What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

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Sarah Kirschbaum
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What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#1 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » May 3rd, 2019, 12:24 pm

I find myself in a funny situation this year. I was laid off my job, which involved frequent travel, a month ago and don't expect to start a new one until after July 4 or later, and I don't know at this point how much travel that job will entail. I've never had much trouble qualifying for Executive Platinum on AA in the past (switching programs/carriers not an option), but this year I might not be able to make it without effort. I really value the perks status gives me, which can't be fully replicated with credit cards etc. So I am asking myself: if my new job doesn't get me there, what am I willing to pay out of pocket to qualify? I don't mind mileage runs, but with the high EQD levels now in place, it's a lot bigger "spend." I already have several OOP trips on the books, but figure I'd need quite a bit more in the worst case scenario.

Anyone else done the math on this conundrum before?

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#2 Post by RyanC » May 3rd, 2019, 12:29 pm

Not for AA, but I've tried some back-of-the-envelope calculations for United 1K before when I was close-ish. My conclusion was that while the status was genuinely valuable to me, buying EQMs was a terrible ROI. It was a better value and more fun to just take a couple weekend trips (ideally on cheap-ish bus class tickets) that would yield a lot of points, and a nice time. Obviously it's a pretty personal thing how much one values the status.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#3 Post by Rajesh P a r i k h » May 3rd, 2019, 12:30 pm

I haven't done the actual math, but I've been in a similar boat as you. Besides the upgrades as an EXP on AA, my favorite part was the phone line when things went wrong. That's something premium fares don't help out on in the slightest. Unless you find some mileage runs to places you want to go, I don't think they're worth them anymore personally.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#4 Post by Todd F r e n c h » May 3rd, 2019, 12:32 pm

Unless you are Executive Platinum (or equivalent on other airline) status is worth nothing. Gold is treated like crap, Platinum gets slightly better seats (read: seats like what USED to be standard Economy seats) and some liquor, but on either you rarely, if ever, get to use your 500-mile upgrades, and the only auto-upgrades you get are tiny short puddlejumper flights in planes that are older than you are.

Airline status is such a joke. I'd certainly not invest in getting it, as it's pricey and if you don't fly all the time (since the job no longer entails it) why bother?
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#5 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » May 3rd, 2019, 12:57 pm

Rajesh P a r i k h wrote:
May 3rd, 2019, 12:30 pm
I haven't done the actual math, but I've been in a similar boat as you. Besides the upgrades as an EXP on AA, my favorite part was the phone line when things went wrong. That's something premium fares don't help out on in the slightest. Unless you find some mileage runs to places you want to go, I don't think they're worth them anymore personally.
Yes, I'm talking about buying premium tickets or making mileage runs, not buying miles, and only to get to Executive Platinum, no lower status is worth it. The dedicated phone line, system wide upgrades, fully refundable award tickets, and partner lounge access are the biggest perks, along with free domestic upgrades, which generally seem to come through for me. I find it very valuable. Just trying to decide what that means in dollar terms.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#6 Post by Rajesh P a r i k h » May 3rd, 2019, 1:41 pm

Sarah Kirschbaum wrote:
May 3rd, 2019, 12:57 pm
Rajesh P a r i k h wrote:
May 3rd, 2019, 12:30 pm
I haven't done the actual math, but I've been in a similar boat as you. Besides the upgrades as an EXP on AA, my favorite part was the phone line when things went wrong. That's something premium fares don't help out on in the slightest. Unless you find some mileage runs to places you want to go, I don't think they're worth them anymore personally.
Yes, I'm talking about buying premium tickets or making mileage runs, not buying miles, and only to get to Executive Platinum, no lower status is worth it. The dedicated phone line, system wide upgrades, fully refundable award tickets, and partner lounge access are the biggest perks, along with free domestic upgrades, which generally seem to come through for me. I find it very valuable. Just trying to decide what that means in dollar terms.
If you want an arbitrary calculation on how much EXP is worth, I've seen something by The Points Guy in the past.

Any actual dollar value is going to be based on how much you as an individual value certain things. For instance, I used to only have to fly 1-1.5 hours away weekly. The upgrade from Y to F was nice, but not something I'm willing to pay for so it created no value. If I was flying transcon frequently, I would value having status for the upgrades and would be willing to go out of my way to earn that status.

