How Much Is Airline Elite Status Worth?

Nov 30, 2011

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This is an installment in my Maximizing Elite Status series. Articles include; The Basics and Why People Mileage Run, Using ITA Matrix to Find Cheap Flights, How Much is Elite Status Worth?, Comparing Top Tier Status, Comparing Mid-Tier Status, Comparing Low Level StatusHow to Get Elite Miles Without Flying, Understanding Elite Status Bump Thresholds, The 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?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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