I know quite a few people with entry-level elite status, and also many people who don’t fly enough to attain even that starter status, but I’m often asked if it’s worth it to try to get there, even if you don’t fly enough.
It’s a rather complex question to be honest, since there’s both a good chunk of time and money that needs to be devoted to crossing that threshold. For someone who doesn’t fly on a regular basis or maybe doesn’t fly as often, it is worth it to ask yourself on whether entry-level status is important to you and what benefits it provides.
In looking at the various airline programs, I wanted to take what I thought were the most useful benefits of each tier, and benefit I think that get you the most bang for your buck. For each tier, you need 25,000 miles flown or 30 individual flights, though Delta and United both require a revenue requirement as well.
Delta Silver Medallion
Access to Comfort+ seats within 24 hours of departure I think is really only valuable if the few short flights you take are longer haul, and there’s no chance of upgrade. Unlimited complimentary domestic upgrades are valuable, and contrary to popular belief, were available when I was a Silver. You have to be quite choosy about what routes you take and the time of day, but if you’re smart about what flights you’re booking, you have a high chance of upgrade. Minneapolis to Washington Dulles on a Saturday evening is a great chance for scoring a seat up front. You’ll also get waived baggage fees, though these can easily be waived by holding a Delta credit card. Think of a family of 4 — that’s about $200 in baggage fees alone!
Is it worth it? We all know Delta to be the one who has severely gutted their frequent flyer program, which many will see as no longer valuable. To some extent, that’s true, though I wouldn’t go out of my way to earn Silver Medallion status to earn additional miles, because the time and money you put in to earn it simply won’t outweigh the benefits on the back-end. If you’re okay with booking flights at odd times and on odd routes in hopes for an upgrade, then I think it’s worth it to jump to this entry-level tier.
United Premier Silver
United Premier Silver allows access to Economy Plus seating at check-in, though if you watch the upgrade list, you may be able to score a better seat at the last minute. Complimentary upgrades are only confirmed day of departure, and while I haven’t been a United Premier Silver myself, I’ve heard that the upgrades are tougher than on Delta with entry-level status, though you’re probably sure to find something on an odd routing at odd time of day. Mileage accrual is average at 7 miles per dollar on the fare. You’ll also get a free checked bag, though that can fee can be waived anyways with the proper credit card. There are reduced award re-deposit and cancellation charges, through at around $125 a pop, these are still pricey.
Is it worth it? Not having held this status myself, I can’t comment on personal experience here, but from what I’ve been told from others it really isn’t worth it. You can earn United Silver if you have Marriott Platinum status, so you may be better off finding out how to get this status for free before you go out of your way to earn it with butt-in-seat miles.
American Airlines AAdvantage Gold
American Gold is probably one of the more valuable entry-level statuses, in my opinion. Main Cabin Extra seats are available for free within 24 hours of departure. Complimentary upgrades are unique — for flights under 500 miles, they’re free, however for flights over this amount, a sticker upgrade system is used. If the Gold elite wants to upgrade, they can pay to do so, however if they don’t want to, they don’t have to, thus leaving more room to upgrade for other elites. Because of this, the upgrade percentage tends to be higher, and I know many Gold elites with near perfect upgrade percentages, even as a lower tier elite, which is quite amazing. Sam day standby is free day-off, as well as a free checked, bag, which of course can be waived via credit card benefits. There’s a 25% mileage bonus, which isn’t revenue based, which is more valuable than what Delta and United are offering, if you aren’t spending a ton on your ticket.
Is it worth it? In my eyes, yes. This is the one entry-level status that I think you’ll find the most benefit in, especially if you appreciate upgrades. In general, American treats its elites well.
Alaska Airlines MileagePlan MVP
Alaska’s entry-level tier is unique in that you can earn it based upon a combination of flying on partner airlines and Alaska metal as well. These lies received a 50% mileage bonus, which is the best bonus there is for a starter status. Upgrades clear 48 hours in departure, which is the most “in advance” time you’ll find amongst the American carriers, though upgrades can be especially hard to clear for transcontinental routes. You do also receive upgrades on Delta Air Lines, when available, though these tend to be few and far between. Checked bags are free, though can be waived with a credit card.
Is it worth it? If you live in an Alaska hub, I think it is. Not only is the mileage bonus pretty good, but upgrade percentages have been fairly high, from what I’ve been told, though it’s challenging on some flights. If you’ve maxed out your elite status on Delta or American, Alaska can be a nice fall-back. I think it’s worth chasing this status, if you can, but only if you’re in an Alaska hub city, or have already gone through the ranks on another carrier.
So is it worth it?
I think in general, you’ll find entry-level elite status worth it if…
- You can maximize the upgrade opportunities with odd times or odd route flights. Peak time flights rarely will see an upgrade.
- You don’t have an airline co-branded credit card and tend to check bags a lot.
- Are flying enough to make use of the mileage bonus you’ll receive, and have use for those miles.
- Tend to have flights incurring weather or mechanical delays, where having an elite status may protect you on an alternative flight or other options. If you tend to get stuck in your 25,000 miles of flying, it might be worth it to bump up just to have this protection.
Do you find entry-level elite status worth it? Would you go out of your way to attain it if you didn’t fly enough?
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