These days most of my trips are international in paid J or small hops so status really doesn't interest me as much. It's going to come down to your specific travel habits.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#7 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » May 3rd, 2019, 1:44 pm

oh sure - I know 'worth it' only has real meaning if the words 'to me' are included, just curious if others have gone through the process for themselves and what their thoughts and conclusions were. Not looking for anyone to make the call for me.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#8 Post by Alan Rath » May 3rd, 2019, 1:52 pm

I'm a lifetime Plat, but don't travel for business any more (haven't in several years). But I also rarely qualified for Exec either (though that didn't even exist for many of the earlier years I was traveling), and in the last few years of my frequent flying, rarely got upgraded. Will your new job pay for business travel, or do you have to rely on status for upgrade? As much as I like getting into a business or first seat, what I always tell myself when I don't is "You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!" :)
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#9 Post by Rajesh P a r i k h » May 3rd, 2019, 2:10 pm

Alan Rath wrote:
May 3rd, 2019, 1:52 pm
I'm a lifetime Plat, but don't travel for business any more (haven't in several years). But I also rarely qualified for Exec either (though that didn't even exist for many of the earlier years I was traveling), and in the last few years of my frequent flying, rarely got upgraded. Will your new job pay for business travel, or do you have to rely on status for upgrade? As much as I like getting into a business or first seat, what I always tell myself when I don't is "You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!" :)
Great perspective Alan!

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#10 Post by Mark Y » May 3rd, 2019, 6:33 pm

It’s almost never “worth it”. Unless Ur line of work is such that you know the new job has a lot of travel that’s where the upgrades will be worth while. Like a consultant weekly flieR.
Otherwise the 4-6 times a year u vacay won’t be worthwhile. part of the time u might not even be on AA metal. Not worth the effort to qualify for the status.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#11 Post by Paul Miller » May 3rd, 2019, 6:54 pm

There used to be a site that would help you figure out the cheapest/shortest flights out of your city to help meet eligibility. If you needed two more segments, or 5,000 miles, would help you pick the cheapest way to do so.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#12 Post by Steven Pumilia » May 3rd, 2019, 7:56 pm

Well it depends on how much you travel.... I like the upgrades and lounge access (on intl tickets)... plus being looked after due to irrops. I also find the ability to book award travel and cancel for free allows for a lot of travel optionality and flexiblity..... YMMV. I maintain both EXP status on AA and Diamond status on DL (on my own dime).... the only arbitrage left in getting status (because of the dollar element) is to by cheap business class tickets on certain partners and credit to AA or DL. Since they do not know what you pay, they give you redeemable miles, qualifying miles and dollars according to your ticketed fare class. You can spend a fraction of the dollar reqirement... plus get a lot more redeemable miles than you would buiying AA or DL stock tickets. So Qatar, Finnair and Cathay good options for AA. Aeromexico, AF, KL and China Eastern for DL. Key is finding cheap business class tickets.... the premium mileage run forum at flyertalk a good place to monitor. United does not give dollars for partner tickets so this does not work for them.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#13 Post by Alan Rath » May 3rd, 2019, 9:04 pm

Btw, I believe I get the same phone line as the execs do, or maybe I was just grandfathered when exec came into being.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#14 Post by Russell Faulkner » May 3rd, 2019, 11:14 pm

The main benefit I found was if you frequently travel in economy so you get priority check in, boarding and lounge access.

If you are flying business you get all that anyway so what the point really.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#15 Post by George Hejna » May 4th, 2019, 6:32 am

Status doesn't get you lounge access. Business only gets you lounge access on international flights.

Personally as I fly a lot for business I love the free 24hr flight change option.

Sarah - Don't forget AA should allow you to buy up one level at the end of the year if you can't make Exec Platinum you can buy up from Platinum Pro. What that cost is depends on how close you are (I think). I am sure the experts on FT can help.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#16 Post by Rajesh P a r i k h » May 4th, 2019, 7:13 am

George Hejna wrote:
May 4th, 2019, 6:32 am
Status doesn't get you lounge access. Business only gets you lounge access on international flights.

Personally as I fly a lot for business I love the free 24hr flight change option.

Sarah - Don't forget AA should allow you to buy up one level at the end of the year if you can't make Exec Platinum you can buy up from Platinum Pro. What that cost is depends on how close you are (I think). I am sure the experts on FT can help.

George
George - Just to clarify, status does indeed get you lounge access on international economy tickets. On AA you need at least Plat though.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#17 Post by Russell Faulkner » May 4th, 2019, 7:25 am

Certainly gets you lounge access outside of the US.

