I give up on elite status…

Last night I was on the phone with a friend trying to plan mileage runs, and I spoke five words I never thought I’d say — “I give up on status.” Let me ‘splain.

About a week ago I wrote a post about how I was trying to decide between going for 150K miles with American, which qualifies me for their maximum “Elite Rewards,” or going for Alaska MVP Gold 75K, which gets me higher upgrade priority with Alaska and 50K bonus miles. Assuming I plan on requalifying for Executive Platinum with American and MVP Gold with Alaska, the marginal flying to reach those higher thresholds is totally justifiable and almost a no brainer. For flying 50,000 extra miles on American I’d earn a total of 170,000 redeemable miles factoring in the Elite Rewards, while for flying an additional 40,000 miles on Alaska I’d earn an additional 130,000 miles. How could I possibly turn either of those down?!

So I said “fine, I’ll do them both.” I crunched the numbers and realized that meant I’d have to fly roughly another 150,000 miles this year on revenue flights, given that a vast majority of my travel the first half of the year was on award flights. I started looking at mileage runs, and found some fares between Los Angeles and Beijing via Chicago on American for about $700, and even less when I applied one of the 10% off codes from American’s promotion earlier this week. Not only is that a great fare, but I can do two of those in a week, so can knock out over 35,000 miles in a week and use my American systemwide upgrades to upgrade to business class.

But then I thought to myself that that’s four longhaul flights back to back in angled business class seats with no wifi, so I’m losing quite a bit of “productivity” by doing that. Then I turned my focus to mileage runs that would encompass the 777-300ER, not just for the fully flat beds, but for the wifi. Okay, I could pay an extra $200 roundtrip and give up some miles to fly the 777-300ER to Sao Paulo. That premium is worth it to me in theory, but at that point is it really a “mileage run” anymore when you’re paying over six cents per mile?

At that point I got frustrated and just asked myself why I even bother going for status. I have roughly four million miles and points across programs (nothing compared to others, and sadly quite a few of them are Hilton HHonors points), and they’re constantly devaluing. So why on earth would I sit myself down on a plane with an angled flat business class seat for almost a week straight so I can start to get close to my mileage goal, when I could be redeeming millions of miles for Singapore Suites and similarly awesome products.

Heck, and even if I didn’t have miles, US Airways is almost always selling miles for 1.88 cents each, and for 90,000 miles you can travel from the US to Asia via Europe with a stopover there. So why would I mileage run to earn miles, when I can for $1,700 outright purchase a business class trip to Asia and even stop in Europe enroute if I wanted to?

It just seems silly. When I started mileage running it made sense on so many levels. I could mileage run at a cost that was 50% lower than it is now, and on top of that the airlines had crazy promotions. When I first started mileage running about eight years ago, there was an offer for 5,000 bonus elite qualifying and redeemable miles per segment flown. For the next several years we saw a double elite qualifying miles promotion almost every year, plus promotions for bonus redeemable miles.

And on top of that I was a cent per mile “purist.” It was all about the almighty cent per mile. I would’ve flown a regional jet from Miami to Shanghai if it meant my cent per mile ratio was 0.01 lower. And on top of all that, I was about 15 and there wasn’t much productivity I was giving up by mileage running (unless you consider posting on FlyerTalk to be “productive”).

But just as quickly as I was about to write off status, I remember where status is almost a necessity — for domestic flying. I have to do a fair bit of domestic travel, and I think that’s really where the value of status shines, between upgrades, priority security lines, priority boarding, priority rebooking, etc. I’d hate to give all that up. And with Alaska it’s even better, since they let you cancel revenue tickets for free and have a generous same day change policy, which is extremely useful for my short-haul travel.

Anyway, my buddy beaubo always makes the case against status, and I’ve always just written his argument off a bit (not him, but the argument). But for the first time ever I think he may be on to something…

Just some random ramblings… anyone else ever feel this way?

Filed Under: Advice, Mileage Runs
  1. If the new AA/US AAdvantage program matches DL and UA by implementing revenue tiers for qualification (in addition the the current mileage tiers), I think a lot of us who chase status are going to start asking the same question of “is it still worth it?”

