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How to Get Airline Elite Status Quickly in 2016

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As we start a new year, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen offers tips and advice on earning airline elite status quickly in 2016.

When it comes to airline elite status, the landscape in 2016 is going to look a lot different than in previous years. Delta and United made enormous changes to their award-mileage and elite-qualification programs in 2014, including the introduction of spending requirements and sweeping devaluations of their award charts. American is going to follow suit in the second half of 2016 in terms of basing award mileage earning on spending, as well as changing its award charts, though its elite-status program and how you earn elite-qualifying miles will remain largely the same. For now.

That makes having a savvy elite status strategy in place imperative. Here are a few tips and guidelines on earning elite status quickly in the new year with the major US airlines, including status matches and challenges, in case there are further changes in store.

ALASKA AIRLINES

Status matching to Alaska is relatively easy.
Status-matching to Alaska is relatively easy.

Alaska is the only major legacy carrier with a mileage program where both the elite-qualifying and redeemable miles you earn are based on how far you fly rather than on how much you spend. For information on the program, check out Nick Ewen’s post, What is Alaska Airlines MVP Status Worth?

In the meantime, here’s what it takes to qualify for MVP status:

  • You achieve MVP status by flying 25,000 miles or 30 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • You achieve MVP Gold status by flying 50,000 miles or 60 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).
  • You achieve MVP Gold 75K status by flying 90,000 miles or 90 segments on Alaska and partners (fewer on Alaska itself).

The one main way to get elite status quickly is … basically to bypass those requirements altogether.

Status Match

Alaska Airlines is one of the few programs left that offers a standard status-match program, and it’s open to elite members of AeroMexico, Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America. In the past, you could only match to MVP or MVP Gold, but in recent years Alaska has been matching American Executive Platinum, Delta Platinum and United 1K elites to its top-tier MVP Gold 75K level. In fact, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig even took advantage of it earlier this year.

To request a match, simply e-mail elite.flyer@alaskaair.com with copies of your current elite card (both sides), an e-statement with your current status and your driver’s license. Allow 2-4 weeks for them to process and update your account.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

There are plenty of ways to earn American elite status in addition to flying.
There are plenty of ways to earn American elite status in addition to flying.

As noted above, American Airlines is making some changes to its AAdvantage mileage program in 2016, including the replacement of its current distance-based mileage-earning formula with a revenue-based system that mimics those of Delta and United. That won’t go into effect until the second half the year, though.

The airline is also doing away with its confusing elite-qualifying points system and has revamped its elite-qualifying miles so that you earn between 1 and 3 miles per mile flown based on the fare you purchase.

For details on American’s elite-status program, see this page. For an exhaustive review of the benefits of the program, you can check out Jason Steele’s post, What Is American Airlines AAdvantage Elite Status Worth?

In the meantime, here’s how many miles, segments and/or points you’ll need to earn each calendar year to qualify for each.

  • Gold: 25,000 miles or 30 segments
  • Platinum: 50,000 miles or 60 segments
  • Executive Platinum: 100,000 miles or 120 segments

Status Challenge

When it announced the end of the points system, American also seemed to discontinue the option of challenging for status as a shortcut, but per this FlyerTalk thread, it looks like that option is now back. For the details check out this post or call American’s customer service line at 888-697-5636. But as before, you can challenge for Platinum or Gold status. The fee to challenge for Platinum is $200 and the fee to challenge for Gold is $120.

Once you enroll, you have 90 days to earn 7,000 elite-qualifying miles for Gold status or 12,500 elite-qualifying miles for Platinum. Before, you would have had to earn 5,000 elite-qualifying points for Gold and 10,000 EQPs for Platinum, so this is a slight difference.

Elite Boost

American will even let you buy back or boost up to elite status.
American will even let you buy back or boost up to elite status.

Just like in 2014/2015, American Airlines recently announced that it would allow members to buy back up to their elite level or boost to the next level for a fee. The rates run from $399-$2,499, depending on how many miles you flew in 2015 and which status you’re boosting to. In general, these rates are pretty high, but still something to consider, and you have until July 31, 2016 to decide for status that will be valid through February 28, 2017.

To buy status, log in to American’s buy back page and enter your information (AAdvantage#/Dividend Miles#/Username, last name and password). From there, you will be redirected to a page that is preloaded with your exact offer(s). If you’re not close enough to the next elite level, you’ll be given a renewal offer for your current status, but if you’re close enough to the next level, you might be presented with a boost offer and a renewal offer — so you have the choice of advancing to the next elite level or maintaining your current status. This offer is good for members who have elite status through February 29, 2016 (not temporary status). Visit the airline’s FAQ page for more specific information on the offers.

Credit Card Spending

American fields two co-branded cards that offer the opportunity to earn elite-qualifying miles based on spending. The first is the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard; every calendar year you make $40,000 or more on purchases on the card, you earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles.

The other card that offers the opportunity to earn EQMs as part of its benefits package is Barclaycard’s Aviator Silver. Certain premium cardholders of the former US Airways World MasterCard were targeted to receive this card instead of one of the more basic versions of the Aviator. You cannot apply for any of the Aviator cards, but if you already have one, you can call Barclaycard and ask to be switched to this version. Then, for every $20,000 in purchases you make annually, you can earn 5,000 EQMs (up to 10,000 per year).

