You wait in line for 30+ minutes to check your bag in.

Then wait another 30+ minutes to get through security.

Only to hear the gate agent call for a million boarding groups before it’s your turn to get on the plane.

So this elite status thing…what does it actually do?

To start, it can save you some money, a bunch of time, and a whole lot of stress!  😃

But is it worth it?

For some…yes.  For others…no.

I’ll give you a brief inside scoop into one of my recent experiences…

I was a Gold Elite (i.e. most basic level) on American Airlines for the past year; still have a couple months left before it ends on Jan. 31, 2018).  Here are some of the perks it gives me:

  • Complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles or less —> not great; upgrades don’t happen often at the Gold level
  • 24-hour upgrade window —> not great; upgrades don’t happen often at the Gold level
  • 40% elite mileage bonus —> decent way to earn award miles faster to save up for another free flight
  • 50% off Main Cabin Extra Seats (complimentary at check-in) —> a nice money saver
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats —> another nice money saver
  • 1 free checked bag —> very good money saver if you check bags in several times a year
  • Priority check-in —> awesome time saver
  • Priority boarding —> awesome convenience factor (i.e. settle into seat faster and guarantee access to overhead bins)
  • Priority security —> nice time saver on occasion (I combine it with TSA Precheck at select airports when the TSA Pre line is long)

Overall a pretty darn good list.  Now let me give you an example of how it saves money.  Take a look at these 2 images below.

I was purchasing a flight and choosing seats.

The 1st image was what I saw without logging in to my account, and therefore elite status was not recognized.

The 2nd image was with logging in to my account.

See all those blue seats with stars?  Those are standard seats that are reserved for elites.  So right from the start, I have access to more options than a person without status.

The orange seats are Main Cabin Extra (MCE) with greater legroom.  Note how the cost is 50% less when logged in and Gold status is recognized.  And those seats would actually be completely free during the 24-hour check-in window (but there’s always the risk of them no longer being available at that time).

So if you’re someone who typically pays extra for better seats, then this is a nice perk.

Other perks like a free checked bag ($25 each way) and access to potential upgrades add additional value and savings (the upgrades don’t happen at the Gold Elite level, though).

Now for the time savings…

This is the most valuable part for me.  The ability to use the Priority lanes for check-in, security, and boarding makes a big difference in the way I travel.  Time spent waiting in lines, especially loooonnggg lines, is just a waste.  I’d rather be eating a delicious meal, catching up on work, or simply enjoying some stress-free “me time” in a lounge.

Those priority perks are something I don’t like to do without, so I always make sure I have them.

However, qualifying for AA Gold (the lowest tier) still requires spending $3,000 and either accruing 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles or 30 Elite Qualifying Segments.

Sometimes I don’t fly that much on AA alone, or I have a year of less travel altogether.

But when I do fly AA, I still appreciate those 3 priority perks + the free checked bag.

Which is why I have the Citi/AAdvantage Executive credit card.

It’s a phenomenal card that provides the priority perks just for being a cardholder…plus a free checked bag…plus 25% off in-flight purchases…plus an Admirals Club membership (amazing benefit to discuss in another post)…and a handful of other cool features.

Best of all, the annual fee is $450, which is way better than having to spend $3,000 and meet the mileage requirements with AA to qualify for status.  (By the way, that Admirals Club membership is about $500 if you were to purchase it on its own, and it doesn’t come with any other benefits if you buy it that way.)

I’ve already determined that my spend and fly time will not allow me to requalify for status in 2018, which is why I’m glad that the Citi/AAdvantage Executive card is a strong option to maintain the perks that save me hours of time each year (as well as a little money).

Both United and Delta have premium credit cards that offer similar benefits, and their entry-level elite status also resembles American’s in many ways.

So I’ll summarize with this:  are the majority of the elite perks worth it in my opinion?

If you travel with a particular airline at least several times a year, YES, the elite perks are worth it, but you don’t have to achieve status to obtain the majority of them.

If “several” trips are short domestic trips that don’t bring you close to qualifying for status, you can still check out the mid-level airline credit cards (annual fees around $95) and the premium airline credit cards (annual fees of $450) to see which card offers the benefits that matter most to you at a price you’re comfortable paying.

Final note: airline credit cards are generally not good for everyday spending (the percent return is too low).  But they ARE GREAT for access to time and money-saving benefits that you can use simply by keeping the card open and in good standing.

Video and image credit: SkyTeam