  2. For international travel, you’re right, for now as long as earning/buying miles is cheap elite status doesn’t help much. But the ability to waive award change fees is the carrot for me.

    Domestic…interesting question. It’s really the preferred coach seating and priority lanes that make the difference. Upgrades…unless it’s a premium transcon there just isn’t much left to make first class all that special.

    This written from someone planning to maintain 1K on United and Plat on Delta, and now considering a 25k EXP challenge on AA.

    It’s addictive.

  3. I have seven million miles and there’s no way I can justify flying revenue.
    I’ve been flying award first class and the status doesn’t matter anymore.

  4. I would drop it. I’m personally more interested in reviews of interesting destinations and exotic airlines rather than the lounge and all the usual suspect business class cabins. Enjoy your weekends and do a run to CVS rather.

  5. I feel status gives a ton of benefits, even when traveling on international award tickets. Among other things you have many, many more resources and priority when something goes wrong. When you travel, things do go wrong periodically, whether it’s your fault, the airline’s or the ground transport. Status makes it easier to make changes. And like you I have to do plenty of domestic travel too. Things just go easier, faster, and more reliably when you have status.

  6. The fact of the matter is that most of the domestic benefits you get from elite status can be purchased – or garnered through a credit card. Then, free award changes are valuable – but with those “only” costing ~$150 a pop, is it worth X thousands of dollars to keep EXP or 1K or DM when you might not even make up the cost difference in award changes + purchased elite benefits? And of course, let’s not forget the dollar value of your time spent hauling back and forth across the Pacific Ocean…

    But, like Greg says – this is coming from a DM, EXP, and Premier Platinum, so I’m not sure I have room to talk. But I am considering 100K BIS for EXP in 1Q14 just to keep that…

  7. I’ve been feeling the same way this year. I passed on the recent deals to Miami despite prices under 3 CPM. I said “I don’t want to go to Miami anymore. I’m tired.” So I’ll pay more and visit Europe or Asia. Not so much a MR, but it’s at least a cheap vacation.

  8. This blog should be retitled “one waste of time”. You’re at the point where most of your revenue miles are mileage runs. What’s the point of that?

  9. Lucky,
    You can stay home more fly more aspirational products and quit mileage runs. Been there.
    DL PM is enough for most domestic flights.
    UA and AA and US miles go towards great family trips.
    So for us the business trips are on DL; the fun trips with miles are on Non-DL awards.

  10. Yes, I totally agree. Obviously our situations are a little different, but the cost of being gone from family/work/friends/pets etc. is too high when there is too much mileage running to be done just for the sake of status.

    I absolutely think it is worth it if it only requires a short trip or two, but beyond that pure mileage runs would make me lose my mind.

  11. Yeah, that’s exactly it. I have given up on status. I don’t need it. I can spend the same amount of time, make more money, and buy what I need. Plus use the miles I have. Why do I need status if I’m booking first/business anyway? I get everything they get without it. And this way I have flexibility instead of being tied to an airline. The economy is back, people who formerly thought they couldn’t make more money should think again. They could be pleasantly surprised. Cash is more flexible than miles and helps your work history/portfolio. Meanwhile status gets you less and less anyway…

  12. I had CO Plat for many years and then UA 1K for a few more; mortified about loosing status and worrying about keeping my “status”.
    Once UA devalued it status (all across the board) I stopped trying to get to 1K;
    I currently have lifetime gold, I pay for lounge with UA and enjoy my new credit card bonuses. I pay for upgrades with money or miles.
    Life is so much better when you don’t worry about “status” – at least for now.

  13. And yes, thank you Ben for giving us all the insight about miles, points and bringing us some of the best cards around.

  14. Ben,

    Put it this way my friend, I could give you all the airline status in the world, SQ PPS, LH Sen for life blah blah blah whatever 40 million miler etc… but what perks will you have over a points redeemer who flies in the same cabin as you? Absolutely nothing except perhaps an extra hello from the purser. Its a case of do the ends justify the means as you’ve heard ad nauseum in college. I think you should tune your focus on how to procure miles for cheap and then kick it from there. you can still review a billion new J class/ F class products that way, which is sorta what your blog is about no? Airline status is not very useful.. all you really need is an Aegean Star Gold and perhaps match it with oneworld and then you’re all set. screw chasing and butting in all those BIS miles… I’ve paid for maybe five revenue tickets in the past five years and probably three of them have been under $100USD so i figured i’ll save my miles. BIS miles are simply not worth it.. ends do not justify said means.

