Using status challenges to get elite airline status (ahem, free wine in nice seats) faster

My friend Erik cringes when I start talking about airline lounges and frequent flier points. He's more of a Point A to Point B kind of guy. But for me -- here on the 29th of July and I've spent exactly six nights at home this month -- it's the lounges and frequent flier benefits (I'm looking at you, free wine) that make travel a so much better experience. Earlier this year I wrote about my experience picking up American Airlines AAdvantage Gold status on a day trip up to New York City. This was the result of my 2015 decision to shift my flying habits such that I'd focus on accumulating points and status, coupled with the new reality of my home airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National, as an American Airlines hub following that airline's merger with USAirways.

And so it was in May that I graduated from AAdvantage Gold to AAdvantage Platinum, the level at which I suspect I'll level out through 2017 for for my airline choices and desires (Hey jetBlue! Swoon.) preclude me from flying any more on American than I already do. The real thrust of this post, though, is the concept of the airline status challenge. Several airlines run these throughout the year, and in essence they allow travelers to sign up for the "challenge" of flying a certain number of miles in a condensed window of time such that they can earn their next level of status quickly. For example, I paid $200 to enter the Platinum Challenge, and then flew 12,500 qualifying miles in 90 days; my status was upgraded soon as I hit my 12,500th mile. Were I a standard member just going for the Gold level for the first time, I could have paid $120 to enter the Gold Challenge, and then flown 7,000 qualifying miles in 90 days. From the point of qualification, it's then up to the traveler to make sure you meet the requirements to keep your earned level of status into the next year and beyond.

This is truly the way to do it if you are brand new to traveling a lot (perhaps you've changed jobs or have moved far from family), or if your circumstances have only just now put elite airline status on a particular airline within reach (such as in my circumstance thanks to the USAirways - American merger). Some readers will disagree with me, but I've found there is a tremendous difference in overall experience quality from the standard non-elite frequent flier level up to the first tier (Gold on American) and between Gold and the second tier (Platinum on American). Since reaching Platinum, I now have access to any seat in the main cabin when I book (without paying the fee for extra legroom front-of-plane seating), get two free checked bags for me and anyone traveling on my ticket, earn twice as many miles when I fly (so the free trips come faster), and can be upgraded to first class (based on availability) as early as 72 hours before departure... an event that has come to pass no less than ten times since May.

All in, regardless of what my dear friend Erik says, airline status makes travel an infinitely better experience. Many travelers just don't travel enough to get there, but if you're new to the game, the status challenge is the way to go. I recommend monitoring your favorite airline, as well as two of my favorite frequent flier blogs (The Points Guy and One Mile at a Time) to tip you off the next time a challenge comes around!