Most frequent flyers can remember the first time they earned elite status and began to enjoy the perks of status. Once an airline has started treating you like a V.I.F. (Very Important Flyer) and you’ve become accustomed to all of the associated benefits, like upgrades, preferential treatment and lounge access, it’s difficult to return to the rank and file of non-elite. Boarding the plane and finding no overhead bin space, paying for upgrades, waiting in long lines and gazing wistfully at the entrance to the airport lounge from your uncomfortable seat at the gate are more difficult to tolerate once you’ve experienced the relative comfort of elite.
For elite members whose flying tapers off once they hit their retirement years, earning enough miles to reach elite status may not be so easy anymore, and it’s worthwhile to look at all of the programs that offer lifetime elite programs so you can enjoy the benefits of elite well into your golden years.
Not all programs, however, offer lifetime elite status. In fact, most of the international frequent flyer programs that we looked at do not have any way to secure elite status for life other than by qualifying each and every year through flying thousands of miles. But lifetime elite programs are offered by a handful of programs and if you haven’t decided on a “retirement FFP”, this guide can help you choose a program that will allow you to maintain your status even if you lay down your road warrior wings.
Before digging into the specifics of what these programs offer their members, let’s take a look at some basics such as how members qualify for these programs. Most airlines give lifetime status according to how many elite qualifying miles or segments a member has accumulated for the duration of his membership in the program. Some airlines will include miles flown on partner airlines, especially those airlines that participate in the global alliances, but some airlines only count so-called “butt-in-seat” miles on their own metal. And most of the international airlines we looked at do not include miles earned from non-airline partnerships, such as hotels, car rentals, credit cards and other partners.
While one million miles is the commonly used milestone for lifetime elite, we found one program that starts awarding lifetime benefits at only 500,000 miles, which is in stark contrast to the U.S.-based airlines that don’t even consider giving any enduring benefits until you’ve racked up at least a million miles. A few of the programs we looked at for this article don’t look at members’ lifetime mileage accumulation, but restrict membership to those elite flyers who have maintained membership in their highest elite level for a specific number of years, usually a decade.
International programs tend to be more generous than those in North America in giving away their highest elite levels as a lifetime benefit to high flyers. And unlike the programs in the U.S. that award additional benefits at the two million, three million or four million mile mark, benefits in international programs are capped at one million miles, so a member who flies four million miles or more receives basically the same perks as a member with only one million miles under their wings.
Lifetime Elite Programs
The programs outside the Americas offering lifetime elite status include Air China PhoenixMiles, Air France/KLM Flying Blue, Asiana Airlines Asiana Club, bmi diamond club, EgyptAir EgyptAir Plus, Lufthansa Miles & More, Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles, Korean Air SKYPASS, Qantas Frequent Flyer, SAS EuroBonus and South African Airways Voyager.
Air China PhoenixMiles
Air China has a documented million-miler program that you can read about online at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?2988
At one million kilometers: A Platinum member who has flown one million kilometers on Air China flights, including Air China operated and CA-coded flights, since joining the PhoenixMiles program will be welcomed as a lifetime Platinum member, which comes with Star Alliance Gold status. Platinum members get a 50 percent flight bonus plus priority waitlisting, boarding and baggage handling, as well as first class check-in and extra baggage allowance. Members also have access to first class airport lounges and can bring one guest on days they fly on any of the Star Alliance carriers.
Bottom line: Although Air China participates in the Star Alliance, only kilometers earned on Air China qualify for elite status. However, the qualification threshold is based on kilometers flown instead of miles, which means you only need to fly 621,372 miles to reach lifetime elite. For members who travel frequently to or from China, PhoenixMiles may be a program to look into since it has a relatively low threshold for attaining lifetime Star Alliance Gold status, which comes with free access for elite member and a guest to Star Gold lounges worldwide when flying any Star Alliance carriers on that day. The 50 percent flight bonus isn’t as good as the 100 percent offered by other programs, but many international programs only offer a 25 percent flight bonus, so PhoenixMiles members are relatively well off earning 150 percent of miles when flying on Air China.