  15. Very interesting and thought provoking topic. I started the mileage game much later than most; have only been in the game a few years. I still enjoy the game, albeit hate the wedgie seats in AA business. It has been very difficult this year to find anything decent on AA for running. I have to LAX-ATL R/Ts and one LAX-BDL R/T booked and 9 business trips left to go this year so I will make EXP again this year but this has been my most difficult year to requalify. I truly do love the game, seeing new destinations and fully agree that status on domestic flights is worth it….

  16. “Just some random ramblings… anyone else ever feel this way?”

    Yup. Mileage running at 6 CPM isn’t worth it when a business/first class redemption gives you most of the same benefits.

    Welcome to the dark side.

  17. Also, on a < 3 hour flight, F gives me very, very little over Y. So there's transcons… and… that's about it.

  18. I largely agree. I look at my travel projection for the coming year and what I’m likely to need in terms of elite benefits, and set my goals accordingly. As a United flier who used to live in Hawaii, I had a very compelling reason to get high upgrade priority, and the narrow travel windows to/from Hawaii also made for a high premium on IRROPS priority. I couldn’t afford to let my trips slide by a whole day.

    However, I’m about to move to the middle of the country, so just about every domestic flight is going to be a midcon at most. Do I really need high upgrade priority for those? Better to just get 50k miles to renew *Gold for international travel, then redirect the rest of my miles elsewhere. Or just not travel, and enjoy being at home every once in a while!

    (Of course, it doesn’t help that I also can’t seem to use my GPUs to save my life…)

  19. I’ll be the contrarian — you’re requalifying so we are just debating the bump up to 150k – flying an additional 50k for 170k redeemables — which are worth what exactly? 1.8 cents each or about $3000. You can definitely fly 50k on AA for $2000-2400 so they are paying you to fly! You can take some fun trips and have that money reimbursed! What’s the problem? Oh you won’t have wifi? Weep, weep. Yes, for ten hours you won’t have wifi! What ELSE could you possibly do during that time?

  20. I am an ex-EXP! ex everything actually. Just bought some tix from CLT-DFW-SAT.

    Between the bennies from my Citi AAdvantage card and paying $29 for an exit row, I saved a lot money instead of doing MRs for some measure of status. Clearly YMMV.

  21. Any time I have to call Air Canada as a non-elite, usually requiring at least 45 minutes to wait for an agent, I am reminded how valuable status can be; as a 1K I almost never have to wait more than a minute to reach an agent at UA. Similarly, any time I change an award ticket for free when better options open up, I realize how valuable status can be. Some perks like lounge access and priority boarding can be bought, directly or indirectly. Others can’t.

  22. Oh, and NEXUS gives me TSA Pre✓. So there’s getting through the lines. I travel light, so no checked bags (often weekend trips can be in a single backpack that fits in a seat if need be). I’ve survived US and UA E-. And SEA doesn’t get ***ed up weather very often, and it’s easy to avoid SFO, ORD, NYC, places where wx irrops happens.

  23. ” What ELSE could you possibly do during that time?”

    Making money for his business?

  24. Airlines are overplaying their hands. Status has never been more expensive to achieve nor more lacking in benefits.

    This year is officially the turning point where status becomes a fool’s game when compared to credit cards for points. Spending weeks in the air and $11,000 for top tier status makes no sense when you can just get a handfull of credit cards and take only the trips you want in Singapore suites.

  25. Status??? Well, it used to be status. Status means “a position in relation to others”. When everyone around you have elite level with an airline that is not status anymore. It is commodity!!!! I fly Delta 🙁 and in many cases I see Diamonds not being upgrade in domestic flight because there are more people holding a Diamond card then seats in first class. Thus, who cares? Today I could care less for elite status. I have AA Gold for life and that is more than enough when flying with family on vacation since it gives me free luggage. If I decide to fly Delta I have the Amex Reserve card that gives me almost all benefits I would get with elite status. For business I always fly international business class so having elite status doesn’t add anything. I get free lounge with my Amex Platinum and thus I am covered. In sum, elite status is for those who almost never fly and need to show off a card to others.

