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.

However 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

While business class customers receive concierge services on day of departure, Air Canada’s Super Elites have it all the time. 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.

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 just introduced new 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 they’re sending Platinum Lumo members a welcome gift of a Tumi International Carry On bag.

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. In terms of truly useful and money saving, the Southwest Alist preferred free WiFi is pretty great. Works for multiple devices so whether I’m traveling alone or with the family its saving 8 dollars per person per flight.

  2. Jamesay is right. It’s a pet peeve of mine as well. It is not proper to say something is “really unique” or “very unique” because unique stands on its own. Something is unique or not. Period.

  3. The free upgrades to first/business on domestic flights and the lounge access aside, the flexibility is important to me. Delta may waive the $200 change fee for its elites, even on non-refundable tickets, at its discretion. 24-hour/same day changes at no cost is another great benefit. One year this alone saved me a couple thousand bucks. In sum, it’s the ability to exercise judgment/discretion to waive application of some restrictions that is not listed as a benefit but, as in my experience, also very valuable.

  4. @Daviss, a comment can’t be “very” douchey, it is either douchey or it isn’t douchey!
    Sorry, couldn’t resist

  5. A very unique and really special benefit of top tier elite EXP and 1K is the ability to cancel and change awards without charge. It allows one to plan the flights before asking before scheduling vacation at work. Then change the plans if the vacation has to be rescheduled. However, now that AA and UA have dissed and dinged their elite programs, the honest truth is that I could not care less about either program any more. Go Alaska Air. Right now it’s the best-est airline, for sure.

  6. Reaching Diamond w/Delta has a nice perk: 4 International upgrade certs + $700 in Delta credit or 70,000 Miles (20,000 when you hit Platinum and 2 x 25,000 at Diamond).

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