It's time to give your elite status a boost.
I'm not talking about your frequent flier mileage statement - I'm referring to the number of points or miles you have that will provide you elite membership with your preferred airline next year.
Elite membership is becoming more difficult to earn, so this is the time to think ahead. Otherwise, you could lose your status.
Why worry?
Elites use first class check-in, board early, get priority seating and priority waitlists.
Elites use the faster frequent traveler security lines.
Elites get complimentary upgrades.
Elites get bonus miles, ranging from 25 percent to 200 percent on all your flown miles.
Elites have a better shot at redeeming miles for awards.
To gain distance from the crowd, earn the highest level of elite status possible. Usually this means having a year end balance of 25,000 to 100,000 elite qualifying points or miles. Crest over the 100,000 threshold and you can earn extras including elite status for a friend, and international upgrade certificates.
Normally, elite junkies will take an extra trip or two at the end of the year to reach their desire level.
This year it's not only about the distance or segments you fly, but the fare you paid. Your fare basis can mean the difference between a pittance of elite qualifying points and a windfall of valuable miles.
For example, on a typical flight between JFK and LAX, some passengers will earn 3,300 points while others earn 12,000 points towards their future of upgrades and preferred services. The difference results from the nuance of how airline calculate elite qualifying points. Like all things airline, bonuses are not equal. Most airlines and exceedingly more in the future, dole out points based on the fare paid.
Achieving elite membership can seem intimidating, if not down right difficult.
Make it work in your favor. To gain all the extras of elite flying it can be well worth it to pop up to the next fare level for the added qualifying points. For example, at the end of June 2004, I had 111,000 elite qualifying points while flying less than 60,000 actual miles.
I did this through a mix of discounted special fares that qualified for Delta's 200 percent qualifying bonus. As an added benefit, the fares automatically upgraded me to a confirmed first class seat.
Consider a hypothetical flight an elite junkie might take to earn their membership.
Leaving Saturday morning from Santa Ana Orange County, returning the same day from Atlanta, yielded a choice of tickets costing $547 and $707, a difference of $160. On the face of it, many would choose the cheaper flight.
But remember, the lowest price is not always your best bet. The flight costing $547 yields only 3,838 qualifying points while the second flight yields a whooping 7,676 qualifying points. In other words, for less than a 30 percent premium, you get a 100 percent bonus in terms of elite qualifying points.
Is this worth it?
The most immediate benefit will be that you will have a confirmed first class seat for your day's journey, access to the preferred security line, free food and drinks and entertainment during your flight.
The long-term perks depend on whether you have top-, middle- or lower-tier status. Besides the perks already mentioned, elite membership means upgrades to first class, cushier seats, more overhead storage space and more specialized attention.
Members also get VIP boarding and shorter waits in airport security lines, special check-in privileges, preferred seating, priority waitlist status, unlimited free domestic upgrades on most the major airlines, special toll-free lines, airport lounge membership discounts (free in some cases), service-fee discounts, free companions upgrades, and international upgrade certificates.
Oh, and one more thing. If your airline fails, the one thing guaranteed to transfer to another airline is your elite membership. In fact, if you decide to change carriers mid-year, most airlines will match your level of elite membership.
With status becoming more difficult to earn and droves turning towards discounters, membership truly has its privileges.
Joel Widzer

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