Get & Use Airline Status Part 1: Choose A Program
Here's the playbook from Brendan, Founder and CEO of NxTSTOP, who has flown more than 1.5M miles in his life. But before we get into the "how" let's start with the "why." In short, when you fly as much as Brendan does, you realize your whole travel experience distills down to one simple idea "make travel as easy and efficient as possible." Usually that means eliminating irritating travel scenarios that pop up, and ensuring you get the best treatment during the course of your trip. Status at the right airline is the core foundation for helping you make this dream a reality. You realize that the perks create direct differences in how you experience your trip, and equate to a dollar value of benefit you can add to your trip to make it WAY better. In a follow up post we will cover some tricks and tips to using your status rewards the right way. But first, let's help you chose a program!
Before You Begin: Think About Rule #1
Brendan's Rule #1 of airline travel is: Always ALWAYS take a direct flight if you can. Each stop/layover exponentially increases problems, irritation, and delays. Oh gee, there was a thunderstorm, your bags got lost in transit, etc. Flying out of a major hub means more chances to get a direct flight on every trip.
Your Goal: Choose ONE Airline and Stick With It
Unlike other things in life, this is one situation where you want all your eggs in one basket. The secret to accumulating points and status is to ONLY and ALWAYS book with your preferred airline. Honestly, status does not really become great until you achieve the highest or second highest level. Futzing around at the first tier may get you free baggage check, but it isn't going to change your lifestyle. You need to go all in. You want to get to the level where they pick you up in a Porsche and drive you to your next gate connection (yes, that is a thing!). And by the way, just like marriage you should be committing to it FOREVER. If you decide to divorce down the line and change programs it is possible, but it will be a long painful experience the more status you have.
Below: NxTSTOP worn across the world
Evaluate Your Home Airport Airlines
If an airline's major hub is your home airport, it's likely you should choose that carrier. For example, Atlanta is Delta, Dallas is American, and United is Chicago. It gets a little more complicated with large multi-hub cities like LAX or JFK. You really need to default to Rule #1 if it seems like there are a couple airlines with major presences at your home airport. If you travel internationally a lot, you also need to think about partner connections and reach overseas. Some airlines are better domestically than they are internationally, and their partner program - SkyTeam, OneWorld, etc. - will make a big difference. For example, every airline has a major presence in New York so domestically you can't really go wrong. But internationally you will find your decision changes if you're going to Latin America, Europe, or Asia more often. You don't want to suddenly find out your airline doesn't go to Brazil and then you're booking economy tickets with zero status on a fully loaded 9-hour trip to Rio. Not fun.
See Which Program Is Easiest to Keep Status
Sure, it may be a simple thing to get status in your first year through some tips and tricks (covered in the next blog "How to Earn Status Fast") but the reality is that you're committing to this airline forever (or at least a longgg time). And believe me, once you get a taste of the benefits status offers, you're going to be really upset when you don't have them anymore. Say goodbye first class upgrades and hello to packed coach middle seat? No, I don't think so. That said, to keep your status you need to understand how points accrue in the particular airline's Status program. Most airlines start every person at zero at the beginning of the year. However some programs, like Delta's, allow points to accumulate and rollover year to year. What this means is that once you hit year end, you do not lose extra points earned above your last threshold. You simply start the next year with those number of points. This is why, in my opinion, Delta is still the best option. And when you get into mega travel mode, this incentive is clutch. Imagine you fly 200,000 miles one year. After 125,000 with Delta you are Diamond, but those 75,000 extra miles will mean you start the following year automatically at Platinum level (75,000 miles)!! So you can consistently bank miles and perpetuate your status.
Coming soon: How To Earn Status Fast With Your Airline, and How To Maximize Your Status Benefits.