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7 Unexpected Benefits of Maintaining Your Frequent Flyer Status

Delta Airlines caused a bit of a kerfuffle recently when it announced changes to its SkyMiles® frequent flyer program. Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Delta is cutting back on lounge access for all but the biggest-spending customers, and Delta passengers no longer earn actual “miles” for being frequent flyers. Instead, Delta Airlines’ elite status can only be earned by spending cold, hard cash.

Although other airlines still offer frequent flyer miles for actual, well, flights, the Delta changes were widely seen as an ominous sign. Will airlines start driving a harder bargain with their most loyal customers? As the air travel landscape shifts, airport lounges get more crowded and rules to gain airline status get more confusing. Some industry watchers are starting to question if it’s worth it for your personal finances to maintain frequent flyer status.

There’s no easy way to decide whether to keep or cancel your frequent flyer membership. Breaking up is hard to do, especially if it’s with a major airline you’ve been flying for many years. It all depends on how much you fly and which airline has the biggest presence at your home airport or has the most flights to your favorite destinations. The decision of whether to keep or ditch your frequent flyer status can also depend on how much you spend on airline credit cards and partner travel rewards cards, and how much value (financial, emotional, and otherwise) you feel you’re getting from the airline.

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But even though airline rule changes can be unclear and frustrating, don’t be too hasty to cut up your frequent flyer membership card. Having elite status with airlines is still one of the best ways to elevate your travel experience.

Let’s look at a few unexpected benefits of having frequent flyer elite status.

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1. Elite status with partner airlines

Being an elite status frequent flyer doesn’t just give you extra benefits with your primary airline; it can also unlock a larger world of possibilities to get deals and privileges on other airlines in an airline alliance.

For example, AAdvantage Gold® status also gives you oneworld® RubySM status. You can use your American Airlines elite status to get priority service and other experiences with oneworld’s international partner airlines like British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and more.

2. Bonus miles

Once you get elite airline status, you can earn frequent flyer miles even faster than before. That’s because airlines often give bonus miles to their elite status customers. Think of it like compound interest for your miles.

For example, United Airlines gives Premier Silver members bonus miles equivalent to 7x the miles they would ordinarily earn from booking a fare. Premier Gold members get 8x the miles, and Premier Platinum flyers get 9x the miles. Once you earn enough miles to get elite status, it gets even easier to keep earning frequent flyer miles and to keep your elite status. It’s circular logic, but in a good way! Isn’t that a perk worth keeping?

3. Bonus points to start the new year

When you get elite status with an airline, it doesn’t last forever. You have to keep earning enough loyalty points or credits to keep your status for the following year. Some airlines make this easier by giving you an advance payment of status-earning bonus points to start the new year.

For example, at the start of the new program year, United offers a “PQP deposit” of bonus Premier Qualification Points (PQPs) for existing Premier members. This is a nice head start on reaching your elite status goals for the new year.

4. Same-day flight changes

Some levels of elite airline status make it easier to change your flight in case your plans change. American Airlines AAdvantage® Platinum offers same-day standby priority, and Platinum Pro® gives you free same-day flight changes.

5. Lots of free checked bags

Tired of trying to pack light? Elite airline status lets you be extravagant and pack all your extra socks, power tools, or perhaps the actual kitchen sink. American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status provides two complimentary checked bags, and higher status levels let you check three bags for free. Never worry about baggage fees again!

6. Free upgrades for companions

Getting elite airline status is not only a good thing for you; it can help your family and friends have a better flight experience, too. That’s because many airlines offer free upgrades for your companions, even if they’re not elite status members.

For example, United Airlines lets your companion get the same upgrade you qualify for at every level of your Premier® status. But keep in mind there are some restrictions — if your companion is traveling on an award ticket, they cannot upgrade for free.

7. Priority customer service

People love to complain about airlines’ customer service, especially in extreme situations like weather delays and mass cancellations. If you dread getting trapped at the airport or having to stand in line for hours at understaffed ticketing counters, getting elite airline status could be the right move.

American Airlines AAdvantage® offers priority service and reservation assistance for all levels of elite status, from Gold to Executive Platinum. As an elite status customer, airlines are more likely to pamper you and take the extra step to make sure your trip goes smoothly. In case of delays and cancellations, elite status can be like backup travel insurance to get you in the air as soon as possible.

Gaining elite status with airlines is not easy, inexpensive, or uncomplicated. You’ll have to fly and buy a lot, navigate complex frequent flyer program rules, and be strategic about how you spend money on airline credit cards. But getting elite airline status — and keeping it — is often worth the effort. These unexpected benefits of frequent flyer status make it hard to walk away.

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