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While I often travel solo, I do love traveling with friends and family, and having companions along for the ride is even sweeter when I can share my elite benefits with them. Today, TPG Senior Points and Miles Correspondent Jason Steele explains which elite benefits let you share the love, along with the extra legroom.
When I think of elite airline status, I often think of the Ryan Binghams of the world – solitary road warriors who fly regularly for business. Yet, there are still many travelers earn elite status primarily through leisure travel, and who use that status for travel with their families.
Elite status can be particularly beneficial to family travelers, who may be able to spread their benefits across several passengers to spare their less experienced family members some of the hassles of travel. In this post, I’ll look at elite status benefits that can extend to families (or other groups) traveling together, and explain how each benefit can be applied.
There are actually several elite status benefits that apply in practice to families traveling together, even if it’s not specified in the program rules. For example:
- Access to a special reservations line. Once passengers reach elite status, their calls are transferred more quickly, and they usually get to speak with more senior reservations agents. The person with elite status can use this benefit to book or change their own travel, or another family member’s reservation.
- Priority check-in. If one family member has elite status, the entire family can use the priority check-in line at the airport.
- Priority baggage delivery. When checking bags with someone who holds elite status on the reservation, agents typically apply priority tags to the luggage of all passengers in the party.
- Priority security screening. If one family member has elite status, most airports will allow others in the party to use the priority security screening line.
- Increased award availability. Travelers with elite status sometimes see more award space at the lowest mileage levels, and they can book these seats for themselves and others when traveling together.
- Reduced or waived fees. The fee waivers or discounts for close-in award booking, changes, and redeposits are typically based on the elite status of the person whose miles are being used, not the traveler.
Specific elite benefits that extend to families:
American extends elite status benefits to family members in the following ways:
- Systemwide upgrades are valid for any passenger. You can give them to anyone, even if you’re not traveling with them.
- 500 mile upgrades can be used to upgrade multiple companions traveling together, but in 2015, only one companion traveling with you on the same flight will be able to use 500-mile upgrades.
- Main Cabin Extra seat upgrades are available for up to eight companions traveling together.
- Preferred seats are available to travelers on the same reservation.
Delta offers the following Medallion benefits that extend to families:
- Medallion Complimentary Upgrades are offered to companions, but only for paid tickets, not mileage awards or pay-with-miles tickets. Even then, companion upgrades are only offered within 24 hours of departure, and are based on the fare class purchased.
- Complimentary Preferred seats are offered to companions of those with elite status.
- Economy Comfort seats are offered to companions of those with elite status.
- System Wide, Global, and Regional upgrade certificates can be used for the named Medallion member and up to one travel companion on the same reservation; each companion requires the use of a separate certificate.
- SkyClub day passes are transferable, as are Delta Gift cards.
- Gifting Medallion status is a key benefit that Platinum and Diamond Medallion members can offer a family member.
- The Crossover Rewards partnership with Starwood hotels has obvious benefits for families traveling together who receive the equivalent of SPG Gold status.
United offers the following Premier benefits that extend to families:
- Economy Plus seating is available to Premier Silver and Gold members as well as one companion, while Premier Platinum and 1K members can extend this benefit to up to eight others traveling together.
- MileagePlus Upgrade Awards, Global Premier Upgrades, and Regional Premier Upgrades can be used by others even when not traveling with the elite member.
- Complimentary upgrades are available for one companion not traveling on an award ticket.
- The United-Marriott partnership RewardsPlus offers Marriott Gold status to United MileagePlus Gold elites and higher, and the whole family can enjoy these benefits when staying together at Marriott properties.
Southwest does not extend A-List or A-List Preferred benefits to companions without status, even when using the Companion Pass.
Alaska offers the following benefits to families:
- Complimentary upgrades: MVP Gold and Gold 75K members may upgrade one companion traveling with them on the same flight and booked in the same class of service. Travelers can even link two separate reservations and then request a companion upgrade.
- MVP Gold Guest Upgrades are given to MVP Gold members to upgrade friends or family members who are not traveling with them, or for their own immediate upgrade when not purchasing a qualifying fare.
- Checked bag fee waivers for elite members apply to those traveling on the same reservation.
- MVP Gold 75K members can also extend MVP status to a friend or family member.
- MVP Gold 75K members receive four lounge club passes annually that can be used by family members.
Frontier will not be extending any elite perks of its Early Returns program to traveling companions in 2015.
Hawaiian allows Pualani Platinum members to use additional certificates to upgrade their travel companions on the same reservation.
Virgin America does not appear to offer any benefits of elite status to families or other traveling companions.
JetBlue offers passengers with Mosaic status and their companions two free checked bags instead of one.
There are some considerable benefits to family travelers when at least one person in the party has elite status. Certainly, families can piggyback on an elite member using priority telephone customer service, check-in, security, boarding, and baggage delivery. Beyond that, the best benefit is probably the ability to gift Delta status to a companion (for Platinum and Diamond elites), and upgrades to Economy Comfort (and even first class) companions.
United and American allow companions access to their premium economy products, but not first class unless using an upgrade instrument. Outside of those three major programs, the other carriers extend few (if any) elite benefits to family travelers.
While I have argued that elite status is not necessary for many travelers, families traveling together on paid economy tickets on a legacy carrier can certainly receive valuable benefits, even if just one of them has elite status.
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