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Airline elite status is commonly referred to as a “hamster wheel” because, once you're on it, it can be tough to get off. If you have elite status with a particular airline, then you start wanting to only fly on that airline. You start getting upgrades and better service, which makes you more loyal to your airline (even if routing, price and other circumstances might make flying a different airline more convenient).
If you get to the end of the year and you haven't yet qualified for status for next year, you might even start spending extra money to requalify that you wouldn't have otherwise spent.
A good rule of thumb is that most airline elite status is only “worth it” if you fly enough to earn the status organically. If you have trouble requalifying, then it may not be worth the extra time and money, unless you are expecting a drastic change to your travel plans or frequency in the coming year.
But in my opinion, elite status with Frontier Airlines offers something different — so much so that I went out of my way to earn it via a challenge last year. Here's why I made that choice, and why it might be right for you too.
Frontier Airlines elite status is different
The “big three” U.S. legacy carriers — American, Delta and United — all have very similar elite programs. They have all moved to a model where:
Redeemable miles are paid out based on the cost of your fare, NOT the amount of flown miles on the ticket.
Many of the status levels require you to meet a certain amount of spending in addition to mileage requirements.
These airlines have decided that they want to incentivize spending. That is fine for the business traveler who might often travel on a costly ticket at the last minute (that their company pays for), but isn’t great for families and others who are looking to use miles or otherwise keep costs down.
Frontier’s frequent flyer program has neither of those characteristics. You'll earn 1 mile per mile flown, and there are no revenue requirements either.
And if you have the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®, you can actually earn 1 elite qualifying mile for every dollar spent on the card.
The three levels of Frontier elite status
Frontier Airlines has three different elite status tiers, each with its own perks:
Instead of naming the elite levels after precious metals, Frontier has kept it simple: Each level is named for the number of qualifying miles required: Either 20,000, 50,000 or 100,000 miles.
Status can also be achieved by segments flown: Elite 20K requires flying 25 segments, Elite 50K requires 50 and Elite 100K requires 100 segments.
» Learn more: Frontier Airlines miles: The complete guide
How I earned top-tier status
In February 2019 I got an email from Frontier Airlines offering a status challenge. I already had Elite 20K status at the time, and the email said I could earn a higher status with only two round-trip flights.
We already had one family trip booked on Frontier, so I only needed one additional flight. Since Frontier offers Kids Fly Free on select flights, I could even bring my daughter with me on this "mini mileage run." Out of pocket, our overnight flight cost us less than $73.
We used a Hyatt free night certificate to stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, so there was no out-of-pocket cost for our hotel.
However, the email provided conflicting information. In one section, it stated I would earn Elite 50K status after completing two round-trip flights, but a different part said I would earn Elite 100K. I ended up getting top-tier Elite 100K status on Frontier, good for all of 2019.
In my experience, the added savings from being an Elite 100K member more than outweighed the $72.95 we spent on this mileage run. We were able to get a Discount Den membership for free (a $59.99 value) as well as free seat selection, carry-on and checked bags for several flights throughout the year.
» Learn more: Is a Frontier Airlines Discount Den membership worth it?
Why Frontier Airlines elite status is the only airline status I have
To recap, here are a few of the reasons why I’ve never chased elite status on any other airline, and why I do plan on keeping my Frontier Airlines elite status:
With Elite 100K status, you get “family status,” which means up to eight travelers traveling on the same itinerary get your same elite benefits.
You earn 1 elite mile for every mile flown.
You also earn 1 elite mile for every $1 spent on the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®.
You can pool miles with up to eight people — no more orphaned miles in kids’ accounts.
With a paying adult, kids 14 and under can fly for free on Discount Den fares.
Elite 50K members get 50% off a Discount Den membership, while 100K members get it for free.
Free seats and bags — even at the lowest (Elite 20K) level, you get a free carry-on, free checked bag and free seat selection.
Frontier revamped its mileage program a few years ago to target families and casual travelers. I'd say the airline's list of elite benefits and methods for elite qualifications reflect that. For me and my family, It’s nice to have another option besides the same elite program that every other airline has.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:
Airline miles and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card
Flat-rate rewards with no annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Premium travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card