Why Elite Status Actually Matters To Me

I flew American Airlines to a small city in the Northeast this past week. American only has regional jet service. I booked a 6:30 a.m. departure through Chicago because that meant,

  • Mainline to Chicago, so satellite internet
  • A large regional jet for the connection, instead of an Embraer ERJ-145, which meant a first class cabin and (air to ground) internet
  • A bit of a buffer between when I’d be scheduled to arrive and when I actually needed to get there

I made it to the airport around 45 minutes to departure. I was already checked in, have CLEAR and PreCheck, and didn’t need to check bags. So that’s plenty of time. I even was able to pick up a coffee, bottle of water, and breakfast taco prior to start of boarding.

It wasn’t until I got on the aircraft that I realized I didn’t have my rollaboard with me. It was when I looked up at the overhead bin and wondered why I didn’t have anything to put in it that I knew I’d done something wrong.

I got off the aircraft. Maybe I’d left it behind when I got my breakfast taco? Nothing there. I must have left it at security, but nothing had been turned in or identified as left behind. And that’s when I realized – I walked into the airport without taking my carry on bag out of the trunk of my Lyft.

I told myself it was because for a one night trip I almost never bring a bag – I can manage with a laptop bag, which only needs to go under the seat, and I don’t need to board early to jockey for overhead bin space. But the truth is I was just not thinking. We all make mistakes, right?

I used to think that I appreciated status because it meant jumping to the front of the queue during irregular operations, and because American is willing to add extra segments into my reservation to give me backup options. ‘If you fly American you need status as a hedge against operational risk.’

Today I realized I appreciate status because it’s a hedge against my own stupidity risk.

  • Platinum Pro, Executive Platinum, premium cabin and oneworld emerald members get free same day confirmed changes
  • However American’s same day change policy is more restrictive than other airlines. You can’t change your routing. So you can’t take advantage of all of their hubs.
  • But I was allowed to change routings as an Executive Platinum memebr.

By re-routing through Philadelphia I was able to keep my first class seat. It meant a regional jet to Philadelphia, and slow internet, but the plane had overnighted in Austin so it was already there and the crew were there too. It was also the next flight to get me there, so I’d be there on time and still have a cushion.

I used that cushion to get my bag back. I messaged my Lyft driver and when he finished the ride he was on he got back to me. He was less than 15 minutes to the airport, and would be right there. I tipped him generously, and didn’t have to scrounge to buy clothes on my connection or at my destination.

Internet was slow, and I had to fly an ERJ-145 without internet on my short connecting flight, but that’s alright – it was an own goal. American was flexible with me when it was my mistake, and it didn’t cost me anything. Status really does help, and it’s not just because of bonus miles and upgrades.

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. I didn’t see that argument when The points guy valued Executive Platinum at $6725!
    We should put a $ value on making mistakes.

  2. Assuming someone forgets their bag or does some other mistake twice a year which involves requiring a same-day change (or even buying a walkup last minute domestic USA ticket), even then the “value” here would be what – $1000 total?

    If you’re someone who is making enough EQD spend to get elite status, then $1000 shouldn’t be a big enough hit to the bank account. You can just self-insure and add cushion budget against stupidity/mistakes without going into convoluted justifications about maintaining status (which involve a lot more spending than $1k, and a lot more hassle about flying extra etc just to maintain the status).

  3. Gary, just to clarify, the rerouting was an exception rather than the norm right?

    I know the airport agents have some discretion with rebooking/rerouting in exceptional events like this, so not necessarily a result of being EXP, although it likely helped

  4. At least once a month I have a dream about walking away from my carry on bag in an airport terminal and loosing it. Subconscious paranoia of a business traveler.

  5. @Ed I have similar dreams, most recently leaving bag on Narita Express. Guess the psychological byproduct of way too much travel over five decades!! Oh well…..
    Meanwhile, Gary is spot-on: my UA 1K status has bailed me out more than once during weather or irrops

  6. As a fellow EP for the last 4 years, whenever I read about you getting special treatment like changing routing, I wonder what airline you’re flying. I don’t ask for special treatment much, but when I have (like during the Oct operational fiasco this year, or when I sprinted to a gate only to find they closed the boarding door 5 minutes early), I have always found the answer to be “No.” Outside of the guaranteed benefits like higher upgrade list priority, and a single FA that thanked me “for being the reason he has a job,” I’ve never felt like I got any better treatment as an Executive Platinum.

    The only time I can remember feeling like I got any special treatment as an EP was when there was a mechanical issue that would have caused me to misconnect in DFW en route to SCL, so they rebooked me through MIA-SCL but kept my SWU confirmed upgrade rather than putting me back on the waitlist.

  7. I was not aware that EXPs can change routing? I take it that it cannot be done via the app but by calling the EXP hotline?

  8. @Aaron the indifference AA shows towards ExPlats is precisely why I bolted for United, where my elite tier experience has been much more favorable that at AA.

  9. The other moral here is that AA’s same-day confirmed rule is really stupid. I assume they want to limit people who book a cheap connection and then SDC to a nonstop, but UA’s generous routing rules is a reason I’m an elite there.

  10. One major reason people need high elite status besides irregular operations is simply to be able to get through on the phone!

  11. I have found that it is much more the interaction with the agent than status. On American Airlines before I had status I have had them change flights for me to other airlines when the American flight was delayed. Status does help and I do now have high status on American but I have found that most agents of most airlines are very cooperative when treated well and respectfully and not curtly and abusively

  12. It is weird I had almost the same nightmare (imaginary) a few months ago. I had left my bag unattended somewhere for a minute, it got stolen, and then I wake up during the panic.

    Thankfully this has never happened to me IRL although some douche lifted my wife’s bag off a Hertz bus (thankfully we found him – but that’s another story for another time).

    I have left my laptop 2x at airport security and 1x in a hotel safe – thankfully it was recovered and I was able to get it shipped back to me.

    So I guess what I am saying is that I feel you pain, but the ExPlat perks are the least interesting part of the story. The fact that the Lyft driver got it back to you so quickly – that’s the important part for most of us. Misplaced priorities.

  13. @Boraxo — I’ve only left an (important) item on a plane one-time, but it *was* my laptop! Unfortunately for me, it was on a flight from Madrid to Heathrow, and —worse yet — on Iberia. Didn’t realize it wasn’t in my backpack/briefcase until I got to the hotel.

    Several calls to Iberia finally confirmed it was in the Lost and Found at the Madrid airport. However, they refused to send it back to LHR where I could pick it up, refused to pack it and ship it to my home in California (on my Euro, of course), and would only give it to me personally at MAD. After momentarily contemplating just letting them keep it, I had to book a r/t flight back to Madrid (on BA), where Iberia refused to bring the computer to the customer service desk or lost baggage office, but made me take a cab ride to the far back side of the airport, only to be dropped off in front of a security gate where trucks delivering cargo for air freight entered and left the airport. The security guards (understandably) wouldn’t let me through, and after 15 minutes of trying to at least get them to call Iberia and insisting that wasn’t their job, they finally photocopied my passport before picking up the phone. Finally two people from Iberia walked up to the gate with my computer, photocopied my passport *and* my California DL before I could sign (in triplicate) a release and get my computer back

    Now all I had to do was get back to the passenger terminal. It took 10 minutes before the security guards would call a cab for me, another 15 for the cab to arrive, and another 10 to get to the other (public) side of the airport! Barely made my return flight.

    Moral of the story: never forget anything on the plane…especially if you’re on IB.

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