If you’re not a frequent flyer, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to join an airline’s loyalty program. After all, airlines save their best perks for their best customers. If you’re not a member, you might be missing out on perks that make travel more comfortable and affordable. Elite status comes with benefits like free upgrades, bonus miles, early boarding, occasional discounts on fares and free passes to airport lounges.

What is Elite Status in a Loyalty Program?

Every airline has a loyalty program. Members of the program can earn miles or points every time you take a flight. Your miles or points are redeemable for future flights and other rewards. However, in order to take advantage of a loyalty program, you do have to book direct with the airline.

What are the typical benefits of airline Elite Status?

Perks don’t come free with the U.S. airlines – that is, unless you’ve got elite status. Here are some of the most common perks you can expect with some of the top U.S. airlines. On American, Delta and United, for example, members can expect:

  • Bonus miles or points when you fly
  • Free checked bags
  • Wider selection of flights or seats that can be booked as “award flights” with miles
  • Priority boarding
  • Enhanced customer service support
  • Complimentary upgrades

So what’s the downside of going for Elite Status with the airlines?

In order to qualify for Elite Status, you have to fly on one particular airline – a lot. So, even though it’s free to join a frequent flyer program, it may limit your options for flight times, or flying on a schedule that you would prefer. It certainly can make sense for travelers who will be flying a lot in a calendar year.

At the MVP level, the entry level for Elite Status on Alaska Airlines, benefits include the following:

  • Qualify for First Class or Premium Class upgrades at the time of booking
  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • 2 free checked bags, preferred seating
  • Express security at some airports
  • Alaska lounge discount.

How some travelers game the system through “segment stuffing”

Most of us want to get to our destinations with as few stops as possible, in the most direct way. Not so, if you’re trying to qualify for Elite status on some airlines. For example, on Alaska Airlines, to qualify for their lowest level of Elite Status – MVP – you need to “bank” 30 flight segments on Alaska Airline and their oneworld Alliance partner airlines:

American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Sri Lankan Airlines, and Fiji Airways.

To get the correct number of segments to qualify for MVP status, you need 30 flight segments. One way to get those flight segments is to schedule as many segments as possible, rather than try to get to your destination in one direct flight. That could mean taking on additional layovers, with longer wait times, and generally delaying arrival when a more direct option could be available.

It’s also often harder to shop for these less direct flights, because most airline sites serve up the most convenient options first.

Is trying for Loyalty Program Elite Status worth it?

That is a question every traveler must answer for themselves. If you do tend to take a lot of flights during the course of a year, it may be worth it to throw all of your flights to one loyalty program/airline. If you travel a few times a year only, it probably won’t make sense.

Some of the extra perks that people can enjoy for free with Elite Status, can now be purchased – often for incremental cost – on a site like ours. And on a site like CheapAir.com, you get more choice, complete transparency, and flexible payment options.

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