Escaping the Gold or Platinum status handcuffs

Escaping the Gold or Platinum status handcuffs

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.

Read: Why Qantas Lifetime Silver status is worth having

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!

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

37 comments

  • Byron Frost

    frostglobal

    9 Jul, 2018 09:52 am

    Good article Chris, I’ve often thought about the worth of status chasing, however I love the challenge! My usual plan is to push for flights on QF and one world early in the frequent flyer year and once status (hopefully Platnium) is achieved open up to flying other airlines prior to the FF year running out.
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  • Ff84

    Ff84

    9 Jul, 2018 09:56 am

    Most of my travel is to Asia and the UK. I normally travel in J to and from Asia and easily get Platinum with Qantas. I stick with them mainly to hit LTG (about a year away) and because most destinations are direct flights.

    For flights within Asia I travel with the most convenient airline at the time, but still attach a SkyTeam or Star Alliance number to the booking.

    Once I hit LTG I will probably be more open to other carriers up and back from Asia to get lounge access with other alliances.
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  • Sanjay Prakash

    sanj747

    9 Jul, 2018 10:03 am

    Chris nice article. I used to fly Star Alliance a lot especially when I lived in the US, Europe and Asia. Continued flying Star Alliance after moving back to Australia for a while on the overseas trips and got my lifetime gold with United Mileage Plus. After this qualification and a lot of domestic travel in Australia on QF I am now flying predominantly on QF and Oneworld airlines. Focus is to get to platinum with QF as much as possible and working towards LTG. Not far off LTG with QF which would be good giving me lifetime status with both alliances.
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  • mviy

    mviy

    9 Jul, 2018 10:05 am

    I try to travel QF as much as possible at the moment. I can then lock in LTS and later hopefully LTG. Hopefully LTS isn't too far away at which point I can have the QF Silver (OneWorld Ruby) benefits on OneWorld without having to fly revenue QF tickets at all!

    I want to set at least a good platform from there to reach LTG later on if possible before my travel slows down. If I can reach LTG quite young I'll have a lot of years to enjoy the benefits of it.

    QF flies to both my main international destinations. SFO is my main destination in the US and there will soon be direct flights from MEL. So QF makes the most sense for me.

    QF flies to all my main domestic destinations as well. It's my favourite airline.

    QP membership won't cut it for me in SFO at the moment as the lounge that gives one access to is way below QF standards. The CX lounge that I've so far had 100% success at accessing is a lot better: Showers, good food (though brought out closer to when I need to leave as the CX flights depart later) and the lounge doesn't start to get crowded till shortly before one has to leave.

    I'd rather put the money I would have spent on QP membership towards progressing towards lifetime status.

    SG and above gives earlier access to QF classic reward seats and each status you go up gets higher upgrade priority. Both of which I value. Though I hope QF increases capacity to LHR again as this is the main route I'd want to book classic reward seats on.

    If/when I reach QF LTG my strategy will likely change. Unless reaching WP is realistic if booking revenue & if I can afford it I'll look for good value Business Class seats on any of the airlines I'd be happy to fly. If I already have WP (and LTG) there'd be little sense in overshooting WP unless doing travel I'd want to do regardless

    LTG would give me a better upgrade chance for work trips (& probably some personal trips too) than lower status and having flown a bit at the pointy end I'd like to keep a reasonable upgrade chance if possible.

    Changing credit cards regularly gives me the ability to save up points quickly so that I have the points I need available for the travel I want to do. If I'm unsuccessful in using the points then I'll still have them available for future trips.
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  • Yohy

    Yohy

    9 Jul, 2018 11:42 am

    This has been my approach after several years as platinum QFF and gold in VA. I analysed travel bookings and found I was paying significantly more to stick with the carrier of choice rather than book the shortest or best fares.
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  • GBRGB

    GBRGB

    9 Jul, 2018 11:43 am

    This is where QF are so smart, most of us start our flying life on domestic flights and domestic lounges etc and then get the carrots dangled infront of us along the way, lifetime status and soft landings down to a lower level if we don’t fly much in a certain year not to mention seat selection. The only VA flight I use is TSV- SYD as QF don’t have a direct flight but I am always stuck down the back near the toilets as I have no status at all with VA.
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  • newbieADL

    newbieADL

    9 Jul, 2018 01:14 pm

    Great article and I tend to agree on most points. One thing that's not captured here is that higher status gives you better visability over reward bookings/availability. Not worth the effort of stacking all those AMEX/QFF points, if you can't redeem them.

    If you read the Community posts here and on other Australian Frequent Flyer sites, people are often prepared to spend thousands on a 'status run' just to make the next tier.

    Is it worth it? Well I guess that's up to the individual. I've had a year of being Platinum, after a long time being Gold, I don't feel there is enough difference in benefits for the effort/money required to retain Plat, especially if you always fly in premium cabins as you pointed out.

