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Earning Elite Status and Miles with Credit Cards

Earning Elite Status and Miles with Credit Cards

*Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Oct 23, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

Airlines have revamped how travelers can earn frequent flyer status, going from a simple mileage-based system to a more complicated combination of miles traveled, segments flown and dollars spent on tickets.

So what’s the landscape for elite airline requirements these days? Is it harder or easier than ever? Are miles worth more or less? In this post, we’ll look at the credit card offerings at the top U.S. airlines to separate fact from fiction.

Skip ahead to read more about elite status programs with these airlines:

American

Delta

United

Southwest

JetBlue

Major Airlines with no options for elite status

American

American Airlines has four levels of elite status:

    • Gold: $3,000 in EQDs AND 25,000 EQMs or 30 segments
    • Platinum: $6,000 in EQDs AND 50,000 EQMs or 60 segments
    • Platinum Pro: $9,000 in EQDs AND 75,000 EQMs or 90 segments
    • Executive Platinum: $12,000 in EQDs AND 100,000 EQMs or 120 segments

The airline has two cards that allow members to earn elite status:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has an annual fee of $450. Cardmembers Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases & 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases* at aa.com, at reservations and the carrier’s airport and city ticket counter locations. Double miles cannot be earned on car rentals and hotel reservations (except taxes and charges paid when redeeming miles for car/hotel), purchase of elite status boost or renewal and AA Cargo products and services. There’s no maximum on the number of AAdvantage® miles that can be accumulated on the card.

Members can earn 10,000 EQMs after spending $40,000 in eligible purchases that post to an account during a calendar year. EQDs and award miles can only be earned on base fares paid for a ticket, including any carrier-imposed fees. The bonus miles cannot be earned if members have had any Citi® / AAdvantage® card (other than a CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage card) opened or closed in the past 24 months.

Other benefits:

  • Free membership in the Admiral’s Club.
  • One free checked bag each for the cardmember and up to eight traveling companions on a reservation when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Preferred boarding for the cardmember and up to eight traveling companions.
  • Receive a statement credit up to $100 every five years to cover your Global Entry application fee or TSA Pre-check if you paid with the card.
  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases on the card.
  • Access to a dedicated concierge for help with foreign and domestic travel, shopping, dining, household, and entertainment needs.
  • A foreign transaction fee of 0% when traveling abroad.

  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases & 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases

Highlights
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 17.49% - 25.49%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.

See additional details for Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

More Info

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has an annual fee of $95. Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the annual fee in full in the first 90 days.2 Offer ends 10/31/19

Cardmembers Earn 2X miles for every one dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1X AAdvantage® miles for every one dollar spent on all other purchases.. The card allows users to get 10% of their redeemed miles back, up to 10,000 miles, each calendar year. You earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) after spending $25,000 on purchases each calendar year.

Other benefits:

  • One free checked bag for cardmember and up to four traveling companions on a reservation when traveling on domestic itineraries operated by American Airlines.
  • Preferred boarding for cardmember and up to four traveling companions.
  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases.
  • A foreign transaction fee of  None when traveling abroad.

The information related to the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Delta

Delta has four levels of elite status:

    • Diamond: 125,000 MQMs or 140 segments AND $15,000 MQDs or MQD waiver.
    • Platinum: 75,000 MQMs or 100 segments AND $9,000 MQDs or MQD waiver.
    • Gold Medallion: 50,000 MQMs or 60 segments AND $6,000 MQDs or MQD waiver.
    • Silver Medallion: 25,000 MQMs or 30 segments AND $3,000 MQDs or MQD waiver.

Delta Air Lines has two cards that earn elite status:

  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
  • Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has a $195 Annual Fee ($250 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020). Cardmembers can earn 75,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, plus earn a $100 statement credit when your purchase with the card in the first 3 months. Offer expires 10/30/19..

