How Much Is Airline Elite Status Worth?

by on November 30, 2011 · 34 comments

in American, Continental, Delta, Elite Status, US Airways

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This is an installment in my Maximizing Elite Status series. Articles include; The Basics and Why People Mileage RunUsing ITA Matrix to Find Cheap FlightsHow Much is Elite Status Worth?, Comparing Top Tier StatusComparing Mid-Tier Status, Comparing Low Level StatusHow to Get Elite Miles Without Flying, Understanding Elite Status Bump ThresholdsThe Lowdown on Soft Landings, How to Cope with Losing Elite Status.

I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my hard earned Delta Diamond elite status lately – from 100% domestic first class upgrades (on the cheapest fares) to super friendly agents who bend the rules to make me happy – traveling with top tier status is a whole different ball game than what most people are used to when they think of domestic travel.

So I was thinking the other day – how much money is elite status worth? The real answer varies by person and is based on their travel habits, but here is my best estimate of low/middle/top tier elite status valuations. Feel free to disagree and share your thoughts! I just thought it would be a nice discussion to have, especially since this is the time of year people start deciding whether its worth it to make a dash to the next elite level, whether via promotions (like Delta’s recent buy elite miles promo) or mileage running.

Low Level Elite Status, a.k.a Silver status (Gold on American)
Generally 25,000 miles a year.
Benefits: Priority boarding, free checked bags, free priority seating (like exit rows), occasional upgrades, 25% mileage bonus on flights.
Silver status is nice, but not really world changing. You can buy it outright from US Airways for $1,499, but you can get it for free a number of other ways – like achieving million miler status, simply transferring 50,000 Amex points to Delta (expired) or having a top tier elites or corporate travel agencies gift it.
My valuation: ~$400-$500.

Mid Level Elite Status, a.k.a Gold Status (Platinum on American)
Generally 50,000 miles a year.
Benefits: All silver, plus better upgrades, free same day changes, alliance status (international lounge access), 50-100% and priority boarding
Depending on how elite heavy the routes you fly, mid-tier status can be pretty sweet in terms of upgrades. Inflated purchase price from US Airways is $2,499
My valuation: ~$900-$1,200.

Top Tier Elite Status, a.k.a Diamond/Executive Platinum/ Chairmans Preferred/ Super Elite/ 1K
Generally 100,000 miles a year (125,000 on Delta)
Benefits: All mid tier plus highest upgrade rank, valuable systemwide upgrades, enhanced award availability, truly special phone reps who are empowered to make your life easier. For a more detailed analysis, see my post on comparing top tier status amongst the main carriers.
This is the real deal- the top dogs of the sky. Having multiple elite status levels on several different carriers, it’s universal that top-tier status is leagues beyond mid tier (with the possible exception of Delta, which also has a 75,000 level Platinum, which isn’t hugely different than Diamond and they allow elite mile rollover which lowers the stakes). Inflated US Airways purchase price: $3,999.
My valuation: ~$2,800- $3,500

What are your thoughts? Am I totally off here?

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Troy

    Assuming you’re actually flying enough to re-up your status every year, and thus use it regularly, I’d actually increase those values.

    For example, when I was a DL Gold out of NYC a few years ago, I had nearly a 100% upgrade percentage, flying every couple of weeks, often to the West Coast. I certainly valued those upgrades more than $50 a pop, nevermind the bonus miles. However, although I am DL Platinum now, I basically never use it and wouldn’t pay a thing for it.

    As an Executive Platinum on AA right now, I’ve earned over 100,000 miles strictly from the elite bonus (which would also apply to a Platinum). Those miles alone are worth $1,500 to me, plus the domestic upgrades, plus the SWU’s.

  • Troy

    Assuming you’re actually flying enough to re-up your status every year, and thus use it regularly, I’d actually increase those values.

    For example, when I was a DL Gold out of NYC a few years ago, I had nearly a 100% upgrade percentage, flying every couple of weeks, often to the West Coast. I certainly valued those upgrades more than $50 a pop, nevermind the bonus miles. However, although I am DL Platinum now, I basically never use it and wouldn’t pay a thing for it.

    As an Executive Platinum on AA right now, I’ve earned over 100,000 miles strictly from the elite bonus (which would also apply to a Platinum). Those miles alone are worth $1,500 to me, plus the domestic upgrades, plus the SWU’s.

  • Guy

    I would tend to agree with Troy–I place a great deal of value on the upgrades. As a US Air Chairman, I get bumped to the front ~80% of the time. Considering much of my travel is business-related and my firm won’t pay for first class, each upgrade would cost me ~$400/segment out of pocket. If I value the upgrade at half of its cost, and assume 80% hit rate, that’s $8,000 for the upgrades alone (!).

