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11 Cards That Help You Earn Airline Elite Status

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Now that we’re almost halfway through the year, how are you doing with elite status? As TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert explains, a number of co-branded airline cards help you earn elite-qualifying miles toward status, while meeting spending requirements on some can even lead to an elite-qualifying dollar waiver.

With American Airlines planning to impose a new revenue requirement starting next year, it’s official: Earning elite status with the three major US carriers entails significant spending. With American, Delta and United all requiring their customers to spend $3,000 in a year to earn the lowest level of elite status, even bottom-tier members have to shell out.

While there’s no denying that earning airline elite status is expensive, it can also be quite valuable. If you can maximize the perks such as complimentary upgrades, free checked bags and waived fees, you could be getting hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars worth of benefits. Luckily, if you’re hoping to earn elite status with a US airline and don’t think you’ll fly frequently enough (or on expensive enough tickets) to meet the carrier’s status spending requirements, you could have an alternative in the form of a co-branded credit card.

Cards That Offer Elite-Qualifying Dollar Waivers

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When you spend $25,000 on Delta co-branded cards in a calendar year, the airline waives its MQD requirement.

Delta and United customers who spend a significant amount on co-branded credit cards can be eligible for an elite status spending waiver, which means they won’t have to meet the MQD or PQD requirements for status if they hit a specified amount in purchases on an eligible card — pretty much always $25,000 in a qualification year, which could be doable if you charge taxes and other large purchases to an eligible card.

Note that United’s spending waiver doesn’t apply for its top-tier Premier 1K status, while American has yet to offer any spending waiver via its credit cards — though the carrier did acknowledge that this could be an option once the revenue requirement goes into effect on January 1, 2017.

Cards That Offer Elite-Qualifying Miles Toward Status

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You can earn 10,000 EQMs when you spend $40,000 annually on the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard.

While some airline credit cards let you bypass airline elite status spending requirements when you spend at least $25,000 in a year, others earn you elite-qualifying miles that help you reach a higher status level — without any additional flying. Earning these elite-qualifying miles (called EQMs by American, MQMs by Delta and PQMs by United) also requires meeting spending thresholds, but this option could make sense if you 1) fly American, since the airline’s spending requirement doesn’t kick in until 2017 or 2) can comfortably meet an airline’s spending requirement but you’re short the elite-qualifying miles needed to reach the next tier.

Now that you’re familiar with the two main types of cards that can help you get airline elite status, let’s take a look at the top options for each of the main US carriers.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

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1. Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

This card’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months, and though it carries a hefty $450 annual fee it includes some great benefits such as Admirals Club membership and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee credit. For those working toward AAdvantage elite status, this card also offers 10,000 EQMs to cardholders who spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. You can’t earn additional EQMs through the card by meeting even higher spending thresholds, so you’ll also need to earn EQMs through other channels as well — such as with paid airfare — to qualify for status (you’d need 15,000 more for the lowest-tier Gold status). Still, this can provide a nice boost if you’re a bit short and the extra 10,000 EQMs will mean the difference between status and no status or between two status levels.

2. Barclaycard Aviator Silver

The other credit card option for earning EQMs toward AAdvantage status is unfortunately no longer open for applications, but if you received this card after being transferred away from the US Airways World MasterCard, you can leverage it to earn 5,000 EQMs for every $20,000 you spend annually — with a cap of 10,000 EQMs per year. So if you maximize the EQM-earning opportunities with the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard and this card, based on many reports, you should wind up with 20,000 EQMs per year, which is just 5,000 EQMs short of Gold status.

DELTA AIR LINES

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3. Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Like the other Delta co-branded cards mentioned below, this option is eligible for the MQD waiver, but it also offers you the opportunity to earn MQMs — both as part of the sign-up bonus and after you meet additional spending thresholds.

Now through July 6, this card is offering an increased sign-up bonus of 60,000 SkyMiles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, plus a $100 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase with the card in the first three months. Plus, when you spend at least $25,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles, and you’ll earn an additional 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles if you spend at least $50,000 in a calendar year. That means if you earn the sign-up bonus and hit $50,000 in spending, you’ll net 30,000 MQMs — enough for Silver Medallion status.

This card also offers priority boarding, a first bag checked free and an annual companion certificate at account renewal. It has an annual fee of $195, and no foreign transaction fees.

4. Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

This is another good option for earning elite-qualifying miles, and it’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles after you make your first purchase on the card. There’s a $450 annual fee, but you do get Sky Club access (when you’re traveling on Delta), along with the opportunity to earn more MQMs. When you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles, and when you spend $60,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn an additional 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles. So if you maximize these opportunities with the current sign-up bonus, you’ll earn 40,000 MQMs — 10,000 short of Gold Medallion status.

5. Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

This card doesn’t earn you MQMs for meeting a certain spending threshold, but it is eligible for the MQD waiver if you spend $25,000 on this card (or any of the other Delta co-branded cards, or even for a total of $25,000 across all eligible cards) in a qualification year.

Through July 6, this card is offering an elevated sign-up bonus of 50,000 SkyMiles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months. You’ll also earn a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase with your card in the first three months. Other benefits include priority boarding, a first bag checked free and no foreign transaction fees. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.

6. Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Like the personal version of this card, now through July 6 the Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card is offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 SkyMiles after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, plus a $50 statement credit when you make a Delta purchase within the first three months. It offers the same benefits like priority boarding, and it’s also eligible for the MQD waiver. If you already hold the personal Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card but want to earn more miles, this could be a good option, since according to American Express’ guidelines you can only earn a sign-up bonus once per card. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.

Other cards to consider: The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card are also eligible for the MQD waiver when you spend $25,000 on them (or across all eligible cards) in a qualification year.

UNITED AIRLINES

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7. United MileagePlus Explorer Card

This card’s eligible for a PQD waiver, which lets you bypass elite status spending requirements — up to Premier Platinum status — when you spend $25,000 on this card (or as a total among all eligible cards) in a qualification year.

With the standard offer, you can currently earn 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months with this card, and you’ll earn an additional 5,000 bonus miles when you add an authorized user and they make a purchase within the first three months. You may also have an opportunity to earn 50,000 or even 70,000 bonus miles with these targeted offers. Plus, if you hit $25,000 in spending on this card in a year, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus miles (though no PQMs). Other benefits include a free first checked bag, priority boarding and two United Club passes per year. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.

8. United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card

The business version of the Explorer Card is also eligible for the PQD waiver, so if you spend $25,000 on it (or across all eligible cards), you won’t need to meet United’s spending requirements, though as always Premier 1K status is excluded. This card will also earn you 10,000 bonus miles when you meet that $25,000 threshold in a calendar year.

Currently, the public sign-up bonus is identical to the personal card’s: 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. It offers the same benefits like priority boarding and two United Club passes, and it also has an annual fee of $95 that’s waived the first year.

9. United MileagePlus Club Card

This is yet another co-branded United card from Chase that can earn you the PQD waiver for up to Premier Platinum status when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year. It carries a $450 annual fee, but it comes with full United Club membership, which could make it worth the cost depending on how frequently you travel through airports where this airline has lounges. Note that you may be able to sign up for this card with the fee waived for the first year. Other benefits include two free checked bags, Premier Access at the airport and complimentary Hyatt Gold Passport Platinum status. This card has no foreign transaction fees.

10. United MileagePlus Presidential Card

Like the Barclaycard Aviator Silver, this card is no longer accepting applications, but if you do hold this card, you’ll enjoy a PQD waiver for up to Premier Platinum status without even needing to spend $25,000 on the card in a year. This card also lets you earn PQMs; you’ll get 1,000 Flex PQMs for every $5,000 you spend, and these can be converted to regular PQMs to help you qualify for status (up to Premier Platinum). This card likely isn’t an option for most readers, but if you do have it in your wallet, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

JETBLUE

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11. JetBlue Plus Card

Unlike the three major US carriers, JetBlue doesn’t offer various tiers of status; it simply offers one elite level, Mosaic, which you can earn through flying by meeting a mix of flight segment and flight points requirements or by simply meeting a higher flight point requirement. Mosaic benefits include waived change and cancellation fees, two free checked bags, priority security and boarding and complimentary in-flight alcoholic beverages. You can enjoy the perks of Mosaic status when you spend $50,000 on the recently introduced JetBlue Plus Card from Barclaycard in an annual year — a high spending requirement, but if that’s doable for you, it could be worth it. Note that you won’t receive the 15,000-point qualification bonus if you’re granted status based on credit card spend.

Other card benefits include an annual 5,000-point anniversary bonus, a 10% rebate on points redemptions and 6x points on JetBlue purchases. This card has an annual fee of $99, and no foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line

American, Delta, and United all offer co-branded credit cards that earn you elite-qualifying miles, and while it’s not always possible to earn status through these cards alone, they can definitely provide a useful shortcut. The ability to bypass elite status spending requirements by meeting certain thresholds on these cards could be especially handy if you don’t travel frequently enough or you tend to purchase cheaper fares. And while JetBlue doesn’t have a spending requirement for its Mosaic status, it’s nice to know that you can qualify through credit card spending if you won’t otherwise earn it through flying.

That said, it’s important to evaluate your situation and make sure you can comfortably meet the $25,000 elite-qualifying dollar waivers easily, since the value you’ll be getting from elite status still won’t come close the amount you’ll need to spend to earn it.

Do you use airline co-branded credit cards to help you earn elite status? Share your favorite options in the comments below!

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express