Status Is A Habit: Getting and Keeping It

Status is a loaded word. Societal status, relationship status, industry status, however much these things mean to you, they all touch a sensitive point. But when it comes to travel, especially air travel—status is everything, whether you like it or not.

Most people take the travel process as it comes. Purchase a ticket, get your assigned seat, board a plane/train/ship and then hope you make it to your destination safely and (hopefully) comfortably. Lines can be long, waiting chairs are what they are.

And then there is travel if you have status. Meaning, you aren’t “most people.” Travel with status can mean perks such as:
– A dedicated, expedited TSA experience
– A separate waiting area with dedicated gate agents to assist you.
– Automatic access to the best seats on they plane (ie. The ones with maximum legroom)
– Automatic first or business class upgrades
– The chance to relax, shower, conduct a private meeting during a layover.
– Priority boarding of your flight
And much more

Simply put: Want to have a better travel experience? Get your status up, way up.

Gaining status with any airline isn’t as hard as you may think, especially if you fly more than six times a year. To save you hours on blog post research, here is a quick breakdown based on my personal travel experiences that will get you to #UpgradeLife in about a year:

Choose Sides
Pick an airline and stick to it. If you live in a major airline metropolis like New York City, pick two. For me, my top three are American**, Delta and then JetBlue as they all have major hubs at both JFK and LaGuardia airports. This list has increased to three over a 10 year period, with American still being my primary carrier. While I won’t tell you who to align yourself with, I can offer this: pick the airline with the most flights in/out of your city first. And if you absolutely can’t deal with that, pick the second. This is important as it will help you avoid unnecessary layovers in the name of accruing miles and offer you more flexibility for last minute flight changes.

Fly Loyal
Once you align yourself with an airline, join it’s rewards/mileage program and start to fly that airline religiously. This  means you may have to pay a bit more for a flight at times, endure a layover or adjust your plans a bit.
 Be sure to check what the “flying year” (a 12 month period that doesn’t always start Jan 1) is with your intended airline so you can start flying at the time that will allow you to accrue as much mileage as possible. Even if you have to bend a little it’s worth once you make the first/lowest tier of status which on average is about 25k miles a year. And as you fly more per year, your status goes up. Imagine never having to pay for pretty much anything associated with your flight, or having first-class upgrades be more of an automatic things versus a nice surprise. The more you fly, the more you get.

Flight monitoring tools like Yapta play a crucial part in helping you stay loyal as you can track the prices of multiple flights before purchasing. Also, tools like MilesCalc are there to help you estimate your intended mileage so you can figure out how much each flight will earn and how long it will take you to get to the top. Use these two in tandem to figure out the best routes and times to fly to maximize your earned mileage. And if you’re really about that life, invest in a mileage run. Essentially, it’s a flight that will accrue you the most amount of mileage in one flight. Some people have been know to do a mileage run without even staying at their destination, they turn right around and come home. These are generally done towards the end of the year when you have a set number of miles to reach to retain your status. If you have time to spare, follow the path my coworker did: JFK-LHR-JNB-NYC, in one LONG 4 day weekend with friends meeting her at airports for short layovers and a quick day stop in Jo’Burg during her longest one. It seems crazy to some, but as she is now a biz-class regular with her status-enabled upgrades it’s worth it to us fellow frequent flyers.

Card Wisely
So you just signed up for a credit card that will also give you 40K airline miles with the carrier of your choice to get started. Congratulations! You now have a bump in mileage which can go towards future trips, etc, but this doesn’t grant you automatic status. Traditionally, status miles are miles that you have to fly, not buy. There are cards out there that grant you airline lounge access, free checked bags, and more perks that are associated with having status on an airline but the truth is that only a sliver of these cards will get you closer to a first class experience in air and those that can require at least $40K of spending or more. Before committing to a card, take a few minutes to look up all the particulars, including the annual fees and minimum requirements.

Challenge Yourself
You’ve chosen your airline, you’ve mapped out your travel season and you’re about to start booking. If your itinerary is taking you across the country or across oceans multiple times in at least a 90 day period, you may be eligible for a status challenge. You will find nothing on most carrier websites about status challenges, but there are plenty of message boards and travel-focused wikis that break them down. In short, some airlines will grant you a fast track to a particular status level if you can meet it’s respective challenge—like accruing 10,000 points, not miles, in three months. Points break down differently than miles, so use a resource like Flyer Guide to get all the information before enrolling in a challenge. They all have risks, but can offer you some great rewards as they are designed to incentivize you to remain loyal to it’s respective airline. Just remember, if they accept you for a challenge (its not guaranteed) you can only do it once in a designated yearly period. Choose with care.

In all, remember that frequent flyer programs were created to keep you flying and reward you for doing so. But if a life full of travel is your goal, make them work for you. Put in the time and soon you’ll realize that a coach seat and a small snack are just the beginning. There is a whole world of “flyer ground” available to you, you just have to take it.

**Note, most of the examples given in this post are informed by my experience with American, so definitely refer to your own airlines policies before committing to anything as they may be different. 

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington