Here’s What It’s Like to Travel (With And) Without Elite Status

I usually try to avoid travel over major holiday weekends like this one. The bookends of long weekends are ‘amateur days’. Airports are crowded, planes are full (they are most of the time nowadays anyway) and lines are longer.

Very frequent flyers can get frustrated with once a year (or less) travelers but really shouldn’t. The skies — and the airports — do not belong to us. We put in our time, and we get our perks, we know the drill and it comes easier for us anyway with PreCheck for security, club lounges to wait in, and priority boarding so we don’t lose overhead bin space.

Even upgrades are easier to come by when business travel stops and leisure travel takes over.

Scott Mayerowitz and Candice Choi of the Associated Press gave travel a whirl side-by-side as an elite frequent flyer and without even a co-brand credit card card.

Scott saved more than 45 minutes total in waiting in lines at the airport, avoided crowds and got free food along the way. Candice thought Scott’s biggest advantage was the time he saved. The extra space and food he got seemed nice, but less meaningful for a short trip.

I love the video of the experience.

But Scott, why didn’t you guest Candice into Delta SkyClub or Hyatt Regency Club…?

Ultimately I think the video undersells the difference between traveling with status and traveling without it because their flight took off as planned. One of the biggest differences is in re-accommodation.

A very frequent flyer will generally get better flight re-accommodation, will populate up at the top of flight standby lists, and be more likely to get friendly help from agents making changes when necessary. That can mean the difference between getting where you’re going the same day and being stranded for two days.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The editor from AP didn’t fully understand advantage of frequent flyer. Compared to you, they’re no different than common people.

  2. Feels pretty standard. On a single trip, the differences can seem less-than-life-changing. However, on 30 trips in a year, the cumulative effect of the grind adds up… without status.

  3. “I usually try to avoid travel over major holiday weekends like this one.”

    I disagree, in my experience. When I had status, I loved traveling during the holidays because almost everyone in those large airport crowds didn’t have status. With so few business travelers, the “status” lines were shorter than usual!

    And the dirty looks I’d get from the non-status folks as I walked straight to the check-in desk (to check bags) was always entertaining. Some people would actually shout at me for “cutting the line”!

  4. So agree @tommyleo. I’d much rather be the lone elite on a Saturday flight than one of a herd on a Friday flight.

    Of course, I’m the guy that’d regularly do a Saturday night stayover (back when those were a thing) on a business trip. The company was always glad to spring for a $200 hotel room when I saved them $1500 on airfare and I got to play tourist in places I’d probably never choose to visit as an actual tourist. Turns out Detroit, Cleveland, and Omaha have things to see and do.

  5. I’m speaking to some of the commenters….

    Enjoy the status you acquire as slaves to one brand. But don’t be that arrogant snob who disses infrequent travelers who don’t have that marketing status. Having status doesn’t make you a better person. In fact, it may make you a worse one. If you want respect, give respect.

  6. The real unfortunates are those of us who fly frequently enough to know how to efficiently manage security and boarding but not enough to have any sort of status. It never ceases to amaze me how many people wait until they are standing in front of the conveyer belt to take off their belts, forget about the liquids in their carry-ons, or stand in the aisle forever while putting their carry-on bag sideways in the overhead bin. So frustrating.

  7. It’s funny to see bloggers say how much better it is to be a “free agent” and downplay status then write posts like these, that illustrate why status is useful. The fact of the matter is that individuals that fly 50,000 miles or so annually should always get status on at least one airline. It makes the flying you already do easier and more lucrative.

  8. @Art, you must have San incredible view from that high horse you are sitting on! Slow clap for your insightfulness :p

  9. It really depends on the airline and the status level. On WN you can pay $15 for EBCI and basically get the same experience as an elite. On UA you can fly 50k a year and still get the same experience as a credit card holder (free bag, boarding group 2). Yes, status makes a difference but there are workarounds. Of course, if you’re a kettle that doesn’t do your homework, then you will be paying fees and sitting in middle seats…

  10. I flew out Thursday last week and home yesterday. I definitely noticed the full flight on Thursday out of LAX. The gate crowding by those without status and in the lowest tiers of boarding groups is out of hand. On the way home yesterday, I cleared an upgrade with my wife for a short haul segment and had a normal flight back on the longer segment. The airport traffic exiting LAX was atrocious but that’s typical at LAX.

  11. I have 1.7 Million miles with Delta. For six years in a row, I was Diamond. Last year I was a bit short of that (in a way that a few mileage runs wouldn’t have mattered), and so this year I’m platinum. I feel the difference on almost every flight. Sure, I’m in Comfort+ for free nearly always, but on a few of the last flights, I was one seat away from ending up in First. At least the coach FA’s help me out by giving me double vodka and the whole can, rather than having me wait for their second trip around. But I miss the cushy seats.

    The good news is that within a few weeks, I will already be at Platinum for next year, so Diamond is a pretty sure bet. Yeay.

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