Airline elite status can offer some hefty benefits, including free checked bags, free seat upgrades, and priority boarding. This could help enhance your travels and put some money back in your pocket, especially if you’re saving for an epic vacation.
But what’s the cost behind achieving elite status? You typically have to fly a lot, which can get expensive.
Fortunately, certain credit cards can offer another, potentially quicker, way to get airline elite status. Let’s see which cards are the best options for earning elite status at five major airlines.
The best credit cards to earn airline elite status
One of your best options for earning elite status through credit cards is typically using the best airline credit cards. Many of these cards are co-branded with major U.S. airlines, which means you can earn miles with your favorite airline.
Let’s jump into the details for five airlines to see what your options are for using credit cards to earn elite status.
To earn elite status with United Airlines, you have to earn a combination of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP), or simply a higher total of PQP. You also need a minimum of four segments flown on United or United Express-operated flights for all status tiers, regardless of which method you use — which means you can’t avoid flying to earn elite status with United.
This are the typical requirements for each status level:
|Status level||Method #1||Method #2|
|Premier Silver||12 PQF and 4,000 PQP||5,000 PQP|
|Premier Gold||24 PQF and 8,000 PQP||10,000 PQP|
|Premier Platinum||36 PQF and 12,000 PQP||15,000 PQP|
|Premier 1K||54 PQF and 18,000 PQP||24,000 PQP|
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, United has offered reduced elite status requirements. You still need a minimum of four flight segments with United or United Express.
|Status level||Method #1||Method #2|
|Premier Silver||8 PQF and 3,000 PQP||3,500 PQP|
|Premier Gold||16 PQF and 6,000 PQP||7,000 PQP|
|Premier Platinum||24 PQF and 9,000 PQP||10,000 PQP|
|Premier 1K||36 PQF and 13,500 PQP||15,000 PQP|
Certain United Airlines credit cards can help you meet the PQP requirements for elite status. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- United℠ Explorer Card: Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP in a calendar year. For more, read our United Explorer Card review.
- United Quest℠ Card: Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 3,000 PQP in a calendar year. For more, read our United Quest Card review.
- United Club℠ Infinite Card: Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 3,000 PQP in a calendar year. For more, read our United Club Infinite Card review.
- United℠ Business Card: Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP in a calendar year. For more, read our United Business Card review.
- United Club℠ Business Card: Earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 you spend, up to a maximum of 1,000 PQP in a calendar year. For more, read our United Club Business Card review.
Whether you’re not flying as much or want to supplement your qualifying earnings from flights, these United co-branded cards can help you meet the PQP requirements to achieve and move up status levels.
Southwest has two status levels, A-List and A-List Preferred. It also offers the Southwest Companion Pass, but that’s not a status level (though it can be very valuable). To earn status with Southwest, you need to accumulate a certain number of one-way qualifying flights or tier qualifying points in a calendar year.
|A-List||25 one-way qualifying flights or 35,000 tier qualifying points|
|A-List Preferred||50 one-way qualifying flights or 70,000 tier qualifying points|
Certain Southwest credit cards offer the opportunity to earn tier qualifying points through spending. See which option would be the best Southwest credit card for you:
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card: Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend. There’s no limit on how many tier qualifying points you can earn using this method. For more, read our Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier review.
- Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card: Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend. There’s no limit on how many tier qualifying points you can earn using this method. For more, read our Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority review.
- Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $10,000 you spend. There’s no limit on how many tier qualifying points you can earn using this method. For more, read our Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card review.
Considering you can earn A-List or A-List Preferred tiers through tier qualifying points alone, it’s possible to only use a credit card to earn your elite status with Southwest. But it would take a lot of money.
Delta Air Lines
Delta offers four status levels that can be achieved through earning Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs). In addition, you also have to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) or the MQD waiver. Here are the requirements for each tier:
|Silver||25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQDs or MQD waiver|
|Gold||50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs or MQD waiver|
|Platinum||75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs or MQD waiver|
|Diamond||125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs or MQD waiver|
If you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year with certain Delta credit cards, you waive the MQD requirement for the Silver, Gold, and Platinum tiers. The MQD waiver for the Diamond tier requires spending $250,000 or more with an eligible Delta co-branded credit card.
Additionally, certain co-branded Delta cards can help you earn MQMs through spending. Here’s the breakdown:
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn 10,000 MQMs for every $25,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to two times (through 12/31/23). For more, read our Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles review.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to four times (through 12/31/23). For more, read our Delta Reserve Credit Card review.
- Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card: Earn 10,000 MQMs for every $25,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to two times. For more, read our Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business review.
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card: Earn 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend in a calendar year, up to four times. Read our Amex Delta Reserve for Business review.
If you spend enough with these credit cards, you could earn elite status without boarding a single Delta flight. Having multiple cards could offer additional opportunities to earn elite status.
JetBlue offers one level of elite status, called Mosaic. This elite status can be achieved by earning Mosaic Qualifying points; flying 30 segments and earning Mosaic Qualifying points; or spending enough on certain JetBlue credit cards.
|Mosaic||Earn 15,000 Mosaic Qualifying points or fly 30 segments and earn 12,000 Mosaic Qualifying points or spend $50,000 on an eligible JetBlue credit card|
If you want to earn JetBlue elite status by only using a credit card, these are your best card options:
- JetBlue Plus Card: Earn Mosaic status if you spend $50,000 or more in a calendar year. For more, read our JetBlue Plus Card review.
- JetBlue Business Card: Earn Mosaic status if you spend $50,000 or more in a calendar year. For more, read our JetBlue Business Card review.
