Are Elites Losing Perks?

There’s a recent article from the New York Times titled “Have Elite Fliers Been Downgraded?” Even before reading the article, just seeing the title had me nodding my head. Yes, absolutely yes, in my experience, the elite experience is being diluted regularly. The article states because there are more Elites, perks previously available only to actual frequent fliers are now credit card bonuses, andsome perks you can simply pay for (better seating, etc), that it’s frankly just not that special to be Elite anymore.

Sure, we still get to board first, and there are certainly the occasional upgrades. And I would definitely rather be one than not! But I’ve been feeling for a while that the bonuses of being Elite now are not nearly as good as when I started traveling all the time six years ago. Flights are so full that I rarely get upgraded or am able to get on an earlier flight. Even when I call in for assistance, the agents aren’t that helpful. I guess I get where the airlines are coming from—if they can make more money by selling perks, then why not? But it still feels like the 80,000-100,000 miles I fly per year don’t mean anything. Also, I’ve noticed that, for American anyway, elite qualifying miles are harder to come by. For example, in 2010 I flew to Manila once. I ended up with about 85,000 EQMs, which got me to Platinum. I figured that in 2011 I would go to Manila twice, which would get me over the Executive Platinum hurdle. No such luck. In fact, even though I flew more actual miles in 2011, and went to Manila TWICE, I had fewer EQMs than the year before. Bummer. And of course this year, I’ll be taking several months out of my traveling schedule while having a baby, and will be lucky to hit Gold.

All that being said, I am still grateful for the perks I do still get—early boarding, better seat selection, speedier security line, free checked bags. I enjoy the occasional upgrade, although I don’t take them for granted anymore. Still, it would be great if we felt valued for our business…..

Readers, what have your experiences been? Do you feel your Elite experience has been diluted? Anyone disagree with me and think it’s as great as ever?


  1. I was nodding my head in agreement just at reading the headline. Absolutely agree that perks have dropped off significantly. I used to travel a lot more than I have in the past few years, but I’ve still managed to eek out at least Gold status. Used to fly AA all the time and got upgrades, flexibility and more EQM. Now, due to my company being bought, I have to fly United most of the time, and there are so many 1K flyers (even worse after the Continental merger) that I never see upgrades anymore. Understand that those who travel more miles than me should get better perks, but traveling is just a bigger headache overall it seems hardly worth it when you can have telepresence/Skype meetings.

    United does have the benefit of economy plus seating, which, as a 5’11” person with long legs who is claustrophobic, is a big perk. But, I still feel like I get nothing but early boarding for my status. At this point I’m considering whether to just cut my travel to as little as possible, because unless you can get a high level of status, it just is miserable anymore.

    I really wish the airlines would stop packing the planes and give us a humane amount of space, which I’d be more than happy to pay more to make up for the 12-18 seats they would have to take out of economy to give us all a little more breathing room.

  2. Oh yes, and I’ve also noticed that travelers of all types are much less patient and much more rude – especially the elite flyers. We all are in the same miserable situation, I just wish people would have a sense of humor and relax a little.

    Also hate that I’m even using the word “miserable” to describe air travel. My family has several pilots, including my grandfather who flew for airlines from the 50’s to the 70’s, and we all long for the days past when air travel was an exciting adventure.

  3. Elite perks have eroded, especially at United. The rest will follow with more cuts.

  4. I don’t understand why you have fewer EMQs with that much travel but that would be interesting to find out the real reason. Did you figure out why? Same distance, same seats, etc.?

  5. Hmm. Thanks. I’m going to be doing basically the same thing as you described this year and I’m thinking, I better get the same EMQs. As the UA site says,

    “If you purchase a ticket on a flight that is marketed by United but operated by another airline (known as a code-share flight), the operating airline determines how many miles you earn for your flight.”

    I usually try to fly UA-operated flights but if not I’ll have to be sure the other airline (SN in this case) will give me the EMQs. I mean, I hope. Can’t force their hand.

  6. My connecting flight is on SN and their website (Miles & More) there is a chart detailing the three “service classes” (Economy, Business, First) and then the different “booking classes” (Restricted, Semi-Flexible, Flexible) with the different fare basis codes (B, Y, Q, T, etc.). The chart is not easy to find but it’s there. But they are nice to look at.

  7. I’m fairly new to the AA world myself but it sounds to me that you’re referring to qualifying based on EQPs, not EQMs, no? That’s something I’m still getting used as a new AA regular.

  8. since i’ve lost all my elite status post-baby, i’m at the lowest possible rung in air travel. i’ve booked my flight for a work trip next week, and it’s showing NO SEATS available except 3 “premium” seats that are offered for an extra $14. i have a feeling i’ll be at the very back of the plane, squished in the middle seat.

    these tickets are the fully refundable ones (so full price to the max!), which i thought would mean at least ONE seat would be opened up. i guess i’ll find out next week when i check in for my flight where i end up. ugh.

  9. Sorry, for my UA flights they are PQM (Premier Qualifying Miles). On AA they are called EQM. Still, it’s those precious qualifying miles (not so precious maybe considering the recent difficulty in getting upgrades for UA elites).

  10. Absolutely, I regularly see 50+ people on the United upgrade list, and often the Elite queue at security is LONGER than the regular line…I always check that before choosing just in case.

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