Fortunately I don’t really fly US domestic.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#18 Post by George Hejna » May 4th, 2019, 8:02 am

Yes was thinking domestic. Poorly worded on my part

I just always seem to be behind the guy trying to get in the lounge flying domestic and getting angry when told no.. [wow.gif]


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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#19 Post by Phil Smith » May 4th, 2019, 8:07 am

I used to qualify for ExPlat on AA often. I thought it was important then and chased after it in years I was close. Then I stopped traveling for work much and stopped caring about being up front on anything domestic. I hadn't eaten the meals in years anyways and if I really want a drink I'll pay for it. With credit cards I can make sure that my boarding position is high enough so I'll have overhead storage, and I've got more than enough miles to fly first or business internationally, which is the only time I care. Now I fly Southwest for the most part; it's really a better airline for most of my travel. I can't believe that I used to chase this stuff... for the travel I do now, even with a handful of international trips per year I don't think I'd pay more than a few hundred bucks.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#20 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » May 4th, 2019, 8:29 am

Thanks all - interesting mix of perspectives. I get domestic lounge access through my cards, so yes it's the international lounges I care about. The hours spent in the cabanas at Cathay Pacific's First Class Lounge at HKG are pretty sweet memories for me!

I do care about flying front of the bus internationally, and the system wide upgrades are a big help with that. I have the a lot of points, but it's increasingly difficult to find award seats direct to Europe, except for the very high-mileage Anytime awards; so mostly we buy economy and the SWU comes through about 75% for both of us, and even more often for just me.

The flexibility is huge, too. For instance, when we go to Asia via Hong Kong, it's tough to get two 1st class award seats on Cathay in advance. We can often get one 1st and one biz, though, and then almost always are able to grab a second 1st at the last minute. Being able to switch my husband from his biz to 1st with no penalty is very nice. Or this year we weren't sure we wanted our Asia trip to go via HKG, but saw the seats were available for our rough travel dates, so we took them as a placeholder. Sure the cancellation or change fees aren't that much, but it is very nice to have no penalties.

I don't anticipate any issues getting enough EQMs. It's all about EQDs now that AA raised it again.

Worrying about keeping my frequent flyer status depending on what new job I get should be the least of my worries right now! :)

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#21 Post by Rick Smith » May 4th, 2019, 8:15 pm

Concierge Key or bust.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#22 Post by Joe Dulworth » May 6th, 2019, 7:32 am

I quit chasing status. If I want a seat up front I buy a seat up front. Period. I cannot tell you how many times I bought up front and it sold out more than 30 days in advance of flight time. Upgrade lists 40+ deep are the norm these days. I board up front and then watch ExPlat after ExPlat file by and cram themselves into every seat in rows 6-15. So much for perks.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#23 Post by Kelly Walker » May 6th, 2019, 10:28 pm

Living in CLT I was Chairman Preferred on USAir for years given I travel for a living. But I also had a long history with AA (million miler) when I was in Boston. After the merger I became a 2 million miler and maintained EXP up until this year. My travel changed and this year only made PLTPro. Now I am in purgatory. Anything other than EXP is shit. As someone mentioned, upgrades are impossible for anything other than puddle jumpers. SWUs are almost impossible for travel to Europe. Like others, I find myself buying F class tickets for non-work domestically and business class when miles will not work, which seems to be more often than not. Part of the problem, I think, is that I fly out of a major hub. The US-AA merger diluted the upper tier so much that anything less than EXP is worthless.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#24 Post by Alan Rath » May 7th, 2019, 8:18 am

Kelly Walker wrote:
May 6th, 2019, 10:28 pm
The US-AA merger diluted the upper tier so much that anything less than EXP is worthless.
I can tell you it was already pretty bad, even before this. As just a PLT, I rarely got upgraded in the last couple of years before the merger (and this was 5 years ago, I haven't traveled on business since 2015).

My company never paid for business travel, even on long trips, so I'm "used" to cattle class, business was always just a nice lucky perk when it happened. But it used to happen a lot more often 10+ years ago.

