London Travel Blog

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Hmm I had an entry all basically ready to go but honestly, most of it was about the history of status on airlines (as I understand it) and less about flying strategically or flying not only because an airline is cheap but also for what you can get out of it.

The simple idea is that most of the airlines compete on price (as do most businesses) but in the climate in which the major air carriers operate the prices and dates that they compete on are virtually the same.  I'm not exactly certain how anyone can not conclude that they collude on the prices since really, if you look at any flexible search for airfare for most destinations, every airline has the same price for the same days, etc (although they may or may not be available).  Anyway, because of this sort of "competition" and because no airline is generally all that much better than another, they try to compete in other ways or attract repeat business.

The idea of status on an airline is fairly old (25 years at least).  The idea is that if you fly enough with a particular airline, they'll give you perks over your non-discriminating general muckity muck that only flies with whoever is cheaper (even if many times airlines are the same price, same days, same destination).  Then again, even if you only fly with the cheapest, they want to attract you to fly with them again vs just sort of picking whoever comes up first in a random travel website search.  So, most airlines offer a tiered system of perks depending on how much you fly with a particular airline (or their alliance partners), silver, gold, platinum, good, better, best, blah blah blah.

This part is going to be united based because that's what I know best.. but I'll try to dump in a few links conerning other airlines, but generally speaking they're all roughly similar.

First, tips.  Status on a particular airline isn't all the difficult to obtain.  Sometimes it can be really easy to obtain (like with a single round trip - I'll get into this tip in another entry), many people could achieve the basic level of status on the airline with a few cross the US trips or a good vacation or two.  Granted, since it is the easiest level of status to reach, it generally doesn't give you all the great of perks.  But I suppose I'm one of those people that thinks, well, its pretty much free for doing what it is that I was going to do anyway, so why not?  Honestly, if you're going to fly a fair bit, it makes sense to consolidate your flying in one spot.  Flying a particular airline or alliance (star, one world, skyteam) will maximize your frequent flier miles and make it easier for you to gain status on the airline/alliance.

Each airline has their own programs, some are better than others (like continental sucks for redeaming your frequent flier miles, northwest sucks unless you're an elite for wanting to sit anywhere but a middle seat, etc).  From a united perspective, this looks like this:

United premier (star alliance silver):  gotta fly 25k miles in a year (or maybe you can find someone who can gift this to you).  Which isn't horrific if you consider a flight from seattle to london is about 11-13k by itself.  This level of status doesn't give you all that much but it does give you for the following year and from the moment you earn it, a 25% frequent flyer mile bonus.  I'm a pretty big fan of FF miles, seeing as though I've gotten 10 international flights on them in the past 2 years alone, but you do have to do your homework and realize that just because you have the miles doesn't mean you'll actually get where you want to go.

united premier exec (star alliance gold):  the good stuff.  takes 50k miles, which is an awful lot, but if you're doing a RTW trip or are just doing a lot of flying for business, etc, it is doable.  you get a 100% frequent flyer mile bonus, priority check in (love this, long lines waiting for normal person checkin and you get to check in with business class even though you're flying a super saver fare), for international itineraries you get to use the international lounges (on any star alliance carrier), special service line to make sure you're being handled with care (1-800 phone), priority boarding (get to board after first/biz, so that way you actually can put your baggage in the overhead), priority upgrading, some airports have special security lines, etc.  being able to preselect exit row seats when you book your flights (such a perk! for economy international this is huge)

united 1k - (star alliance platinum): 100k miles.  its gold but you also get a few other things, like system wide upgrades which allow you to basically upgrade any united flight.  very handy when you're flying to say australia in economy and for a few extra bucks sit in biz class instead of paying a few grand.

Each airline basically has a similar system and some airlines make more sense than others based on the considerations like, where do I fly the most?  Who offers upgrade opportunities?  Who's frequent flyer program will allow me to use my miles to get me (or whomever I wish to use it on) where I want to go?

There is a tonne of information concerning this all over the web, its generally the best place to search for this stuff.. each airline's website will give you a rundown of what their status levels are and who their partners are based on their frequent flyer program.  The common thing that people misunderstand when they first start thinking about this is the difference between the frequent flyer mile and elite qualifying mile.  Although they are fairly simple.  The frequent flyer mile is a commodity item that can be earned by all sorts of activities from phone calls to shopping malls to credit cards to flying, whereas the elite status mile is generally only earned the hard way, by sitting in an airplane and going some place.  So while you might be a silver elite, you earn 25% more frequent flyer miles not 25% more elite qualifying miles.  If you want status for the next year, you have to fly 25k miles.  A pain, yes but for those that fly a bit, its worth it.

Good resources concerning basically everything to do with status and mileage programs can be found at flyertalk ( 

Gotta run for now...
chivato says:
Indeed.. I will try to get into depth on a lot of things, some people will find this interesting, a lot of people, not so much so. I have more tips than I have time, alas.. everything from how to pack a carry on to what's a good way to get ff miles for eating out.
Posted on: Jun 17, 2007
Kramerdude says:
Nice post, should probably at some point post about the alliances in more detail. One important bit that people often miss is that you can typically earn miles in your base program (including the elite status miles) flying other alliance planes. So I can earn United miles by fling United, US Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian, and many others. Always remember to consolidate your miles into as few carriers as poosible to maximize their value.
Posted on: Jun 15, 2007
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