Reader TonySCV asked,

Once you achieve top tier status with A[merican Airlines] (for example), would (or should) you try for a different status (such as [Alaska, United, Delta], etc. or just continue to credit to A[merican]?

This is a common problem for loyalty programs, and it’s why several seek to reward customers for going beyond ‘just’ top tier. A perfect example is this year’s “Elite Rewards” from American which get really rewarding for folks meeting thresholds beyond just 100,000 miles flown.

Loyalty Programs See This as a Real Conundrum

So while it may seem like an obscure problem to many readers, something that doesn’t affect a ton of people — making top tier status is hard enough, who makes top tier and then could keep going and earn status somewhere else?

But it’s a real enough problem that people in that situation aren’t the only ones worrying about it — loyalty programs do too.

It’s why, for instance, Starwood introduced two higher levels sort of beyond their top tier platinum. Platinum is ‘still’ the top elite level in the SPG program, but they’ve added additional rewards and recognition for Platinums who stay 50 nights (rather than just hitting 25 stays) in the form of upgrades confirmed in advance of arrival, those who hit 75 nights in the form of 24 hour check-in and more bonus points, and those who hit 100 nights — a dedicated point of contact (or an “Ambassador”). They want their top customers to stick with them well beyond 50 nights.

It’s easier to find customers for your product who already consume it, and consume a lot of it, than to find new customers.

They also want to be the program of choice, of course, for the most frequent of frequent guests.

But are those rewards enough? Do you stick around?

My advice for most people is to earn status and then simply enjoy the benefits of that status.

Getting the better treatment that comes with being an uber-super-duper-titanium member is the reward for achieving that status, and it always struck me as somewhat odd to think “there’s no additional rewards for my business, so shouldn’t I look somewhere else?”

That’s a simple answer, just stick with the program. The original question was about American Airlines. Once you hit 100,000 miles domestic upgrades usually clear, and they are complimentary. When they don’t clear, drinks and snacks are comped in coach. I usually find flight attendants to be extra nice, thanking me for my business, personalizing the trip (“Mr. Leff, you are my Executive Platinum member in coach this afternoon, if there’s anything I can do to make the trip more comfortable please just let me know.”)

There isn’t anything, of course, that the flight attendant can do — other than perhaps a gin and tonic and a sandwich.

But the flying experience is just nicer.

That’s not the end of the story — the answer actually depends on your likely travel patterns next year.

There’s little reason to collect status just for status. If you want fancy cards in your wallet (“wallet candy”) you can get status matches even from a bunch of international airlines and they’ll send you all sort of obscure cards with which to impress hapless passengers that you mean in airline lounges around the world.

The point of status is to improve your travel experience and make it more rewarding.

If you aren’t going to fly much in the coming year, it doesn’t make sense to do a lot to earn that status this year. I’m not an advocate of mileage running for status entirely on the basis of leisure travel. I am an advocate of taking an additional trip or two at the margin to get a higher level of status, adding onto the trips you’d otherwise take.

The reason status is valuable is the benefits accrued in the future. So you have to look ahead and determine what your likely travel is going to look like. If you’re going to just keep flying your current airline, or staying with your current chain, at about the same level then stick with it. Getting status somewhere else is nice, but doesn’t add very much.

On the other hand if your travel is likely to be split going forward, then achieving status on the first carrier may be an opportunity to then spread out your status earning now to make future travel more comfortable.

Perhaps this American Airlines frequent flyer lives in or moves to Seattle or Portland. Then status on Alaska would sure be useful, since while Alaska Airlines is a partner of American the status benefits are pretty limited. And Alaska is the dominant carrier in the Pacific Northwest.

The thing to do might be to start with a status match or status challenge, a way to start off with some kind of status or earn it on an expedited basis given the level you’ve already achieved with your primary program. Fly a bit to make sure you keep the new status. And then enjoy both in the year to come.

But there’s no reason to switch just to have status in more than one program. Instead, the question is how status in multiple programs will be used in the year ahead.

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  1. Nik said,

    Awesome! Love this bit: “…they’ll send you all sort of obscure cards with which to impress hapless passengers…”

    And FWIW, I’m with you – the personalization, friendliness, and even the free stuff in coach makes the AA Y experience perfectly nice. Especially in 21A on a Mad Dog. :)

  2. Ben said,

    Last year during the early days of the bankruptcy I had a flight mechanical on me. Since I was the first one off I went to the counter first and the gate agent rebooked me on another flight leaving 2 gates down 20 min later. I went to that gate and they just about finished boarding. I got the only available seat in the very last row in Y. When I got there the two deadheading FAs had their stuff on the seats) and from the look on their face were NOT happy that I took a spot because they thought they would have the whole last row to themselves.

  3. Jamison @ Points Summary said,

    “I’m not an advocate of mileage running for status entirely on the basis of leisure travel.”

    we are so opposite Gary! great post though

  4. ffi said,

    There is another benefit of maintaining top status; free award changes. EXP, 1K/Plat, CP, DM/PM are levels to hit for that reason.
    EXP may be the weakest here. If you have a ton of points, e.g., track it back, then it makes sense to try to keep US CP status going as long as you can to allow you burn the miles for family and friends with free changes.
    I have a ton of DL miles and always wonder if DL status may be helpful perhaps to burn these efficiently, so try to keep it going at least to PM level every other year. Here the status is mainly for the leisure benefits as opposed to work benefits.

  5. Moving Chicane said,

    With a simple LAX-LAS award costing me 75K miles (for two) recently, I feel like I NEED to remain dedicated to a single carrier, gathering miles just to fight the award miles inflation. A year from now LAX-NRT might cost me 500K for two in F; oh wait! It already does! :(

  6. How to Think About the Value of Mileage Runs -- and Why Lucky Should Stay Home - View from the Wing - View from the Wing said,

    […] couple of weeks ago a reader asked whether it made sense to stick with an airline or hotel program after achieving status, or is it better to switch programs and achieve status somewhere […]

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