  • Benthelefty

    Would you be willing to help a fellow TPG reader out w/ gifting a status and or an SWU? I’m just a poor 22 yr old recent college graduate after all (and I try and fly a few trips so your gift would be used!)

  • Chester White

    Maybe if you were “Bentherighty.”

  • Dave G

    Brian – are these values per airline? If so, wouldn’t that make the Centurion card worth every penny of the $2,500 yearly fee for Mid to Top tier status on multiple airlines?

  • Jspector

    My valuation is much higher… when I was just low-level United, I still got upgrades on my Boston to Chicago flights 1/3 of the time, and economy plus seats for free the other 2/3. I did that flight ~50 times in that year, so 17 * $250 (cost of upgrade) + 33 * $40 (cost of E+) = ~$5.5K. Then you add in the bonus miles on every flight, which do rack up pretty quickly. Plus the value of showing up at the airport ~30mins later each time than I would have if I’d had to wait in the regular security line.

    All depends on how much you actually fly and what routes you take (obviously some routes and some days of the week have MUCH higher upgrade hit-rates for lower level elites).

    Now as a Premier Exec for United, I value it somewhere near ~$10K.

  • David

    What then do you value DL/UA Plat?

  • KateMPH

    Its hard to put a value on the added comfort or time savings from having elite status. People swarm around the gates like cattle anymore now (even if they board last) – fighting to get a place for their luggage in the overhead bins. My flights are rarely empty, making upgrades even more valuable. My partner always gets nervous as we skip lines, but hey, I earned it!

  • Andrew L

    That’s actually a really good point. It is an incredible value for someone who flies fairly often but spreads his travel over the various partner airlines.
    I know someone with a Centurion card. I think I will ask him to add me as a additional cardholder and I’ll just give him the $1500.

  • Anonimouse

    I would adjust these values for how often people fly. For example, earning Gold on AA because visa problems in country X led me to have to return home twice was valuable, in the elite bonuses and exit-row seats (and now preferred seating) and waived baggage fees. It wasn’t too valuable, however, because I didn’t fly AA much in the following year. Thus perhaps segmentation or interval estimates according to number of flights per year is in order. Being 1K one year and then being reassigned to a job that required less travel wouldn’t make keeping that status worth $2,000.

  • Rocky Horan

    As a Plt DL flyer I would say my upgrades from LAX are only about 75% of the time. Recently I flew to CVG from LAX and back to LAX from ATL. As a Platinum flyer I was 20+ on the upgrade list both ways! I couldn’t believe it! I feel bad for the Golds, you know they never get upgraded any more! But when I am upgraded it is 100% worth it! Also the agents will do a lot more for you! For example on my ATL to LAX flight, they boarded the plane, plane had a problem, had to do a change of equipment. I called the Elite desk, they immediately placed me on a different flight, I got the last seat, to a different airport in the LA Area, sure it a middle economy seat, but I got out of ATL almost 2 hours earlier than if I would of sat on the broken plane. Also as I deplaned, I told the FA I was on the phone with the Elite desk and they were changing my flights, and they were more than happy to let me off the plane when they saw my status, meanwhile everyone else was told to stay seated! In addition, they then sent me an email an apologized that I was stuck in the middle and gave me a mile bonus! A total perk!

    Also the Elite desk has matched a lower fare for me multiple times after buying tickets weeks later, lowering my fare and leaving me with large vouchers for future use!

    Only problem with Delta is they system wide upgrades are the WORST in the industry!

  • Siyuan Edward Wang

    It is so true that the value of elite status depends much on your travel pattern. I definitely value my super elite status with Air Canada/Aeroplan much more than $3,500 a year. In addition to lounge access, which is couple hundred dollars with UA/CO/US, I typically get 5-6 upgrades on my transpacific flights. — That’s an easy $7,000-$12,000 out there. Plus their concierge at airports are so helpful in making travel less stressful. Although Aeroplan miles have been constantly devaluated over the past two years, the benefit of super elite itself makes the whole thing well worth it.

  • George

    Just a few trips a year and you want status?

  • bgiagg

    How much would you value DL PM, and more importantly, how much difference would you put between DM and PM? I have been getting >80% upgrades as PM. Now I am only 2k short of DM with no more trip planned, I wonder.if I need to buy them for $295 to reach DM or roll the 48k to next year

  • Info

    I’m gold elite on AA (nearly platinum), and the free bags are worth a lot to me. The exit rows are a grreat perk, but free bags save me over 100.00 per trip.

  • Bucky_Katt

    According to Delta, Diamond Elite Status for two people has a value of just under $8K (basically the same pricing as the inflated US Airways purchase price you cited), at least when you’re giving them to the Governor of Georgia, who has just granted you a $30 million tax break on fuel taxes. I’m sure the gift was entirely coincidental.

