The Basics

What’s the Deal with Elite Status?

Explaining Elite miles vs. Redeemable miles –  When a person flies, they collect miles for the trip as flown.  Most airlines have a minimum mile earning of 500 miles.  That means, if you were to fly to NYC, that is around 286 flight miles.  Most airlines will actually credit you 500 miles for that trip, however.

Most credit card offers are giving you redeemable miles, miles that you can redeem for award travel, hotel stays, gifts from their online marketplaces, etc.  These miles are simply for redemption and do not count towards elite status.

Most of the time, the only way you can receive elite miles is by flying.  The elite miles you receive on a trip are the miles you actually fly (including the 500 minimum miles).  So, if you were to fly to Los Angeles (from Rochester) and back, you would receive around 5,500 elite miles and 5,500 redeemable miles.  This does not total 11,000 miles – the two are for different purposes and cannot be combined.  You cannot redeem elite miles.

There is a time and place for not using award travel.  That is normally for people who would be traveling on a more frequent basis. Here are the benefits:

  • Vastly improved customer service
  • Priority check-in
  • Priority baggage handling
  • Lounge Access around the world (depending on level)
  • Upgrades on domestic flights
  • The occasional international upgrade
  • Increased baggage limits
  • Significant drop in fees
  • Better award availability
  • Huge mile bonuses on flights
  • Additional perks depending on airline

It is a good idea for a person that goes with groups to have status as it improves the way the group is handled in cases of mechanical or weather delays.  It also is a big help in the area of luggage fees, check-in times, etc.  There are times that it is beneficial to not use miles and actually pay for a flight (which the miles can help you do if you have Delta miles as you can cash them out at a rate of 11,000 miles per $100).  For instance, if you were to travel to Australia, you would earn approximately 21,000 elite miles (all the frequent flyer programs have their basic level of elite status begin at 25,000 miles).  If you were an elite traveling on that route, you would earn all of those miles as both redemption and elite as well as a bonus on the RDMs.  If I were to fly that route, I would receive over 47,000 miles – that is almost enough for two round-trip tickets in the US or a ticket to Europe, etc.

Because of these bonuses, someone with some flexibility and a desire to run races (or just take a quick sight-seeing trip) could take advantage of the occasional trip deals that pop up.  For the trip purchase, that person (if an elite) would receive a significant amount of bonus miles that could make it possible for him/her to travel on another trip (potentially more expensive) for free.

Example: A cheap fare became available in June/July to Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan.  People were able to purchase it at prices ranging from $420 – $578.  That trip had a mileage total of 16,285 miles, from Rochester (that is both elite and redeemable). For me (since I have high tier status), that was combined with a promotional bonus targeting Tokyo at the time, and I received 48,000 redeemable miles. However, since the elite miles pushed me up another elite level, I received more miles making it a 73,000 mile trip.

Totals: Ticket cost – $420; Elite miles received – 16,285; Redeemable miles received – 73,000.  Result? Almost enough miles to go to almost anywhere in the world, a ticket value which could climb over $1,500.  So, two foreign trips for the price of $420.


Elite Levels

Airline                        Low Tier            Middle Tier              High Tier                  Top Tier

American Airlines    Gold                      Platinum                        Executive Platinum

25,000                   50,000                          100,000

Delta Airlines              Silver                     Gold                                 Platinum                        Diamond

25,000                    50,000                           75,000                          125,000

United Airlines          Premier Silver     Premier Gold               Premier Platinum      Premier 1K

25,000                     50,000                           75,000                          100,000

US Airways                  Silver                        Gold                                 Platinum                       Chairman’s

25,000                      50,000                            75,000                         100,000

Each airline differs in the redeemable mileage bonuses they offer and at which level they kick.  Each of them offer a 25% bonus at their lowest tier with Delta/AA offering 100% bonus at their middle tier and up. The new United (United/Continental) and US Airways gives bonuses of 25% at Premier Silver/Silver, 50% at Premier Gold/Gold, 75% at Premier Platinum/Platinum, and 100% at Premier 1K/Chairman’s.  Delta offers 125% bonus at their top tier.  The level that really starts showing the most benefit is the mid-tier within each program.  The levels also apply within the alliance that the particular airline is in.  For instance, if you have Gold status with US Airways, that gives you Star Alliance Gold which would give you the same perks (minus upgrades) when you fly with United.

United Airlines 2012 Premier Benefits

Delta Airlines Skymiles Medallion Benefits

US Airways Dividend Miles Preferred Benefits

American Airlines AAdvantage Benefits

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