You don’t have to be a miles addict to enjoy the kinds of luxurious benefits that come with elite status. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities for you to bank the good times without putting in all the effort (and travel!) it takes to get to the pinnacle of a travel loyalty program. Try these suggestions the next time you feel more like sipping champagne in a cushy chair than jostling through the crowd with your $4 cup of coffee.
Airline Lounge Passes
Airline lounges often sell day passes at the door ranging from $25 to $60. What’s more, you can often get discounted passes online before you head to the airport. And trial memberships, good for 30 or 90 days, are often available for travelers who have booked multiple flights in a short period.
Gone are the days where dressing nicely and winking at the airline or hotel employee could get you a free upgrade. Instead, travel companies now try to up-sell you when you make a reservation or check-in. And these last-minute upgrades can actually be great deals. If a first class ticket or club-level room at a hotel is too expensive when you make the reservation, wait until the airline or hotel gets really desperate, closer to departure. You might find a bargain. Airlines and hotels don’t want to waste an empty seat or club level room if they can get some money for it, so they will sometimes offer them at a discounted rate the day of your flight or stay. These offers may be available during online check-in, at automated ticket kiosks, or at ticket or reception desks; be sure to check all available avenues for a shot at luxury.
For example, airlines like Condor or Iberia regularly offer upgrades to international business class for several hundred dollars, which is far cheaper than the normal ticket cost. Hotels are known to offer upgrades club level rooms for as little as $30, and they sometimes tack on perks like free breakfast and evening cocktails. And if you don’t see any information offering these kinds of upgrades, be sure to ask.
Special Reservation Packages
The next time you book a hotel room, dig a little deeper on the reservations page. Travel companies want to highlight the most affordable rooms, but often there is the option to view special packages that can boost the room value tremendously. Marriott, Starwood, and Hilton all have packages that dish out goodies like bonus loyalty points and breakfast.
This spring, for instance, many of Chicago’s Hilton hotels are offering a Chillcation package that gives travelers elite status perks like free breakfast, premium Internet access, welcome gifts, unlimited coffee and hot chocolate, and half-price parking. The Autograph Collection’s St. Ermin’s Hotel in London woos guests with a Suite Dreams package that includes breakfast and afternoon tea for two, a three-course dinner for two with wine pairings, spa treatments, and theater tickets. It’s not that much more than the standard rate and sure beats any club-level offering. And if you want to really feel like you have elite status, the Ritz-Carlton Reserve Dorado Beach will give it to you for one stay when you book “The Five-Star Experience” package. While not cheap, the package includes daily breakfast, a five-course tasting menu dinner for two, and $500 credit to spend onsite. They even offer customized turndown amenities each evening—ie, you tell the hotel what you like, and they will create evening treats just for you. Talk about elite status!
Credit Card Perks
Of course, there are always the special benefits that come with many travel credit cards, including priority boarding and free checked bags. Some cards even offer discounts on airline lounge passes, inflight meals and snacks, and even free change fees, which can make flying in the middle seat a bit more, well, elite.
Some airline programs allow frequent travelers to gift status to a friend. For instance, Delta offers it as a perk to its top-tier Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. So if you know someone with status, it couldn’t hurt to ask them to share the love!
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Ramsey Qubein Ramsey Qubein is a freelance travel journalist covering hotels, cruises, airlines, and loyalty programs from around the globe.