Airline Elite Status
The Corona Pandemic has had a drastic effect on the travel industry and airlines seem to be the hardest hit. In response to loyalty members inability to travel, many airlines are now offering status extensions to customers in addition to adjusting other aspects of their programs like reduced qualifications and increased earnings. These changes have created some interesting opportunities when it comes to loyalty program status for both airlines and hotels but I happen to be of the opinion that airline elite status is way more valuable and useful than hotel status. Yes, I know! Most people think it’s silly to chase airline status in frequent flyer programs but I disagree big time especially for luxury and or business travelers: here’s my analysis of airline status v. hotel status and my case for airline loyalty as the clear winner.
One of the best benefits of being an airline elite is the complimentary upgrade. Upgrades on flights are way more expensive than hotel upgrades. Even low level airline status offers members free upgrades to preferred seats or economy plus- which is generally priced between $40 and $160. If you are a higher level elite and you receive upgrades to premium cabins, you’re saving thousands of dollars. To give you a concrete example from AAdvantage, I booked an economy seat to from LA to NY last year for $240 and was upgraded to a $1300 lie flat seat in business. Another example was when I was upgraded from an economy seat to a lie flat seat in business from Hong kong to Dallas by simply using a few elite upgrade certificates- the discrepancy there was probably at least $2500 (though could have been 4x that amount.) When was the last time you got a hotel upgrade worth $2500 free?
Money spent goes further on hotels and the price difference between a basic and a premium room is often much less than the difference between economy and business.
- (I know everyone here loves to argue with outliers so I’ll note that this isn’t always true, especially when it comes to very high end hotels in expensive destinations.)
Flexibility: Airline Status v. Hotel Status
Flexibility is the most valuable benefit in miles and points. One of the things I continuously preach is that flexibility is the number one travel hack because Being flexible means more options and more options lead to more opportunities to save money. One of the greatest differences between flight and hotel bookings is the level of flexibility for booked travel. Flights are much less flexible and have very few inexpensive options for changing dates and times. On the other hand, most hotels allow you to change reservations until a week or even a day before your booked reservation. Sure you could save a few bucks a night by booking a prepaid or advance purchase rate but we’re talking about $10-$20 bucks- do you know how much a refundable flight costs compared to a standard fare? Depending on the flight it ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Airline Status gives elite members way more flexibility when it comes to changes and cancellations by waiving cancellation fees and allowing complimentary schedule changes. This is especially prevalent for award tickets where many will allow you to cancel award flights almost until the date of travel.
Airline Status Elite Benefits
Low Level Airline Status Gives Valuable Benefits
Even low level airline status comes with some real benefits that save time and money. Low level airline status often comes with free checked bags, priority security access, free guaranteed preferred seats and more. This is a stark contrast when it comes to low level hotel status levels (which is often mostly ignored at hotels and if there are things like priority check-in, let’s be honest it’s rarely a huge time saver.) So in order to receive benefits of comparable value with hotels you need top tier status. Unless you’re a road warrior it’s not that easy to get top hotel status because you’re spending a minimum of 60 nights.
Another huge benefit to earning status with loyalty programs is earning bonus points. Airline programs give elites with minimal status upwards of 40% bonus on miles (United and AA give their lowest level elites a 40% bonus on miles and 110-120% bonus miles for their top tiers.) Compare this with the bonus earnings on hotel stays for elites, first the points are much less valuable than miles and second the earnings are lower.
|Program||Minimum Nights||Bonus Earnings (%)|
|Hilton||60 (or stays)||100|
Get Your Elite Benefits Regardless of How You book Flights
Since airfare prices don’t change much depending on where or how you book, you’re free to shop around and book through OTA’s and discount third party sites. This includes credit card rewards portal bookings. Additionally and in complete contrast with hotel loyalty benefits, which are usually only honored for direct bookings, your elite status benefits are almost always recognized by the airline. You’ll also earn elite qualifying credit and miles on non award flights.
The flip side of this point is that hotel programs generally include award stays in your elite qualification requirements but airlines do not count award flights towards earning status.