Is Elite Airline Status Worth Chasing?

Earlier this year, American Airlines announced that soft landings would disappear. This means for those who are only a bit short of elite status miles, the airline will not comp those miles to help someone hold on to their elite level. However, AA recently announced they are offering a soft landing buy-up for those elites who are short of status miles. However, this is a bit different than the Delta Air Lines program of the last few years.

The American program is effective in January of next year while Delta’s status buy-up miles has been promoted in December. Also, American offers both a boost and a renewal option while Delta’s offer was only a boost. Neither of these are like the US Air program that simply offers the purchase of status outright.

So is a buy-up worth it? For that matter, is a mileage run still worth it? The answer is, it depends.

No question, elite benefits have been on the decline but that is not the same as worthless.  This has been most noticeable from Delta and United because their mergers are already somewhat complete. American, of course, is still seeking their merger with US Air so this is hardly a time to significantly devalue their elite program.

The upside to a buy-up is obvious. For a nominal amount of money, one can achieve elite status.  However, it is important to place a value on that cost. Exactly what you receive for this cost needs to be considered carefully.

Mileage runs still make more sense to top off an elite’s account. The cost is generally less than the buy-up and arguably more important, you also receive redeemable miles. It is the latter that provides the miles for award tickets.

On the other hand, there are some who say they don’t have time for a mileage run but still want the status. These are the people that may more likely need to think through their decision more carefully.

What we are talking about here is frequent flier status. If you fly so infrequently that you need to spend money to top off your status each year, is the cost really worth it? Could that same money be put to better use such as purchasing upgraded seats, for example? In some cases, a branded credit card may provide you with most of the elite status benefits anyway, certainly at the lowest tier.

One also has to wonder that when the AA-US merger completes next year, is there any reason to believe that the combined airline won’t move in the same direction as DL/UA regarding their elite status program? Yes I know, the merger is not a done deal yet but I stand by my prediction as I have the past couple years.

So, are you buying up and paying a premium to achieve status that may be worth less than what you have? Definitely possible, so think about this before you commit to spending hundreds of dollars, or maybe even a couple thousand dollars depending on status level.

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