Elite program benefits: if you meet the requirements of individual airlines, you can receive elite status with the airline which you may know as a ‘frequent flier’ status. It definitely pays to be come an elite member of an airline if it fits into your broader travel strategy. Elite status benefits can range from free checked bags (~$25 value) to free international business class upgrades ($2,000+ value). Given this disparity, not all airline elite programs are created equal. It’s also important to weigh the cost of achieving elite status with the value of the benefits.
American: American is my personal favorite elite program. There are no minimum spend requirements and you can accrue elite miles while flying on OneWorld partners. You may wonder, what’s a One World? It’s an alliance of airlines (American, British Airways, LAN, JAL, etc.) that share routes and allow you to credit miles to any frequent flier program in the alliance.
Alaska: with American Airlines’ recent devaluation in elite status and frequent flier mile redemption levels, Alaska may have the best frequent flier mile program. First, you still acquire frequent flier miles based on miles flown. Second, you can redeem them with really cool airline partners. Alaska may not belong to an alliance (such as One World, Sky Team, or Star Alliance) but it partners with American, Delta, and Emirates. Alaska Airline’s frequent elite program benefits are very similar to American Airlines’s elite benefits.
Southwest: Southwest offers a different top-tier elite status than other airlines: the Companion Pass. It’s lower elite tiers are fairly unremarkable, offering mainly priority boarding and a point bonus. The Companion Pass is pretty awesome. For 110,000 points, you can fly a companion with you on any Southwest route for the low price of $11.20, round trip.
Delta: the Delta elite program is very similar to the American Airlines elite program except for one major difference, Delta requires its members to spend $3,000 on Delta airfare per calendar year.
United: the United elite program is very similar to the American Airlines elite program except for one major difference, United requires its members to spend $3,000 on United airfare per calendar year.