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I travel a lot for business, and so am fortunate enough to have reached an "elite" frequent flyer level. There are some well-documented benefits which are common to most of the frequent flyer programs, even when booking cheap economy tickets, such as:

  • Priority check-in

  • Lounge usage

  • Priority boarding

  • More miles earnt

...and so on (details of course vary airline to airline)

However, what non-obvious or poorly documented benefits are there? For example, I've also noticed the following "undocumented" benefits:

  • I've been rebooked on competitive airlines when flights have been delayed/cancelled.

  • Flight attendants/airline staff are (sometimes) politer and more helpful.

  • (A big one) Exit seats, and other desirable seats, are available for booking as soon as tickets are booked (although most airlines list this as a benefit, it's not always obvious that more seats open up the higher the "elite" level).

  • Complimentary upgrades when flights are overbooked.

Is there anything I'm missing... that I could be expecting or asking for, and I'm not getting?

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I'm trying to keep this general to all airlines and alliances to maximise the value of the question, but I'm happy to make it specific if that's needed/preferred. –  Andrew Ferrier May 13 '13 at 22:10
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I think the problem with this question is that it will vary a lot between programs, between your level within that program, and changes over time. –  Gagravarr May 14 '13 at 9:52
    
Gagravarr, I'm sure that's true, to a certain extent. But I think there are some common patterns that most frequent flyers know about. If other folks express the same concern, I'm happy to make the Q more specific. –  Andrew Ferrier May 14 '13 at 12:24
    
"eliciting list-style answers" seems to be forbbiden. Source: travel.stackexchange.com/faq#questions –  PERSONA NON GRATA May 14 '13 at 16:40
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I have to vote to close as well, since by definition, the answers are going to be unverifiable and anecdotal. Things like preferred seating and upgrades are very much published benefits. What you ultimately gain is some extra consideration for "waivers and favors" to use Delta's parlance— a slightly better chance that an agent will bend the rules when you ask them. And that is only true for some airlines; I've found most European airlines, for example, to be very much "by the book" on things like flight changes. –  choster May 14 '13 at 17:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Air Canada is supposed to take meal orders (in business class) in status order. The Super Elites are therefore more likely to get their first choice of meal.

I've seen Elites put into nicer hotels than everyone else during Irregular Operations.

Upgrades are firmly documented. Most airlines offer "operational upgrades" in order of status, though sometimes a rushed or lazy agent will give them to latecomers to minimize shuffling.

I've been comped to elite levels in hotel programs only because of the level I had in an airline program. I used that to great advantage on vacation trips.

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Kate, I'm curious about that last comment of yours. How did that happen? How did the hotel get to know your airline level? –  Andrew Ferrier May 28 '13 at 11:18
    
I got a letter from the airline program that said "congratulations, you've been awarded this level in this hotel program" and a card etc was enclosed –  Kate Gregory May 28 '13 at 13:40
    
handy! I assume that was AC? –  Andrew Ferrier May 28 '13 at 16:00
    
it was indeed, though I've read of other programs doing the same –  Kate Gregory May 28 '13 at 16:16

My father used to be one, and that was pretty much it. Priority for upgrades, being taken more serious when you have complaints or requests, and that's about it.
And not getting a form letter from the CEOs secretary but a personal letter written by the man himself when he complained about lacking maintenance he'd noticed developing over a period of several months (broken cabin equipment not being repaired, even after repeated complaints, 2 weeks after writing the CEO he flew the same aircraft again and it had been fixed when for months prior it had been broken, probably no coincidence).
Flight attendants knowing you by name and remembering your drinks preferences are normal in business class with quality airlines for frequent travelers on a route, has less to do with being a high ranking card member than with them simply serving you several times a week over a prolonged period.

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Most benefits are public, which provides incentives for people to attain a higher elite level. As you suggest, there are benefits which are not public. These fall into two categories: official non-published benefits are based on internal airline policy, available to customer-facing employees in the relevant work areas (such as reservations, flight attendants, etc.) Unofficial benefits are casual benefits extended by an individual airline employee, as a matter of custom or as a favor, but are not based on airline policy.

Airlines may establish official unpublished policies in an effort to simultaneously (a) retain high-value passengers who might otherwise defect, and (b) keep the benefit quiet to avoid having large numbers of people request it, or to retain the flexibility of changing the policy quietly, or simply to keep the published benefits simpler.

Individual airline employees may extend unofficial benefits out of a sense of fairness or in an effort to keep high-value customers happy.

It's difficult to get into details without being limited to a specific airline program, but examples of official non-published benefits include:

  • Free food and/or drinks when otherwise not entitled (such as flying in domestic coach or in a domestic airline lounge).
  • "Hidden" award inventory (award seats only available to members at a high or top elite level)
  • Ability to use system-wide upgrade instruments for flights later than the expiration date
  • Earning additional system-wide upgrade instruments or redeemable frequent-flyer miles for travel beyond a threshold
  • Making desired inventory available on special request (such as opening an award seat or a discount fare bucket)

Examples of unofficial benefits include:

  • Upgrades on non-upgradeable tickets (e.g., an award ticket in certain programs, discount inventory in certain programs)
  • "Protection" during irregular operations (being booked into alternate flights as a backup while still holding confirmed space on original flights when the original flights are delayed)
  • Being admitted into a lounge not permitted by status or class of service (e.g., a first-class lounge when flying domestic coach)
  • Changing flights without fee (when a fee would normally apply)
  • Receiving a larger number of bonus miles as an apology when something went wrong
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You get invitations to PR events hosted by the airlines such as introductions to new business-class layouts, occasional concerts etc.

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Yes, I'd forgotten about that one - had a few of those myself. –  Andrew Ferrier May 14 '13 at 12:25
    
Not limited to airlines though, I have been invited to such events from my cell phone provider as well. –  Burhan Khalid Dec 11 at 12:59

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