  • mendy

    I have about 65,000 and just signed up for the delta amex platinum with a 15,000 mqm bonus after spending $1500.

    I am debating hitting platinum or rolling over with 15,000 and then spending $1500 to get another 15,000 this way making it easier for me to hit Gold/Plat next year.

    I fly on the east cost primarily and as gold I get upgrade 85% of the time. Is Plat that big of a difference that its worthwhile?

    Any thoughts would be great.

  • Joe

    Mendy – I’m only a lowly Silver and on the edge of getting Gold and I’m upgraded often. I can’t imagine Gold being much different than Plat.

    On that note, where did you get the 15k mqm bonus offer? I’ve been waiting for something like that.


  • Anonymous

    >>People swarm around the gates like cattle

    Which is a highly salable photo opp., depending on one’s profession…

  • Matt

    LA is a special case, Rocky, for really bad upgrade odds. As a combination Gold/Plat, I’ve missed something like 3 of my last 25 (I think half or so were gold, the remainder plat) upgrades, all involving LA. As a Gold earlier in the year I was more or less 50/50. (second half success I attribute to the combination of getting to Plat and also flying less elite-heavy routes for whatever reason).

  • Matt

    Assuming you’re flying the miles and flying e.g. Delta where the mid-tier mileage bonus is 100% and silver is 25%, if you value the miles at 1.5cpm and flying right at the 50k level, there’s almost $600 difference between the two just in redeemable miles, and without putting any value on the other substantial perks received. I’d say you’re overvaluing silver, undervaluing gold, or some combination of the two.

    I’ll speak to Delta as that’s my program, but I guess I’d value Silver at say $130 for the extra miles (assuming you’re going to fly ~35k), plus the $95 fee for the gold delta amex, plus some amount for preferred seating, upgrades depending on flying pattern, and non bottom-of-the-barrel IROPS treatment, say $150 (but this is very dependent on when and how much you fly). I’ll call it 3-400.

    Priority security, intl lounge, free SDC, and better upgrades can easily be worth $500, I think, so at least on Delta I get to somewhere in the $1500+ value range for Gold. That passes the smell test for me – as someone who fairly recently went from a “nobody” to silver to gold to platinum, Gold is easily more than twice as good as silver – 3x+ feels reasonable. All of this is assuming you fly in the approximate mileage range of the status.

    At the top, I’d probably give a wider spread based on the difference in value of things like SWUs, that can range from very lucrative to nearly useless depending on airline and travel pattern.

  • Matt

    It depends on your travel plan, but generally the value, beyond specific earned items like swus, is in having an elite status you can leverage for your travel. If you have a lot of travel that is not amenable to aggregating on one airline, then it makes sense to split business. Similarly if you can double top/high tier.

    Otherwise you’re just duplicating predominantly per-trip benefits when you can only fly on carrier at once, at the possible expense of higher and more valuable status.

  • Darren

    Even if you’re only flying six transcontinental flights a year to get to your 25,000-mile threshold for Silver status on DL, if you check one bag each time you’re saving $300 (6 x 2 x $25). Most people, of course, will be achieving their status through even more flights unless you throw in international travel. And if you’re not flying elite-heavy routes, your upgrade percentage will be decent even if not great. I’m not sure what monetary value I’d assign to FO status, but I’d say it’s a bit higher than what you propose.

  • Matt

    The problem with that calculation is that not everyone checks bags, and if you do a $95 annual fee amex can provide is as well.

    And as far as upgrades are concerned…that’s going to vary by market, but in my experience you’re overstating the odds.

  • Allamericanman

    I think you should add the value of using the miles for personal vacations/trips. As a DL frequent flyer to Asia, I have several miles to use and have given them to my parents and my wife and 2 kids to use over then past year saving us an estimated $6-7k this year in ticket expenses!

  • Brett

    UAL’s is the best for the lowest tier. They give you Premier Access, while Delta does Not give their Silver Medallion Members SkyPriority Privileges.

  • AS

    I am a Diamond on DElta as well.
    Let’s not forget that we can gift Gold Status to a companion which is also valuable…..

  • RB

    I think you’ve WAY overvalued the premier levels (e.g. USAirways Chairman’s Preferred). The systemwide upgrades are essential useless, as there is never any seats available for upgrade using those worthless pieces of paper, and that is the only truly valuable aspect of the program. Even the lowest tier preferred and credit card holders get the most important benefit of all, which is priority boarding.

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  • N0409

    on American Airlines Files for Bankruptcy 3 weeks ago

    Just in case anyone is wanting to dish off their AAdvantage miles at a low cost, you have an interested buyer (you could book a reward flight or whatever else for me in exchange for $). Let me know :)

    you said this two weeks ago.
    If you poor use your money for rent and food.
    not trying to be a bottom feeder and purchaing miles.
    you sound like a mileage broker to me

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