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TravelWise: NEVER FLY COACH AGAIN

Well, maybe not. But there is a way to increase your odds of getting out of the zoo at the back of the plane. The key is to be flying a decent number 1/01/1999 7:00 AM Eastern

Well, maybe not. But there is a way to increase your odds of gettingout of the zoo at the back of the plane. The key is to be flying adecent number of miles already. If you're racking up more than 25,000miles per year, you can deal. That's the minimum amount set by mostmajor airlines to achieve the first of several elite status levels.

The first thing you want to do is consolidate your flying. Chooseone airline that best suits your usual destinations, enroll in theirfrequent flier program and concentrate your air travel with them. Onceyou hit 25,000 miles, you've qualified for elite status for thefollowing year. At that point, contact the airline's elite desk (callthe general reservations number and ask for it). Then request that yoube awarded elite status for the remainder of the present year, as well.Indicate that you intend to keep flying this airline if they agree.There's a good chance they will. If not, ask for the name and number ofthe local marketing manager for the airline and talk to him or herabout it.

Once you achieve elite status, you can start to upgrade yourself outof coach. This gets easier as you hit successive levels ofelite-50,000, 75,000 and 100,000. Most airlines have a set number ofmiles for upgrades (and won't negotiate them or their annoyingovernight delivery charge if you don't request them well in advance) orwill use set amounts of "sticker" upgrades. However, frequent flierscan often negotiate a free upgrade at the gate. Airlines generally holdtwo "revenue seats" for paying passengers until two to four hoursbefore departure. Get to the gate early and ask if you can be on thewait list for these.

I've found that reaching the highest level possible on one airlinemakes the most sense in terms of getting the perks. However, at thatpoint, or at any time after reaching initial elite status, you couldalso start lining up a second airline. Being elite on a second carrierwill allow frequent flyers to play them against each other to adegree.

One way to get a second carrier on your side faster is to fax ormail a copy of your most recent mileage statement from the airline youhave elite status with, stating that, if they would grant you basicelite status for the remainder of the year, you'd start flying withthem. The more active your statement and the more miles you've flownthat year increases your chances of a second carrier saying yes. Thequid pro quo is that they'll request that you fly at least the minimummiles necessary during the rest of the year to qualify for that samelevel of elite for the following year.

Again, the key here is to be flying at least 25,000 miles a year tostart with. Anything less and your petitions will wind up in the roundfile. But if you do fly at least that much and follow the plan, you,too, can get free drinks to go with the free peanuts.

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