  26. I gave up elite status many years ago, mostly since 90% of my flights are last minute and are award tickets (prefer that way). Thanks to all major carriers to allow the award-flight-tranveller to inherit the status of the account-holder who books the tickets. Due to this, I am basically able to book the tickets from a family member’s account who holds status and enjoy all status benefits. In return, I usually buy them a ton of miles (often 100k+/year) and they have the option of using them for their own travel when needed.

  27. Is Lucky growing up? This makes total sense and I do agree I wouldn’t give up all Elite status since I fly domestically a ton. But why shoot for the stars with the highest level?

    I’m quite happy with my gold status on AA and would NEVER do a mileage run to just get to platinum. I don’t see the added benefits worth the money. I simply can’t make Ex Plat with the flying I do, although the System Wides are enticing and if I were super close I could see going for it.

    But at gold.. I get lots of priorities (check-in, security, boarding and seating) and same day standby which I love… saves me money.. I book on cheap flights and 99% of the time then fly whenever I want.

    Even when I loose main cabin extra in 2014 (Is that happening), I can buy it at a discount.. much cheaper than all the flights it would take me to get to Platinum so I could get it for “Free”. And like everyone else, when I go all out, I’m using award miles so none of this matters.

    My fear is… us low level elites will continue to lose privileges… then I will need to rethink. But for now, I am happy to be at the lowest of the elites. I spend very little money (cuz I search and track fares like an obsession) and get lots of benefits. And I get to go cool places and see friends while doing it.

  28. Status is everything use the partners silver status for award flights nothing available us my plat+ “what flight and class do you require?” Doesn’t your award availability change by status, try booking an award without you status on AA and see what’s available with out it I would have to book QF SYD-LAX 11 months ahead as opposed to one or two weeks out.

  29. I’m glad I read the comments on this post. I didn’t realize so many people agree with me. Paying for elite status makes sense for very few people.

  30. I gave up chasing status 3 years ago once I hit 2MM on AA. I now do what most have been saying. Credit card spend or I simply buy F/C. I spend more time and home. I play more golf and could care less.

  31. As AA EXP, I have been burning miles this year. My revenue flights barely qualified me for Gold on AA. I have thoughts about doing MRs, but decided against it. The cost and benefits are no longer worth while for me.

  32. 1) Times change and for the past couple years and for the foreseeable future I don’t think elite status is that useful for many of the reasons already stated. That may (and probably will) shift course again in future. Status is little more than a participation medal now.

    2) Now that I am partner/alliance indifferent, not only do I travel when I want to travel, but I have been able to try many more products than during the status days.

  33. Hey Ben– funny you mention this. John and I are both moving quickly in the same direction… especially if we’re not flying so much next year, why invest all the effort when it’s easier to earn and burn miles? But yeah, for our domestic flights (especially John’s work in the Virgin Islands), it’s tough to think about giving up free upgrades and the airport perks. Let me know when you find a perfect solution, m’kay? 🙂 E

  34. Ben

    You have all the miles you need. Instead of wasting time on airplanes going to the same old places over and over, how about some mileage runs to nightclubs, bars, having fun with friends. Or getting drunk, going to lots of parties, doing things that young men do. You are very young, enjoy these years as they wont come back.

    You can always do tons mileage run later on in life. Those places will be there!

    Enjoy your youth !

  35. From my seat, what makes sense is being opportunistic. I think the airline status game is a tough one. I will occasionally though look to take connecting flights with longer routes to accrue more miles when I could otherwise fly a shorter direct route.

    I feel much differently about hotel status, which is a much easier game. I love exploring hotels and I have no problem with turning a 3-night trip into 3 different qualifying stays by hopping from hotel to hotel in the same loyalty program in order to accelerate my qualification for status based on number of stays while not spending any additional money.

