a bit more, mixing both pleasure and business trips, they might be more inclined, as they hit the first status and get a taste of the upgrades, priority baggage, higher service levels, etc, it might be worth it, if they are loyal to that carrier or alliance.  The high-end traveler, the folks who fly on business week in and week out, they hit elite status often, and usually, with multiple carriers or alliances.  I regularly deal with clients who have Platinum or higher status on multiple airlines.  Their loyalty lies with whichever airline gets them where they need to go as conveniently as possible, and those 2 or 3 airlines are very happy to have them and take care of their every need from check-in to picking up their luggage.  For them, Elite Status is not only worth it, it's a way of life (I tend to fall in this category, BUT not with multiple carriers at once).

 Also, you have to realize the airlines are replacing older, less efficient airplanes with, in most cases, smaller and more efficient aircraft, thus, evaporating a lot of capacity on a lot of routes.  American, for instance has been using their Boeing 767-200 as the mainstay workhorse for their Transcontinental flights out of New York/JFK and Boston since the mid-1980's.  These big planes held north of 220 seats and were widebody aircraft.  They are being replaced by narrowbody (one-aisle) Airbus A321 aircraft in a special 3 1/2 class layout of 102 seats.  That doesnt leave a whole lot of room for upgrades to Business or First Classes.  but then again, American has been in the Transcon game since 1938, and has decades of experience and records showing what types of loads are on what flights and thus has decided the A321 is best suited for these negotiated corporate contract-heavy flights.  That is, after all, where their bread and butter is.

So, is Elite Status really worth the trouble of racking up all the points and revenue thresholds?  It depends on who you ask...for me, it is worth it.