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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    9 Jul, 2018 01:32 pm

    "One thing that's not captured here is that higher status gives you better visability over reward bookings/availability."

    That's only really true of Qantas and only for Qantas-operated flights, the most valuable benefit being if you're Platinum or above and you call up and ask for seats to be released, but Qantas status doesn't affect availability on partner airlines, which is where most of the reward availability is anyway. It's one of those things where it's nice to have but probably not a big enough motivator on its own to make Platinum 'worth it'.
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  • Sanjay Prakash

    sanj747

    9 Jul, 2018 01:41 pm

    Chris spot on. Have had this experience when QF have released a J class seat for my wife.
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  • mviy

    mviy

    9 Jul, 2018 01:50 pm

    I’m a member of the QFF program because I want to mainly fly QF.

    Upgrade priority when work will only pay for economy seats is a major benefit. It can be very difficult to get upgrades with low/no status.
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  • grov

    grov

    9 Jul, 2018 04:12 pm

    Having both QF LTS and a Seniors QP Life has meant that chasing Gold hasn't been worth it, and as a I now mostly fly up front, it's a moot point anyway. As far as obtaining good seats, I have found the T-80 time usually gives me my preferred seats anyway, regardless of not having a higher status. And I've also found that being able to choose different airlines for better J deals is far preferable.
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  • mviy

    mviy

    9 Jul, 2018 04:17 pm

    I would have considered buying lifetime QP membership but it's no longer available. Great for those who already have it though.

    QP membership doesn't get you into lounges on as many airlines as e.g. SG or WP would. Though if you're flying Business anyway that doesn't matter.
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  • Clancy

    Clancy

    9 Jul, 2018 04:54 pm

    Interesting discussion for those in the 'city', however being based regionally there is only one option - QF, not that this is an issue as I am LTG and Platinum, but there is really no coherent option as ZL don't have a program and don't link very well with VA, and VA don't leave from, or fly to, where I travel on domestic flights.

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  • mviy

    mviy

    9 Jul, 2018 06:41 pm

    That’s a good point. Some routes wouldn’t be profitable for more than one carrier giving many little choice.
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  • Edwin Taylor

    Pointsman

    9 Jul, 2018 06:51 pm

    Wow, I thought I was in a QF forum here with Joyce writing a long spiel on QF!
    I'm gold with VA and very happy. Platinum would offer auto upgrade to economy X, and I believe the free domestic flight but is it worth it if you only fly for pleasure?
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  • Stephen Howell

    ratrace

    10 Jul, 2018 12:56 am

    QF for me - lifetime status is good to aim for and will be useful when my income is lower and/or fixed by retirement.

    I like VA too but Velocity is not particularly strong overseas as VA are not in an alliance and having to re-qualify every year with no end carrot feels like a waste of time.
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  • MarkFranzmann

    MarkFranzmann

    10 Jul, 2018 09:03 am

    Last year I achieved LTG with QFF, and coincidentally lost my Platinum status due to a reduction in travel. It is quite liberating as I now seek more convenient carriers( eg SQ from BNE into Asia has superior choices and connections.
    It is interesting from a marketing perspective as the incentive to fly QFF has reduced for me. (Other than it is more beneficial to accrue QFF points)
    SQ J flights seem to be the same cost as QF J sale prices.
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  • Bernoulli

    Bernoulli

    10 Jul, 2018 09:14 am

    Good article Chris. Congrats!
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  • Matt Wilson

    Mattw

    11 Jul, 2018 07:02 am

    Hi Chris great article. Been LTG for 5 years and both of us keep Plat to use First Lounge in Sydney as the Bus Lounge was a disgrace.. Fly J class to regional Asia and domestically but have found both products to be generally poor-old equipment and underwelming menus. Regional Asia has improved in the last 3 months with the return of A380 service to SIN. Partner recognition in the program has significantly reduced over the past 5 years though. We are now also flying VA alot and now Plat with them. Product and service is far superior in J both domestic and HKG services. We had been so loyal to QF but LTG opens up choices with other carriers knowing that lounge access is always available in Oneworld. On the other hand its probably more economic not to be loyal and just pay for lounge access if required.
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  • Richard Robertson

    iM

    11 Jul, 2018 03:02 pm

    Nice article Chris. I'm QF Platinum, but now when I achieve (my wife and love the first class lounges!), I chase better value for my business travel. For example, China Airline J is brilliant value and a great product, and from September I'll be Emerald with them and so Elite Plus with Skyteam. Next year I'm looking a Gold with Star Alliance using Eva Air to/from LAX out of Brisbane, as its products are a step up from China Airlines and the connections seem more convenient. I guess the bottom line is 'horses for courses' and find the best value where you can
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  • Eli

    Eli

    11 Jul, 2018 03:07 pm

    Fantastic article. I agree! I have complete freedom from top tier status at any one airline or hotel. I just book exactly what I want and good to go.

