Achieving elite status in an airline's frequent flyer program is something a lot of people dream about. It's no secret that elite status comes with a lot of benefits that's not available for the general traveler. But how do you actually reach elite status and how do you stay there?
Elite status is the crème de la crème of air travel. Today, airlines offer their most loyal customers this classification. To be given elite status a customer must meet certain requirements set by the airline. Usually this means traveling a certain number of miles and spending a certain amount of money with one specific airline - all within one calendar year. Once you’ve met all the requirements for elite status you will be awarded with travel benefits like priority boarding, free checked luggage, lounge access and upgrades. In many cases elite status also mean mileage bonus. In other words; you earn miles/points faster than the regular member, making it a lot easier to keep your status year after year. Mileage bonus is also a fast track to more free flights.
Most airlines has more than one level of elite status in their frequent flyer programs. Take United for example, with four tiers of elite status - or Premier Status as the airline calls it. Depending on how much you travel and spend during the year you get rewarded with one of four classifications; Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum or Premier 1K. The classification usually stay valid through the next calendar year and the higher the tier, the more benefits you get to enjoy during this period.
A majority of the airlines offer two ways of reaching elite status within their frequent flyer program, both which require flying and spending. One of the ways to reach elite status is by Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and the other way is by Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars. This means that to reach a level of elite status you have to fly a predetermined number of miles or number of flights plus spend a certain amount of money on airline tickets.
Elite Qualifying Miles are earned based on the actual miles flown as well as on fare class purchased.
Elite Qualifying Dollars are earned based on the amount you spend on one specific airline’s tickets each year. This does not include extra fees, taxes or other surcharges that might be added to the ticket price.
Elite Qualifying Segments are based on the actual number of flights you’ve flown as well as on the fare purchased.
For example, if you travel non-stop between New York City and Paris (a trip of about 3,600 miles) you'll earn 3,600 Elite Qualifying Miles as well as 1 Elite Qualifying Segment. If you travel between New York City and London and then on to Rome, you'll earn 3,400 EQMs + 900 EQMs as well as 2 Elite Qualifying Segments.
Now it’s time to enjoy! The benefits you recieve when you reach elite status vary from airline to airline and depends on which tier of elite status you’ve qualified for. The most common benefits are however free checked bags and priority check-in, priority security screening and priority boarding. You can also expect free access to airport lounges, complimentary upgrades, concierge services and mileage bonuses.
To keep your status or qualify for the next tier, you need to keep traveling and spending with the airline. The mileage bonus usually makes it a lot easier for elite status members to meet the requirements for Elite Qualifying Miles or Segments, but you still have do spend a lot each year to pile up enough Elite Qualifying Dollars.
Elite status with American Airlines
Elite status with Delta Air Lines
Elite status with Southwest Airlines
Elite status with United
In many frequent flyer programs you can achieve lifetime status. This will give you elite status for life. To reach lifetime status most airlines require that you fly millions of miles with them. Take United for example. If you have either Premier Gold, Premier Platinum or Premier 1K status you need to fly between 1-3 million miles with United to get lifetime status.
It is not possible today to transfer your elite status to another airline's frequent flyer program. It is however possible to enjoy a lot of the perks that comes with being an elite status member with partner airlines and airlines within the same alliance. That is because when you reach elite status with your primary frequent flyer program, you also get elite status with the alliance that the airline belongs to.