TALKING POINT | Gold or Platinum frequent flyer status is often viewed as a sign of a serious road warrior – somebody who flies a lot, knows the system, skips the airport lines and gets to relax in lounges: very much the king of the airport castle.
But in many ways, status can make you a slave to that particular airline – and the airlines know it.
That Platinum frequent flyer card, either owning it or striving for it, can just as easily become a pair of Platinum-plated handcuffs which keep you tied to that airline and less likely to consider alternatives and competitors, even when they sometimes make more sense for your schedule.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having Gold or Platinum status. But even Silver-grade frequent flyers still enjoy the basics like priority check-in, and pairing that with an airport lounge membership or the right credit card delivers an overall travel experience that isn’t much different to being Gold.
Last year I decided to put less emphasis on chasing Gold or Platinum frequent flyer status with a single airline, and it's been quite liberating. Here's why.
1. My strategy gives me true freedom to fly
Not being ‘locked in’ to any particular airline or alliance means I’m free to book the most convenient flight for my schedule every time I travel – I don’t need to hunt down codeshares or the right partner airlines to make sure I’m earning status credits, or take a longer route than necessary just to travel with a specific airline.
I value my time, so if there’s a non-stop flight from where I am to where I need to go, that’s my preference: whether the airline belongs to Oneworld, Star Alliance, SkyTeam, or none of the above.
Of course, I still always attach a frequent flyer number to every booking – earning points is always better than not – I’m just not overly concerned about the status credits that come with them.
2. Gold and Platinum status doesn’t always cover you
At one point or another, I’ve reached top-tier status with every global alliance – Oneworld Emerald, Star Alliance Gold, SkyTeam Elite Plus, and plenty of shiny cards with other airlines, too – and while those perks were often useful, there were plenty of times where having status made no difference at all.
Qantas Gold and Platinum, for example, don’t give any benefits when flying with Fiji Airways from Australia, unless paying more to book that flight under a Qantas (QF) flight number: and Velocity Gold and Platinum are no better, with plenty of gaps in Virgin Australia’s international lounge network, particularly when travelling with partner airlines.
With SkyTeam, lounge access isn’t available before domestic flights, so my Elite Plus card left me sitting out in the terminal more times than I can count – and while Star Alliance is a little better, lounges for Gold cardholders in major hubs like Singapore need improvement (and toilets!), with better lounges to be had through Priority Pass anyway.
3. Silver status plus a lounge membership is just like Gold
In my book, Silver status is the real ‘sweet spot’: for the most part, you still get practical perks like priority check-in and a boosted baggage allowance, but it’s much easier to reach and retain than the loftier Gold and Platinum tiers: great when you travel across a host of different airlines.
When paired with the right airport lounge membership, the overall airport experience becomes comparable to a Gold frequent flyer anyway: you use the same fast-tracked check-in queue and then relax (or work) in a lounge until boarding is called.
This is where a Priority Pass membership really comes in handy, or the AMEX Platinum Charge Card (which bundles Priority Pass too), because you’re generally covered for lounge access regardless of where you’re travelling and which airline you’re flying – and even if you don’t have priority check-in, doing online check-in for international flights often lets you skip the long queues anyway.
4. If you’re flying business class, status makes little difference
One of the best ways to spend your frequent flyer points is on business class flights, and if you’re booked at the pointy end, your travel experience doesn’t much change with or without a Gold frequent flyer card.
You might get a slightly bigger baggage allowance, but that’s about it – you use the same check-in queue, the same priority security channel, usually the same airport lounge, and the same priority boarding line with or without that shiny card.
Naturally, Platinum is a different ballgame if there’s a first class lounge to be enjoyed, but getting that card takes a lot of dedication: most often, flying twice as much as needed for Gold or 4-5 times as much to earn Silver with the same airline or alliance, which may or may not always be convenient or practical compared to other options.
Where chasing Gold and Platinum status does make sense
There’s no denying that frequent flyer status is a great thing to have, and that the best perks come when you’re Gold or Platinum – so it should go without saying, but if your travel plans allow you to easily reach these tiers anyway, then you’d be silly not to.
For example, if you do a lot of business travel and your employer always books you on flights with Qantas and its partner airlines, building status in a single frequent flyer scheme makes complete sense, and will come in handy almost every time you fly.
If you’re very close to retaining your existing status for another year or moving up the next rung on the ladder, and choosing one airline over another on your next trip would get you across that line, that can also be worthwhile given it avoids the cost of purchasing an airport lounge membership if your status falls to Silver.
There’s no right or wrong path when it comes to travel: there are merits both in chasing shiny status with one airline only, and simply booking the best airline and flight for every journey, potentially saving some coin but with airport lounge access something that's paid for instead.
So, over to you – what’s your status strategy? Do you religiously stick to one airline or alliance to maximise your status credits and perks, or are you happy to travel with a different airline every time you fly, relying on a lounge membership and perhaps a Silver card to provide your perks? Share your thoughts in the comment box below!