As for paying to sit up front: I honestly can't justify paying the difference in ticket price between coach and business/first, except in rare instances where there isn't that much difference between them (last minute purchase, some kind of special deal, etc.). I also can't imagine why companies pay for business travel either, it's an incredible waste of money. And if they didn't pay it, the number of business seats would shrink, coach seats would get better. Kind of pisses me off how there are so many business seats on flights these days, particularly international. It's also a ridiculous waste of CO2.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#25 Post by Paul Miller » May 7th, 2019, 8:31 am

I really don’t understand the complimentary upgrade process. I’m Platinum for Life, and never get offered a chance to move up, and I’ve been on flights with empty seats in First Class.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#26 Post by Victor Hong » May 7th, 2019, 1:50 pm

An FFS program is essentially a compound option, namely an option on another option. It begins to decay upon purchase. Note that no carrier has been known to realize convexity losses for selling these compound options to travelers. This would indicate that FFS programs are not worth their price. Moreover, if a traveler must spend so much money, just to reach the opportunity to decide if an FFS program is worthwhile, the answer is self-presenting.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#27 Post by George Hejna » May 7th, 2019, 2:26 pm

Paul Miller wrote:
May 7th, 2019, 8:31 am
I really don’t understand the complimentary upgrade process. I’m Platinum for Life, and never get offered a chance to move up, and I’ve been on flights with empty seats in First Class.
Do you request the upgrade on line for domestic routes and do you have enough 500 mile upgrades to cover it? For international I believe you have to call.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#28 Post by Cole Kendall » May 8th, 2019, 3:50 pm

AA does sell buy-ups at the end of the year if you are close to EXP; but with credit card EQMs and a few reasonably priced J trips to Europe it is not hugely expensive to get there. EQD makes things a bit harder but you can offset some of the with credit cards too.

And for the upgrade question above, as an AA Plat you must (a) request upgrades (possible to do so when buying a ticket online, not just by phone) and (b) have a sufficient amount of 500-mile upgrade certificates in your account. As a plat I got a reasonable number of upgrades when I flew domestic.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#29 Post by Paul Miller » May 8th, 2019, 5:04 pm

Cole Kendall wrote:
May 8th, 2019, 3:50 pm
AA does sell buy-ups at the end of the year if you are close to EXP; but with credit card EQMs and a few reasonably priced J trips to Europe it is not hugely expensive to get there. EQD makes things a bit harder but you can offset some of the with credit cards too.

And for the upgrade question above, as an AA Plat you must (a) request upgrades (possible to do so when buying a ticket online, not just by phone) and (b) have a sufficient amount of 500-mile upgrade certificates in your account. As a plat I got a reasonable number of upgrades when I flew domestic.
Thanks. I have the 500-mile upgrades and use those occasionally. However, I don’t travel much for business anymore, so I’m running out of them. Most of my traveling has been home to the family farm, so pretty lucky using them.

But people talk about getting complimentary upgrades, and I have only gotten upgraded a couple of times at Christmas.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#30 Post by Cole Kendall » May 8th, 2019, 7:34 pm

As Plat Pro (75K miles per year) and Ex Plat (100K) you get complimentary upgrades. As a Gold or Plat you can get complimentary upgrades (no 500-mile certificates) on short flights (<500 miles).

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#31 Post by Barry L i p t o n » May 8th, 2019, 7:37 pm

I’m in the same boat although still employed. All my work travel is domestic. Given the increase in EQD requirement to $15k and the cutback on the Aviator card’s potential for EQDs from $6k to $3k, I’ll be about $5k short. I fly mostly transcons and find that milesand copay is needed for the upgrade, too many explats in LA to compete with. My issue is that the coach fare these days for LAX-MIA is so low, my EQD per flight is low. Buying business class is $1500 -$2000 more per RT.

So I’ve become a free agent. Bought jet blue mint a couple times, better than any hard product AA has other than perhaps F in a 3class 77w, for $500 less (one way) out of FLL vs AA out of Miami.

If miles/copay is available in advance, you don’t need the ExPlat status. If you fly mostly out of NYC, do you still find AA convenient with all their route cutbacks?

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#32 Post by Barry L i p t o n » May 8th, 2019, 7:41 pm

Cole Kendall wrote:
May 8th, 2019, 7:34 pm
As Plat Pro (75K miles per year) and Ex Plat (100K) you get complimentary upgrades. As a Gold or Plat you can get complimentary upgrades (no 500-mile certificates) on short flights (<500 miles).
I think the better phrasing is if you clear the upgrade, it’s free. I’m in such an elite heavy area that I’m often behind a couple of Concierge Keys even when I use miles/copay, which puts me ahead of explats using free upgrades. I’m batting around 50% it’s that approach, would be really low if relying on free upgrades. I get them in LAX-SFO, but not transcons.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#33 Post by Sarah Kirschbaum » May 9th, 2019, 4:33 am

Barry L i p t o n wrote:
May 8th, 2019, 7:37 pm
I’m in the same boat although still employed. All my work travel is domestic. Given the increase in EQD requirement to $15k and the cutback on the Aviator card’s potential for EQDs from $6k to $3k, I’ll be about $5k short. I fly mostly transcons and find that milesand copay is needed for the upgrade, too many explats in LA to compete with. My issue is that the coach fare these days for LAX-MIA is so low, my EQD per flight is low. Buying business class is $1500 -$2000 more per RT.

