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Is Airline Elite Status Worth It for Leisure Travelers?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


First class upgrades. Preferred seats. Free first checked bags. Preferential treatment.

These are some of the big perks airline elite status gives its members.

But are the time, money, and effort of pursuing elite status worth the investment for leisure travelers? Or can chasing status be part of the fun?

An interesting post by Your Mileage May Vary the other day — probably sparked by the “WTH?!” changes United made to its elite program — asked similar questions.

YMMV’s joeheg is based in Orlando and has tons of airlines from which to choose. Price and convenience are the two big factors in deciding which flight to purchase.

I’m sort of the same way, to a degree. I live in Los Angeles and live within 20 miles of two airports (LAX and BUR). For short flights to Vegas, Phoenix, or the Bay Area, I’m fine taking Southwest from Burbank. But for longer trips, we make the choice to fly Delta because of comfort and service. And that’s part of the reason my wife and I are both Medallions.

My Status: Part Work, Part Leisure

Several years ago, I got hooked on Delta Medallion status because:

  • I often fly to North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Delta has the best flight selection for someone who travels to all three of those areas.
  • My wife and I made a pact to travel more
  • I’m about 6’1″ and need an exit row seat

So I pursued Silver Medallion status.

“I’ll be happy with just Silver,” I said at the time. “I don’t need first class. Just exit row seats.”

Well, that changed. 🙂 A few business trips and Delta Amex spend pushed me over the Gold threshold. (I soon had Diamonds in my eyes!)

One of my clients has since cut way back on Delta, American, and United trips. They instead opt for cheap fares on Southwest, Spirit, or Sun Country (even if it means three stops and a 13 hour day to fly an itinerary the Big Three could travel in four hours). That being said, I do occasionally end up on DL, AA, or UA when working for them. But enough to keep anything past Silver status solely based on my travel for them? Probably not.

Seat 21A (exit row) on a Delta 767-300.
Seat 21A (exit row) on a Delta 767-300.

I don’t always travel as much as road warriors who commute to work each Sunday or Monday and come home at the end of the week. But I also know people who are retired or semi-retired — and maintain elite status so they can travel in comfort while flying around the country to visit all their grandchildren. Their needs, desires, and goals are different.

So, really, I think it comes down to what people can afford — time and money-wise.

Is it Cheaper Just to Buy First Class?

Is the average leisure traveler who takes one or two trips a year better paying for first class or using points to upgrade? As opposed to taking mileage runs or other trips just for the sake of a couple chance upgrades, absolutely.

But for those who take several business trips a year or get itchy if they aren’t on a plane every month or two? It might be worth status.

Can Status Chasing Be a Leisure Activity?

I love flying, relaxing in Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges, and maybe staying a night or so at a destination. Going on mileage runs or taking weekend trips to Europe or Asia is something I actually find fun.

It’s how I choose to spend my time, money, and points. Does it make sense for everyone? Heck no. For me? 100%.

Delta Makes It Easier to Achieve Status

Thanks to spend thresholds on four of its credit cards, Delta SkyMiles members can achieve — or boost — status without stepping on a plane.

As I mentioned the other day, one can earn 160,000 MQM each year by maxing out spend on:

Credit card spend is a major help in keeping at least Platinum status for my wife and me.

If you have the budget, resources, and time to achieve at least some bonus MQM, Delta’s credit cards make status a goal more people can enjoy.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Is elite status a waste of time for leisure travelers? Or to each his or her own? What makes sense for you? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section!

–Chris

 

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses 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.

8 Comments

  1. If a leisure traveler only goes to 1-2 trips a year, they’re better off focusing on their credit card bonus strategy and use those points to redeem award tickets in a premium cabin roundtrip rather than chasing elite status or spending $$$.

  2. I personally think its “to each his/her own. As someone who travels for work/pleasure. It’s totally worth it. Especially, if you have the free time. This blog has totally changed the way I’ll earn my status for the future!! I can’t believe I just found about these mileage runs. Thanks Chris…

  3. steve case

    Chris, we absolutely continue our top-tier status with Alaska Airlines. Since Alaska Airlines has the only program that is “distance-based” and has low thresholds for tier status, we always achieve status with them. They really make me feel more like family than just another customer. Yes, our leasure flying will still see us with top-tier status.

  4. Kgrizzle

    It’s my hobby! Some people hunt and fish, some people spend thousands of dollars on sporting events. I travel for leisure 5-6 times a year and enjoy my Gold Status with Delta, soon to be Platinum. My wife calls me a wannabe poser – “You’re not a business traveler” . I say I am smart by leveraging our loyalty to Delta, we get periodic upgrades, Sky Team lounge access, more miles to spend, etc. I am yet to go on a mileage run, as my schedule doesn’t permit this, but maybe sometime!

  5. In my opinion, it’s definitely not worth chasing status for leisure travelers. The energy and effort spent are not worth the occasional upgrade . If you only fly a couple of times a year, it makes more sense to pay the extra money for the better seat. Don’t be loyal to any airlines, just use a good search engine and find the best price for the premium seat. Chances are, you will experience the different services each airline provides and open your eyes to the fact most airlines are very similar to each other.

    I realize it’s a hobby to certain people but when you are truly traveling very week (or more), that nicer seat for several hours is just a drop in the bucket compare to many other aspects of air travel.

  6. DL Platinum

    Yes and no. I have a different view as I have lifetime “annual” Gold status due to 3.7 million miles flown with DL. So, yes I will get checked bags, exit row seats, and the few odd upgrades domestically. That said, as they say in FlyerTalk, Want First? Buy First! (WFBF). Delta has brought the cost of a first class ticket down significantly and if you can plan ahead, they are often very affordable. When, eventually, I stop traveling for business, I will cut back on my travels, but still can see me going at least 25 to 50K a year or more by plane. Obviously as the age increases, the flying will decrease, but all things being equal, I will most likely fly Delta. Why? Simple, I am 6’4″ and short for my weight. I cannot physically fly many airlines due the seat pitch. Anything less than 30″ is a miserable experience for me. Spirit? JetBlue? Allegiant? Frontier? No way! Now, on many of those airlines, I can “buy up” to “big seats”, but after you factor that cost, the cost of luggage, and everything else they charge you for, Delta is often cheaper and certainly competitive with those fares.

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