Recently-announced Delta SkyMiles changes to elite status have underscored for me that stretching to earn top status just no longer makes sense for most people. If you are hub captive, and flying one airline enough anyway to earn status-fine.
If you’re virtually at a status level anyway a little effort at the margin could make sense. But top status should no longer be a goal. In fact, the sweet spot is now mid-tier because the benefits beyond that are mostly illusory, or at least no longer worth the extra effort.
Here’s the realization from Delta: Unless you’re putting hundreds of thousands of dollars of spend on a Delta credit card – and losing out on earning much more valuable rewards from other cards in the process – you’re going to need to be buying mostly premium cabin tickets anyway and buying first class, and international business, gets you nearly everything status does anyway.
- You get your airport priority and checked bags
- You don’t worry about an upgrade because you’re already in the seat you want
You have higher priority for re-accommodation if the airline cancels your flight, and telephone priority for customer service. With oneworld airlines top tier status gets you into Qantas, Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines first class lounge without flying first class. But for the most part if you buy premium tickets anyway you don’t need status. But you can’t earn status without buying premium tickets. Airlines have created a Catch-22.
I can easily earn American Airlines Executive Platinum status, with the myriad forms of activity that count (like credit card, online shopping, card-linked SimplyMiles offers and more). I’m not going to extreme lengths to earn 200,000 Loyalty Points but I reached that months ago, and I’m over 250,000 Loyalty Points for the next choice benefit level.
However for most people going out of their way and really stretching for elite status no longer makes sense.
- The requirements, for most people, are too onerous
- And the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, airlines are no longer delivering on top tier benefits
Domestic upgrades are the main benefit of higher tier status. Sure, once in a while on off peak dates and routes those may happen at lower tiers of status. But top tier used to mean usually getting an upgrade but no longer does, since airlines are now selling those seats – going from 1 in 10 sold up front a couple of decades ago to nearly 4 out of 5 now. And it’s really more than that, since the most desirable flights and routes see first class sell out much of the time and there are some routes where it rarely sells.
The answer is to go for mid-tier status, and you’ll receive free checked bags and airport priority, plus pre-reserved extra legroom and exit row seats.
Here are the new status tiers, earn in 2024 for 2025 benefits:
- Silver: $6,000
- Gold: $12,000
- Platinum: $18,000
- Diamond: $35,000
With Delta you want Platinum, with United (Gold) and American (Platinum) their second tier. At American it takes just 75,000 Loyalty Points.
If you’re going to fly every other week, and spend at least $18,000 on tickets, sure focus on United (but don’t expect to be upgraded more than very occasionally).
If you’re active in frequent flyer programs, doing your online shopping through portals, filling up gas linked to an airline program, and just generally ‘playing the game’ at a pace to earn a couple hundred thousand miles a year then focus on American and you’ll likely ‘fall into’ top tier status.
But if you’re a Delta elite who used to spend $20,000 on tickets to make Diamond you should either just get off the treadmill and be satisfied with mid-tier. Your experience will be almost as good. When another airline has a better flight, take it.
And if you’re getting started in miles and points, focus your loyalty… just enough to earn mid-tier.
If you’re not going to earn status at all, consider getting the credit card of the airline you fly most for better boarding privileges (so you don’t have to gate check your carry on) and waived checked bag fees. But don’t spend money on it, you will do better earning a bank’s points that transfer to a variety of airline miles and hotel points.
Elite status is half of what a loyalty program is about, and what has been driving members most now that airlines have devalued their redeemable miles so much. If they want to save elite status, the answer isn’t to sell fewer premium seats but the ‘percentage sold’ isn’t a badge of honor. They should be offering more premium seats which, domestically, just aren’t that costly. And holding out hope of the upgrade will keep flyers on the treadmill. Without it why on earth would anyone try to spend $350,000 on a $550 annual fee credit card?