Elite Status Basics

Ever notice signs at first class checkin at airports welcoming some sort of special airline person to go check in there?  Or how about an upgrade list for the flight?  Who’s rear do you have to kiss to get on that?

Those are all perks of airline elite status, among many others.  How do you get status?  Typically by flying a whole lot and spending a lot of time in hotels.  That said, there are several ways of getting status through credit cards – mainly hotel status.  Though for airlines, you can get several of the more meaningful benefits from credit card perks.

Frequent Flyer Status

I’m not going to cover the benefits of status in too much detail for a couple reasons.  First, if you are actually in a position to earn elite status on airlines (say flying for business), you most likely are already familiar with it…far more so than I could explain in a single blog post aimed at an audience who is vaguely familiar with the idea of frequent flyer status.  If you don’t fly that much, you really have no need to know about it other than to make yourself envious.

Plus, all information on elite status is very easy to find and clearly explained on the airlines websites.

So, you probably won’t be earning status anytime soon if you don’t already have it.  The lowest tier elite status typically requires 25,000 miles of revenue flying; the circumference of the earth is 24,900 miles for reference.  But, there are some ways to get a good bit of meaningful benefits from credit cards.

Though first, let me backtrack a little bit.  There is one airline that lets you earn airline status solely through credit card spending – and that is Delta Airlines by spending on certain American Express cards.  Ben at One Mile at a Time talks about it here.  Though before you get too excited about doing something like that, it is probably not worth it as you are forgoing more valuable points for SkyPesos in order to obtain a status you’ll use a couple times a year, at most.

Moving along…American Airlines, United, Delta, and Us Airways all have credit cards that get you some combination of free checked bags, priority boarding, first class check in, mileage rebates, club passes, and/or companion tickets.

Of those, I probably value priority boarding the most.  Nothing frustrated me more than when I received a boarding pass with group 18 on it and had to gate check my bag because the bins had filled up…If you typically check bags, the free bags benefit might be the most useful to you.

Hotel Status

Hotels are a little different.  Many credit cards will outright give you mid-tier status just for holding them.  Mid-tier status usually includes things like free internet and ensuring that you do not get the worst room in the hotel.  Expecting anything more than that with mid-tier status is just setting yourself up for disappointment.

Hyatt Diamond status is awesome.  This is what I had on our trip.  We got confirmed upgrades to incredible suites, $100+ breakfasts every day, drinks for free in very high priced bars, and club lounge access among other things.  The down side?  That was kind of a tease as there is no way to attain Hyatt Diamond status short of staying at hotels…a lot.

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Why did I bring it up?  I’m not sure…I guess to give you an idea of what comes with top-tier status.  By just having the Hyatt credit card, you can get Hyatt Platinum (mid-tier status) which comes with the aforementioned not horrible room and free internet.

You can get Starwood Gold Status through an American Express Platinum.  This is a mid-tier status which provides – you guessed it – free internet and a decent room.

Hilton and Marriott are the only chains that give valuable status through holding a credit card.

You can get Hilton Gold status just for holding the Citi Hilton Reserve credit card.  Gold status at Hilton gets you free internet and free breakfast (a big perk in my book), as well as an upgrade which sometimes gets you club access.

Spend $40,000 on that card (or the Amex Hilton Surpass card) and you get top tier Hilton Diamond status which gets you better upgrades and guaranteed lounge access in addition to the Gold benefits.

That said, I do not feel that it is worth it to go for the $40,000 spend over Gold given the recent devaluation of Hhonors points.  You’re better off spending that money on a more rewarding card.

Marriott/Ritz Carlton (they’re the same loyalty program) will give you Gold status for holding the Ritz Carlton Rewards card.  Marriott/RC gold gives you free breakfast, guaranteed lounge access, free internet, and room upgrades (though reportedly nothing too special).

The downside is that card carries a $400 fee, but it will reimburse you for $200 of airline expenses a year.  It also comes with some airline lounge access and Ritz Carlton benefits.  Whether the card is worth it is a personal call.  But it is (IMO) the best status you can obtain through holding a credit card.

Status Challenges/Matches

There is one trick to getting top tier status without spending tons of nights (50+) in hotels – a status match or challenge.  But use it wisely, as it is typically a one time deal.

Basically, once you have status with one program (e.g. Hilton Gold), another program will match that status in order to try to get your business.  Usually, you will have to spend 10-15 nights in the hotel to make it last for the rest of the year.  This can be something worth looking in to if you have a big trip coming up that will make it worthwhile.

So that’s a very brief primer on elite status.  This just barely touched on the subject, but there is plenty of info out there if you want to research anything further.  Blogs are good, but typically reading the airline or hotel’s terms/rules will tell you all you need to know – without relying on a middle man.

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