Checking into the perks of airline elite status can really pay off


Here’s a neat trick we stumbled on: If you have elite status on one airline, others might temporarily match the perks.

This year we managed silver elite status on US Airways. Recently, when making a reservation to Rome on United, we asked, as usual, that the miles be credited to US Airways, a United partner. Airlines are no longer sharing most of their perks with elite fliers on partner airlines, but a helpful United agent suggested asking for matching elite status.

After faxing a request to United, we got matching status, good for 60 days. Plus, if we fly 7,500 miles on United during that period, elite status, which usually requires 25,000 miles, will be extended. We also checked and found other airlines that aren’t even partners but were willing to match.

Big deal, you say, you got through lines quicker and your luggage was tagged priority and you had a special airline telephone number so you wouldn’t be put on hold forever.

No, bigger deal.

First, non-elite fliers weren’t given advance seat assignments. With temporary elite status, not only did we get advance assigned seats, but we were put in the first rows of coach, with five extra inches of legroom. But it got even better.

We checked the flight’s seating chart online and found no coach seats available, suggesting coach might be overbooked. At the gate, we mentioned elite status and volunteered to be upgraded if the airline needed to free up coach seats. Instantly an agent gave business-class seat assignments to us and a non-elite companion.

On the return trip, a gate agent called for elite fliers to report, and handed them and their companions business seats because again coach was oversold.

Our frequent-flier miles to Rome had to be credited to United, meaning those miles won’t count toward elite status on US Airways next year, but it was more than worth the trade-off.