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TPG Readers Share How They Maintain Top-Tier Airline Elite Status, and How You Can Too

Dec. 08, 2017
7 min read
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Holding airline elite status requires constant effort; you need to make sure you're meeting the various requirements to lock in your desired tier not just once, but year after year (until you get lifetime status, that is). And maintaining the top level of status within a program is especially challenging, with extra-high elite-qualifying mile and dollar requirements to hit.

In the TPG Lounge on Facebook, reader Andy M. asked how those with top-tier status get it done — what sort of annual travel they complete and which strategies they use. The responses offer some great insight into how much flying — and in which cabin — top-tier elites are really doing to maintain their status level. (Some comments have been lightly edited for clarification.)

American AAdvantage Executive Platinum

American Airlines plane heads to the gate at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport
An American Airlines 737 heads to the gate at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Photo by John Gress / Getty Images

"I travel about 125,000 miles a year on AA (once a week) Mostly domestic travel. Based in LA and travel internationally about 3 times a year for pleasure all on AA or One World Partner. I always travel revenue (maintain status) and points are used for my family and traveling companion." — Ben K.

"I am AA EXP and travel 100% for leisure. I fly about 5-6 roundtrip domestic flights, 2-3 times a year internationally. I always try to squeeze in a mileage run before or after my vacay. Example: vacay in Oslo/London/Paris now. At the end of Paris, I'll make a quick trip to Jakarta on CX PE that I booked for less than $750. Mileage run is still very much alive if you're flexible and wanting top tier status." — Kayleigh H.

"AA EXP (2017 = 150,000 EQM, $12,300 EQD) - 90% leisure travel here. Usually book very cheap deals to Asia and Europe. Never have a problem hitting EQM but those EQDs need some strategy. Booking long haul cheap tix using Chase/Citi portal tends to get flights credited using the “AA Special Chart” which is distance based for EQD." — Nelson M. (read the rest of the comment here. EQM refers to "Elite Qualifying Miles" and EQD to "Elite Qualifying Dollars".)

Delta Diamond Medallion

Delta airlines plane
A Delta airlines 737 taking off at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

"I’m a Delta Diamond. I fly at least 50,000 MQM’s a year all in the premium cabin getting me a 50% MQM bonus, and spend $110,000+ total on Delta Reserve and Platinum cards for another 50,000 MQM’s. This gives me the 125,000+ MQM’s I need a year to stay Diamond. This year I’ll get about 197,000 MQM’s though." — Chris K. (MQM refers to Medallion Qualifying Miles, MQD to Medallion Qualifying Dollars.)

"I’m Platinum with Delta — for work I travel maybe once every two months and it’s simple stuff — SFO to LA ... personally, my husband’s family is in Atlanta, so we do SFO to ATL at least once every two months…..then maybe two international trips a year, where I am booking in business class. I’m a corporate travel agent, so I know how to look for fares that are going to earn me maybe a few extra miles, and comparing cost of economy vs. business / first to get the cabin bonus really helps. Had to do a mileage run to Salt Lake to get me over for next year, but working in the travel business makes it a little easier at times ? and of course, having the Platinum [Delta] Amex helps with getting the MQD waiver each year." — Ryan K.

"Delta Diamond and Southwest A-List Preferred. All US/Canada weekly work travel this year but 6 RTs from Baltimore to Honolulu really put the miles up there." — Melissa C.

United Premier 1K

United Airlines Airbus
A United Airlines Airbus A319 at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images

"I have 1K this year as of 12/30 (just made it!) and I flew about 60% of that for work — a lot of cross-country EWR - PDX or SFO trips, with various trips to the Southwest and Southeast sprinkled in. I am on a plane for work 2-3x a month. For pleasure, I do family visits to RDU and vacations to SYD, AKL, ORD, YYZ, MSY, LAS, AUS, NAS and PLS." — Adrienne A. (PDX = Portland, OR; SFO = San Francisco; SYD = Sydney, Australia; ORD = Chicago O'Hare; YYZ = Toronto; MSY = New Orleans; LAS = Las Vegas; AUS = Austin; NAS = Nassau, Bahamas; PLS = Providenciales, Turks & Caicos.)

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"1K United was just achieved again on today’s flight. 1.7 million lifetime miles, mostly work and almost ALL domestic✈️ Fly weekly for work — cover the country." — Kathleen M.

"1K on United and almost Silver (useless) on Delta. I travel internationally for work every month and United and Delta are both options but honestly on a practical level United and their partners cover almost all the weird places I go for work. Delta just can’t compete except in North Africa. I primarily use Delta for fun trips but not enough to really matter. I just pay for first class domestic on Delta. For United I maximize my global upgrades using them on whichever leg is most likely to go through (we book close in so almost never an upgrade available immediately) by using the expert mode on and checking how many tickets are available in each class (seat map doesn’t always reflect tickets sold)." — Lara H. (read the rest of the comment here.)

General Tips for Securing Top-Tier Status

"I make transatlantic roundtrips at least once, sometimes twice a month and lots of trips within Europe or the US. About an equal mix of business and personal trips. I typically try booking cheap deals, either mileage runs or good premium fares with lots of bonus points." — Jannis N.

"Stick with one airline unless you can reach top tier with more than one. Jobs that include flying? Too many to list, but many would be in sales, is that something you want to do and can be successful at?" — Jerrod K.

Bottom Line

Clearly, there's no "one-size-fits-all" approach when it comes to securing top-tier airline elite status. If you travel for work, you could meet the requirements for the top level of status with little to no effort, while those who mostly travel for pleasure will need to employ a bit more strategy with mileage runs and tricks such as booking American Airlines Special Fares flights to maximize EQD earnings.

While it's a bit late to put these tips to work to earn top-tier status this year — unless you're very close, in which case, mileage-run it up! — keep this advice in mind as we head into 2018.

Featured image by American Airlines. Photo by @TonyTheTigersSon via Twenty20