  36. If you are a business traveler and your employer is paying for your flights I can see why status would matter. But for leisure travelers there’s not much status would give me that I can’t already get from credit cards. If I can get enough credit card miles to redeem J class on long haul flights, get into lounges with either the J class BP or Priority Pass and get priority boarding from the UA Explorer card so we can put our carry-on backpacks in the overhead bin on a Y flight we are happy with that.

  37. Also, there is value in being a travel blogger…and having status gives more potential content.

  38. I would definitely get the Aegean gold status and use that for status match to other alliances if you fly other airlines apart from SA. The most critical benefit is award change and redeposit fees and I keep a budget of $300-$500 a year for these fees. These are unavoidable sometimes but i feel the cost of redepositing miles is much cheaper and a lower hassle than flying to get 75k miles to have these fees waived

  39. I have both EXP and 1K but I would not MR to get both. Even if I often fly paid J by my employer there is no way I am in the galleries first when transiting LHR or in QF first lounge in Sydney. Also in the last 12 months I have received OPUPs to QF A380 First, to BA economy comfort and to LAN international biz. These things do not happen without Oneworld Emerald. As for UAL their top tier doesn’t get you much anymore, their GPUs are hard to use so I end up using them on domestic routes I know won’t clear. I now have TK for star gold and the only reason to fly UAL is for domestic convenience or price. I will ensure I achieve EXP because it actually provides value and recognition. If I had to plan an AA MR I would make it a mini vacation versus a turn and burn. Hopefully AAdvantage stays the best high level elite program after the coming merger.

  40. I gave up on status two years ago. Just not worth the hassle when free miles are so easy to obtain.

  41. It depends on how big you are – upgrades or at least exit row or tourist plus seats are a necessity. However, I think that mid-tier status is fine for my needs.

    More generally, it is not erosion of status benefits that is the significant trend. The biggest erosion is in the treatment of the hoi polloi – non-status passengers, especially those without affiliated credit cards. I would not like to be treated how I see them being treated on a regular basis.

  42. Lucky elite status is definitely getting worse by the day. In particular, I believe two of the programs AA and AS are both on a downward trend as well.

    AA – soon to be merging with US. I would argue that we likely will see the end of systemwide upgrades from any fare, a reduction in the quality of AA domestic F (think US no food on 3 hour flights etc) and other reductions (maybe fewer systemwides or higher copays with miles or no upgrades with miles etc) If I was a betting man, I would believe that in 2 years from now AA Ex Plat status will be less valuable then it is now.

    AS – I was a MVP Gold for years. However gave up when I switched my loyalty to AA. As a AS MVP Gold or 75K, I would expect an upgrade Seattle-New York, Boston or Washington to be rare, especially when I often fly (weekends, summer holidays and Christmas). AS upgrades are much more consistent on say SEA-SFO or LAX but on a short flight like that I would take a bulk head or exit row and WiFi over a seat if F with no WiFi.

    You have what 2 or 3 million miles. SPEND THEM. Having the miles and not using them reduces your value to 0 cents per mile. Although redemptions CAN be in the 10cents-per mile ++ range, not using them or using them to go to the places when and where you want to go a more reasonable value is probably about 1.5ish CPM. Spending 6 to get the miles and status JUST IS NOT WORTH IT.

  43. TSA Precheck has significantly reduced my feeling of urgency of getting status, I have to admit. There are still a lot of other nice benefits to status of course, but Precheck and lounge access through Amex Platinum does get a lot of benefit.

  44. One thing not mentioned here is AA GLD vs PLT. One big benefit of PLT is 100% mileage bonus on all flights. I’m lifetime, but we still run for my wife who is about 75k away from LT also, or rather she runs, I go along on awards – where we WANT to go. Generally we’ll pay domestic and award high value international. Status, for other than the int’l lounge access intraeurope and the 100% bonus seems not worth the effort to run for EXP, even with the eVIPs. And the extra op-ups you occasionally get on other airlines is moot if you are in front to begin with! Too many miles banked that need burning.

    Having said that, I’m finally getting to go to Australia, but I no longer have EXP for a taste of Qantas’ F lounge. It’s not worth an extra $5-10k spend a year, I’m quite sure.

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