What are the Really Unique Benefits of Top Tier Airline Elite Status?

Frequent flyer programs are really two separate and distinct efforts under the same banner: recognition and reward. Reward is mileage earning and redemption. Recognition consists of the (elite) benefits offered.

In the U.S. airline programs are generous by world standards in offering unsold domestic premium cabin seats as upgrades. However they aren’t as generous with service-oriented benefits.

Sure, American Airlines ConciergeKey members can access the airline’s new Flagship lounges even when flying domestically. But that’s hardly generous compared to international airlines who give their elites business class lounge access whenever they fly. Indeed, British Airways Silver members can access American’s Flagship lounges when flying domestically in the U.S.

And Delta, American, and United all offer tarmac transfers — via Porsche, Cadillac, and Mercedes, respectively — to revenue-based top tier members (360, ConciergeKey, Global Services) but that’s not a consistent benefit even for them. It’s often sometimes, on a surprise and delight basis, depending on the member’s connection.

American Airlines Cadillac Display, New York JFK

When we look abroad we can get inspiration from some of the services offered to top tier elites. That’s not to say that these programs are better overall (recognition and reward) or even that their top tier elite programs are the best. However they offer some of the most interesting and unique recognition for their top tier customers.

Indeed they offer inspiration for what’s possible. I don’t see any reasonable excuse for instance, now that flight attendants have tablets, that an airline shouldn’t collect information on their top tier elites so they know favorite drink choices. Instead of asking what you’d like, they ask if they can prepare your drink? That would make you feel like a welcome guest, and if in economy like something other than self-loading cargo.

Of course American Airlines can’t even get flight attendants to serve predeparture beverages in first class let alone anticipate which beverage a customer may want…

Air Canada Super Elite Concierge Service

Air Canada’s Super Elites have concierge service at the airport. Air Canada has agents in 44 airports who can help with ticketing, connections, baggage and meal issues, and who can handle travel and other requests beyond Air Canada.

Malaysia Airlines Enrich Platinum Meet and Greet

Malaysia Airlines Platinum members receive a truly unique benefit — airport meet and greet. A porter unloads bags from the member’s car, talks them to first class check-in, escorts them through VIP immigratoin and to the lounge and then waits at the lounge until their flight is ready. Members receive an escort to the gate, to the front of security, and onto the plane — putting bags away in the overhead bin.

China Eastern Eastern Rewards Platinum – Guaranteed Awards, and a Medical Exam or Flight Simulator Time

China Eastern introduced a new top tier Platinum level three years ago. Their previous top tier Gold didn’t have meaningful enough benefits. However they’ve really revolutionized what it means to be an elite flyer in China. After 90 flights or 160,000 kilometers flown in a rolling 12 month period members are entitled to:

  • unlimited free domestic upgrades (if available)
  • 4 international upgrade certificates valid on any paid fare, available nearly 100% of the time
  • guaranteed award seats for the member and nominees who travel together if requested at least 48 hours prior to departure
  • Free cancellations of awards
  • Account overdraft privileges up to 12000 points
  • A choice benefit of: 3 free hotel nights at selected cities, a flight simulator experience, or a health checkup

Finnair’s New Top Tier Gives Out Luggage and Open Doors Lounge Access

British Airways took away lounge access for elites flying other airlines years ago. Qantas recently announced the elimination of lounge access when flying most other airlines for their super secret Chairmans members. But Finnair introducedtheir Platinum Lumo status, requiring three times the tier points of their existing top tier Platinum level, and those members have access to the airline’s lounges no matter whom they fly.

The most valuable customers of the airline are treated well by the airline no matter what. It’s actually alright for them to fly another airline, they’re still providing immense revenue to the carrier, and every time their passengers interact with staff they’re a valuable customer regardless of whose customer they are on any given day.

Moreover when they introduced the status level they sent Platinum Lumo members a welcome gift of a Tumi International Carry On bag.

Cathay Pacific Diamond Members Get to Use Crew Security Lanes

Hong Kong doesn’t have priority security lines, but when a Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Club Diamond member checks in at first class they’re given a ‘courtesy channel‘ invitation which allows them to use the security lines for airline crew.

What Are Your Favorite Unique Top Tier Benefits?

What do programs do that’s really above and beyond?

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. They should roll the benefit under one umbrella so services are the same to all high revenue members instead of individualize. Then.members will be enticed to spend.

  2. The Premium redemptions are far more important to me than a bunch of pomp and circumstance. I’ll take the very reasonable redemption trips up front for my lovely lady over that any time.

  3. The AC concierges are amazing, especially if you’re based outside YYZ, as they quickly learn the regulars by name and fix things before you know they’ve happened. However, I’d say the any-Y seat (and many J seats) reward at saver level is the biggest value. I’ve booked $2000 tickets on 2 hours notice for 12,500 miles. I’ve been waiting for them to kill it for years, as the value seems massively outsized to the status. Until then…. 4 J seats to Europe at Christmas!

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