The Miles Boost benefit allows cardmembers to earn 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after making $25,000 in eligible purchases on the card in a calendar year. MQMs received in 2018 above a member’s Medallion threshold level will roll over to 2019 and will count toward 2019 Medallion status qualification. All MQMs earned between January 1, 2018, and December 31, 2018, will count toward 2019 Medallion status.

If the MQD threshold is not met for a qualification year, members can qualify for Diamond Medallion status if they have earned the required MQMs or MQSs and spend at least $250,000 in eligible purchases within the qualification year on an eligible card. The MQDs requirement to reach Platinum, Gold or Silver Medallion Status during the qualification year will remain the same and will be waived if members make $25,000 or more in eligible purchases in that qualification year with an eligible card.

Other benefits:

  • The option to carry a balance with interest or pay it in full each month.
  • Access to the Delta Sky Club lounge at a discount rate of $29 per person for the cardmember and up to two guests, paid with the SkyMiles card.
  • One free checked bag for cardmembers on Delta or Delta Connection flights.
  • A Baggage Insurance Plan that covers eligibly lost, damaged or stolen baggage when a member purchases the fare on an eligible card. Coverage is up to $1,250 for carry-on bags and up to $500 for checked bags.
  • Zone 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
  • A domestic main cabin roundtrip companion certificate each year upon card renewal.
  • A 20% discount as a statement credit on eligible pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets.
  • No foreign transaction fee.
  • Terms apply.

The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express has a $450 Annual Fee ($550 if application is received on or after 1/30/2020). Cardmembers Earn 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMS) and 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.

Cardmembers can use the Pay With Miles program to pay for Delta and Delta Connection carrier flights booked at delta.com in 5,000-mile increments. Pay with Miles tickets will earn mileage and MQDs for the portion of the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges remaining that is paid in currency after miles are applied to the ticket total.  Pay with Miles tickets are also eligible for MQSs and MQMs.

Other benefits:

  • The option to carry a card balance with interest or pay in full each month.
  • A free membership to the Delta Sky Club lounge and a discount rate of $29 per person for up to two guests.
  • One free checked bag for the cardmember and up to nine travelers on the same reservation on Delta or Delta Connection flights.
  • A Baggage Insurance Plan that covers eligible lost, damaged, or stolen baggage when a member purchases the entire fare on an eligible card. Coverage is up to $1,250 for carry-on bags and up to $500 for checked bags.
  • Zone 1 Priority Boarding for the cardmember and up to nine travelers on the same reservation on Delta flights.
  • A domestic main cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon card renewal.
  • 20% discount as a statement credit on eligible pre-purchased meals and in-flight purchases of food, alcoholic beverages and audio headsets.
  • No foreign transaction fee.
  • Terms apply.

View our cheat sheet for using your Delta SkyMiles.

The information related to the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

United

United Airlines has four levels of elite status:

    • Premier Silver: 25,000 PQM or 30 PQS (and $3,000)
    • Premier Gold: 50,000 PQM or 60 PQS (and $6,000)
    • Premier Platinum: 75,000 PQM or 90 PQS (and $9,000)
    • Premier 1K: 100,000 PQM or 120 PQS (and $12,000)

The airline offers three credit cards, but none of them help with earning PQMs:

  • United℠ Explorer Card*
  • United Club℠ Card*
  • United℠ TravelBank Card*

The United℠ Explorer Card starts with an annual fee of $0 Intro for First Year, then $95. Cardmembers can earn 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. And they can earn another 5,000 bonus miles after a first purchase and adding an authorized user to the account during the first three months from account opening. The card allows authorized users to be added, using the same account number and charging privileges as the primary cardmember.