Air France/KLM Flying Blue
Flying Blue is the frequent flyer program of Air France, KLM, Air Europe, Kenya Airways, Tarom and Aircalin. Members can achieve the highest elite level Flying Blue offers for life, but they will need to qualify for Platinum status for 10 consecutive years to reach lifetime Platinum. To earn Platinum status, Flying Blue members residing in France or Monegasque need to fly 90,000 Level Miles or 60 Level Segments. Members residing in all other countries need to earn 70,000 Level Miles or 60 Level Segments. Level Miles or Segments are earned when flying on a paid ticket with Air France, KLM, Air Europe, Kenya Airways, Tarom or SkyTeam airlines. Members who manage to fly 90,000 Level Miles every year for 10 straight years (a total of 900,000 or 700,000 miles) will receive Platinum status for life. You can read more about this documented benefit at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3075
At 900,000 miles: Platinum benefits include a 100 percent elite flight bonus on Air France, KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways and SkyTeam member airlines. Platinums also have access to an exclusive reservation line; priority waitlist, check-in, boarding and baggage handling; preferred seating at time of booking; access to Seat Plus seating that offers extra legroom in the Voyageur cabin or Economy Comfort on longhaul flights; an extra 23kg baggage allowance; complimentary lounge access for member and a guest and SkyTeam Elite Plus status.
Bottom line: Compared to the requirements of other programs, Flying Blue is quite generous in offering its top elite tier for life to members who fly only 900,000 miles (700,000 miles if you don’t live in France or Monegasque). The catch is that you will need to fly 90,000 miles every year for 10 consecutive years. If during your ninth year you only fly 85,000 miles, you will have to start all over again. For travelers who travel intermittently and earn lots of miles one year but not so much the following year, this may not be a good program. But if you can manage to consistently rack up close to 100,000 miles every year for a decade, you will be richly rewarded for your loyalty.
Asiana Club reserves its highest tier for its million miler members. After flying 1,000,000 miles on Asiana Airlines or Star Alliance carriers, or completing over 1,000 flights on Asiana Airlines, Asiana Club members receive Platinum status and remain Platinum members for life regardless of their flight activity. The Asiana Club lifetime Platinum level is documented online at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3077
At one million miles: Platinum members receive priority waitlist, standby, baggage handling and boarding. While regular members must pay additional miles to travel on award tickets during peak travel time, Platinums are exempt from the peak season mileage charges. Platinums can check-in at dedicated or first class check-in counters and have access to all Asiana Airlines first class lounges and can bring along one companion. They can also check one additional bag at no charge and earn 20 percent elite bonus miles on all flights. Lifetime Platinum members receive Star Alliance Gold status. For every 100,000 miles earned on Asiana after qualifying for Platinum, members will receive two discount coupons for a seat upgrade.
Bottom line: Unlike most programs, Asiana Club has created a separate tier for its members who earn a million miles. While most of the benefits mimic those of Diamond Plus, the highest non-lifetime elite tier, lifetime Platinum members receive additional benefits, such as an additional five percent flight bonus and the ability to earn discount upgrade coupons for every 100,000 flight miles–a not-so-compelling benefit for members who are retired from road warrior status. Platinum members can bring one guest with them into first class and Star Alliance Gold lounges.
bmi diamond club
BMI diamond club has a published lifetime elite program that awards lifetime gold status to members who maintain gold membership for 10 consecutive years. Elite status is based on the accrual of Membership Status Miles on qualifying flights, including bmi and Star Alliance member airlines. The lifetime elite program is listed in bmi diamond club’s terms and conditions at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3236
After 10 years of gold status: Lifetime gold members receive Star Alliance Gold status, four complimentary upgrades that can be used on bmi paid and award flights, guaranteed seat reservation with 48 hours notice, and priority waitlist, standby, boarding check-in and baggage handling. Other benefits of gold membership include a 20 kg additional baggage allowance, Europcar upgrade vouchers, 35 percent elite flight bonus on bmi and Lufthansa and 25 percent bonus on partner airlines and invitations to exclusive gold card events. In addition to access to Star Alliance Gold lounges, gold elite members can visit the Virgin Clubhouse (London Heathrow Terminal 3 only) and have access to exclusive diamond club, business and overseas executive lounges when traveling with bmi. For gold members who earn over 55,000 membership status miles, all status miles earned beyond the 55,000-mile threshold (up to 250,000 miles) that year will be converted into destination miles.
