The Hollywood film Up in the Air, starring George Clooney, has filled our minds with champagne toasts and in-flight greetings from the captain for an airline’s most frequent fliers. While this is mostly fantasy, many airlines are getting more creative with perks for its million milers and top spenders.
Clooney’s character was proud of his multi-million miler status, but normal people achieve that, too. Average fliers who joined loyalty programs in the 1980s would have more than hit their stride today. Some travelers have been surprised by balloons or cake when they reach this flying milestone, but often, they have reached out to the carrier in advance.
Each airline awards its million miler fliers with different perks, and the tally for earning this status can vary by airline (much like earning miles varies by airline). Even partner airline flights count toward the million miler balance, meaning you can accrue that milestone even faster (don’t forget to put your frequent flier number in the reservation).
Million miler perks
For most travelers, the most notable perk that comes with million miler status is lifelong elite status. The benefits of holding status can lead to free upgrades and earning more miles under airlines’ new revenue-based programs. More valuable are the waived bag fees, priority check-in, and boarding benefits.
Most major airlines share your million miler accrual balance in your online account, but neither Southwest nor JetBlue offer million miler programs. Alaska awards travelers with lifetime MVP Gold status when they reach 1 million flown miles.
Delta Air Lines measures million miler status by tallying up the number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned. It gives its 1 million milers lifelong Silver Medallion status. Delta’s Medallion status awards fliers with complimentary upgrades to first class or Comfort Plus seats (including middle seats) within 24 hours. Two million milers get lifetime Gold Medallion status, which tacks on the chance for an upgrade at 48 hours before departure plus waived standby and confirmed travel fees in addition to the Silver Medallion perks. It also brings free lounge access for fliers traveling internationally. But 3 million milers get absolutely nothing more status-wise for their million miles of loyalty. To score Platinum Medallion for life, a person must fly 4 million miles with Delta, which comes with better fee waivers, standby priority, and access to upgrades. Unlike United, there is no back-door way to earn Delta’s top Diamond Medallion status forever, but Delta does give million milers a choice of gifts from brands like Hartmann and Tiffany & Co. each time they hit their next million mile landmark.
United is a bit more generous with its lifetime status, giving 1 million milers Premier Gold for life (this includes lounge access when traveling internationally); 2 million milers get Premier Platinum; 3 million milers get Premier 1K; and 4 million milers get the airline’s coveted Global Services status. United million milers can also award status to a companion for the year, which doubles the value of the perk. Keep in mind that basic economy fares on United do not count toward million miler status, but all other flown miles count.
American’s million miler program operates differently. When travelers reach a million flown miles, they are awarded Gold status for life plus 35,000 bonus miles as a gift. Fliers with 2 million miles earn Platinum status for life plus four one-way systemwide upgrades, which are good on any fare. Earning another million does not offer any higher lifetime status, but at each additional million flown miles, travelers score an additional four systemwide upgrades. American used to count every single mile earned in its program toward million miler status (including miles earned by credit card spending), but it is now based solely on mileage flown with American and its partners.
Secret mileage tiers
It’s nice to have lifetime status, but airlines also reserve extra special attention for their highest spenders. These secret, invitation-only tiers provide the ultimate in travel perks. Airlines are mum on what the qualifications are for achieving this status level (it varies by airline), but it is generally believed that these are the top percent of an airline’s spenders each year. If you think you spend a lot with an airline, there is probably always someone higher paying upwards of $100,000 or more for tickets annually.
Delta’s 360 status comes with special perks like frequent Porsche rides between gates for those with tight connections and closely monitored itineraries for any potential flight disruptions by a dedicated team reachable by private phone line (no need to call a reservations agent). Delta also showers these fliers with regular gifts like champagne or gift baskets mailed to their homes, and they enjoy the highest upgrade and standby priority.
United’s Global Services program has been the most visible of these uber-elite tiers. Fliers have priority boarding before all other passengers, the highest upgrade and standby priority, a dedicated phone line, plenty of waivers and favors from phone agents, and more flexibility when it comes to finding award space (the airline will even make an award seat available if there are seats in other lower fare buckets still open). United also takes premium cabin meal orders by status level, and Global Services members almost always get their first choice (while other fliers will be asked for a first and second choice). Global Services members are invited into first class lounges when traveling in business class, and like Delta’s top travelers, United takes those with tight connections to their gates via luxury cars (Mercedes-Benz).
American’s Concierge Key program lets top spenders board the aircraft first and enjoy priority upgrade and standby status on waiting lists. They can contact a dedicated phone line or email address for special requests. Concierge Key members receive a free annual membership to Admirals Clubs plus assistance during tight connections from ground staff.