The Only Air Travel Tip That Matters; Skip Elite Status

Today’s the Blog’s launch date and I’m excited.  I read an article today from Matthew Yglesias in which he states how important it is to get Elite status. I’ll be doing a series of posts in the next few days on how unimportant Airline elite status is, but I wanted to link to his article in case you haven’t read it.

I’ll write more about it soon, but the basics of Elite status are:

  • · Bonus redeemable miles for those flown
  • · Expedited Security lines/boarding
  • · Free Checked bags
  • · Reduced “fees” for changes and close in booking of award tickets
  • · Upgraded seats

Most of these are unimportant.  Extra miles? Airlines customers frequently complain of how difficult/impossible those miles can be to use.  I discuss how miles can be worth anywhere from $0 to much, much more in a post here.

Carrying on, free checked bags are a good thing, right?  They could save you so much money…Except most elite travelers fly light, and carry-on only. And if you need free bags, most credit cards (which we will definitely be discussing in Milenomics) offer this benefit as well.

Reduced fees to use award miles sounds good–but if you’re using your miles you’re risking not re-qualifying for next year’s elite status.  So What ends up happening is you hoard your miles and pay to fly routes just to keep your “benefits.” Eventually you end up with 400,000+ miles and don’t know if you should use them, or buy a ticket.  Or maybe don’t even know how to use them.  Those miles slowly devalue over the course of years, eating away all that you paid dearly for.

And then there are the upgrades. Upgrades are probably the #1 reason most people chase status.  However no airline offers unlimited complementary upgrades on the flights that really necessitate it: International long haul coach.  So what you have is jockeying for upgrades on a series of 1-5 hour domestic flights, and a few flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. Sure you can upgrade international flights with SWU’s and the like…but I’ll explain why that too isn’t a good reason to chase status in a future post.

None of the status upgrades matter as soon as an airline starts offering cheap upgrades to non status holders. United does this, and Delta might start soon.  When that happens you’ll be watching from E+ as Delta’s profits soar. You see, the truth of the matter is that Airline status is a game.

Milenomics is somewhat a game as well, but it does not place an importance on loyalty. Loyalty locks you into a system where the creator of the system can change the rules (like this, and this, and this, and this).  Non-elite flyers should always be ready for big changes as well (like the $200 change fee, and the Scare on AA Fuel Surcharges from just a few days ago).

In short: be your own elite program.

Milenomics places a value on cost and time spent in the air.  If I want to sit in Business/First  I’ll make sure my seat is confirmed in Business/First.  I’ll do that with mostly with miles, which I’ll write about extensively here. But I’ll also have plenty of other tricks up my sleeve that I’ll write more about.

While this is the first post since the blog officially launched, feel free to look around at other posts.  Also you can follow me on Twitter @Milenomics, and get the latest tips and tricks  there.

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. After the major UN enhancements with Air Canada announced Aug 20, I think best to go for best fares as status means nothing anymore. Paying with cash and credits is the new norm in 2014? Not worth it. Air Canada has taken a major dive in regards to loyality or meaning of status.

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