Bottom line: Keep in mind that bmi is expected to be integrated into the Miles & More program by the middle of 2011 so this program may be discontinued in the not-so-distant future. Members must maintain gold status for 10 consecutive years, which means just one off year in a decade of travel could thwart your plan to achieve lifetime status. The conversion of status miles into redeemable miles (after reaching the 55K threshold) and four complimentary upgrades per year that can even be used on award flights are attractive benefits.
Upon accumulating 1,000,000 flight miles on EgyptAir flights only, EgyptAir Plus members receive Platinum status for life, the highest elite tier in the program. Platinum members receive all of the benefits of Gold plus exclusive benefits, including miles that never expire. Lifetime benefits are published at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3078
At one million miles: Lifetime Platinum members are allowed to check-in at business class counters, receive a 20kg additional baggage allowance or one extra piece of luggage on flights to or from the U.S. and Canada, lounge access for member plus one guest, 40 percent elite bonus miles on EgyptAir flights and miles in Platinum members’ accounts never expire. Platinums also receive Star Alliance Gold status, bonus points on their birthday and wedding anniversary, priority waitlisting, standby, boarding and baggage handling and complimentary, space available upgrades one hour prior to the flight.
Bottom line: EgyptAir Plus only considers miles earned on EgyptAir in its tally of lifetime miles. Miles earned from flights on Star Alliance member airlines aren’t included. Platinum members receive an additional 10 percent flight bonus above the 30 percent offered to Gold members, the highest non-lifetime elite tier. Bonus miles on your birthday is a simple but nice annual perk.
Lufthansa Miles & More
Lufthansa has an unpublished lifetime elite program, but you have to be at least 60 years old to qualify and you must apply for lifetime status–lifetime status isn’t automatically given to those who qualify. Once you’ve reached 60, have held Senator status for at least 10 consecutive years and earned 1,000,000 status miles, you are eligible to receive Senator status for life. To qualify for Senator status, members who reside in Germany are required to fly 130,000 status miles but residents of other countries only need to fly 100,000 status miles, so it’s actually easier for non-German members to earn lifetime status with Miles & More. And there is no shortage of airlines to fly whose miles will count towards elite status. Status miles can be earned on flights operated by Adria Airways, Air Dolomiti, Austrian Airlines Group, Brussels Airlines, Cirrus Airlines, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Luxair, Lufthansa, Lufthansa Private Jet, Lufthansa Regional, SWISS and the Star Alliance airlines.
At one million miles: Lifetime Senator members receive 25 percent bonus miles, Star Alliance Gold status, priority waitlist, first class check-in, two upgrade vouchers every two years, an additional 20kg baggage allowance plus one extra piece of luggage, one free piece of golf luggage, one free piece of ski luggage and priority baggage handling. Senator members also receive access to Senator and Star Alliance Gold airport lounges, improved availability of flight awards, companion awards at a 50 percent discount, exclusive phone line and Senator Premium Award. Members who are short on miles can request a mileage advance and temporarily overdraw their Miles & More account by up to 50,000 miles. Also, miles never expire for elite members.
Bottom line: If you were hoping to reach lifetime status well before your retirement years, you may want to look into other programs. Only those who are sexagenarians or older can lay claim to lifetime elite with Miles & More. As with Flying Blue, members need to qualify for Senator status for 10 straight years without any interruptions. Miles never expire for Senator members, which means once you reach lifetime status, you can reasonably expect that your nest egg of miles will reach well into retirement (depending on how quickly you burn them), even if you don’t ever pay for another flight or earn one single mile with Miles & More partners. Companion awards can be redeemed at a 50 percent discount, which means two people flying together receive significant savings. Avid golfers will appreciate one free piece of golf luggage, in addition to the extra complimentary checked bag.
Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles
Mabuhay Miles offers lifetime Premier Elite status to members who earn one million cumulative flight miles on Philippine Airlines. Premier Elite is the highest elite tier in the Mabuhay Miles program. Information about the million miler program can be found at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3079
At one million miles: Lifetime Premier Elite members receive four complimentary upgrades per year, in addition to any earned upgrades. Premier Elite members receive a 25 percent bonus on miles flown on Philippine Airlines flights (75 percent bonus on flights to or from the U.S. and Canada), complimentary lounge access to Mabuhay Lounges as well as participating VIP lounges at select international airports, one additional bag luggage allowance and an exclusive reservation hotline. Premier Elite members are first on the waitlist and receive priority check-in, boarding, standby and luggage handling. Members can put an award reservation on hold for five days instead of the usual three. Premier Elites are also entitled to SportsPlus Global privileges, which includes an extra luggage allowance for sports equipment plus discounts and other perks at partner sports outlets.
Bottom line: Philippine Airlines isn’t a member of any of the global alliances so lifetime elite members won’t receive lounge access across a wide network of carriers. Only miles earned from flying Philippine Airlines are included in the lifetime elite equation, which may make it more difficult for members who spread out their flights on different airlines to achieve lifetime elite status.
Korean Air SKYPASS
Korean Air is the only program we know of that offers lifetime benefits to members starting at half a million miles. SKYPASS members who earn 500,000 flown miles or more on Korean Air and SkyTeam partner airlines will receive lifetime Morning Calm Premium Club membership. At the million-mile level, frequent flyers join the Million Miler Club that comes with even more benefits. Information about the Million Miler Club can be found at www.insideflyer.com/link/?3148 while information for Morning Calm Premium Club can be found at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3150
At 500,000 miles: Morning Calm Premium Club members receive first class check-in, priority waitlist, priority baggage handling, an extra 20kg baggage allowance and an additional piece of luggage on flights to or from the U.S., Canada, Central and South America. Other benefits include SkyTeam Elite Plus membership and access to Prestige Class airport lounges when flying on Korean Air. Members can also redeem miles for award travel during peak season at off-peak mileage redemption rates.
At one million miles: Million Miler Club members receive all of the benefits listed above plus an extra 30kg baggage allowance, a gift upon reaching Million Miler Club status, plus yearly gifts on the member’s birthday, an exclusive hotline phone number within Korea and lounge access privileges for the member and one companion.
Bottom line: At 500,000 miles, Korean Airlines Morning Calm Premium Club is the quickest and easiest route to the highest SkyTeam elite level. And miles earned on all SkyTeam member airlines count, so you don’t even need to actually fly on Korean Airlines to receive this benefit–you could just credit your SkyTeam flights to SKYPASS. After half a million flight miles, you’ll have lifetime membership in SkyTeam Elite Plus, which comes with lounge access to SkyTeam partner lounges, guaranteed reservations on sold out flights and priority baggage handling across the SkyTeam network. Delta SkyMiles members have to earn four million miles before receiving lifetime SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits, which is eight times the number of miles Korean Air SKYPASS members need to fly.
Qantas Frequent Flyer
Qantas Frequent Flyer offers its first and second elite tiers for lifetime status, but not its highest Platinum elite tier. Lifetime elite membership is based on the number of status credits you earn, not the exact number of miles you fly. For example, a one-way flight up to 600 miles in distance will earn 10 status credits in discount economy, 20 status credits in economy/premium economy, 40 status credits in business and 60 status credits in first. Longer flights earn more credits and status credits are earned on eligible Qantas, Air Pacific, Jetstar, QantasLink and oneworld flights. Lifetime benefits are published at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3080
At 7,000 status credits: Frequent Flyer members are given lifetime Silver status, which includes a 25 percent flight point bonus, a one-time pass to the Qantas Club, priority check-in (regardless of the class you’re flying) at Qantas Club business counters, priority telephone reservation service and priority on the standby list and at the airport. Silver members also receive oneworld Ruby status, advance seat selection and preferred seating, membership luggage tags, an extra 10kg baggage allowance plus an extra piece of luggage on flights to or from the U.S.
At 14,000 status credits: Members receive lifetime Gold status, which comes with all of the benefits of Silver, plus oneworld Sapphire status, complimentary Qantas Club membership, a 50 percent flight point bonus and space available complimentary upgrades on Qantas flights within Australia in eligible fare classes.
