Sunday Was My Proof for the Naysayers That Airline Status Matters

For a lot of travelers, the point of flying is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and as cheaply as possible. But for those of us travel hackers/mile hoarders/road warriors,  it’s much more than that. While my friends and family don’t criticize my obsession with miles and airline status, I’m sure there are those who find the hobby a complete waste of time and money. But this last weekend on my return to Dallas from Florida via Orlando (on July 4th weekend) was a prime example of why airline status is worth the effort and bit of cash.

While I’m only the lowly Premier Silver with United Airlines, the basic perks of simply Silver will save you all kinds of headaches. I’m sure most of you have been to Orlando as it’s one of the top travel destinations int the world. If you’ve been, you also know that it’s a very congested city due to all the attractions. And while Orlando International (MCO) is very well designed, it still doesn’t mean short lines and short waits for the average traveler. Our flight was an early one on this Sunday morning and while expected a crowd, I thought our pre-dawn departure would spare us slightly. Well, I was clearly surprised.

We approached the United ticketing counters to check one of our large bags at 5:00 AM. There were a minimum of 150-200 folks in line for United ticketing. Guess how many were in line at Premier Access? Two. Our bag was promptly checked in 2 minutes and we were on our way to security. Our next perk wasn’t directly related to airline status but to our Global Entry enrollment with the additional perk of TSA Precheck. That previous line at ticketing almost seemed like a breeze when we approached the TSA lines. There must have been 400-500 people in line, routing through ONE main queue line! Orlando’s has one central terminal with an “A” and “B” ticketing side. The PreCheck side is closer to “A” but we approached from “B” and both sides use the same TSA lines. We hurried over to the PreCheck side and were delighted when we only found 3 people in line for PreCheck! We were on our way to the concourse tram in just a couple of minutes and we easily avoided spending 45 minutes+ in line for TSA.

We skirted off for a quick coffee and onto our gate. We had plenty of time to move at our leisure thanks to our previous perks. We would have been far more rushed had we not had those perks. And to top it all off, we were upgraded to First on our IAH bound flight!

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Of course, this journey was an example of things going very much in our favor due to Elite status. However, the day wasn’t perfect as United did leave my checked bag behind in IAH and it was delayed. However, they did deliver it to my house just a few hours later. There were a few factors that did help make our experience even easier:

  • We were departing early on a Sunday morning
  • Orlando on a weekend means very few business travelers
  • Orlando is not a United hub/focus city, equaling small number of Elite travelers
  • Low time and day for Elite travelers and TSA PreCheck travelers

So for those of you newbie or light travelers who think that Elite status is just a waste of time, re-think about inserting status into your travel and miles strategy. It’s saving a ton in baggage fees alone! And don’t forget to do you research on status matches, it doesn’t hurt to politely ask!

 

That Cat’s Out of The Bag…..United’s Mileage Plan is Going to a Revenue Model

It was one of those mornings as a miles addict that when you open Twitter, and your morning has been shot. Delta did this to us a few months ago and now United has followed suit: United’s Mileage Plan is flipping from a mileage based rewards program to a revenue based one.

Of course, those of us who follow the airline and miles world daily, we knew this was inevitable in the U.S. airline industry. European carriers have fuel surcharges and now the U.S. carriers are going to revenue models. I had a feeling that United would be the first to follow Delta’s lead.  Many of us were hoping that the industry would wait and see how Delta fared with their revenue based program before jumping on that ship. Of course Southwest and Virgin America are revenue based but their model has always been different. I view those carriers with a completely different strategy.

For me personally, it stings. I’m a rare bird in the sense that I’m Dallas based and somewhat United loyal. They aren’t always my #1 choice and I don’t even have status with them. But I like the Star Alliance group and I can find decent award availability with United for the places I want to go. United always seems to have great European deals out of American hubs. But now that I’ve gone elite with Alaska, my strategy to gravitate with American, Delta, and Alaska will only strengthen. American and Alaska could go revenue based at any point but I think their a lot smarter than United. They won’t jump the gun and I don’t think they’ll be as lazy and uncreative  as United. United’s new revenue model is a mirror copy of Delta’s.

 

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United’s social media team wants me to give the program a chance.

 

United of course is promising all kinds of exciting changes to benefit Mileage Plan members with things  like using your miles to buy Economy Plus seats and checked baggage subscriptions. These are not genuine perks for customers but merely a gimmick for uninformed travelers to waste their miles on. If United wanted to go the revenue route, they should have at least made the model more attractive than Delta’s to lure customers.

Of course all the credit card bloggers claim they aren’t worried about the change because they’ll keep applying for dozens of rewards credit cards. But I disagree because airlines going the revenue route further limits the options for the everyday traveler to accrue miles. Credit card spending and bonuses are only a small part of my miles strategy. I actually enjoy air travel and the hunt for a sweet mileage run deal. I’ll keep modifying my miles strategy as the game changes but today was another defeat for travel hackers.