TPG actually earned a total of 20,000 EQMs by maximizing his spending on both these cards in 2015. You can find out more about how he did it in this post. That required a lot of spending, but there are ways — including using credit cards to pay off your taxes — that might make it worth it to you.

Gifted Status Through Business Extra

With American Airlines’ business program, Business Extra, companies earn 1 point per $5 spent on American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia flights (even when purchased directly from either carrier) and flights on Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas, as long as the tickets are marketed by American Airlines.

Among the possible point redemptions is the ability to gift Gold status on employees for 2,400 points. So your company would have to spend $12,000 on airfare per status gifted. Talk to your corporate travel office and see if they have any points to spare. It never hurts to ask!

DELTA

Delta offers a lot of ways to earn Medallion status quickly.
Delta offers a lot of ways to earn Medallion status quickly.

If you’re a Delta flyer, there are a few very important, unique features of the Medallion program to keep in mind when going for elite status in 2016.

Here’s how what it takes for the various Medallion tiers:

  • Silver: 25,000 MQMs (or 30 segments) and $3,000 in MQDs
  • Gold: 50,0000 MQMs (or 60 segments) and $6,000 in MQDs
  • Platinum: 75,000 MQMs (or 100 segments) and $9,000 in MQDs
  • Diamond: 125,000 MQMs (or 140 segments) and $15,000 in MQDs

Rollover Miles

First and foremost is that Delta offers flyers the chance to roll over Medallion Qualifying Miles from one year to the next, meaning that any MQMs you earn above a certain elite threshold before getting to the next count toward your elite-status qualification for the following year. So, check your account and see how many rollover miles you’re starting with in 2016. Just note that you still have to meet the MQD spending requirements for each specific tier in the current year in order to qualify for status since MQDs do not rollover.

But here’s the second wrinkle: If you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on one of the co-branded Delta cards from American Express, including the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Card or Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, those MQD spending requirements are waived. So if you have a lot of rollover MQMs and can hit that $25,000 mark early in the new year, you can get back to elite status quicker than you think.

MQMs Through Credit-Card Spending

The second way that the Platinum and Reserve cards specifically come in handy is that each offers cardholders the chance to earn MQMs through signing up and spending.

Cardholders of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card earn 5,000 MQMs (along with 35,000 regular SkyMiles) after spending $1,000 in the first three months. Earn an additional 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and an additional 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year.

The Delta Reserve Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after your first purchase on your new card. You can earn 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 or more in qualifying purchases on your card in a calendar year. You can earn an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $60,000 or more in qualifying purchases on your card in a calendar year. So with enough spending, you can earn more than enough MQMs to hit Silver Medallion status.

Again, this is a lot of spending, but if it’s in your wheelhouse, you could end up with a ton of MQMs to put toward your elite status in 2016.

Status Challenge

Try a status challenge if you have elite status with another airline and plan to fly Delta soon.
Try a status challenge if you have elite status with another airline and plan to fly Delta soon.

Delta typically offers status challenges for Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallion. You’re granted temporary status for 90 days, and then must fly a certain number of elite-qualifying miles or segments to retain your status beyond the trial period. Any challenges completed after June 30 in a given year are valid for the rest of the year and the entire next program year, so if you submit the request now and meet the challenge requirements in early 2016, you can enjoy the status through January 31, 2017.

To initiate a challenge, visit this link to submit your request online, and then send proof of elite status via email (SMSCEliteFaxes.Delta@delta.com) or fax (404-773-1880).

Gifted Status Through Choice Benefits and SkyBonus

One interesting feature of the SkyMiles program is that Delta allows upper-tier Medallion members to pick from among several special perks known as Choice Benefits. Options include Sky Club passes, bonus miles, retail gift cards and more. Platinum elites can gift Silver status, while Diamond elites can gift Gold status to another flyer.

Delta’s SkyBonus business program is completely separate from the SkyMiles program for individuals, but companies earn between 1-10 points per dollar spent on employee airfare.

Those points can then be redeemed for things like award tickets, but also for Silver Medallion status at a rate of 120,000 per status awarded. Just note that, unlike regular Silver Medallion status, this one is valid for only 12 months from the date of issue.

For more info about earning Delta Medallion status, check out these posts:

UNITED

There are fewer options with United, but still some good ones.
There are fewer options with United, but still some good ones.

Among other changes to its MileagePlus program back in 2014, United instituted a spending element to its qualification requirements called Premier Qualifying Dollars, which you need to hit for each of its four tiers. And then it raised them in 2015.

Here are the current requirements:

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

Now here are some ways you can meet those requirements faster.

Elite Status Through Marriott

Let’s start with the most unique (and flying-free) way to earn United elite status. The airline has a partnership with Marriott Rewards called RewardsPlus where, among other perks, Marriott members who earn the hotel chain’s Platinum or Platinum Premier status (or Ritz-Carlton Platinum status) — usually earned after 75 qualifying nights — are given automatic Premier Silver status. So even if you didn’t fly United in 2015 but are a Marriott stalwart, this might still be a good backdoor to status.

