A Math Nerd’s Quest to Become A Points & Miles Millionaire – Status & Perks

a group of bottles of wine in a refrigerator

This is part four of A Math Nerd’s Quest to Become A Points & Miles Millionaire.

  1. Introduction
  2. An Accounting Exercise
  3. Manufactured Spending
  4. Status & Perks
  5. Why Stop at Miles and Points?


When I began collecting credit cards, I focused exclusively on the “points and miles” hobby.  My goal was to accumulate measurable currencies that could be redeemed for free travel, and I paid no attention to other benefits that may have come with the cards.  I didn’t know much about them, and I didn’t think I would keep the cards long enough to take advantage of them.

These “soft” benefits of travel credit cards, however, were like the sides on my steak plate.  I couldn’t ignore them forever.  And, when I finally paid attention, some of them turned out to be a wonderful surprise.



I was convinced that the travel industry created elite statuses for the sole purpose of making their ordinary customers feel like worthless peasants.

“Sorry ma’am, you need to go wait in that 100-people line even though I’m not helping anyone right now at this VIP counter.”

“Excuse me, sir.  Your foot is not worthy of touching this blue carpet.”

I get that businesses have a strong incentive to keep returning customers keep returning.  Some of the benefits associated with elite status make sense and carry tangible value – such as late hotel check-out and seat upgrades.  However, some companies seem to go out of their way to create a class war between the more frequent travelers and everybody else.  Status-based boarding priority, for example, gives elite flyers the first shot at the overhead storage space but ends up slowing down the boarding for all passengers.  Making life miserable for others in order to make the VIPs feel superior is quite a silly way to do business… but who am I to judge?

I have never been cool enough to be allowed on the blue carpet, but can probably afford a couple with my Bed Bath & Beyond gift cards.

My life of being bitter when traveling saw a (slight) turning point when some of my credit cards helped me attain elite statuses:

  • Chase Hyatt Card gave me Hyatt Platinum
  • Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass gave me Hilton Gold
  • Chase IHG Card’s sign-on bonus counted toward elite accrual (reportedly no longer the case) and upgraded me to IHG Spire Elite
  • Amex Platinum Card gave me SPG Gold
  • Amex Platinum Card enabled my Executive status with National Car Emerald Club

Take that!  I am now better than some of you!

Unlike many bloggers who travel frequently, I can’t recite the benefits that come with any of the above.  But it does make me feel artificially superior when I am recognized as having status.  I am supposedly prioritized above other travelers (just not the more superior elites) for certain accommodations.  Sometimes the benefits are even tangible!  Such as: free bottled water upon check-in (retail value of $8 in the room), free breakfast (tastes terrible… but free is free), and lounge access (more bottled water and bad food).

Once I arrived late at a hotel to find out that I had been bumped due to the hotel overselling rooms.  When the receptionist keyed in my number (which the travel agent did not pass on, for whatever reason), he uttered, “Oh you are a Hilton Gold member!  I’m so sorry.  If we knew this we would have bumped someone else instead.” That comment didn’t change the fact that I still had to sleep somewhere else, but somehow the recognition made me less upset about the situation.

Wow, I am a shallow person after all.  Guess I would’ve cared about the blue carpet if they actually let me on it.

It’s a rather absurd idea that one can be a top-tier VIP without having ever stayed at the chain’s hotels.



Airport lounge access was something else that I never knew I wanted.  In fact, I barely had an idea what lounges were or how one goes about gaining access.  Like the Big Mac index of a country that I can’t locate on the map, it was something I care little about.

Fast forward to today.  My privilege has seen several upgrades:

  • Two United Club passes from the United Explorer card
  • Two passes to the Lounge Club membership, via the Chase Ink Plus card
  • Admirals Club access from the Citi AAdvantage Executive card
  • Amex Centurion Lounge access from Amex Platinum
  • Priority Pass membership from Amex Platinum

million4_4Art & Lounge at EWR

From what I understand now, airport lounges provide certain travelers an exclusive place to eat, work, and rest.  As they are separate from the public areas of the terminal, the facilities tend to be cleaner and quieter.  Having food and free booze certainly doesn’t hurt, either.  I enjoyed some of my lounge visits, and can imagine Road Warriors getting valuable use out of them.  However, because my starting point is travel blogs raving about the awesomeness of these lounges, I’ve generally found myself disappointed.

First, lounges are not always conveniently located.  Depending on the whereabouts of your departure gate, walking half a terminal length to sit down for a while, just to walk back 30 minutes later, may not be everyone’s idea of relaxation.

Second, the marginal value of sitting in a lounge over sitting by the gate varies.  If you can get guaranteed seating, a comfortable desk, and a power outlet from the proximity of the gate (i.e. SFO Terminal 2), being in an enclosed VIP space won’t be much better.

Finally, the “free” food and drinks may not be worth much.  It’s generally cafeteria quality, or worse, if you went to a college with great cafeterias and therefore have higher standards.  More often than not, you may struggle to find anything beyond oyster crackers and cheap vodka.  Why torture yourself when the $8 fast food in the terminal tastes infinitely better?

That being said, airport lounges can be quite awesome.  I recently encountered a significant delay of a red-eye flight.  Luckily, I was already sitting in the SFO Centurion Lounge, so the extra time allowed me to further buzz myself up in preparation for the trip.  Had I needed to camp around the other grumpy passengers at the gate, it would’ve been less pleasant indeed.  While the tangible benefits still don’t seem to measure up to the price tag (many lounge passes go for $35-50 per day), I suppose the peace of mind is what frequent flyers go after.  $500+ for an annual membership?  Not for me, but there definitely is a market for it.

The Marhaba Lounge at DXB, where you get to pour your own liquor



Travel credit cards offer an interesting array of perks, from purchase/trip protection to companion flight passes.  Should you find the right opportunity, they can be worth a ton of money.  Personally, I find the odds of being able to use them to be fairly low, and see many of them as a distraction rather than a tangible benefit.  My stack of six or so companion passes (US Airways and Alaska Airlines) is just sitting there, collecting dust, until the day I feel motivated enough to toss them out.  However, there are exceptional perks:

A few premium credit cards offer statement credits for specific airline purchases.  The Amex Platinum card, for example, reimburses $200 per calendar year.  This benefit is primarily intended to cover incidentals like checked bag fees and in-flight meals, but there are creative ways to exchange those credits for gift cards.

Some premium credit cards also offer to pay for your Global Entry (or TSA Pre-Check) application fees.  As an infrequent traveler, being able to clear security and immigration quickly (note: airport / airline limitations apply) isn’t really a deal breaker.  But if I can get a $100 status for free, why not?  With just a few uses so far, I haven’t found myself blown away.  But the Global Entry status is good for five years, and being able to save 10-15 minutes here and there will eventually add up.

Having a Known Traveler Number means the TSA will no longer assume I am a terrorist.  Bottled water is still not allowed, though.



Because I don’t travel frequently, I don’t value these frequent traveler privileges enough to go through the trouble of earning or buying them.  It’s great that my credit cards allow me to enjoy some of these privileges, so that I can travel in style on my occasional trips.  It’s been eye-opening to experience these statuses and perks.  Some of them have substance, others seems to be mostly fluff, and all of them are an interesting part of the journey.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *