For those of you who missed it, I’m moving to Australia! Visa has been approved, the Big Flight has been booked, and I’ve been practicing my Australian accent enough that, well, I still sound like a complete nincompoop when trying to speak with it.
The last couple of months have been an incredible whirlwind, and I want to bring you all along for the experience of becoming an expat.
But we can get to all that stuff later, I know the most burning question you all have:
OMG WHICH AIRLINE STATUS ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE?!
While I still have no idea why you are all-capsing at me, I have put some significant thought into it, so let me explain, because it’s not quite as simple as I initially thought, and it brought me back to some foundational thoughts about airline status overall.
Re-evaluating airline status
What benefit do you actually get from your airline status? No, I’m not asking you what benefits are offered or which ones you like, but which ones do you actually use? It’s an important thought exercise to go through, I’m glad I went through it and I would strongly encourage everyone to evaluate the value they get from their airline status on a regular basis.
I held American’s Executive Platinum status for a decade and enjoyed the upgrades, the free same-day flight changes, and the lounge access on international trips. It made flying easier, that’s for sure.
But if I take away most of my domestic travel around the USA and replace it with trips to places like Melbourne, Singapore, and New Zealand, how does that change things? What becomes more or less valuable to me?
- Complimentary domestic upgrades – basically useless, as I won’t be flying domestically within the USA very often for the next few years
- Complimentary flight changes – basically useless for the same reason as above
- International upgrade certificates – still valuable for either flying home or for upgrading family members who come to see me
- Earning miles – Flying is no longer a great way to earn miles, so becoming an expat doesn’t really change much about this
- Lounge access – hmmm, let’s take a closer look
A quick review of airline alliances and their presence in Australia
Nearly every major airline in the world has a flight to Sydney and those that do not likely have a partner airline that does. This also means that every airline alliance has a presence in Australia, or I at least have access to one.
Australia has two main airlines: Qantas and Virgin Australia. There are numerous subsidiary and regional airlines (Jetstar being a low-cost subsidiary of Qantas, for example) but those are the main two. Qantas belongs to oneworld while Virgin Australia is not a member of any alliance (they partnered up with United recently so they play friendly with most Star Alliance carriers). Air New Zealand, a member of Star Alliance, is not far away either.
To go domestic or international when it comes to airline status?
A very good friend of mine, who will remain anonymous but whose name rhymes with Marty, has long held British Airways elite status, despite being based in the USA. Other frequent flyers I know who religiously fly American Airlines actually maintain their status with fellow oneworld member Finnair.
Why would they do this instead of just getting status with American?
Simple, really: they know which aspect of airline status is most important to them.
Every airline alliance has status levels, with certain privileges afforded to each level. oneworld, for example, has Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. Each airline in oneworld has their own loyalty program with different status levels but they all correspond to one of the oneworld levels.
One of the benefits of mid-tier alliance status is complimentary business class lounge access on international flights. Top-tier alliance status gets you into first class lounges on international flights.
Here’s the magical part though: whether a flight is domestic or international depends on where the status-awarding airline is based, not where the customer is based.
So let’s say I was based in the USA and was flying American from DFW-LAX. If I had American’s top tier Executive Platinum status, heck even if I had purchased a First Class seat on the flight, I would not be able to access American’s lounges in either airport, since it’s a domestic flight (oneworld lounge benefits would not apply). BUT if I had, say, mid-tier Finnair Plus Gold status (which corresponds to oneworld Sapphire), I would not only be able to access American’s Admirals Clubs but even their Flagship Lounges, since it would be classified as an international flight (since I’m not flying domestically in Finland).
Now, clearly it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, there can be a downside to this as well. If I use Finnair status to get into nice lounges on that American DFW-LAX flight I would be foregoing some benefits specific to American, like complimentary upgrades and same-day flight changes.
So it all goes back to my thought exercise earlier: what is more important, lounge access or carrier-specific benefits? Once I answered that question, it all became clear to me.
My status going forward will be…
American Airlines Platinum Pro.
It’s the perfect sweet spot, and doubly convenient for me because I already have that status.
Now, discerning readers will remember my constant belittling of the Platinum Pro status name (I stand by my constant assertion that it sounds like a membership you would purchase at a car wash) and history loves a good joke, so of course that’s the status level I will depend on while down under.
What makes Platinum Pro the perfect sweet spot? Lounge access, mostly. Upgrades and flight changes on American are no longer as important to me, but lounge access and international upgrades will be. Platinum Pro is relatively easy to achieve with my normal flying volume and will give me access to both.
Why not Qantas, you ask? Their status is harder to earn and has fewer benefits, even at their top tier.
By keeping my status with American, my new home lounge will be the Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney, one of the world’s great lounges (my recent review of it here). I will still be able to earn Systemwide Upgrades for use on international flights back home on American jets. The most valuable parts of airline status will certainly change for me, but luckily my status won’t have to.
Do you use an international status for better benefits in your home country? How did you find the experience? Tell me in the comments below!