Premier Accelerator

United’s Premier Accelerator is a program where you can earn extra regular (redeemable) miles, as well as elite-qualifying miles when you purchase a flight. Unfortunately the prices are very high — more than 30 cents apiece in some cases, so you might want to avoid it. Check out these FlyerTalk threads for more information.

Status Challenge

United will let you challenge for status based on your elite status with other airlines.
United will let you challenge for status based on your elite status with other airlines.

United also offers a status challenge to elite flyers from other airlines, and the carrier actually has published information available. The site lists American, Delta and US Airways as eligible programs, even though the latter no longer exists. You just have to register between January 1 and March 31, 2016.

To do so, you must complete this online form after signing in to your MileagePlus account and provide documentation of your current status. You’ll then receive 90 days of Premier status that begins on a date of your choosing, which must be within 14 days of the request.

To retain that status, you must earn a certain number of PQMs or PQSs (premier-qualifying segments) on flights operated by United or United Express:

  • Premier Silver: 7,000 PQMs or 8 PQSs
  • Premier Gold: 12,500 PQMs or 15 PQSs
  • Premier Platinum: 18,000 PQMs or 22 PQSs

Keep in mind that your status may take 7-14 business days to be updated, but if you meet the requirements of the challenge after July 1, your elite status is valid for the rest of the program year and the entire following year. In other words, if you complete the challenge now, you’ll have status through January 2017. If you complete the challenge after July 1, 2016, you have status through January 2018 (assuming the status challenge is still around then).

Credit-Card Spending

The MileagePlus Presidential Plus card, which is no longer available to new applicants, is the only credit card that lets you earn PQMs through spending. If you’re an existing cardholder, you can earn 1,000 Flexible Preferred Qualifying Miles (Flex PQMs) for every $5,000 you spend. Those Flex PQMs can be converted to regular PQMs to help you qualify for status up to and including Premier Platinum, but not 1K. You must make this conversion online or by calling the MileagePlus Service Center. However, as an added plus, these Flex PQMs are valid for conversion for the entire calendar year in which they are earned and three subsequent calendar years.

On another note, United’s elite-qualifying revenue requirements for Silver, Gold and Platinum status are waived for credit cardholders who spend $25,000 on a co-branded card like the United MileagePlus Explorer within a calendar year, so if you can hit that spend quickly, you’ll just need to focus on your miles and segments.

For more information, check out these posts:

OTHER AIRLINES

Here are some quick thoughts and notes on qualifying for the non-legacy carriers in the US.

JetBlue

JetBlue could offer some lucrative challenges again in 2016.
JetBlue could offer some lucrative challenges again in 2016.

JetBlue’s TrueBlue program only has one level of elite status (Mosaic), which is normally earned by flying 30 segments and earning 12,000 base flight points; or just by earning 15,000 base flight points in a calendar year. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way around those requirements at the moment, but in mid-2015, JetBlue offered a status challenge that required earning just 3,750 base points (by spending $1,250 on flights) within 90 days, so keep your eyes out for something similar in 2016 as the airline continues to open up new routes and become more competitive on those lucrative transcontinental routes.

Southwest

You can earn Southwest Tier-Qualifying Points with a credit card.
You can earn Southwest Tier-Qualifying Points with a credit card.

Southwest’s elite-status program is called A-List and usually requires 35,000 Tier-Qualifying Points or 25 paid one-way flights in a calendar year. There’s one major and widely available shortcut if you have the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card (or the business version) from Chase. With it, you can earn up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points each calendar year at a rate of 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you make in purchases. So while you can’t actually qualify for status just through spending, if you do put a lot of spending on your card, it can definitely help you rack up those TQPs faster.

Virgin America

Virgin America offered some lucrative transfer and flying bonus promos in 2015.
Virgin America offered some lucrative transfer and flying bonus promos in 2015.

Virgin America introduced its Elevate elite program in 2012, with two levels: Silver and Gold. Silver status requires earning 20,000 base points in a calendar year, while Gold status requires earning 50,000 base points. However, there are a few shortcuts.

The Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card from Comenity Capital Bank offers up to 15,000 status points per calendar year at a rate of 5,000 points for every $10,000 spent. Furthermore, the card allows you to roll over any unused points toward qualifying in the next year.

For folks with an Amex card that earns Membership Rewards, such as the Platinum Card, Premier Rewards Gold or EveryDay Preferred, note that Amex and the airline were offering automatic Gold status to folks who transferred 80,000 points through the end of 2015 for status that would be good through February 2017. No word on similar offers yet for this year, but you never know. Finally, the airline is also known to offer status matches and double-points promos, so keep your eye out for those in 2016.

BOTTOM LINE

With status matches or challenges, credit card spending and other options, there are plenty of ways to get you to your airline status of choice in no time this year. Just make sure to evaluate your options before spending thousands to get a PQD/MQD waiver, and double-check to see that you’re meeting requirements by the due date to enjoy status for as much time as possible.

Have any other tips and strategies for earning elite status faster in 2016? Share them in the comments below!

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