How Can I Earn More Segments Toward Elite Status?
"Reader Questions" are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.
The majority of folks who earn elite status do it based on miles flown, but the major airline programs also offer the option to qualify based on the number of flights you take, which are known as "segments." TPG reader Joe wonders if there's a way to increase his segments without paying a lot more.
[pullquote source="TPG Reader Joe"]I am a business traveler but I earn my status with segments. Are there ways to rack up segments without breaking the bank?[/pullquote]
Most people want to get to their destination with as few stops as possible, so most flight search engines such as Orbitz and Expedia are designed to find options with less segments, not more. But that doesn't mean there isn't a way to override that setting.
In fact, our old favorite Google Flights is a great tool for doing this. When you put a search into Google Flights, it's engineered to show you what it considers to be the "best" choices, which usually means the cheapest flights with the most convenience and fewest stops.
For instance, here's a search for a one-way flight on American Airlines between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles (LAX)...
Putting aside any schedule considerations, the cheapest flights are two early morning nonstop options at $144. That would be just one segment. A little further down the list we see several one-stop options for just $5-$10 more. Any of those would earn you two segments.
But Google Flights is trying to help us by only showing the shortest and cheapest trips, and since we actually want longer itineraries in this case, we need to override that. We can do so by scrolling all the way to the bottom of the search results, where there's an option to "Show 39 longer or more expensive flights."
Click on that, and all of sudden our results change and reveal a lot more flights...
Now we can see additional itineraries (which are slightly shaded in the results), and there are several two-stop options going through Charlotte (CLT) and Phoenix (PHX), each of which would earn three segments toward American elite status. And in this case, choosing any of them would only cost $11 more than the cheapest AA flight available. So if you've got the time to make more stops, this would be a great chance to tack on the extra segments while just paying a few more bucks.
Obviously, the major downside of this technique is that you'll be getting to your destination a lot slower than by just going direct, so you probably won't want to use this as an everyday strategy for earning status. But if you tend to fly a lot of short flights on a regular basis — think New York to Boston (BOS) or Los Angeles to San Francisco (SFO) — and just need to pick up a few extra segments here and there, it might be worth taking a look at your options when booking trips.
Hope this helps, Joe, and don't forget to get yourself a good lounge membership so that you'll have a place to hang out during all your layovers. Thanks for the question, and if you're a TPG reader who'd like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, send us a message on Facebook or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.