American Airlines offers four elite status levels. In the past in order to qualify for elite status and its benefits, you had to earn Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and Elite Qualifying Miles, or simply earn Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs). But starting in 2022, American Airlines has introduced a new process for earning elite status with Loyalty Points.
Each AAdvantage mile you earn for flying, using AAdvantage credit cards for purchases, or by earning with AAdvantage partners typically equals one Loyalty Point — though you would only earn one Loyalty Point per $1 of base spending in bonus categories on credit cards. This means if a card offers multiple AAdvantage miles per $1 of spending in a certain category, you would only receive one Loyalty Point per $1. Here are the required Loyalty Points for each status level:
|Gold||30,000 Loyalty Points|
|Platinum||75,000 Loyalty Points|
|Platinum Pro||125,000 Loyalty Points|
|Executive Platinum||200,000 Loyalty Points|
Certain American Airlines credit cards can typically help you earn Loyalty Points. Here are the best options:
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®: Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases. Earn up to 15,000 additional Loyalty Points after qualifying spend each status qualification period.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases. Earn 10,000 additional Loyalty Points after you spend $40,000 in purchases during the qualifying status year. For more, read our Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard review.
- AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard®: Earn 1 Loyalty Point for every 1 eligible mile earned from purchases. For more, read our AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard review.
General travel cards
If co-branded airline credit cards don’t seem like the right fit for you, consider general travel cards. These cards have flexible rewards that can be used with a variety of hotel and airline partners. In addition, some cards can also help you earn elite status with certain airlines.
Here are a few cards to consider:
|Card name||Welcome offer||Rewards rate||Annual fee|
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card}
|Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening||5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 3X points on dining, select streaming services, and eligible online grocery purchases; 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points per $1 on all other eligible purchases||$95|
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
|Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening||5X points on flights and 10X points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually; 3X points on other travel and dining & 1X points per dollar on all other purchases||$550|
American Express® Gold Card
|Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards points after you spend $6,000 on eligible purchases within the first 6 months of card membership||4X Membership Rewards points at U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 per year, after that 1X) and at restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., 3X on flights booked directly with airlines or on Amextravel.com, and 1X on all other eligible purchases||$250 (Terms apply)|
The Platinum Card® from American Express
|Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $8,000 on purchases on your new card in the first 6 months||5X points per dollar spent on eligible airfare (on up to $500,000 per calendar year, after that 1X) and eligible hotel purchases, and 1X points per dollar on all other eligible purchases||$695 (Terms apply)|
With these cards, flights can be booked with Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points. Each program has its own travel portal to book flights with major airlines. These flights count as paid fares, which means you’ll earn rewards miles and any applicable qualifying miles, points, or dollars for elite status.
How to pick the right credit card for you
Before you compare credit cards, you’ll want to consider a few questions to narrow down which card might be the best option for you:
- What’s your preferred airline? This may seem straightforward, but it often makes sense to choose a card based on which airline you frequently fly.
- Where do you typically fly? Each airline has its own routes and airline hubs, which could affect which airline’s elite status you should go for. If you can narrow down the airline, it will likely make sense to choose one of those airline’s co-branded cards or a general travel card.
- What are your spending habits? All travel credit cards offer rewards, and some cards have bonus categories for rewards. If you want to earn more points or miles, find a card that has bonus categories that align with your typical spending habits.
- How much money do you typically spend? One of the best ways to earn credit card rewards is to take advantage of sign-up bonuses. These bonuses often have minimum spend requirements, which could mean spending thousands of dollars over the course of a few months. Determine whether you can spend enough with everyday purchases to qualify for a sign-up bonus.
- What benefits do you want? Consider the benefits that come with each card. Some cards have premium travel perks, such as airport lounge access and travel credits. You also might look for complimentary hotel elite status or free checked bags on flights.
We chose these credit cards based on whether or not they could potentially help an individual earn elite status with an airline. For specific airlines, we only included cards that are co-branded with the applicable airline. For general travel cards, we included cards typically thought of as some of the best travel credit cards available. These best travel cards can help someone earn elite status with an airline or multiple airlines.
Can I earn airline elite status just by spending on the credit card?
Yes, it’s possible, but it depends on the airline. Delta Air Lines elite status levels can be achieved without ever stepping foot on a plane, but you have to spend a lot of money using Delta credit cards. For example, if you spend $120,000 in a calendar year with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, you would satisfy the requirements to achieve Gold Medallion Status with Delta.
How many miles do I earn with an airline credit card?
Each airline credit card is different, so it depends on which card you have. However, you typically earn more miles on purchases directly from the applicable airline. For example, United Airlines cards often provide at least 2X miles for making United purchases, including flights. If your purchase isn’t part of a card’s bonus categories, you’ll likely earn 1 mile per $1 spent.
Is it worth the trouble of earning airline elite status?
It depends on how often you travel and your travel preferences. It likely won’t be worth it for most travelers to try and earn airline elite status because of all the effort it takes. You can typically get certain travel benefits, such as free checked bags, with the right credit card. But if you travel enough or spend enough on airline credit cards, earning elite status could be worth it.
Earning elite status isn’t for everyone, but it can offer some helpful benefits if it makes sense for you. If deciding whether earning elite status could be the right move for you, consider how often you travel and what benefits you might be able to earn. Then calculate how much time, effort, and money you’d have to invest to achieve elite status.
If it doesn’t end up making sense for your situation, no worries. But the right credit card could still be useful for a variety of travelers. To find one that could be the perfect fit, check out our picks for the best travel credit cards.
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