Reader Mail “What Are The Key Benefits To Being An Elite?”

Choosing a frequent flyer program can have many variables to choose from. In the scheme of things, with all programs being not being equal, what is the essential frequent flyer benefit for business travelers?


Mohammed Akbar, from Kuwait, writes, “I am searching for the key benefits of joining a frequent flyer program as a business traveller, besides earning free flights. My travel is increasing and I am certain I will attain upper level elite status in a matter of months with any airline I choose. We do not have the option of easy unlimited upgrades with the local airlines, so what are the key benefits to being an elite if any?”


Mohammed, you point out an aspect that many people seem to ignore, not all airlines offer their elite frequent flyers upgrades. Unlimited upgrades is most commonly found in North American programs, and almost never offered for long haul travelers.   So, as a traveler you need to decide what is most important to you in a program. As you are not interested in free flights as your primary benefits, we can skip investigating accrual and redemption options and jump to the top two benefits I have found when traveling on business.


The top two benefits I have found are lounge access and priority access security checkpoint lines.


After years as an elite frequent flyer with airlines in the United States, I switched to European carriers for the single benefit of worldwide lounge access with their partners, something not offered by U.S carriers. I was a long time elite with BMI for Star Alliance lounge access worldwide, having now attained elite status with British Airways for OneWorld lounge access.   A lounge is a haven, a quiet place to sit, eat, work, relax and if you need to change flights, missed a flight or have the chance at an upgrade, the lounge staff are usually the best option for helping elite frequent flyers.


For business travelers, showing up at the airport late, or at peak times, happens more often than not. With airport security lines often being long and slow during peak travel times,  access to a priority airport screening lane can mean the difference between making a flight and standing in line aggravated because you have missed a flight.   Priority access security lane access has saved me from missing flights more times than I can even remember.


So Mohammed, I’m sorry I can’t cite the single frequent flyer benefit I find most useful for business travelers, so you’ll have to settle for the two frequent flyer benefits I have found indispensable.


Below is a photo of the United Airlines’ priority security access lane at Boston’s Logan International Airport … clearly you can see the benefit of skipping the line everyone else is in.


Happy Flying!





  1. For me it is preboarding and legroom.

    I’m CO/UA Gold. I get 3-5 upgrades a year out of about 40 flights. They’re nice but always unexpected.

    However, I get E+ on UA metal (with CO metal scheduled for conversion). Meanwhile I get to book exit rows on CO. At 6’4″, my knees are always touching the seatback in a regular economy seat. If I get behind someone who reclines, I’m doomed.

    As for preboarding — I carry camera gear. Gate checking is not an option.

    By the way, I carry a folding bag (supermarket reusable) in my main bag. When the overhead is small such as on a regional jet, I pull out the folding bag and move stuff around so they both fit.

  2. I’m SQ Gold (Singapore) and I too have found lounge access and priority security clearance well worth the 50k butt in seat miles every year. It has made the whole airport experience much more pleasant and a lot more productive. Also, I would have to add that Global Entry for US citizens is another tremendous time saver.

  3. I appreciate the ability to select exit row seats at booking as AA Platinum and now it seems, just reserving any seat at booking. Also,like the screening and boarding priority.

  4. @FlyingWithFish,

    Can you clarify your statements about upgrades—how do you define “long haul”?

    I too have found my business travel increasing considerably and expect it to only get worse for the next 5 years. So out of both frustration with major carriers and wanting to maximize benefits, I’m re-evaluating my airline allegiance.

    The most valuable benefit to me would be upgrades, and at minimum, that should mean Economy Plus. Although if I’m flying 50-75K per year on a single airline, I’d hope to get business class upgrades on longer flights. (I couldn’t care less about a flight of 2 hours or less.) At 6’2″ and mostly in the legs, Economy seating is a constantly miserable experience from takeoff to landing–and if the person in front of me reclines, I simply can’t work on a laptop during long flights. Nor can I sleep.

    But you say North American airlines almost never give upgrades on long-haul flights anymore? How long is long haul to you? Are we talking cross country or transoceanic? And why are the upgrades almost never given? I assume, also, that you mean upgrades to business or first, not economy plus.

    Your thoughts would be much appreciated.


  5. As you stated, most non-US airlines do not offer upgrades to elite travellers but do offer lounge access. Also, they usually do not offer priority security clearance as that tends to be reserved for business class customers.

    However, as well as lounge access what they offer is much more help when things go wrong. If you travel regularly, this will happen once or twice a year and they are very keen to look after their better customers as well as possible. Do not underestimate this perk.

  6. The old United did free upgrades for domestic flights – including those to Hawaii (I did ORD-HNL and KOA-SFO, both were UDUs). Other than the LAX/SFO-JFK p.s. flights everything in the US was free upgrade eligible. CO has the same type of thing, but on EWR-NHL CO runs int’l 764s, so they don’t do UDUs, 764s are coming to DEN later this month, and UA is going to start overhauling their Hawaii 767s to have full flatbed seats, so I am worried they might drop UDUs to Hawaii. Oh, and as a Premier Exec I was upgraded on 9 of 11 domestic segments, on one more I was upgraded, but already settled in my seat and didn’t care for such a short flight.

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