Rewards, Travel

The hidden family benefits of elite airline status

Damon Brown

Getting elite airline status is tougher than ever, and even more difficult to earn when your flying has to be structured around your family schedule.

Ironically, the needs of a young family are the perfect reason to prioritize higher status on your favorite airline.

Co-branded airline credit cards can help you get some of the following perks, but elite status is definitely worth going the extra proverbial mile.

Preferred seats with bigger room

You don’t realize how little room there is in coach until you have to share it with one (or two!) toddlers. All the major carriers charge extra for the premium/preferred seats upfront, which offer less room than first class, but significantly more than basic seating.

Elites can choose any seat for free sans first class. The extra legroom and overhead space can help you manage the additional people as well as the carry-on baggage.

Flexible flights

Kids are the ultimate X-factor. Planning to go to the grocery store? Not if the little ones are sick, uncooperative or generally unruly.

Business travel is structured in the opposite way, as airlines generally have brittle rules. After the 24-hour purchase grace period, the average flight change costs $200 plus any difference in cost.

Elite status almost universally bends all the rules for you. It includes free flight changes to the very last minute, bump-ups to earlier flights and, of course, on-call upgrades based on the room on the flight.

If you have a young family (my little guys are ages 2 and 4), elite status becomes a lifesaver.

Higher frequent flyer points

Elite status is a serious multiplier to your frequent flyer opportunities, which is crucial as you price out seats for your entire family.

For instance, Alaska Airlines MVP Gold 75K gives you 100 percent bonus on each flight: A 1,000-mile trip will net you double the distance in points.

I haven’t been an MVP Gold 75K in months, but my family and I are still getting great flight deals based on the bevy of points earned.

Dedicated phone line

Credit cards like the Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards cards and the American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard have special call-in numbers, as do the elite status levels.

Keep in mind that the exclusive lines often come into play with the highest status: Delta Silver or American Gold won’t help you get more attention.

Here’s a fact: The dedicated phone line doesn’t matter until you need one.

I’ve had to rebook after a flight was canceled or contact the airline during a major storm when all the regular lines were tied up. The operators are more available, more patient and more likely to make exceptions to hard fast rules.

Don’t leave home without elite status

For those business trips when it makes financial sense to bring the family, having elite status with American and Alaskan airlines has really paid off.

The slogan for American Express used to be “Don’t leave home without it.” That’s how I feel about my airline elite status, and my credit cards helped me get there.

See related: How rewards can help you earn elite status matches and challenges, 5 ways to keep your elite travel status

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