Bottom line: Because of the way status credits are earned, members who fly longhaul flights in premium classes can earn lifetime status with Qantas rather quickly. For example, a member flying in business class between Los Angeles to Sydney will earn 540 status credits per roundtrip flight, which means it will take only 13 roundtrip business class flights on this route to achieve lifetime Silver status and 26 flights to reach lifetime Gold. Passengers in first class flying between Los Angeles and Sydney on United will earn 22,449 EQMs per roundtrip flight (including the 50 percent EQM bonus for first class). After 13 roundtrip flights, a United Mileage Plus member will have only 291,837 miles and 583,674 miles after 26 flights–just over halfway to lifetime Premier Executive status. Discount coach flyers, however, can reach lifetime Premier Executive status on United with only 67 flights between Los Angeles and Sydney compared to the 78 flights needed for Frequent Flyer members to reach lifetime Silver status.
SAS EuroBonus is similar to Miles & More in that lifetime benefits are only extended to members over the age of 60 who have earned EuroBonus Gold status for 10 years, but the qualifying years don’t need to be consecutive. The EuroBonus lifetime elite program is not a documented program.
Gold membership is the highest elite level EuroBonus members can earn. EuroBonus members earn elite-qualifying (Basic) points in eligible flight classes on SAS, Blue1, Estonian Airways, Wideroe and Star Alliance airlines. Flights in discount classes earn only 25 percent of the points you would earn for a normal economy class ticket. Members can qualify for elite levels based on the number of Basic points or qualifying segments they earn. And the qualification requirements change based on the country you live in. Members residing in Asia & Pacific, the Americas and Sweden need to earn 70,000 Basic points to qualify for Gold status, whereas residents of Denmark and Finland need 55,000 Basic points and residents of Norway and all other countries need only 45,000 points. Norwegians can also qualify for Gold after flying 35 one-way flights but residents of all other countries need to complete 40 one-way flights, in any class.
After 10 years of Gold status: Lifetime Gold benefits are the same as Gold benefits, including a 25 percent point bonus on all SAS Group flights, Star Alliance Gold membership, priority waitlist, an additional checked baggage allowance, waived booking fees when requesting awards over the phone, priority check-in and SAS Fast Track service, which offers expedited service through security at participating airports. Gold members also receive lounge access for the member and one guest, special discounts on rental cars and hotel partners and other exclusive offers. Members residing in Denmark, Norway and Sweden also receive a complimentary subscription to Seasons, a quarterly magazine for Gold members.
Bottom line: As with Miles & More, EuroBonus members will have to wait until their 60th year to reap the rewards of their high flying days. Members will need to earn Gold status for 10 years to qualify, which means earning a minimum of 450,000 Basic points for residents of Norway. Residents of Denmark and Finland will need to earn 550,000 points over 10 years and if you live in Asia & Pacific, Sweden or the Americas you’ll need to rack up a total of 700,000 points in order to qualify for Gold status for 10 years and earn lifetime Gold elite. While it looks like the residents of Norway have an easier time qualifying with a lower threshold, keep in mind that EuroBonus members in Norway cannot earn points on domestic flights operated by SAS and Wideroe.
The waived booking fees on awards booked over the phone is a welcome benefit since many partner flight awards can only be booked by calling reservations but the 25 percent point bonus is low compared to other programs.
South African Airways Voyager
South African Airways Voyager offers Lifetime Platinum as the highest elite level a member can earn. Members who earn Platinum status for six consecutive years by flying 100,000 Tier Miles per year on South African Airways or through flying the required number of sectors can qualify for Lifetime Platinum. Only miles or segments flown on South African Airways will count toward Lifetime Platinum status. Lifetime benefits are published at http://www.insideflyer.com/link/?3082
At 600,000 miles: Lifetime Platinum members receive Star Alliance Gold status, access to a dedicated call center, 2,000 bonus miles for every 10,000 Tier Miles flown on SAA and 10,000 bonus miles upon reaching lifetime Platinum, plus 100 percent bonus miles on South African Airways flights. Lifetime Platinum members also receive priority check-in at first and business class counters, preferential seating on eligible fares, 30kg excess baggage allowance, waived expediting and change fees on award tickets, space available complimentary upgrades on domestic and international flights departing from Johannesburg International Airport on the day of departure, chauffeur service for the member and a guest on qualifying international South African Airways flights and South African Airways lounge access for the member and a guest when flying on SAA. A benefit exclusive to lifetime Platinum members that is not given to non-lifetime Platinum members is the option to upgrade a companion to Gold status for a year, as long as you fly the necessary miles or sectors needed to qualify for Gold status (50,000 miles or between 6 and 50 sectors, depending on the length of the sector).
Bottom line: Unlike many international airlines, only miles or sectors flown on South African Airways will be considered for qualification as a lifetime Platinum elite member, even though qualification for elite tiers includes miles flown on partner Star Alliance airlines. Members only need to qualify for Platinum status for six consecutive years to achieve lifetime Platinum, compared to the decade required by other airlines that have a consecutive year stipulation (Lufthansa and bmi). Lifetime Platinums receive a few exclusive benefits, such as the ability to upgrade a member to Gold elite status, a 10,000-mile threshold bonus and chauffeur service when flying on qualifying international SAA flights in any fare class. The chauffeur service is limited to those flying on business and upgradeable coach class for Platinum elites.
The Best Lifetime
Often the frequent flyer program you choose is dictated by where you live, but if you have a choice between programs and are aiming toward lifetime elite, there are several factors that might sway you toward one particular program. Below, we compare the programs in relation to what they offer.
In general, international programs are more generous than U.S.-based programs when it comes to lounge access. If you reach lifetime elite status with any international program that participates in Star Alliance or SkyTeam, you will receive lounge access as a Star Alliance Gold or SkyTeam Elite Plus member. The only lifetime elite members who don’t receive lounge access are Qantas lifetime Silver members who receive oneworld Ruby status. Qantas lifetime Gold status, however, comes with oneworld Sapphire that offers lounge access.
South African Airways Voyager members who fly frequently from Johannesburg have the most opportunities for upgrades. Lifetime Platinum members who request an upgrade at Johannesburg International Airport on domestic and international South African Airways flights on the day of departure can receive unlimited space available upgrades. Miles & More offers two upgrade vouchers every two years to lifetime Senator members and Philippine Airlines Mabuhay Miles and bmi diamond club give four complimentary upgrades per year to lifetime elite members. Qantas gives lifetime Gold members complimentary upgrades on Qantas flights within Australia on eligible flight classes.
Easiest route to lifetime elite:
It depends on your flight patterns. Clearly, Korean Air SKYPASS is a winner at 500,000 miles for Morning Calm Premium Club, which offers SkyTeam Elite Plus membership and access to SkyTeam partner lounges worldwide. But as we mentioned above, Qantas Frequent Flyer members can qualify for lifetime Silver elite after only 13 roundtrip business class flights between Los Angeles and Sydney and lifetime Gold after only 26 similar longhaul flights.
Flight bonus miles:
South African Airways and Air France/KLM Flying Blue both offer a 100 percent flight bonus but Voyager members can only earn the bonus on South African Airways flights whereas Flying Blue members earn double miles when flying on Air France, KLM, Air Europa, Kenya Airways and SkyTeam member airlines. With lifetime gold status, bmi diamond club members essentially earn double redeemable miles on all flights after reaching 55,000 membership status miles when status miles are converted into destination miles. Korean Air does not offer an elite flight bonus and all other programs we looked at for this article offer between a 20 percent and 50 percent bonus.
Star Alliance Gold (top of a two-tiered program) is offered at the one million mile level for Air China PhoenixMiles, EgyptAir EgyptAir Plus and Asiana Airlines Asiana Club members; after 10 consecutive years of Senator status for Miles & More members; after 10 years of Gold status in the SAS EuroBonus program; after 10 consecutive years of gold status in bmi diamond club and after six years of Platinum status in the South African Airways Voyager program. SkyTeam Elite Plus (top of a two-tiered program) is offered at the 500,000 mile level with Korean Air SKYPASS and after 10 consecutive years of Platinum status in the Flying Blue program. Oneworld Sapphire status (second in a three-tiered program) is awarded to Qantas Frequent Flyer members at 7,000 status credits.