The War On Elites: Another Shot Fired

The War On Elites: Another Shot Fired


By Robert McGarvey




The story’s headline is innocuous: “American Will Make Preferred Seats Free for Corporate Travelers.”  Read it through however and the message is inescapable: American just put a boot to the face of its elites.


What corporate travelers will now get, free of charge, are the aisle, window, and front of the cabins seats that American has hit hoi polloi travelers with a fee to book.


The story noted: “Any passenger with status already could access preferred seats for free.”


It quoted an American executive saying this: “it’s startling how many corporates don’t have status.”  He added: “The expectation from our [corporate] customers is that [preferred seats] ought to be included in the seat assignment, and we agree.”


Ouch.  Elites sweat miles to gain perks, and the occasional free trip or free something, and now American has cheapened what had been a sweet perk because it really is annoying to have to shell out extra cash to book a marginally decent seat, where the alternative is flying (unhappily) in a middle seat.  Yes, elites will still get those seats free – if they are available and simple math tells you that fewer good seats will be left to snag.


What’s the result? More American elites will be forced to pay extra for American Main Cabin Extra seats — or on too many flights they will be in middle seats.




But the take away is clear. Elite status, little by little, has been eroded to the point where I personally have no interest in pursuing it, and honestly I no longer need it.


With a Barclaycard AA Advantage card and a Chase Mileage Plus Explorer card – cost: under $100 per year apiece – I get free bag check, priority boarding, a couple of free Club passes at United, and double miles on United tix. That covers United and American for me and, flying out of Phoenix, I am in good shape.


Add in an Amex Platinum card – with its access to various clubs among many more benefits – and I travel in something approaching style.

But I do not need to throw all or most of my business at a specific carrier. My last three round trips, if my memory is right, were on American, Southwest and United.  I picked what worked for me, price wise and time wise, and showed no loyalty.


Mainly because I long ago stopped seeing loyalty to me expressed by any carrier.


It amazes me that we still see stories about year-end mileage runs to achieve elite status (or upgraded status), in part because the airlines – in shifting to a tally that counts dollars spent not miles flown – have attacked the underpinning of the mileage run.


But the bigger point in my mind is: when you achieve elite status, what have you achieved?


Recently in O’Hare I looked at the United “upgrade board.”  Maybe eight elites had been upgraded. Screen after screen of names were on a wait list which, of course, was highly unlikely to result in an upgrade.


What’s the point of elite status anymore? Historically it meant accumulating bonus miles on every flight, which meant more miles available to cash in for trips – but airlines continue to monkey with seat availability on prime routes so this can’t be counted on.


The other, wonderful perk – especially with very high elite status – was that upgrades from coach to business were automatic, or so it seemed. No more, as most carriers prefer to sell business class seats, often at discounted prices.  That has diminished the count of seats available for upgrades.


So tell me again: what’s the point of elite status?


If it comes easily, take it.  I have a friend who lives a few miles from Newark, always flies out of EWR, almost always flies United and because he flies a lot, for an international company, he is perennially United Premier 1K and good for him.


But, note, he does nothing to get it, nothing he would not ordinarily do in his business life.


That kind of elite makes wonderful sense to me.


Hustling and conniving for it no longer does.
That’s the stark 2016 reality.