Is Elite Status Worth Being Loyal to a Single Airline?
TPG reader Josh sent me a message on Facebook to ask about being a frequent flyer:
“I love to travel abroad and always try to fly United, but other airlines seem like better options for a few big trips I'm planning. I also haven't been able to accrue as many United miles as I would like with the new earning system. Is it still worth being loyal to one airline in order to earn elite status now that I no longer travel for work?”
There are good reasons why airline elite status is highly prized among frequent flyers. Perks like upgrades, mileage bonuses and waived fees can save you money and make your travel experience more comfortable, and some people will go to great lengths to earn or maintain status. However, the true value of those benefits depends on your travel patterns, and it's good to have a clear sense of what you'll get out of elite status before you decide how much effort to put into earning it.
I get a lot of value out of the AAdvantage program and Executive Platinum status, but that's partly because of how much I travel, especially out of American's hub in Miami. Elite benefits aren't worth much unless you actually use them. If I were flying only a few times each year, I'd probably forego loyalty and just pick whichever airline was least expensive and most convenient for a given trip — I still do that sometimes anyway.
If you fly often, then deciding whether to remain loyal to one airline is a bit tougher. High-level status can offer some incredibly lucrative benefits, such as the Global Premier Upgrades you get with United Premier 1K. I think you can justify an extra layover or a slightly higher price from time to time if it helps you reach the upper tiers of your frequent flyer program. If it only means the difference between low-level status or none at all, then there's much less reason to go out of your way.
As for earning miles, there's been less incentive to remain loyal on that front since Delta and United introduced revenue-based mileage in 2015 (with American set to follow later this year). Leisure travelers are generally earning fewer miles from flying, and there's more to be gained by maximizing spending and getting in on the top credit card sign-up bonuses than working toward elite status for a higher earning rate. If you're determined to stick with one airline, do it for the elite benefits and not the extra miles.
Check out these posts for more discussion about choosing (and staying loyal to) airline programs:
- How to Choose the Best Airline for Your Business Travel
- Should I Give My Loyalty to American or Delta?
- Should Spouses Be Loyal to the Same or Different Airlines?