For many flyers, obtaining status is the most important reason to fly. Free upgrades to First Class, free drinks, seating with more legroom, no baggage fees are among many benefits that airlines give to their best customers. As previously discussed under alliances, all the miles from different airlines in the alliance can count to raising your status in your main FFP.
Status is generally in three steps, let’s call them Silver, Gold, and Platinum although each airline has their own name for their levels. In general, Silver is awarded after you have flown 25,000 miles, Gold after 50,000 miles and Platinum after an exhausting 100,000 miles. Now to clear up a confusing point on miles. The term “miles” is used to mean two things. There are Redeemable Miles (RDM) that you can earn from credit cards, bonuses, promotions, etc. that are added to the miles you actually travel in a plane and these miles are used to “cash in” and get freebies. The amount of RDM doesn’t matter when determining your status. Status miles are generally called Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM). These miles come almost exclusively from butt-in-seat (BIS) traveling, although there are rare promotions that can give you more for certain flights or a set period. More importantly, these miles are all calculated for a calendar year and so each year you have to start over on 1 January to try to gain status again although you will carry over your status to the year after you earn them.
This is where the true challenge lies. The amount of miles needed each year seems very high, but they can add up quickly. I was standing next to a
military member in HNL before boarding my flight to GUM(Guam) who remarked to his friends that his trip out to Bahrain had added up to 29,000 miles in a single trip which made him Gold for the year. Now here is some important news for military members. Getting enough miles every year can be a
problem with all of the deployments we perform. I have had 100% success in getting the airlines to extend my status for the next year if I can show them that I was deployed to a war zone and thus unable to fly enough to qualify. This applies to any year where you will be gone for a significant portion of the
year. So for example, I earned UA 1K level in 2004, then deployed to Iraq in April 2005. United extended my 1K status for both 2005 and 2006 since I was gone for half of that year too. I have found this true for all the airlines and some of the time for hotel programs.
Write a letter or e-mail to the FFP Customer Service office along with a copy of your deployment orders and you should be good to go. Note that the savvy traveler will make it a priority to gain enough miles, in the year before deploying, to get as high a status as possible and then retain it for two additional years. Note that sometimes the airline may not give you 100% of the things that they promise member who actually fly 100,000 miles (known in the Frequent Flyer world as a “Lite” member. For example, UA kept me as 1K, but did not give me the Systemwide Upgrades they normally would give a 1K. I don’t get upset about it; I try never to look a gift horse in the mouth. You would be amazed at the number of people who do!