Cardmembers Earn 2 miles per $1 spent at restaurants, on hotel stays and on purchases from United. 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Other benefits:

  • One free checked bag for the cardmember and a traveling companion on flights operated by United and United Express if booked on the same reservation.
  • Priority boarding for the cardmember and companions traveling on the same reservation.
  • Cardmembers receive two free United Club one-time passes every 12 months as long as their credit card account remains open.
  • A statement credit of up to $100 every 4 years to cover the application fee for Global Entry or TSA Precheck.
  • A 25% statement credit when you use the card to buy food, beverages and Wi-Fi onboard United®-operated flights.
  • Trip Cancellation / Trip Interruption Insurance that reimburses of up to $10,000 per trip if canceled or cut short by sickness or severe weather. Expenses reimbursed include passenger fares, tours and hotels.
  • Baggage Delay Insurance that reimburses cardmembers for essential purchases including toiletries and clothing for baggage delays of more than six hours at up to $100 a day for three days.
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement of up to $3,000 per passenger if a cardmember or immediate family member has checked or carry-on luggage damaged or lost by the airline.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement where if a flight is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, the cardmember and family are covered for unreimbursed expenses for up to $500 per ticket.
  • A foreign transaction fee of  $0 while traveling abroad.

The United Club℠ Card has an annual fee of $450. Cardmembers Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Authorized users can be added under the same account number and charging privileges as the primary cardmember.

Cardmembers Earn 1.5 miles per $1 spent on purchases. Miles will not expire as long as there is activity on the card account, including paying the annual membership fee.

Other benefits:

  • Two free checked bags for they cardmember and their companions on flights operated by United and United Express if booked on the same reservation.
  • Priority boarding for the cardmember and their companions traveling on the same reservation.
  • Free membership in the United Club for the cardmember; authorized users can enter when escorted by a cardmember.
  • Designated check-in lines and priority security lanes.
  • Priority boarding and baggage handling.
  • Trip Cancellation / Trip Interruption Insurance that provides reimbursement of up to $10,000 per trip if canceled or cut short by sickness or severe weather. Travel expenses reimbursed include passenger fares, tours and hotels.
  • Baggage Delay Insurance that reimburses cardmembers for essential purchases like toiletries and clothing for baggage delays of more than six hours for up to $100 a day for three days.
  • Lost Luggage Reimbursement of up to $3,000 per passenger if a cardmember or  immediate family member has checked or carry-on luggage damaged or lost by the airline.
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement where if a flight is delayed more than 12 hours or requires an overnight stay, the cardmember and family are covered for unreimbursed expenses for up to $500 per ticket.
  • A foreign transaction fee of  None while traveling abroad.

The United℠ TravelBank Card allows cardmembers to earn cash that can be applied to future flights. There’s a $0 annual fee for the card. Cardmembers $150 in TravelBank cash after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

They Earn 2% in TravelBank cash per $1 spent on tickets purchased from United and 1.5% per $1 spent on all other purchases. TravelBank cash can be used alone or combined with other forms of payment to buy United Airlines tickets.

Other benefits

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption Insurance
  • Receive a 25% statement credit on food, beverage and W-Fi purchases aboard United-operated flights when paying with the card.
  • A foreign transaction fee of $0 while traveling abroad.
  • Auto rental collision damage waiver.
  • Purchase and price protection.
  • Miles will not expire as long as there is activity on the card account, including paying the annual membership fee, and the account is open and not in default.

*The information related to the United℠ Explorer Card, United Club℠ Card and United℠ TravelBank Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Southwest

Southwest Airlines keeps it simple with two levels of elite status for its Rapid Rewards® program:

    • A-List: Fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.
    • A-List Preferred: Fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

Those who fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 110,000 qualifying points in a calendar year can earn a Companion Pass, where one person can fly with the traveler for free (minus taxes and fees) every time they buy or redeem points for a flight. The Companion Pass is available for the following full calendar year, plus the remainder of the year in which it was earned.

The airline offers the following credit cards:

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.

  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • All points earned count towards Companion Pass.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

More Info

  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • No blackout dates or seat restrictions.
  • Redeem your points for flights, hotel stays, gift cards, access to events, and more.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

More Info

  • Earn 40,000 points

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

  • No foreign transaction fees.

