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Frequent flyers know that it pays to be loyal. Earning elite status with your preferred airline can make travel more comfortable and more rewarding, with perks like upgrades, lounge access and bonus miles available to elite members. If you’re tired of scrambling every year to make sure you cross the threshold to requalify for your status, then it’s time to start thinking long-term.

The three US legacy carriers, American, Delta and United, all offer lifetime status to customers who’ve flown a million eligible miles with them. Obviously, most of us will never fly a million miles in our lives, but those who do can look forward to a lifetime of benefits.

United Airlines

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After a ton of flights with United, it’s nice to see Zach get the recognition he deserves

We start with United’s Million Miler program, which is by far the most generous of the three. It’s also been on our mind recently, as TPG’s own Zach Honig recently crossed the million-mile threshold with United on a flight from Hong Kong to San Francisco in the carrier’s brand-new Polaris business class. Talk about a celebration!

United loyalists earn lifetime elite status at the following levels:

  • 1 million miles flown = lifetime Premier Gold
  • 2 million miles flown = lifetime Premier Platinum
  • 3 million miles flown = lifetime Premier 1K
  • 4 million miles flown = lifetime Global Services

Your first million miles earn you a lifetime of mid-tier United Premier Gold status (and Star Alliance Gold) — which is pretty exciting, as American and Delta only offer their lowest tier of status for flying 1 million miles. United MileagePlus Premier Gold elites get a 60% mileage bonus (8 miles per dollar instead of 5), free economy plus seats at the time of booking and Marriott Gold status (and therefore SPG Gold status) thanks to United’s RewardsPlus partnership with Marriott.

While 4 million miles seems almost laughably absurd, it’s worth noting that this is the only published way to obtain United Global Services status. This highly secretive program is normally invite-only for the airline’s top spenders, but we know its perks include letting you create your own Saver award space as well as treating you to Mercedes-Benz tarmac transfers if you have a tight connection to make.

American Airlines

Last summer’s award chart devaluation was just the most recent blow that’s moved the AAdvantage program from one of the most rewarding in the business… to one of the least. It should come as no surprise that American’s recognition of million mile customers is equally unimpressive. AAdvantage members can unlock lifetime status at the following rates:

  • 1 million miles = lifetime AAdvantage Gold status and 35,000 AAdvantage miles (worth $490 based on TPG’s most recent valuations)
  • 2 million miles = lifetime AAdvantage Platinum status and 4 one-way systemwide upgrades
  • Every additional million miles flown = 4 more one-way systemwide upgrades.

Keep in mind that United Premier Gold status and AAdvantage Gold status aren’t comparable. United’s Premier Gold is a middle-tier status level, while AAdvantage Gold is the lowest level in AA’s program. AAdvantage Gold members receive a 40% mileage bonus (7 miles per dollar instead of 5), access to preferred seating and a handful of other benefits.

Only at the 2-million-mile mark will flyers receive benefits similar to what United offers at 1 million miles. AAdvantage Platinum members receive a 60% mileage bonus and complimentary Main Cabin Extra seats. No matter how many millions of miles you fly, this is the highest level of status you can lock in. Even though the AAdvantage program has two higher tiers (Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum) as well as the own invite-only Concierge Key program, no amount of flying will earn you these statuses for life.

Delta

Delta’s offerings are similar to American’s, with a twist that some travelers may enjoy:

  • 1 million miles = lifetime Silver Medallion status and “a gift from our partners”
  • 2 million miles = lifetime Gold Medallion status and “a gift from our partners”
  • 3 million miles = lifetime Gold Medallion status and another “gift from our partners”
  • 4 million miles = lifetime Platinum Medallion status and, you guessed it, “a gift from our partners”

I’m guessing someone at Delta HQ realized that low-tier Silver Medallion status, with its 40% mileage bonus and access to preferred seating (much like AAdvantage Gold), was a lousy way to reward million milers so they decided to bling it up. While the gifts are only visible once you cross the million-mile threshold, the Delta website describes them like this:

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Crossing the 2-million-mile mark earns you an upgrade to Medallion Gold status, which comes with a 60% mileage bonus, better upgrade priority and another high-end gift from one of Delta’s partners.

Who’s missing from this list?

The three airlines mentioned here together carry an overwhelming majority of US air traffic, but two fan favorites are notably absent. While Southwest’s Companion Pass might be the single most valuable elite perk offered by any airline, it doesn’t offer any form of lifetime recognition (though you can earn it for almost two years if you time things right). Similarly, JetBlue has won the hearts of many frequent travelers (including TPG himself) with its industry-leading Mint business class, but it doesn’t offer any form of lifetime status.

How to Reach the 1 Million-Mile Mark

Unlike with regular elite status, these lifetime thresholds can’t be met in a single year. It would take even the most frequent travelers (those flying 100,000 miles a year or more) a full decade to pass the 1-million-mile mark. That being said, it’s never too early to start planning. If your home airport is dominated by a single airline, or if you frequently travel for work, it might be worth staying loyal to one carrier.

Additionally, it’s important to note that only revenue flights count toward your lifetime balance. In the same way you don’t earn redeemable or elite miles on award tickets, you also don’t earn lifetime miles on these flights. What about flights on partner airlines? If you credit them to American or Delta, they will count toward your lifetime flight miles, but not with United.

If your mouth is watering thinking about a lifetime of luxury treatment (without the hassle of requalifying every year) then check back soon for our complete guide to hotel lifetime status!

Are you working toward lifetime status with any of the three major US carriers?

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