How to Use Elite Status to Benefit Family Members

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Here are two facts that I’m sure will (not) come as complete and utter surprises to anyone reading this site.

1.  I travel a lot.

2.  I like to help my family.

Because I travel pretty frequently (and get co-branded credit cards) I earn elite status with various hotel programs and airlines.  Because I like helping my family I leverage my elite status to benefit them when possible.  This might mean putting them in a suite, getting through to a real person on the phone faster, getting them economy plus seats, or even free breakfast.  The elite status authorities should be notified at once of my status-sharing crimes, so I’ll wait here while you dial them up promptly. 

Now that my status sharing confessional is out of the way, I’ll go through some of the things that I do to share status, and also mention a few things I don’t do.  My thought is that my status is only as valuable as what I am able to get for myself and others out of it, so the more my family benefits, the more the status is worth to me.  The more my status is worth to me, the more likely I am to spend my vacation dollars to earn it again.  In a way, both my family and the hotels/airlines benefit…as long as we don’t go overboard.  Naturally there is grey area in this arena and my line between black and white will be different than others.

Getting your family members in the lounge:

Recently I have taken many summer trips with my family, and on every occasion when there is a hotel lounge of some sort that I have access to, I have made sure my family members benefited as well.  Sometimes this is easy and legit such as when the rooms are booked in your name and therefore carry your elite status benefits.  Sometimes it might not be as legit such as when you loan your key card to a family member or just all go in together even if not everyone technically has lounge access.  This can be kept on (what I define as) a reasonable scale such as asking your family member to grab you a coffee from the club while you are still getting ready and they also grab one for themselves.  Or perhaps you hit the club to grab some treats “to go” for yourself and grab an extra bagel for your family member.  It may be done on a less reasonable scale, such as bringing in a small herd for a five course brunch when you take over half the lounge – no, we have not done that.


Lounge breakfast spread

It is something to think about if you want to make sure everyone is able to grab a quick bite to eat in the morning or have access to some “free” bottled water in the afternoons.  The easiest solution is to just get the rooms under your name if you are the one with elite status.  With Hyatt this generally does the trick for me, but every chain/hotel will handle it differently.

Get free breakfast for “everyone”:

If your elite status carries with it free breakfast in a restaurant or room service then you aren’t going to be able to share it with your 47 cousins most likely – not that you would want to.  However, I absolutely have shared my room service and even restaurant breakfasts with a few family members.  For example, at a certain popular-on-points Park Hyatt in Europe, I ordered within the (unwritten) bounds of the included room service breakfast and then simply shared it with my mom and aunt when they came in from their room.


This is seriously “breakfast for 2”

I’ve done the same at a certain popular-on-points Park Hyatt in Colorado.  This usually only works if you don’t usually eat a ton yourself, but works well for us since some breakfasts come with tons of food and I don’t need yogurt, eggs, pastries, coffee, orange juice, and bacon all to myself.  I’m good with just yogurt and coffee and can share the rest.

Too much for 1 - perfect for 2 or 3

Too much for 1 – perfect for 2 or 3

Another way we have shared is when the room/status comes with breakfast vouchers for the hotel restaurant and we  just don’t need a full sit-down breakfast that day then we are sure to pass them off to a family member before breakfast is over.

Put your family in a suite:

One of the oldest tricks in the travel playbook in terms of sharing status is to book a hotel reservation in your name (if you have elite status) and then add your friend/family member on to the reservation in order for them to be able to “check in first”.  In some cases this is actually because they are arriving before you, but in other cases you may never have plans to arrive and are simply leveraging your good name err status to benefit them.  There is risk to this strategy as the hotel could insist at some point that the status person come and actually check in, but I think most of the time that doesn’t happen, at least within the United States.


Get a suite, share a suite

I’ve certainly put a reservation in my name, attached a suite upgrade, and then let other family members stay in that room.  I have never gone so far as to do that without even being at the hotel, but I know that it does happen.


Suites are more fun when shared

Get better seats on the plane for your family:

This is generally an above-board practice as elite airline status generally carries with it some perks for companions on the same reservation.  For example, my United 1K elite status lets 8 others on the same reservation also have complimentary Economy Plus seats.  I could also have one companion (family member) eligible for first class upgrades with me.  Other airlines all have their own variation of this, but even airlines get that better seats for one person aren’t as useful as better seats for the whole family.


Make a family member smile with first!

That’s the above board version, but I have certainly had times when some family members have been on different reservations from me either due to buying tickets at different times, or using miles for some, or being split off from my reservation against my wishes when I have still called the elite line and asked for their seats to be assigned next to my extra legroom seats.  Most of the time this has been done as a courtesy without a charge.

