Well, last night I went ahead and bought some cartel coins to get Preferred Status. The extra quickbars and all that are nice, but to be honest, the Sprint ability on its own is almost enough to justify the purchase. What a difference it makes!
I'm running seven different characters now, one of each class except for the Sith Inquisitor. I'm no farther than level 17 with any of them though, because instead of sticking with one character I keep bouncing back and forth between them all.