Save time at checkin with elite status

At 6PM on a Friday afternoon, New York‘s JFK airport is hopping. Part of it is, rather, just the check-in counter. The everyday, economy check-in counter, to be specific. Scores of passengers-to-be swarm the kiosks, some swiping credit cards, some punching buttions, some pulling their hair in distress. Those that successfully navigate the digital mayhem are funnelled into the luggage line, a mess of carts, passengers and boarding passes waiting to be processed by the half dozen, red jacketed agents at the far end of the hall.

Contrast. Thirty meters away from the economy check-in, the business/first/elite station is a sea of tranquility. Three rows of details, the first, a line of leather chairs where waiting travelers pick at their newspapers and wait for God knows what to happen. The second, a sea of poles and cords, a maze of manmade rows designed to channel customers into specific lines. Three passengers wait for their turn. The third: a long row of ticket agents and customer service representatives, silently working, waving new customers out of line. It’s nearly relaxing.

And it’s a good illustration of the massive gap between the everyday customer and the revered “elite” or business passenger that the airlines so desire. My trip through the elite line? Six minutes, four of which I spent repacking my bag.

Do yourself a favor this year and hit that elite status tier with your favorite airline — usually you need to fly 25k miles to reach that point, but there are tons of specials out there right now that will save you time and money. Hit that threshold and you’re on easy street through 2011, as you enjoy faster checkin, upgrades to first class and a hefty baggage allowance. You’ll love it — we promise.

Get double miles elite on American Airlines flights through December 15!

They’ve done it again! Earlier this year, American Airlines launched a pomotion to double elite miles on all AA operated flights. These special miles are the gateway to elite status, where tiers of rewards such as upgrades, bonuses and free drinks await savvy travelers.

In the several months that followed the initial promotion, travelers booked all sorts of tickets to maximize miles and earn status, from “Mileage Runs” from Boston to Los Angeles to weekend trips to Rio De Janiero. Everyone reveled in the victory, as double elite qualifying miles promotions only come around once in a blue moon and almost certainly never more than once in a year…that is, until today.

Just this morning, AA just announced that they’re running the same promotion again through year’s end, so for those of us that didn’t quite get enough miles to make Platinum or Executive Platinum, there’s still time.

You can sign up for the promo at their website using code ELTRW.

Keep an ear tuned to your favorite airline for similar promotions — earlier this year all of the other legacy carriers followed suit after AA launched their promotion.

Status seekers pulling back

It’s not just the travel companies’ bank accounts getting hit in this market – loyalty programs are getting spanked, too. The management consultants, investment bankers and attorneys – now fewer in number than a year ago – who accumulate elite status quickly aren’t spending as much time on the road. With considerably less travel time being logged, the folks who used to have platinum status on multiple airlines and in multiple hotels aren’t hitting the same levels they have for the past several years.

A study by Colloquy, which conducts marketing research for loyalty programs, showed that loyalty program membership dropped 28 percent in the travel industry. In 2007, the average traveler belonged to 2.8 of these programs. Now, it’s down to merely two. Lower- and middle-income men are being cited as the source of the decline, as they’ve been hit harder by layoffs.

Additionally, active participation in loyalty programs is down almost a third. This year, the average traveler is participating actively in 1.5 programs – a year ago, it was 2.2. Among the wealthy, this type of engagement fell 13 percent – from 2.3 programs down to two.

According to Colloquy, travelers are focusing on fewer programs and looking to get as much as they can out of them, rather than spread around their travel with the knowledge that they’ll have enough to reach and maintain high statuses with several travel companies.