It’s also useful to note that when using United miles to book a flight for someone else that their ticket carries with it the elite status of the account from which the miles were used.  That means that when I use my United miles to book a flight for a family member they get E+ seats and are even eligible for complimentary first class upgrades on those award tickets as if they were me.  While we are on the topic of United you can also use your confirmed regional and global upgrades for anyone you like, so that is another easy and legit way to give a family member a better seat on the airplane.

Share your drink coupons and lounge passes:

As an elite traveler (or even just a travel rewards credit card holder) you may get things like free drink coupons, airline lounge passes, etc. that don’t mean much to you, but could make the trip noticeably more enjoyable to a family member who doesn’t travel quite as often.  As a frequent traveler I have had the luxury of enjoying domestic airline lounges so often that they don’t have the same impact for me that they used to.  Now I would honestly rather just not get to the airport until minutes before boarding than go to the lounge (thanks Pre-Check), but I know very well that some family members who travel less frequently still very much enjoy the luxury of a complimentary glass of wine, free cheese, and a peak “behind the curtain” of airline lounges so I am sure to share passes and drink coupons that I sometimes get along the way.


Send your relative to the lounge

My approach to sharing status perks when it isn’t explicitly within the program rules is usually to simply take a little less for myself, not necessarily just get more for everyone.  When you travel frequently you get used to many elite perks that are truly special and novel to those who don’t get them as often, so sharing can be really fun.  It can also just isn’t practical to have say four out of six traveling companions full with a free breakfast when you are traveling together.  You are still going to have to do something to get the other two fed, so why not just brainstorm a way to share in the first place.  You get more value from your elite status, your traveling companions start to understand why status can be so valuable as they get a “taste”, and the hotel is out an extra doughnut and cup of coffee.

I personally think that is an all around win if done in moderation, but what do you think?  How do you share your elite status perks with others?


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  1. Great info, MP. Very ironic because just this AM I used a family member’s status to upgrade my United ticket using their miles to avoid a $70 copay. I didn’t know you could do that! Look forward to hearing other people’s sharing, and hopefully no neat loopholes will be closed up as a result!

  2. Sorry, but while most of what you recommend is smart travel, some of the points are just flat out deceptive.

    Maybe I go to the extreme, but when I am booking award nights for relatives I make sure that I put in the comments that the elite guest is NOT staying in the room and therefore no elite benefits should apply. That way, if they choose to extend benefits (as probably 75% of hotels do anyway), I know that they are doing so with their full knowledge and consent.

    My parents just stayed at a Doubletree that I booked for them with points. They received free breakfast and free internet. My dad went out of his way to confirm with them that he was not the elite guest, but the front desk staff assured him that it was not a problem. I’d much rather pay the extra few dollars rather than engage in subterfuge and deception for a stale bagel and a cup of coffee.

    As far as usage of elite perks on airlines, some benefits apply to travel companions and some do not. For example (and this is a pet peeve of mine with *A), Star Alliance Gold benefits permit one guest in a lounge, BUT do not permit any guests to use the Priority Check-in or Priority Boarding lines. So when I am traveling with colleagues or relatives without status, we have to queue up with the proletariat to check-in and board (even though we can enjoy the lounge together). It annoys me when a single elite passenger winds up dragging his/her entire family along through the Priority lines and slowing things down when they are clearly not eligible to do so.

    Sorry for the rant, but people trying to leverage their elite status for the benefit of ineligible travelers is something that gets under my skin.

    • Sean, I respect your honestly but your argument is too extreme. I earned elite status and I want to extend the benefit to my family. Why can’t I do that? Maybe if you stay at a reputable brand like Hyatt as I have diamond status, its more than just a stale bagel and a cup of coffee. I recently stayed at the Andaz Maui and received comp breakfast for me plus 3 which was the best breakfast I have ever had…..

  3. Eric, UA miles and status do seem to benefit others pretty easily. Hope you enjoy your flight!
    Sean, no worries for the rant – there is a fine line between smart travel, grey area, and “deceptive” actions that negatively impact others. The Premier Access thing specifically ends up being a non issue with family members as they will end up with Premier Access on the boarding pass by being on your reservation…but that obviously doesn’t help with colleagues or relatives not on your reservation.

    I really think that some perks are truly intended to benefit your traveling party and not just one person since that doesn’t make it very useful with a family, but of course that line can be crossed and gone beyond what I think was the intent.

  4. One place people forget to do this on is with coworkers as well. If you have 1 person with status book everyone flights, you obviously get bumped up to economy plus fairly easily, AND you will get the points for booking on your card (if company reimbursed).

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