How to Get Elite Miles Without Flying
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
This is an installment in my Maximizing Elite Status series. Articles include; The Basics and Why People Mileage Run, Using ITA Matrix to Find Cheap Flights, How Much is Elite Status Worth?, Comparing Top Tier Status, Comparing Mid-Tier Status, Comparing Low Level Status, How to Get Elite Miles Without Flying, Understanding Elite Status Bump Thresholds, The Lowdown on Soft Landings, How to Cope with Losing Elite Status.
Elite status is like a drug- once you get a taste of it, it's hard to give it up. In fact, the thought of losing elite status is such a painful idea for many frequent flyers, that they will go to extremes to maintain it - like taking flights solely for the sake of getting elite miles, otherwise known as mileage running.
However, mileage running isn't a viable option for many people because it costs a lot in terms of time. December is generally a busy month for many people and spare days to aimlessly fly around can be hard to come by.
Getting elite miles can be expensive, so before you do any of the ideas I highlight below, make sure your current elite miles are correct. I just checked my AA.com and for some reason I was not credited with a recent Miami to Aruba flight. The return flight posted fine, but my outbound portion is simply MIA (no pun intended). Additionally, if you've been re-routed this year to a more direct itinerary, you can request Original Routing Credit from the airline. For example, if you booked and American Airlines itinerary La Guardia-Dallas-San Francisco (to take advantage of the double elite miles on DFW-West coast routes) and then at the airport your LaGuardia to Dallas flight is cancelled so they change you to a nonstop JFK-SFO, you can request original routing credit to get those extra 1,731 precious EQMs.
You can also try to squeeze as many elite miles from existing itineraries by changing your routing through Same Day Confirmed changes. For example, Delta is very flexible with SDC (it's free for Gold and higher Medallions and $50 for everyone else). As long as the route you want to switch to isn't completely insane you can have fun with this. If you are on Detroit to LaGuardia, you can Same Day Confirm to Detroit to Memphis to LaGuardia, turning a 502 mile trip into 1,573 MQMs. Last year when Delta was running double MQMs out of Pittsburgh, I turned a $60 PIT-JFK flight into PIT-Detroit-Raleigh Durham-Laguardia for a net haul of 3,000 MQMs! I originally changed to PIT-DTW-LGA, but once I got to Detroit I SDCed to DTW-RDU-LGA. And got my first class upgrades on all legs.
So what do you do if you still need elite miles to reach that next elite level, but you don't have any more flights planned? Below is a list of ways to get elite miles without stepping foot on a plane. Feel free to add any others that I've missed.
American: AA generally makes it very difficult to get elite miles without flying. They were the last of the major airlines to offer elite miles via credit card and they just recently launched their co-branded card that offers EQMs.
Citi Executive AAdvantage card gives 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. Other benefits include: Admirals Club lounge access, no foreign transaction fees and free checked bags. Current sign-up bonus: 25,000 regular miles with $1,000 spend within 4 months. Annual fee:$450.
Continental/United: If you haven't done so already, you can link your Continental and United accounts and combine any elite miles you've accrued this year between both programs to count towards status in 2012.
You can also do the Elite Maximizer: Continental will give you the option of doubling your miles – buying regular miles at about 3.5 cents a piece and then also giving the option to get EQMs as well. The thing is, once you buy the maximizer, you automatically get the miles - not when you fly. So you can cancel your ticket and you’ll still keep the EQMs – granted at a steep price. As the end of the year nears they raise the price of the EQMs because they know people get more desperate. For more info, check out my post on it from last December.
Continental Presidential Plus card: 1,000 Flex EQMs for every $5,000 spent. Other benefits include: Red Carpet/Presidents Club lounge access, no foreign transaction fees, 2 free checked bags, Hyatt Platinum, Avis Presidents Club. Current sign-up bonus: Nothing. Annual fee: $395
Continental Presidential Plus for Business: 1,000 Flex EQMs for every $5,000 spent. Other benefits include: Red Carpet/Presidents Club lounge access, no foreign transaction fees, 2 free checked bags, Hyatt Platinum, Avis Presidents Club. Current sign-up bonus: Nothing. Annual fee: $395
Delta: Delta makes it the easiest to get elite qualifying (Medallion) miles.
Buy MQM Program: Through December 15, 2011 you can buy up to 10,000 MQMs for $895. Delta also lets you rollover excess MQMs from year to year. So even if you've already achieved your status for this year, you can buy these MQMs and you'll roll over any MQMs you have beyond your current elite level. So if you have 55,000 currently and buy 10,000 - you'll start January 1, 2012 with 15,000 MQMs because that's how many you are beyond the Gold level (50,000).
1,500 MQMs for purchasing SkyClub membership (starting at $300)
In addition, they offer several ways to rack up monster MQMs from their credit cards (and remember Amex will let you have multiple credit cards – especially personal and business – so think of all the possibilities):
Delta Reserve Card: 10,000 MQMs with first purchase, 15,000 MQMs if you hit $30,000 within a calendar year and then an additional 15,000 when you hit $60,000. Other benefits include: Delta SkyClub access, domestic first class companion ticket (this works for coach and discounted first class so it’s actually pretty valuable), free checked bag. Current Sign-up Bonus: 10,000 MQMs after first purchase. Annual fee: $450. Maximum potential MQMs with sign-up bonus = 40,000.
Delta Business Reserve Card: 15,000 MQMs + 15.000 bonus miles when you spend $30K in a calendar year. Then, get another 15K MQMs + 15K bonus miles when you reach $60K the same year. Current Sign-up Bonus: 10,000 MQMs with first purchase. Annual fee: $450. Maximum potential MQMs with sign-up bonus = 40,000.
Delta Platinum Card: Earn a Miles Boost of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year. Earn an additional Miles Boost of 10,000 MQMs when you reach $50,000 in eligible purchases the same calendar year. Current sign-up bonus: 20,000 regular miles and 5,000 MQMs with first purchase. 5,000 more miles when you add two additional users. Annual fee: $150. Maximum potential MQMs with sign-up bonus = 25,000.
Delta Business Platinum Card: Earn a Miles Boost of 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) when you reach $25,000 in eligible purchases during a calendar year. Earn an additional Miles Boost of 10,000 MQMs when you reach $50,000 in eligible purchases the same calendar year. Current sign-up bonus: 20,000 regular miles and 5,000 MQMs with first purchase. 5,000 more miles when you add two additional users. Annual fee: $150. Maximum potential MQMs with sign-up bonus = 25,000
If you took advantage of the max MQMs from all 4 co-branded cards and did a 25,000 MQM transfer, you could essential get 165,000 MQMs which would get you their top-tier Diamond status and allow you to roll over 45,000 MQMs to the next year which would almost get you to Gold – all without setting foot on a plane.
US Airways: US Airways' Barclay’s US Airways Premier World Mastercard offers up to 10,000 preferred miles. Current Sign-up Bonus: 40,000 miles Annual fee: $89, waived for the first year.
Buy Up to Preferred program (starting at $1,499 for Silver and up to $3,999 for Chairman's). They also have a Trial Preferred program which sells status for 90 days and gives you the opportunity to keep it if you fly a certain amount.
US also gave out Preferred Qualifying Miles as part of Grand Slam, so you may have gotten some as part of that promotion.