Is It Easier to Earn Airline Status with Miles or Segments?

Jul 17, 2016

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TPG reader Matt sent me a message on Facebook to ask about strategies for earning elite status:

“I’m trying to earn Delta elite status; is it generally more cost-effective to aim for the mileage or segment requirements? It seems like mileage would be easier, but I’m not sure, since I can get cheap, short segments from Atlanta.”

Since Delta and United offer redeemable miles based on the amount you spend (and American will soon join that list), mileage running on those airlines has become a thing of the past. However, all three airlines (and many others) offer elite status based on how many miles or segments you fly. That means there are still opportunities to boost your elite status by making a status run, which is a flight you take for the elite-qualifying miles or segments you earn.

Generally, I think running for elite miles is easier and less expensive than running for segments. Decent rates for status running are around 5 cents per elite mile earned, or $50 per segment flown. You can certainly do better, but that’s a good starting point if you don’t want to spend a ton of extra time searching for discounted fares or unusual routings.

Delta Silver Medallion requires 25,000 elite miles or 30 segments; using the rates above, qualifying with miles would cost you $1,250, while qualifying with segments would cost $1,500, assuming you’re starting from scratch. Going for elite miles would clearly be cheaper in that scenario, but don’t forget that you’d also have to meet or waive any revenue requirements.

The problem is that both of those amounts are higher than what I think Silver Medallion status is worth. There’s no point in earning status if you spend more in the process than you get in return. That’s why status runs only make sense if you’re already close to reaching the next elite tier, or you expect to get outsized value from your benefits (if you’ll be flying with that airline a lot over the next year, for example). Status running tends to be more worthwhile in the upper tiers, but the same ideas apply.

Of course, you won’t be status running in a vacuum, and you may already have some elite miles and segments banked to your account. This is especially true with Delta, since excess elite miles (above whatever status level you reach) can be rolled over to the following year. That could change the math of which qualification method is easier, so you’ll have to evaluate based on your own travel patterns and how easily you can find cheap flights.

Bag
Status running can help you earn the last few miles or segments you need, but make sure it’s cost-effective.

Rather than commit to a pure status run (where you spend money on a flight you don’t need), I think it’s better to just keep elite qualification in mind as you select flights during the year. For example, instead of flying nonstop between ATL-SEA, you could pick up two extra segments on an itinerary that stops in SLC in both directions. Similarly, you could stop in LAX or DTW and pick up extra elite miles. You may actually save money by choosing flights that include a stop, which can help offset the extra time involved.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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