At it’s core, travel sucks. Sure it’s great once you are in those amazing places you only see in pictures. But being somewhere. I’m talking about the actual act of travel. Those hours locked inside a tiny tube known as an airplane can be some of the worst moments of your life. Kids screaming, surviving on peanuts and a glass of water the size of a thimble. And what’s the deal with the guy next to you who keeps hogging the arm rest?!?!
The whole time you’re staring towards the front of the plane where a curtain separates you from the “good life” that is first class. You’re probably wondering what they are doing up there. Are they drinking champagne, eating fancy meals, using free wifi and watching movies? The answer is yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing. But it’s not because they are rich, it’s because they are elite. And it’s time for you to become elite too.
What Is Elite Status?
Elite Status is a way airlines judge your importance when traveling. It’s the difference between traveling on a plane and living “the life” on a plane. The airlines give perks to those who travel a lot, so they designated them as elite. While there are many types of elite status the perks are pretty much the same. They include free checked bags (plus yours will be the first off the carousel), priority boarding and check-in, complimentary upgrades (to business or first class when available), priority standby, preferred seating (by the window or with extra leg room), you can redeem award miles without paying additional fees, you get more airline points for each dollar spent on travel and in some cases you get access to private lounges at various airports (they have free food and booze).
How To Get To Elite Status Traditionally
Each airline has different ways to become elite and each elite status comes with different perks. But for the most part is about miles and points that collect to obtain each status. For example most U.S. based airlines usually need a minimum of 25,000 points or 30 segments of flying to qualify for the most basic tiers of elite.
25,000 points is about what it would take to go from London to Sydney in discount economy to earn elite or 15 roundtrips domestically (30 segments=15 round trips. 1 round trip is 2 segments) to earn elite. Unless you travel for work or vacation constantly, these seems unrealistic.
Shortcut Your Way To Elite
1. Elite Status Challenge
Most U.S. air carriers have what are known as Elite Status Challenges. If you complete these challenges in a short period of time you will get the most basic elite status.
Let’s take American Airlines for example. They have what many regard as the best elite status tiers, which includes the coveted “Executive Platinum Status”. But let’s focus on the basic Gold status.
If you call up and register for a Gold challenge, all it takes to earn elite status is for you to fly 5,000 points in three months, which you can basically do in just one international flight. Say you already have a flight planned next month going from New York to Berlin. That’s a 7,930 mile flight. You can call up American Airlines, get registered and be an elite flyer as soon as you are back in the U.S. Keep in mind though there is a cost of $140 to register for this, but that is cheap compared to all the perks of being an elite status member. The membership will last for at least the next 14 months if not longer.
Basically you just have to find a way to earn 5,000 points during a three-month challenge and you are gold status. It then expires February 28th of the following year.
Some easy ways to get those trips for free would be to use the AAdvantage Platinum Select Card From Citi or The Starwood Preferred Card which is a better card and it allows you to transfer points you use to American Airlines for use.
2. Buying & Gifting Status
This is the quickest and most costly way to become elite. US Airways will allow you to buy their lowest level of status. But be prepared to pay. It will cost $1,200 plus to obtain these. Probably a better choice to use credit cards and leverage their power to fly for free.
You may have a rich family willing to gift you this status as a birthday present or Christmas gift. There are even instances of travelers applying for a Platinum Status Challenge and they were gifted Gold Status by the airline. But that isn’t something you should bank on.
3. Mileage Runs
Ah, the mileage run. This is probably the most common, yet time consuming way to obtain elite status.
A mileage run is when a frequent flyer takes a flight solely to gain miles, so that they can reach elite status. It’s all about finding cheap flights and racking up miles through them. The goal is to spend the least amount of money needed to gain miles, which means extending a flight in order to gain more miles.
For example you may be flying out of Seattle and going to New York. But you can earn more miles if you connect through another airport. It’s a detour, but it may be worth it depending on price and miles earned. In most of these cases upon arriving at your destination, you walk to the next terminal to fly back home. This isn’t necessarily a vacation. It’s basically just living in airplanes. Some runs have been known to last days for those dedicated to reaching the top tier of elite programs.
To find deals you might check out Flyertalk, where people will post about the deals they find. You can also use FareCompare where they have a map that will show you the lowest fares from a particular city.
4. Fly On Smaller Airlines
A simpler way for you may be to fly on a smaller airlines. Airlines like Alaska Airlines requires a lot less miles to reach the lowest levels of elite status and still have most of the same awesome perks. The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card is perfect for anyone going that route.
At the end of the day your goal may be to travel more, but it will be so much more fun if you are traveling like the president of a company would compared to being cramped and miserable in economy. Earning elite status is the cheapest and easiest way to go from one side of the airplane curtain to the other.