Airline Credit Cards That Offer Elite Status and Benefits

Aug 13, 2014

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While many airline co-branded credit cards simply offer award-redeemable miles that have no bearing on elite status, there are several out there that do offer elite airline status, benefits, and/or qualifying miles, either as part of the bonus or as a spending threshold bonus, or both. For example, Amex just announced welcome bonuses of 50,000 miles for several of its co-branded Delta cards, including the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, which offers 15,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles and the opportunity to earn up to 20,000 more MQMs by meeting spending requirements as well as 50,000 bonus mile when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months. With these new offers hitting the market, I wanted to give readers an overview of which credit cards can help you earn and maintain elite status on various airlines.  This post will give you a rundown of current offers, along with my thoughts on each one.

Several airline co-branded credit cards that are available to US citizens offer elite status benefits or qualifying miles.
Several airline co-branded credit cards offer elite status benefits or qualifying miles. Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

Looking at all the airline co-branded credit cards that offer elite status and/or EQMs, I included the following criteria:

  • Status Earning Potential (in miles, status points and/or benefits, per calendar year)
  • Spend Requirements
  • Current Sign-Up Bonus
  • Annual Fee

If airline elite status is your goal, here are some cards to consider:

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: 60,000 miles when you make $5,000 in purchases within 3 months of approval. Additional benefits include Admirals Club membership. Annual Status Earning Potential: 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles Spend Requirements: $40,000 in a calendar year Annual Fee: $450 My Thoughts: This card recently had a sign-up bonus as high as 100,000 miles, though I still think the current sign-up bonus and Admirals Club membership outweigh the high annual fee. 10,000 EQMs will put you a little shy of half way to Gold AAdvantage status, though I can think of better uses for $40k in spending. If you need the extra EQMs to cross an American Airlines status threshold, this card can help, but I wouldn’t get it just for that reason.

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express Current Welcome Bonus & Benefits:  10,000 MQMs and 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first three months, as well as SkyClub access. Annual Status Earning Potential: Up to 30,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (can also be used as redeemable miles) Spend Requirements: $30,000 for 15,000 MQMs, or $60,000 for 30,000 MQMs; in either case, these MQMs are earned for eligible purchases in a calendar year. Annual Fee: $450 My Thoughts: There’s also the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card which offers the same Miles Boost as the personal card. Additionally, note that spending $25,000 in a calendar year on this card will waive Delta’s new Medallion Qualifying Dollars requirements for elite status at any elite level. If you max out the spending bonus on this card, you can get 40,000 MQMs your first year, which is more than half way to Platinum status, or about one third of the way to Diamond. Despite the high spend, this is a strong offer if you’re looking for elite status on Delta.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express Current Welcome Bonus & Benefits: Get  50,000 SkyMiles and 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles when you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months, and earn a $100 statement credit when you make your first Delta purchase within 3 months. Additional benefits include checking your first bag free on every Delta flight for you and up to 8 people on your reservation, priority boarding and 20% In-Flight Savings, as well as an Annual Companion Certificate for one roundtrip economy ticket in the 48 contiguous United States. Annual Status Earning Potential: Up to 20,000 SkyMiles and 20,000 MQMs annually Spend Requirements: 10,000 of each SkyMiles and MQMs for $25,000 in calendar year spend, and another 10,000 of each for a total of $50,000 in calendar year spending Annual Fee: $195 My Thoughts: Spending $25,000 in a calendar year on this card will waive Delta’s new Medallion Qualifying Dollars requirements for elite status at any elite level. The current welcome bonus for this card will last through September 8, 2014. Overall I think the Reserve card is a better value if you plan to max out spending for MQMs. However, the higher welcome bonus and lower annual fee make this card a great option if you just need to cross a status threshold.

United MileagePlus Club Card Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: $100 statement credit after your first purchase. 50% mileage bonus of 2 miles for every $1 spent on United, and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Additional benefits include automatic membership in Avis First and Platinum status in Hyatt Gold Passport, as well as primary auto coverage. Annual Status Earning Potential: United Club membership as long as you’re a cardholder, first and second bags checked free for you and one companion, and book any available United seat when redeeming miles at the MileagePlus Standard Award level, with no limitations, restrictions or blackout dates. Spend Requirements: These benefits are automatic with payment of the annual fee (see below). Annual Fee: $450 (however, you may be able to find an offer with the first year waived by visiting your local Chase branch). My Thoughts: This card offers certain United Premier benefits (club access, priority check-in, etc.), but doesn’t actually confer elite status. If you value United Club membership, this card is a no-brainer. Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 2.16.40 PM US Airways MasterCard *Note that as of 2015, all of this card’s status-related benefits will no longer be available. Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: 40,000 Dividend Miles after your first purchase, annual certificate for up to two companion tickets at $99 each plus taxes and fees, priority check-in and priority Zone 2 boarding, first checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions, and a free annual Club pass. Annual Status Earning Potential: 10,000 Preferred miles Spend Requirements: $25,000 each calendar year Annual Fee: $89 My Thoughts: Once the merger with American Airlines is complete, US Airways elite status will be transferred to the AAdvantage program. So if you’re nearing elite status with US Airways, it could be worth getting this card to put you over the threshold. This card won’t be around much longer, so apply sooner rather than later. virgin-america-elevate-FLY-visa-signature-departures-from-the-expected
Virgin America Premium Visa Signature Card Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: Earn 15,000 Elevate bonus reward points when you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days. Annual Status Earning Potential: Earn up to 15,000 status points every calendar year and carry forward any additional status points. Spend Requirements: 5,000 points per $10,000 you spend Annual Fee: $149, depending on card My Thoughts: If you max out the elite bonus from this card, you’ll be 75% of the way to Elevate Silver status. For those who fly Virgin America often, the ability to roll over status points into the next year makes this card very valuable.

Virgin Atlantic MasterCard Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: 20,000 bonus miles after your first purchase, 25,000 additional Flying Club bonus miles after you spend at least $2,500 in qualifying purchases and up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles when you add additional authorized users to your card. Earn up to 15,000 additional bonus miles upon anniversary. Annual Status Earning Potential: One Tier point per $2,500 in purchases (maximum of 2 per month) Spend Requirements: Up to 24 Tier points per year on up to $60,000 in spend. Annual Fee: $90 My Thoughts: Earning 15 Tier Points (by spending $37,500 on this card) will get you Silver status, and maxing out the 24 Tier Points will get you 60% of the way to Gold status. This card sometimes offers a higher signup bonus, but the present offer is strong enough that I wouldn’t wait if you’re trying to earn elite status.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card Current Sign-Up Bonus & Benefits: The standard offer is 25,000 Rapid Rewards points (no TQPs) when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of approval. However, there is a better offer for 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Annual Status Earning Potential: Up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points Spend Requirements: Every $10,000 in purchases earns 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points Annual Fee: $99 Note: There is also a business version of this card with the same terms, but with no 50,000 point offer available. My Thoughts: Southwest offers just one cabin class, and their elite status benefits are pretty basic: priority boarding, bonus points on paid flights, free WiFi for A-list Preferred, etc. They do offer one of the best travel benefits out there in the Companion Pass, but you need to earn regular points to get that (TQPs are mostly irrelevant). Unless you’re really devoted to Southwest Airlines, I think you’re better off going for elite status on one of the legacy carriers.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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