So I’ve become a free agent. Bought jet blue mint a couple times, better than any hard product AA has other than perhaps F in a 3class 77w, for $500 less (one way) out of FLL vs AA out of Miami.

If miles/copay is available in advance, you don’t need the ExPlat status. If you fly mostly out of NYC, do you still find AA convenient with all their route cutbacks?
I live in Philadelphia, so AA is the only real game in town. The metal sucks, but the routes are pretty good, and complimentary upgrades come through for me at EXP nearly all the time. Most of my SWUs come through as well, but usually not until the last minute. That is fine with me. I'm willing to fly coach to Europe if I have to, so don't insist that the SWU be available at time of purchase. I still go up to JFK for some flights - transcon was paid business class at my old job and the planes out of JFK are much nicer - but PHL is so much easier.

I think I will be in the same boat, off by about $5K. For a while, we'd buy my ticket in business class at least one way with econ on the return, and use miles for my husband, in order to beef up my EQDs, but now it's almost impossible to get saver mileage awards direct to Europe. I still find high enough value that I'd likely buy in for a few a few grand. If it's a $5k hit....still not sure.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#34 Post by George Hejna » May 9th, 2019, 4:13 pm

Upgrade lists are just stupidly long unless you are flying somewhere on the weekends.

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#35 Post by Brian King » May 10th, 2019, 7:52 am

Generally speaking, i wouldn't invest my own money to bridge a gap to the highest status. Luckily (or unlikely given the amount of travel) I have Global Services at United. By far the biggest advantage of Global Services in terms of "perks" is the ability to use Global/Regional Upgrades on Award Travel. For example, you can use miles to get Economy Class awards, then use Global Upgrades to take them to business. At the level of Global Services the likelihood of upgrade is typically quite good.

This summer I'll be taking my family to Italy (7 of us). I was able to afford to buy 7 Business Class legs and 7 Economy class legs. On those Economy legs, I used Global upgrades. If it all pans out, the "value" of those Economy upgrades to business are ~ $20k. In addition, a big part of why I could "afford" the 7 Biz Class seats in the first place is the 11x multiplier on $$ spent to GET to the miles I needed (vs 9x at Platinum, etc). In this particular scenario the VALUE of the highest tier might be worth investing in. But I'll admit it IS a pretty specific set of needs

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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#36 Post by Joe Dulworth » May 10th, 2019, 8:49 am

btw, side note. I missed the status I was targeting at the end of the year as well. They sent me several emails between 12/31 and 1/31 to buy up before my existing status expired 1/31. I let it lapse. I've since gotten at least 8-10 emails as recent as this week offering to still let me buy up even though I'm past the "dead line" so to speak. Seems like they're more interested in me maintaining status ($$$$) than I am.

This is AA btw.
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#37 Post by LoriMcLaughlin » May 13th, 2019, 3:02 pm

It depends on where your home airport is and where you are flying. As a former UA Global Services and AA Exec Plat (at the same time!), I find that many smaller airports/routes have gone to regional jets and the status is not longer worth it. Some newer regional jets have a nice selection of business class seats, but other than a bag of chips, they are not much better than exit row. Domestic upgrades (still free) from non-HUB cities are still pretty easy to get, but through hubs are hit or miss.

IF you are flying a lot internationally, then there may be some value but it's no longer as lucrative as it once was. As GS on US, I still had to fork over $x00s to upgrade using Global Awards from Business to First for taxes, etc.

R. Frankel
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Re: What is top frequent flyer status really worth?

#38 Post by R. Frankel » June 7th, 2019, 9:07 am

Sarah, I was in a similar boat as you a few years ago. A million mile + lifer on AA, I was one long round trip short of Exec Plat in mid December. I bought a cross country round trip (CA to NY) to get over the edge, and that seemed worth it to me. No complex calculation though. Why? Access to EXP phone support (which was excellent and immediate), free/frequent upgrades, access to better economy seats for free were at the top of the list for me. Access to lounges (especially International) was less of a big deal given my flying patterns.

These days I fly much less, but it does seem like the airlines have figured out how to charge incrementally for all the little treats I used to get for free. So if I really want some benefit, likely I can buy it fairly cheaply. But if I flew regularly I’d probably change my tune.
Rich Frankel

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