Often times we think of status and just assume: “I don’t fly that many miles” or “I don’t stay in hotels that often”, thinking it disqualifies us from being able to partake in the fun.
First off, here’s why status is important: It stretches your dollar in so many way. The holy grail of upgrades is getting bumped to First/Business class. You purchase an economy ticket, get lucky (with a high enough status, of course) and you end up in a business cabin with the nearly all the benefits, such as free spirits/drinks, a meal for long enough flights, and typically waived fees on checked bags (if your upgrade clears early enough).
The Magic of Status Challenges
This is how I got in the game. I do fly for work and that helps me pad my mileage a bit easier, but I do travel on my own. Typically, my wife and I choose Mexico for a go-to vacation spot. But status is hard to get as seen below. Keep in mind the circumference of Earth is 24,901 miles, so to get top tier AA status means you’d circle the globe more than 4 times!
American Airlines has a status challenge offer where you can pay money to enroll, fly a minimum amount of miles, and you’ll get a certain status for a year. Check out the chart (via TPG):
Sounds good and all, but I really don’t fly that much.
Well here’s the thing: If you time your travel correctly, you can easily position yourself into Elite Status. Let’s say you’re flying American, JAL or Cathay Pacific to Japan. On a normal economy flight, that’ll net you you roughly 10.5k Elite Qualifying Miles. If you were doing the Platinum Challenge, you’d be just 2k miles short of hitting the goal (which is an easy flight coast to coast roundtrip). The only problem here is the spending. You’ll need $2,000 in EQD’s which is based on the base fare of the ticket and NOT the total price (taxes), so that means you could be spending $2,500 Dollars to hit $2,000 in EQD’s.
However, if you can do this, these are some of the benefits you’d enjoy:
My favorite benefit of Airline status is getting upgraded. Pretty much all airline prioritize upgrade space by tier and overall spending for the year, so the higher your status, the higher your chances. When I was Gold, I NEVER got an upgrade. As a Plat I’ve had a nearly 75% success rate on flights <500 miles.
The second benefit I really enjoy is getting Main Cabin Extra seats for free. As more and more people want cheaper seats, airlines are moving away from plentiful business/first seats and putting in upgraded economy seats, which the only difference is more legroom. Being that I’m 5’11, legroom is pretty important to me. MCE seats are usually towards the front or the ones in the exit row. They are so much more comfortable than normal economy and can make a huge difference on 4 hour flight. The nice part is if you’re traveling with a companion on the same itinerary, these benefits (including upgrades) extend to them, too.
“Sounds like a plan, let’s go!”
Hold on a second: Timing is important here. Typically, if you sign up and complete a challenge BEFORE July (check terms with whichever airline), you’ll only get status for the rest of that year. However, if you complete AFTER July, you get it for the rest of the year AND next year. That’s a huge benefit.
Lastly, if you STILL don’t fly much (it’s okay, not a lot of us do), you can also leverage your status to do status matches/challenges with other airlines, such as Delta and United. Delta will challenge match to Delta Gold, and you just complete the mileage minimum.
Technically, you can just keep jumping from one to another… just remember most airlines limit you to one status match per lifetime so if you know you have upcoming travel, make the most out of it.
LAST NOTE: If you’re short on money and absolutely need a redemption, you can use various credit card points, such as Citi or Chase, to book your flights. You redeem via their travel portals and the bank pays for it using your points, making it count as cash.