Scott McCartney has a good piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about people spending money to achieve status, either by taking flights they don’t need to take or “buying up”.
No question, I’m a status snob. But, status is more then just a seat near the front of the plane. Over the past few years as airlines have cut benefits, the difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” on board has grown considerably. Remember the days when everyone got a meal onboard? It might not have been great food (well, except for that awesome bagel bag NY Air used to hand out), but everyone got fed. Now, try to find a meal in coach.
The airlines recognize these benefits are valuable to customers, and thus have found a number of ways to monetize them. For starters, some outright sell the benefits. United sells access to their Economy Plus seats, essentially a few extra inches of legroom. These can be purchased by any passenger, not just elite members of their loyalty program. I’ve routinely seen E+ seats go for over $50 a leg on some domestic US flights, so it’s fair to assume there’s a decent revenue stream there for United.
The airlines have also done a good job bundling these benefits. American has recently come out with a new style of ticketing that includes a couple different bundle choices, including a free checked bag, early boarding, no change fees and extra miles. As they are now adding their own coach seats with extra legroom, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that folded into future packages.
And, the airlines are also packaging these benefits up with their credit cards. United’s Explorer card comes with benefits like a free checked bag, early boarding and 2 complimentary passes to the United Club. They also have a United Club credit card that gives you a club membership along with other benefits. American Airlines has a card that includes lounge membership, as well as a card that features a free checked bag, early boarding and a discount on award redemptions. While I don’t consider any of these cards a great value, they do provide some benefits to cardholders. And, if these benefits are the most important part of your travel experience, then this may be a better option then hopping on a plane and flying to nowhere just to earn status.
Depending on your travel patterns, though, status may not be necessary. If you like to fly in premium cabins (Business or First Class), then piling up miles may be your best strategy. In that situation, big credit card bonuses, like those you might find with Chase Cards Ink Bold and Sapphire. In many situations, if you’re redeeming miles for premium cabin travel, you’ll likely be able to access benefits such as lounges, early boarding and additional free checked bags regardless of your status with the carrier. I don’t earn any commissions from the cards in this post, but they all represent a variety of options to maximize different travel strategies. The Ink Bold and Sapphire cards are both staples in my wallet along with the Starwood Preferred American Express card.
The most important element, IMO of comfortable travel in today’s brave new world of flying is to have a strategy. We’re just a couple short weeks from a new year, when everyone will start trying to achieve or renew their status with various airlines. Sometimes it can be worth taking an extra connection to squeeze out enough miles later in the year for status with an airline. It’s important to think about the whole year of travel rather than just any one trip if you want to maximize your ability to travel comfortably (and for free) to great places around the world.