Highlights
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • $75 Southwest® travel credit each year.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
  • 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees.

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

More Info

  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary

  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 6,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary.
  • 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
  • Earn points on employee spending
  • Employee cards at no additional cost
  • No blackout dates when you redeem points, no seat restrictions, bags fly free®, and no change fees
  • No foreign transaction fees

See additional details for Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card

More Info

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has a $149 annual fee. It starts with a generous sign-up bonus, cardmembers can Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.

Cardmembers 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. You’ll earn 7,500 bonus points on your cardmember anniversary. Earn 1,500 tier qualifying points (TQPs) for each $10,000 in purchases up to $100,000 in purchases annually, which equals 15,000 TQPs. TQPs can be used to count toward qualification for Rapid Rewards A-List or A-List Preferred status.

Other benefits:

  • $75 Southwest annual travel credit each year.
  • 4 Upgraded Boardings every year when available.
  • 20% back on in-flight purchases.
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card has an annual fee of $99. New cardmembers Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Cardmembers can also earn 6,000 bonus points a year after a card anniversary. 

Cardmembers earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® hotel and car rental partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.. And you can earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 spent to help earn A-List or A-List Preferred status.

Other benefits:

  • Points don’t expire as long as your card account is open.
  • A foreign transaction fee of  $0 on purchases made abroad.
  • No blackout dates and unlimited reward seats apply to flights booked with points.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card has an annual fee of $99. Cardmembers Earn 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. They also earn 6,000 bonus points after an anniversary. Users can earn unlimited points, along with earning 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest® purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases. 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.

They can also earn 1,500 TQPs for each $10,000 to go toward Rapid Rewards A-List or A-List Preferred status. Business owners can give employee cards under the member account at no additional charge, with the ability to give charging privileges and establish individual spending limits.

Other benefits:

  • Points don’t expire as long as your card account is open.
  • A foreign transaction fee of  $0 on purchases made abroad.
  • No blackout dates and unlimited reward seats apply to flights booked with points.

JetBlue

Earn TrueBlue Mosaic status on JetBlue Airways by either flying 30 segments plus 12,000 base flight points or earning 15,000 base flight points within a calendar year.

The airline currently offers just one card that enables users to earn elite status — the JetBlue Plus Card. The card has an annual fee of $99. Cardmembers Earn 40,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 90 days.

Once members earn TrueBlue Mosaic status, they earn a bonus of 15,000 points. And for every account anniversary, 5,000 TrueBlue bonus points will be credited to the TrueBlue cardholders’ membership account as long as it remains open and in good standing.

Cardmembers get TrueBlue Mosaic benefits for a year after spending $50,000 or more on purchases annually with the card. Earn 6X points on JetBlue purchases, 2X at restaurants & grocery stores, 1X on all other purchases. Cardmembers can earn 10% of points back as a redemption bonus to use toward the next redemption.

Balance transfers and cash advances do not earn TrueBlue points. There are no limits on accumulating TrueBlue points as long as the program continues and the account remains open and in good standing.

Read our full review of the JetBlue Plus Card.

Other benefits:

  • Change and cancellation fees are waived for Mosaic members and others on their itinerary.
  • One free checked bag for cardmembers and those on their itinerary.
  • Access to an expedited security line when available.
  • Early boarding on flights.
  • Access to a dedicated customer service line 24/7.
  • Free alcoholic beverages onboard flights.
  • 50% savings on in-flight purchases, including cocktails, beer, wine, meals, and movies when using the card.
  • A foreign transaction fee of 0% on purchases made abroad.
  • Terms apply.

The information related to the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply.

Major Airlines with no options for elite status

  • Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®
  • Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Credit Card
  • The Frontier Airlines World MasterCard®
  • Spirit Airlines World Mastercard®

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February 2, 2018