    Something many are finding out, booking through hotels.com and similar sites can be quite rewarding in different ways, free nights and can be used at any hotel. No longer a slave to crappy hotels in a particular city to stay within a chain. No more change of planes to hang on to a particular carrier.


    Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeedom!
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  • BevanMcBevan

    BevanMcBevan

    11 Jul, 2018 03:21 pm

    Jeez, Chris, you keep writing great stuff and thought-provoking articles. The Honeymoon was a ripper! Many Thanks.


    I decided to back off from QF last year and lost my P1 status. So what changed? Not much, QF Platinum is still fine.


    I was once an SQ PPS for many years and a Solitude for 12 months. Yes nice, but then again was it worth it? Nah.


    Yes, First Lounges are nice (bar SQ Private Room - that's, still, a let down for the 5-Star brand), and I think QF First SYD is great and I do like EY First in AUH. Nice meals & Champers. EK First in DXB is huge, but that's about it. CX First in HKG is top of the pops. I haven't been into QR First in DOH but have to say the QR Bus Lounge is more than fine. LHR? QF are doing a fine job here as they are in LAX. I haven't tried the Chinese airlines at all yet so have no feel here.


    So in the end what's my take? Try something different. Give it a go... unless your in the 'non-tourist' places in Africa. you just want to make sure 'your bum is on a seat' on the way home. Cheers.

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  • Michael McMillan

    elsmicko

    11 Jul, 2018 03:32 pm

    Good article! I was wondering if any of you wise heads might know... I fly to Malaysia quite a bit with SQ in economy (it's my client's preference), and book via VA. I always have Velocity Gold, and come and go to/from Platinum but have joined Krisflyer and thought perhaps I'd have a better chance of upgrading to PE without too much hassle if I achieved Gold with them? Any thoughts appreciated thanks!
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  • Russjking

    Russjking

    11 Jul, 2018 04:01 pm

    Very good point. I like SQ on my trips to the UK. However China Airlines are a couple of $000 cheaper for a slightly longer flight and the $000 is real money to spend anywhere, not trapped to use just on Reward flights.I see it that the excellent China Airlines product will get me home, with lounge access, and with the money saved I could blow it all on a Porsche Boxter car rental. Same price as SQ.
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  • Pit

    Pit

    11 Jul, 2018 04:48 pm

    Great article and this is something that I have been doing for the last 4 years, also teamed this up with AMEX / priority pass and not getting to the airport too early.
    To me the value is
    1. Real $$ in the pocket that pays for other activities outside the airport.
    2. PP/AMEX great lounge availability once outside Oz esp when flying around Europe on low cost carriers.
    3. Also lets you fly with great new offers from airlines breaking into routes eg virgins recent very cheap fares to HK

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  • cloud-9

    cloud-9

    11 Jul, 2018 05:09 pm

    Great article. I am ow emerald and the ability to check in very early - 6 hours is my max to date - and also being able to choose front row seats when booking, are what sets it apart from sapphire for me.

    Having attained my annual status, i am happy to fly with non aligned airlines
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  • biggles69

    biggles69

    11 Jul, 2018 05:09 pm

    I usually obtain QF platinum by NOT flying Qantas, as fares and schedules are often better on Cathay, Finnair, B.A., Japan etc. ... and I get more upgrades on One World partner airlines than on QF who have NEVER given me any!
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    Pallydou

  • Chun Wah Dou

    Pallydou

    11 Jul, 2018 05:10 pm

    I have CX, QF and SQ frequent flyers. Except going Singapore, 99% of my locations can be covered by OneWorld. I agree perks seem little to me - first class lounges, extra baggage. But still good to chase for Platinum/ Emerald when your company pays your travel. Sooner or later you feel you are spoiled to first class perks and can't go back. Are you going to CX lounge in Melbourne when you know there are 70+ guests inside for the same flight?

    I even received class upgrade coupons from CX but I have no chance to use it - CX only provides J class for Australia routes. Or they gave tickets to SuperRugby.

