Sunday night I flew home from Colorado Springs. That’s the most important sentence of this post. I actually managed to fly home — despite delays, two mechanicals, a change of flights, re-routing to a different airport, and a change of aircraft. Oh, and did I mention my upgrades cleared all the way through?
- Inbound aircraft was delayed. American’s website was showing only 15 minutes, which would have given me 35 minutes in Dallas. That didn’t look realistic.
- Aircraft made up time enroute to Colorado Springs. We boarded and would have been on our way 25 minutes late. A 25 minute connection would be fine, my onward flight was only supposed to be 6 gates away.
- But the flight went mechanical. We had a flat tire. Fortunately there was a spare on hand. We deplaned, and posted a new departure time — an hour’s delay.
- My connecting flight was delayed, too. So I might still make it. I rang up American’s Executive Platinum desk and they protected me on a later connecting flight. Several options were sold out, but I grabbed a late flight into another airport ‘just in case’ and could always stand by for something better.
- Since there was a chance I could still make my connection, American didn’t re-issue my ticket. At that point I had reservations on two different flights home.
- When they got the wheel off they saw the brakes fused together. This was going to be more than an hour’s delay. They predicted two. It turned out to be six.
- The gate agent announced that there were still seats left on the next flight out of Colorado Springs – but not nearly enough for everyone. They recommended everyone call the 800 number.
- I called the Executive Platinum line, no wait on hold of course, and grabbed a seat on the next flight out of Colorado Springs, connecting to my ‘backup’ flight in Dallas.
- Upgrades cleared for both flights.
- Once in Dallas my flight home – the last flight – went mechanical. They determined there was too much condensation in a window pain, it would have to be changed. They swapped out aircraft and sent an entire gate’s worth of passengers to the other side of the terminal. They had to move all of the luggage and also transfer catering.
I got home, to a different airport, nearly six hours later. But I got on the flight, all in upgraded first class. And I was aided all along the way by my status — a willingness to double book me, no hold times let me jump the queue for that next flight out of Colorado Springs.
It’s good to have airline elite status.
Now, if I didn’t have top tier status I wouldn’t have flown those two flights in front. But any status in a storm is helpful — you get the telephone hold queues, you have priority on the standby lists. During irregular operations it can be the difference between getting home or to a meeting, and getting stranded for a couple of days.
I believe there’s huge value in top tier elite status, and there’s huge value in having some status. And many non-frequent flyers can approximate having some status, more or less, since most airlines give out perks for signing up for their co-branded credit cards. Frequently these cards come with free checked bags and priority boarding, the latter meaning that you don’t have to gate check your luggage. That’s the only real benefit, to me, of priority boarding but it’s huge.
I’m not sure I see the benefit of mid-tier status, although you earn more bonus miles and are higher up in the queue. And there are incremental benefits like that sometimes include lower change fees, such as confirming extra legroom seats in advance and not just at check-in. But there’s a huge difference between “being a nobody” with the airline and having some status, and there’s a huge difference having top tier status.
I don’t think having status makes sense for a very infrequent flyer, though someone who travels 15,000 to 20,000 miles a year should probably get their airline’s co-brand card.
And I don’t think it makes sense to be a ‘mileage runner’ — except that an incremental flight to get to top tier status is hugely worth it. If you fly 85,000 miles or more a year, and your airline gives you top tier at 100,000, finding a way to eke out 15,000 more miles is probably a good idea.
After getting rebooked coming home from Colorado Springs, I overheard a woman saying she wouldn’t get to Cleveland until 5pm. The next day. I was grateful not to be her (well, largely because her destination was Cleveland, but also because she didn’t have status).
In the end I didn’t mind the delay so much, I wound up getting switched over on the same flight as Live From a Lounge, and onto the flight that AAdvantageGeek was already on. (In fact, I stole his upgrade.) And we wound up chatting in the gate area with Frequent Miler, who was flying out on United. There have been worse delays. Thanks to status, and good conversations with friends.