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How to Achieve Lifetime Elite Status

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Tips for reaching 1 million frequent-flier miles.

Are you nearing that magic number of one million lifetime miles? Most frequent-flier programs have million-miler programs that offer lifetime elite status for those members who have racked up enough time in the air over the years.

Not all carriers offer lifetime elite status, and those that do don’t always publish information about it. However, frequent fliers would do well to know which airlines do provide elite-for-life perks, so they can plan their travel accordingly. Be sure to check the total miles on your online statement each month—it pays to keep up with your number. You might be closer than you think.

In North America, Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, American AAdvantage, Continental OnePass, Delta SkyMiles and United Mileage Plus offer lifetime elite status to members starting at one million miles. Of all of these programs, only American AAdvantage allows miles earned from any source (such as car rentals and hotel stays) to count toward lifetime status. Most airlines award this special status based on how many elite qualifying miles (EQM) or segments (EQS) a member has accumulated in the duration of his membership in the program. Some airlines, especially those that participate in global alliances, include miles flown on partner carriers; but others count only so-called butt-in-seat miles in the march toward toward lifetime elite.

Although most airlines require passengers to earn lifetime status only through flying miles, some cobranded credit cards enable members to earn EQMs, and there are occasional bonuses that offer EQMs. Keep an especially close eye out for these types of bonuses near year’s end, but they can run at any time.

If the program is part of a global alliance, not only can members earn elite status in their frequent-flier program, but they also receive elite status in all of the member airlines in that alliance. This may include lounge access for the member and a guest.

Various programs offer some standout benefits to million milers, including the following:

Aeroplan provides complimentary Maple Leaf lounge access for one-million-mile members, as well as Star Alliance lounge access for the member and a traveling companion on international flights.

Alaska Mileage Plan offers unlimited first-class upgrades and 100 percent flight bonus miles at one million miles.

American AAdvantage has the easiest lifetime elite status to obtain, because all redeemable miles count toward membership.

Delta SkyMiles offers SkyTeam Elite Plus, that alliance’s highest tier, to Platinum Medallion members (a status earned at 75,000 miles).

Continental OnePass provides million-mile members the option to share elite status with a spouse or significant other residing at the same address as the member. (Note that Continental and United’s programs won’t officially merge until January 1, 2012, but they will reportedly be making changes throughout 2011.)

United Mileage Plus offers complimentary domestic upgrades for one-million-mile members and one traveling companion flying within the continental U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America—plus the program offers 100 percent flight bonus miles.

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