Before we talk about why and how to earn elite airline status, let me tell you this: the ‘loyalty' in loyalty programmes is for suckers.
As Martin Lewis aka. Money Saving Expert says in his Teens cash class (worth a read by the way!)
A company's job is to make money…it is NOT your friend
If you fly more than a few times per year, you should try to get any form of elite airline status with at least one of the three major alliances: Oneworld, Star Alliance and Skyteam. Don't do it the hard way! Instead, next time you fly on a particular alliance's carrier, ask at check-in to put your frequent flier miles into a different carrier — specifically the ones I point out below.
There are many reasons for wanting to get elite airline status, to which this will not be applicable. I'm just pointing out which are easiest to trigger intra-alliance benefits, such as extra check-in luggage, fast-track security lines at some airports and lounge access. I'll (eventually) do another guide on which are best for other purposes!
For this article to be of any substance, I'm setting lounge access as a minimum requirement for elite status. I value this more than the other perks probably because I usually end up drinking half my weight in wine in the lounge!
Oneworld has two tiers which allow for lounge access: Sapphire, a medium level tier which gives business class access, and Emerald which is their highest level tier which gives first class lounge access.
American Airlines offers an unpublished ‘Platinum Challenge' where if you earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Points, equating to flying 6,666/10,000/20,000 miles depending on your fare bucket or cabin, you will qualify for their Platinum tier (OneWorld Sapphire). You will need to call up your local reservations line to book the challenge.
If you take the challenge before June 16th on any calendar year then your status is valid until the following Feb 28th. If you take the challenge on or after July 16th The price to take the Challenge varies throughout the year. At its most expensive in July it is around $240USD though it becomes cheaper as the year progresses. This reflects the length of time you have to enjoy the status.
Alternatively if you're based in the UK you can get Cathay Pacific Gold (Oneworld Sapphire) status by paying £450 for an American Express Platinum Charge Card which gets you the status without having done any flying. Although American Express doesn't officially advertise this, you can still get it I can assure you. Head For Points reports that many people are having this renewed for a second year without problems.
If you are EU-based and find yourself needing a few tier points short of hitting British Airways Gold or Silver, try doing an AMS-JER tier point run. It doesn't provide the best £/TP ratio, but at least it can be done over a day or two.
Star Alliance: (This is route is the one I'd recommend out of all the alliances)
Star Alliance have swept up most of Europe's national carriers. But the one that stands out the most is Aegean Airlines' incredibly low requirement of 20,000 miles to hit Star Alliance Gold. They'll even give you 1,000 qualifying miles when you sign up for an account with them. Be careful though since not all economy class fares give 100%. By far the best method if you are flying economy class short haul is to use SAS as they give a minimum of 600 miles per sector. A deeper analysis is given in my post from March 2014 here.
Unfortunately Aegean don't give full mileage for cheap economy fares across all airlines, but they do offer double, sometimes triple miles for premium cabins, meaning you can get away with just 6333 flown miles. Best of all, there seems to be no re-qualifying requirement and so people on Flyertalk are getting semi-permanent Star Alliance Gold. Here's the link for the full earnings table.
Skyteam elite status I value far below the rest because of the lack of ‘premium' carriers they have compared to the other alliances and their somewhat stingy lounge policy:
SkyTeam Elite Plus members, regardless of their travel class, are allowed access to a SkyTeam lounge at a particular airport if traveling on or connecting to/from a same-day international flight operated by a SkyTeam member airline. Simply present your same-day ticket for an international SkyTeam airline flight and a valid Elite Plus membership card
I have bolded the word International intentionally as that's what it needs to be. Cross-borders.
There are two routes you can take to getting Elite Plus:
- Middle East Airlines' programme only requires 30 segments or 40,000 miles for “Golden Cedar” status.
- Flying Blue, the programme for Air France, KLM, Tarom and Kenya Airways, also requires 30 segments or 40,000 miles for their gold status — so long as you don't live in France where you'll need 60,000 miles! The simple answer to that is to borrow a friend's address outside France. Be warned that the Flying Blue Gold status is only viewed as Skyteam Elite (not Elite Plus) if you live in USA or Mexico.
So to sum up I'd say go with the Star Alliance route if you can afford to buy a long-haul premium cabin flight. The semi-permanent Star Alliance Gold makes this one a winner for me.
If you do use any of the links the please email me info [at] pointstobemade.com so I can thank you personally.