Airlines offer an express lane to elite status

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If you want to get all the perks of an elite frequent flier, American, United and Continental have launched promotions to help you reach that status faster.

You typically have to earn 25,000 miles to reach the lowest level of elite status, and some of the benefits that you'll enjoy include skipping the regular airport lines, getting free upgrades and other bonuses.

What's surprising about these latest double elite promotions is that it's the first time I've seen airlines offer them twice in one year.

With rising baggage fees, one of the biggest perks of having elite frequent-flier status is that you will be able to check two bags for free and so will your travel companions who are on the same record.

Elite status allows you to skip those long check-in lines and instead go to the priority line, and you'll be one of the first to board the plane after the first-class passengers have been called.

You can also book emergency-row seats and aisle and window seats in the front of the plane.

You need to understand that there is a difference between earning double air miles and double elite miles with these promotions. Although travelers will be able to earn elite status twice as fast, they will not earn double miles in accounts to be used toward redeeming miles for award tickets and other items.

If you are planning a long-haul flight to Europe or elsewhere this fall, you could earn enough, or close to enough, miles to qualify for elite status.

A flight from Dallas to Frankfurt would earn 10,260 actual miles and 20,520 elite qualifying miles, and a flight from Dallas to Sydney would earn more than enough to qualify for the first tier of elite status since it would earn 17,440 actual miles and 34,880 elite qualifying miles.

American AAdvantage members can earn double elite status qualifying miles for travel on American, American Eagle or AmericanConnection flights through Dec. 15. AAdvantage members need 25,000 miles to qualify for gold status, 50,000 miles to qualify for platinum and 100,000 miles for executive platinum. Customers must register for this promotion prior to travel at www.aa.com/elite. Use promotion code DBLEQ.

American is also offering special rewards for elite members who earn at least 40,000 miles. Gold members who earn 40,000 to 49,999 elite qualifying miles, platinum members who earn 75,000 to 99,999 elite qualifying miles and executive platinum members who earn 125,000 miles or more will be able to choose bonuses, like upgrades or extra miles, which vary by level. For more details and to register, visit www.aa.com/eliterewards.

The United offer allows customers to choose between earning double elite qualifying miles or double elite qualifying segments. To qualify for elite status, customers must normally earn 25,000 miles or fly 30 segments. Like the American offer, qualifying travel is valid through Dec. 15. Visit www.united.com/doubleeqms to sign up for the double elite qualifying miles or the double elite qualifying segments promotion.

Continental's double elite qualifying miles promotion is valid on paid flights operated by Continental, Continental Express, Continental Micronesia, Continental Connection, Copa and AeroRepublica for travel through Dec. 15. Passengers must register prior to travel at www.continental.com.

At press time, Delta, Northwest and US Airways had not matched the double elite qualifying miles offers, but they may follow suit.

If one of them is your preferred airline, be sure to check the frequent-flier sections of their Web sites so you can register if they do match.

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Tom Parsons is publisher of BestFares.com: www.bestfares.com

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