Analysis

4 Top Perks of Airline Elite Status — and How to Get Them Without It

Most major airlines have frequent flyer programs. While no two programs are exactly alike, they generally work the same way. If you spend enough money with an airline, you can earn elite status and get rewarded with special benefits. There are multiple status tiers, and the higher you go, the more perks you’ll receive.

It’s hard for the average traveler to earn elite status. If you don’t fly often, it could be out of reach. But that doesn’t mean those elite status benefits are out of reach, too. Here are other ways to get all the top perks.

1. Free checked bags

Airline elite status normally includes at least one free checked bag, and sometimes more. If you travel with luggage, this is a valuable benefit, especially since several airlines bumped up their baggage fees earlier this year. With some carriers, you’ll pay $80 roundtrip for one checked bag.

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How to get it: Open a credit card with your preferred airline. Many airline credit cards include free checked baggage for the cardholder, and sometimes additional passengers traveling on the same reservation.

Another option is to book a ticket that includes free baggage. Airlines often include free checked baggage starting with premium economy seats. Or you could fly with Southwest, as that airline lets all passengers check up to two bags free of charge.

2. Complimentary upgrades

When you have elite status with an airline, you’re eligible for complimentary upgrades. Airlines have an upgrade list for their flights, and passengers in higher status tiers receive priority for upgrades. If the flight isn’t full, having elite status could get you into premium economy, business class, or first class.

How to get it: If upgrade space is available, airlines usually give passengers the opportunity to buy an upgrade before the flight. It’s not quite a free upgrade, but it’s cheaper than the cost of buying that seat from the beginning.

You could also book the ticket you want with airline miles instead of cash. If you’ve earned miles using a travel credit card, that’s a great way to save on expensive airfare.

3. A discounted or free membership to the airline’s lounge program

With some airlines, elite status could help you score airport lounge access. American Airlines offers a discounted rate on an Admirals Club® membership for passengers with elite status (the discount amount depends on your status tier). Delta Air Lines lets Diamond Medallion members select benefits of their choice, and options include a Delta Sky Club individual or executive membership.

How to get it: Airlines often include a complimentary membership to their lounge programs with their most expensive credit cards. These cards can cost $550 or more per year, so they don’t come cheap. But the cost of the annual fee is still typically cheaper than the cost of a lounge membership. If you fly with a given airline quite a bit, then getting its top credit card could be worth it.

If you don’t always fly with the same airline, there are also travel credit cards with memberships to other lounge programs, such as Priority Pass. You can get into a much larger variety of lounges this way.

4. Priority boarding

Airlines let passengers with elite status board before the general boarding group. If you want to make sure there’s enough overhead bin space for your bag, this perk can come in handy.

How to get it: This is another area where an airline credit card is just as good as elite status. Priority boarding is a feature you can find on most airline cards, and it typically applies for your travel companions on the same reservation, too. If you aren’t interested in getting an airline card, you might also be able to pay a small fee for priority boarding.

Elite status perks without elite status

Airline elite status comes with lots of valuable perks. But you can get most of them without elite status, too, either with an airline credit card or by just paying for the upgrades you want.

If you travel often, getting an airline credit card (or a travel credit card that isn’t tied to an airline) is probably a good idea. In addition to their travel perks, these cards can help you save on bookings with the miles you earn. Check out the best travel credit card options, as well as cards with your favorite airline, to see if there’s one you like.

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