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Earning elite status with your favorite airline offers valuable benefits whenever you fly. However, most people don’t travel enough to meet those requirements. One of the easier ways to achieve elite status without traveling is to have the right credit card. Here’s how to do it.
How to Earn Airline Elite Status
Qualifications for airline elite status vary from one loyalty program to another. Generally, you must travel thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars each year to earn and maintain your elite status.
Most airlines focus on the amount you spend and either the number of miles or trip segments you fly. Some airlines also include award trips toward qualification for elite status, which makes it easier for people who travel using miles and points to earn elite status.
Using your airline credit cards for daily purchases and spending with partners may accelerate your path to elite status with your favorite airline brands.
Bethany Walsh, the founder of BougieMiles.com, says she likes that some airlines “allow you to earn elite status exclusively through credit card spending. While the requirements are high, it can be a much easier path to earning elite status than flying.”
The Benefits of Elite Status
Benefits vary among airlines for each level of elite status. These are the most common benefits you can expect to receive:
- Complimentary upgrades.
- Higher earning power.
- Priority boarding.
- Free checked bags.
- Priority standby.
- Airport lounge access.
How to Earn Elite Status With Airline Credit Cards
American Airlines Elite Status
With American Airlines’ points-based AAdvantage elite status program, points earned from flights, credit card spending and more count toward different levels of status. For every mile you earn through its credit cards, you’ll receive one Loyalty Point toward elite status.
Elite status benefits on American Airlines vary based on which level of status you’ve attained. You’ll earn the first level – AAdvantage Gold status – by earning 30,000 Loyalty Points in the 12 months leading up to March 1 each year. With AAdvantage Gold status, you’ll receive a 40% mileage bonus on paid flights, one free checked bag and complimentary upgrades on American, including Main Cabin Extra seats at check-in and Preferred Seats when booking your flight.
Delta Elite Status
Delta offers numerous credit cards for consumers and small businesses. However, not all of them contribute toward earning Delta Medallion elite status via Medallion Qualification Miles.
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card. Earn 5,000 MQMs as part of your welcome offer when you spend $3,000 within the first six months. Additionally, you’ll get a Status Boost of 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. You can do this two times for a total of 20,000 MQMs.
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card. Get 10,000 MQMs with your welcome offer after spending $5,000 within six months. Plus, you can earn up to 60,000 MQMs annually – 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend.
- Delta SkyMiles Platinum Business American Express Card. As part of your welcome offer, you’ll receive 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 within three months. Additionally, this card earns 10,000 MQMs after $25,000 in purchases, up to twice per calendar year.
- Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card. This card’s welcome offer includes 10,000 MQMs after you spend $4,000 within three months of opening your card. The Status Boost benefit earns 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 60,000 MQMs per year.
Cardholders can also receive a Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver based on their spending. When you spend $25,000 annually on your eligible Delta card, the MQD requirement is waived for Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallion members. For Diamond members, you must spend $250,000 to receive an MQD waiver.
Greg Johnson, a travel and credit card expert at ClubThrifty.com, likes to fly Delta, so he is considering applying for a Delta Platinum card. “The MQD waiver will give me a nice boost toward earning Gold status.”
When you combine the MQMs included in the welcome offers and max out the spending-based MQMs, all of these cards can earn at least Silver Medallion status in the first year, which requires 25,000 MQMs. Silver Medallion status benefits include earning 7 miles per dollar spent on flights, unlimited complimentary upgrades, waived bag fees and more.
JetBlue Elite Status
JetBlue offers three credit cards, but only the two charging an annual fee offer a path to JetBlue’s elite status level, Mosaic.
Mosaic elite status includes numerous perks to earn and save more when flying JetBlue. You’ll get an extra three points per dollar spent on paid flights, free same-day switches, priority boarding, two checked bags for free and more.
Southwest Airlines Elite Status
Most of the Southwest Airlines cards will help you earn A-List elite status.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. For every $10,000 you spend, earn 1,500 A-List tier-qualifying points.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card. For every $10,000 you spend, get 1,500 A-List tier-qualifying points.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. For every $10,000 you spend, receive 1,500 A-List tier-qualifying points.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. Receive 1,500 A-List tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend.
To qualify for A-List status, you must take 25 one-way qualifying flights or earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points. A-List benefits include things like priority boarding, same-day change and standby, bonus points on paid flights and more.
United Elite Status
Elite status in United Airlines’ MileagePlus program is based on the number of Premier Qualifying Points you earn each year. Frequent flyers also have the option of a lower PQP hurdle if they take enough Premier Qualifying Flights. For example, you’ll earn Premier Silver status after earning 3,500 PQPs. However, you only need 3,000 PQPs when you take at least eight qualifying one-way flights.
- United Explorer Card. Earn up to 1,000 PQPs by getting 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend each year. This is not enough to qualify for Premier Silver status on its own, but it provides a boost in addition to PQPs earned on your flights and other activities.
- United Quest Card. Effective for 2023, you can get up to 6,000 PQPs by earning 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend, double the 2022 PQP limit.
- United Club Infinite Card. Starting in 2023, you’ll be able to earn up to 8,000 PQPs, double the 4,000 PQPs limit for 2022. You’ll receive 500 PQPs for every $12,000 you spend on this card.
- United Business Card. The United Business Card earns up to 1,000 PQPs each year based on 500 PQPs per $12,000 spent.
- United Club Business Card. The Club Business card also earns up to 1,000 PQPs on 500 PQPs per $12,000 spent.
As a United MileagePlus Premier Silver member, you’ll receive numerous benefits including complimentary upgrades, access to Economy Plus at check-in for you and a companion and one free checked bag.
Airline Credit Card Comparison
This comparison chart highlights the annual fee of each airline credit card and how it helps you earn or maintain elite status more quickly.
How to Maximize Your Airline Elite Status
Now that you’ve earned airline elite status, follow these steps to maximize your benefits to get the most value from the airline.
- Fly the airline, even if it’s more expensive. Many travelers look for the cheapest flights. With elite status, it can be worth paying a little extra to enjoy the perks of elite status, such as free checked bags, priority boarding and complimentary upgrades.
- Extend benefits to travel companions. Johnson recommends booking friends and family on the same airline reservations. “Friends and family booked on the same reservation often benefit from your status, too, like getting free checked bags and complimentary upgrades,” he says.
- Use partner airlines. Even when you’re not flying your preferred airline, you may receive reciprocal benefits when flying one of its partners. Credit those partner flights to your preferred airline to reach elite status faster.
- Earn status at the beginning of the year. When you reach elite status at the beginning of the year, you’ll enjoy your benefits for a longer period.
- Status match with other airlines. If you must fly another airline, request a status match. The airline may match your status on a trial basis to try to win your loyalty.
- Look for hotel benefits. Some airlines partner with hotel brands to offer complimentary hotel elite status. For example, United partners with Marriott for reciprocal status and benefits.
Walsh recommends becoming familiar with your elite status and credit card benefits to use them strategically. “One unique perk from the AmEx Delta Reserve cards is that you’re automatically added to the Delta upgrade list for each flight, even when you haven’t earned elite status yet.”