Want airline elite status? Here are tips for fliers based in L.A. area
You want free checked bags and extra legroom. Priority boarding sounds nice too.
But those perks are reserved for road warriors, the elite fliers among us, right? Not necessarily.
Fliers in the Southland can reach elite status with as few as six annual cross-country trips. (Generally, if you take shorter hops, you must fly more; international trips mean you don’t have to fly quite as much.) Travelers don’t necessarily need to buy the most expensive tickets either.
On most airlines, passengers earn elite status based on how much they fly between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31. Each year, the clock starts again, so it doesn’t matter how many miles or points travelers have banked with the airline. Credit card spending generally does not help travelers earn elite status, with some exceptions (usually on cards with higher annual fees).
Strategy is key to earning elite status. Travelers should fly the same airline or airline alliance on every possible trip.
But not every airline is as generous. For best results, choosing a carrier that flies many routes from Los Angeles — including routes that you might take — makes qualifying for elite status easy and offers the most lucrative benefits.
For the Southern California flier, here are the best bets for getting perks. We list the status you hope to achieve, the requirements to get there, the perks and some caveats.
Requirement: 20,000 miles in a calendar year on Alaska. Travelers can usually earn on Alaska’s partners, such as American, Delta and British Airways, but need 25,000 miles for elite status.
Perks: Two free bags, priority boarding and check-in, access to extra legroom seats and occasional first-class upgrades.
L.A. angle: The key is the American and Delta partnerships, so travelers may earn MVP status by flying three of LAX’s largest airlines. When passengers fly Delta and American, they should credit the miles to their Alaska account.
Caveat: Alaska’s relationship with Delta is not as solid as it once was, and Delta cut some benefits last year, including a free checked bag, for Alaska frequent fliers.
AMERICAN AIRLINES GOLD
Requirement: 25,000 miles or 30 segments. Some flying on partners, such as British Airways, is permitted.
Perks: Free checked bag, priority boarding and check-in. Access to slightly better economy seats. Ability to upgrade to premium-economy section at check-in. Some first-class upgrades on American and a few benefits on Alaska.
L.A. angle: American is not as generous as Alaska, but offers more destinations from L.A., with strength to Dallas, Chicago, New York, Phoenix and Miami.
Caveat: American’s program is more customer-friendly than United’s or Delta’s (which are changing to revenue-based programs — dollars spent, not miles flown), but that could change as American completes its merger with US Airways.
Requirement: 25,000 miles or 30 segments. Some miles can be earned on partners, including KLM, Virgin Atlantic, Air France and Alitalia.
Perks: Free checked bag, with priority boarding and check-in. Access to better coach seats at booking. Ability to book premium-economy seats at check-in. Possible first-class upgrades. Some perks on Alaska.
L.A. angle: Until recently, Delta was relatively small at LAX, but it has grown quickly to become one of the top airlines.
Caveat: Delta also requires most passengers to spend $3,000 a year to earn this status.
UNITED PREMIER SILVER
Requirement: 25,000 miles or 30 segments. Some travel on partners — Lufthansa and Swiss included — is permitted.
Perks: Free checked bag, priority boarding and priority check-in. Access to premium-economy seats at check-in. Occasional first-class upgrades.
L.A. angle: United has robust service to Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Houston, New York and Washington, D.C.
Caveat: Like Delta, most passengers must spend at least $3,000 to earn Silver.
VIRGIN AMERICA SILVER
Requirements: 20,000 points, calculated mostly based on money spent, not miles traveled. Travelers also earn on Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic.
Perks: Free checked bag. Priority check-in and boarding. Access to open premium-economy seats. Two free LAX club passes.
L.A. angle: Virgin America is a hip airline but flies to relatively few cities from LAX, so passengers may not be able to get where they want to go.
Caveat: Customers booking cheaper fares will struggle to earn status.
OTHERS: JetBlue and Southwest lack traditional elite tiers. Both use a different strategy, treating all customers about equally and assessing few fees. They’re ideal for occasional travelers and Southlanders who prefer not to fly from LAX. Southwest is strong in Ontario and Burbank, and JetBlue concentrates at Long Beach. Frequent passengers on both carriers receive some perks.
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