    I don't bother to join SkyTeam as I don't generally fly Chinese carriers.
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  • MR1961

    MR1961

    11 Jul, 2018 06:07 pm

    Insightful and telling article. I'm chasing QF Lifetime Silver and I plan to achieve this next year, 20 years after I first joined. Now that I travel for pleasure only, the timing couldn't be better.
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  • Howard Owen

    Howie50

    12 Jul, 2018 05:37 am

    Great article Chris and certainly something I have been considering recently, well certainly when the last QF double status credits offer came out, which like last year being a few weeks earlier than the previous year. This year the price of tickets looked like they had gone up during the period & at this point being LTG & with QF P in my pocket I thought this is the time to forget QF and just focus on my CX Diamond that I have been for a few years as well as retain my VA P, tho I am finding VS Gold is better value for me given the amount of London to US travel I do, and NOT on Bloody Awful airlines! Anyhow, I have the Priority Pass and am using that in Europe where airline lounges are average @ best & in a few restaurants in the US which is better outside of the main ports than the airline lounges. I see airfares for London-Sydney on several airlines, mainly Skyteam, that are $1-2K lower than OW airlines, offer better options for using the points and keeps some money for other pleasure. I am even evaluating the hotel strategy using hotels.com in lieu of the major chains.
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  • Scott Hillard

    Shillard

    13 Jul, 2018 05:50 pm

    But what if wearing handcuffs floats your boat?

    Asking for a friend...


    QF Plat for around 10 years before switching to VA when most of my flying was domestic, had LTG so no major loss as the real benefit of WP is the F lounge access.

    Now I'm back to a lot of international travel, so maintaining VA Plat with domestic flights and on track to get QF WP back with the international.

    The cheaper options are all well and good until something goes wrong - that's when the status really counts. You get on the next plane out while the plebs spend a night in a hotel (after finally being allocated a room at 2am).


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  • Andrew

    EKdevotee

    16 Jul, 2018 01:57 pm

    I'm a 20 year loyal Emirates flyer, and have been platinum for several years now. I fly mainly to Ethiopia, Uganda and Nigeria and the Emirates timetable is perfect for me. I mostly fly F anyway, but having access to the F lounge in Dubai makes platinum worth it on its own. Also priority check-in at the F counter, and generous extra baggage allowances. But most importantly, the Emirates experience on board has always been consistently good, the service excellent. So I'm not interested in moving.
    Off-topic, but I certainly have no fondness for Qantas, and would do anything to avoid their shoddy service and their consistently poor treatment of passengers, which is what made me move from them in the late 90s. I avoid taking Qantas codeshare flights with Emirates. I simply will not touch them. Their lounges are significantly inferior to those of Emirates also. The Emirates experience is vastly superior in every respect. Despite my experience of Qantas being 20 years out of date, I am continually reminded that I made the right decision to drop them when I see the deluge of complaints about Qantas on FlyerTalk. Good luck struggling to status on that airline!
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  • BevanMcBevan

    BevanMcBevan

    16 Jul, 2018 02:11 pm

    Hey EKdevotee. You sure are passionate about the EK product, so good on you. I, too, am in Africa quite a bit (Nigeria & Angola), so share your sentiments. The EK product, in First, is great. I am an EK Platinum. But, I raise the sword on your position on QF. You're out of date.

    QF First Lounge trumps the EK First on all counts. The First experience on the A380, yes no compartments, is I find, service wise, spot on. As for 'shoddy service' whoa, you've got little experience to count on there in our recent years. When it hits the fan QF are there....EK, I've been left high and dry.

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  • Andrew

    EKdevotee

    16 Jul, 2018 08:10 pm

    Thanks Bevan. I hear you. I did say my experience is 20 years out of date. However when one has a series of let-downs, bullying episodes and disappointments, the memory doesn't go away.

    To go back to Qantas,now, I would need a good reason, primarily if I was unhappy where I now find myself. And I'm not unhappy. In fact I'm extremely happy and satisfied with Emirates. Unlike yourself, I have never once been let down by Emirates. They have always looked after me really well in all situations, often going beyond what they had to do.

    And contrary to your experience, for me, when the brown stuff hits the QF fan, it lands on every one of their passengers, who they then mock and call them freckles!!
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  • BevanMcBevan

    BevanMcBevan

    16 Jul, 2018 08:12 pm

    EKdevotee, we agree to disagree. Safe Travels my friend.
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  • Mike Anderson

    mba2830

    23 Jul, 2018 01:57 pm

    I stil have my Citi Prestige Visa Infinate $700 , excellent if you fly a lot domestically with its PP $ to be spent at various airport eating spots , free PP partner membership, 2 meet and greet and airport transfers, pay 3 hotel nights get one free, etc,
    I use Amex plat Edge for food and fuel
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  • Lindsay Wilson

    QF WP

    23 Jul, 2018 03:04 pm

    Good to see you getting off the status train, Chris. For us that have learnt the lesson, it is truly liberating. I'm fortunate to have been released from the QF shackles when I finally realised in 2011 that schedule and cost are more important than status. Dropping from QF Plat to (Lifetime) Silver was a hard pill to swallow, but fortunately I had Lifetime Qantas Club to fall back on. VA made up for it and now happily re-qualifying VA Gold (using Family pooling) each year. One day I'll get QF Lifetime Gold and be off to chase AA Lifetime status.
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21 Sep, 2018 03:18 am

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