Should You Attain Elite Status in More Than One Loyalty Program?
Tim Winship of FrequentFlier.com wrote the following in this article asking what is wrong with frequent traveler loyalty programs:
“…elite members’ willing to switch to another program can be explained in practical terms. Once you’ve achieved top-tier status, it makes perfect sense that you’d seek status in a secondary program, since there’s no higher status to be earned in your primary program.”
I realize that there are FlyerTalk members and fellow “bloggers” who might wholeheartedly agree with that statement — but I am going to go out on a limb and disagree as a contrarian, if only partially.
The purpose of a frequent traveler loyalty program is to give you reason to remain loyal to a particular airline, lodging company or rental car company — that is, ceteris paribus, you would choose to patronize the product or service of a company primarily because you would receive benefits as a result of achieving elite status.
I might agree with the statement by Tim Winship if you travel excessively frequently and have a choice of products quite often. If you travel to cities in which Hilton, Marriott and Starwood Preferred Guest have a selection of hotel properties from which to choose and you spend at least 100 nights per year staying in hotel rooms and there are exclusive benefits to earning elite status in each frequent guest loyalty program which are significant enough for you to want to enjoy, then it might be sensible to strive to earn elite status in greater than one frequent travel loyalty program…
…but what if you are what is known as “hub-captive” — for example, you live in Atlanta and Delta Air Lines is the predominant carrier? Sure, you can strive to attain elite status in the frequent flier loyalty programs of American Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, or Southwest Airlines — but more often than not, you will be inconvenienced in the forms of less frequent service and connections in other cities such as Dallas, Chicago or Houston.
Is it really worth that upgrade to a seat in the premium class cabin or that percentage of bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles to start over in another frequent flier loyalty program to earn elite status — especially given the potential opportunity costs of such a decision? Is your time really worth that — and will you really get a return on your investment?
Probably not — but then again, your mileage may vary.
A couple of many examples of FlyerTalk members wanting to earn elite status in a competing frequent travel loyalty program once they have earned elite status in their primary frequent travel loyalty program can be found in the Hilton HHonors forum and the Marriott Rewards forum.
To me, elite status is not about striving to reach that next level. Not everyone wants or needs to have Super Duper Titanium status. A private ride in a luxury car to get from one terminal to the next during a connection is always nice. Complimentary entry into a lounge is certainly a perk worth having. Bonus frequent traveler miles and points to earn that coveted award trip faster is always welcome…
…but are not all of those perks already offered in the primary frequent traveler loyalty program of your choice? Why should earning the highest level of elite status in one frequent travel loyalty program automatically trigger the desire to earn elite status in another frequent travel loyalty program? Do you really want to sit in an economy class seat on one airline when you could be in a premium class seat on your preferred airline; or do you really want a basic room in a hotel property of one lodging chain when you could be enjoying a suite with lounge access and a welcome amenity in a room of a hotel property in your preferred lodging chain? In other words, why not enjoy the benefits and amenities you have already earned for the remainder of the year?
I had thought seriously about wanting to earn elite status in the American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flier loyalty program when it offered a “fast track” to elite status — initially and perhaps mistakenly opened to all who did not already have elite status — which would have been relatively easy to attain. However, I ultimately declined because it just was not worth it to me at this time. Am I crazy? Perhaps, but I am not the only one who feels this way, as Summer Hull — author of the Mommy Points weblog at BoardingArea.com — states reasons similar to mine as to why she ultimately decided not to take advantage of a “fast-track” offer which might “make perfect sense” to Tim Winship.
For me, elite status is not always about more, more, more. I have mentioned numerous times in the past that I do not drink alcoholic beverages, so complimentary access to a lounge — nice as it may be — is not all that important to me. An upgrade to a seat in the premium class cabin on an airplane for a domestic flight is nice — but I do not necessarily need the extra room. Because of these reasons and more, I am usually quite content with the mid-level tiers of frequent travel loyalty programs. Would I like to be a top-tier elite member? Been there, done that multiple times. It is very nice and I would never refuse it if it was offered to me — but is achieving a higher level of elite status worth it? Not always, in my opinion…
…so for me — due to such factors as not being on a regular travel schedule, not coveting some of the benefits lauded by others and the opportunity cost in general to earn and maintain elite status — elite status in greater than one frequent travel loyalty program for airlines, hotels and rental cars is not a necessity nor a desire at this time. I have done it in the past — and it can be more effort than it is worth to pursue elite status in a second or third frequent travel loyalty program.
Of course, factors can always change and I may change my mind one day.
Then again, having elite status in greater than one frequent travel loyalty program is a form of diversification. In case you cannot patronize your favorite travel provider for whatever reason — such as that company does not do business at a particular destination where you are traveling or has a low profile — you can fall back on your second or third choice and still enjoy elite benefits. This diversification can be especially useful in the event of “enhancements” or a devaluation of one of the frequent travel loyalty programs…
…but Is diversification worth the bother for you? Is it really necessary? What are your thoughts? Please share your pros and cons pertaining to being a member of two or more frequent travel loyalty programs with elite status.