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Unless you’re lucky and devoted enough to become a million miler and lock in your airline elite status for life, the process of qualifying for and maintaining airline elite status is a yearly endeavor. Even though we’re only halfway through the year, it’s already time to start finalizing your plans to earn (or requalify for) status with your preferred airline(s). Since it’s possible to earn status at any point throughout the year, one common question we get from readers is, “When does my airline status expire?”

Today we’ll cover that very topic for the major US airlines.

In This Post

The Basics

In order to fully unpack this question, there are two different sets of dates you need to understand. The first is the qualification year, which is the period during which you need to fly enough and (possibly) spend enough to reach the individual threshold that your preferred carrier uses for elite status qualification. Thankfully, all of the major US airlines we’re considering — Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest and United — the qualification year is the same thing: the calendar year. Once your flight(s) that reach a qualifying threshold post to your account, your status will typically be upgraded shortly thereafter, though there may be a slight delay as the airline’s system recognizes your newly-earned status.

Most airlines provide multiple ways — or have more than one requirement — to earn elite status. As an example, to earn Gold status with American Airlines this year, you’d need to accrue 25,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) or 30 Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) and $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) between January 1 and December 31, 2019. Alaska, meanwhile, doesn’t have a spending component, but it does use different (lower) thresholds if all of your travel is on Alaska-operated flights. Combining partner flights with Alaska flights increases the amount of flying you need to complete to earn status, but the qualification year is identical. You must reach those requirements in a single calendar year.

Once you’ve qualified, the other set of dates to understand is the membership term, which varies slightly from airline to airline but describes the period during which your elite status is valid. In all cases, your membership starts when you qualify, runs through the rest of that calendar year, and continues for the entire following calendar year. In addition, select carriers add an extra month beyond that timeframe, essentially a “grace period” to make sure that all of your flying is accounted for before determining what tier you should have moving forward.

RELATED: Get off the airline status hamster wheel by earning lifetime elite status.

If you’re starting from scratch, this is a huge incentive to qualify earlier in the year if your travel allows it, as it gives your more time to enjoy your elite benefits.

Let’s now take a look at the major airlines’ elite status expiration policies.

Alaska

Alaska Airlines takes a simple — though slightly less generous — approach when compared to the big US legacy carriers. Your Mileage Plan elite status will be valid for the year you earn it and the entire following year, but it expires on December 31 with no additional grace period. Ideally you will have reached the applicable threshold for qualification (or requalification) long before New Year’s Eve, but bear in mind that any Gold Guest Upgrade certificates you earned by qualifying for MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75K members expire on this same timeline.

For additional details, check out our guide to Alaska Mileage Plan elite status.

American

When you earn elite status with American’s AAdvantage program, it’ll be good for the rest of that calendar year, the following calendar year and one month into the next calendar year, expiring on January 31. My AAdvantage account is an example of how this works. I earned my Gold elite status last year (2018) and haven’t yet requalified for next year. My account shows my status as being valid through January 31, 2020, which includes a full calendar year after I earned it (2019) and a one-month grace period before I get kicked down a rung to general member.

If, however, I requalify for Gold status based on my flying in 2019, it will be valid for all of the next calendar year (2020) and then the first month of the following year (2021), expiring January 31 of that year.

For additional details, check out our guide to American AAdvantage elite status.

Delta

Delta follows the same policy as American for its “Medallion Year,” meaning that your status will be valid until January 31 two years after the calendar year in which you earned it.

This can be a bit confusing, because Delta technically classifies your status based on the year following your qualification. In other words, if you get Medallion status by reaching the required flying and spending thresholds in 2019, you’ve technically earned “2020 Medallion Status” with the airline, even though all of your qualifying activity took place in 2019. Your status will be valid for the rest of this year and all of 2020, and it’ll expire January 31, 2021.

It’s important to note that these expiration dates apply to both the Medallion status itself as well as the set of Choice Benefits offered to Platinum and Diamond Medallion travelers. If you earn one of these levels based on your 2019 flying, that qualifies you as a 2020 Medallion member, so you must select your Choice Benefit(s) by January 31, 2021.

For additional details, check out our guide to Delta SkyMiles Medallion status.

JetBlue

JetBlue only has one tier of elite status: Mosaic. This follows the same membership term as Alaska Airlines and is valid through the end of the year after you qualify.

For additional details, check out our guide to JetBlue TrueBlue Mosaic status.

Southwest

While most discussion of Southwest elite status centers around the famed Companion Pass, Southwest also offer two other elite tiers: A-List and A-List Preferred. All three of these options are valid for the year in which you earn them, and one full calendar year after. If you have your eyes set on the Companion Pass, this means you should try and qualify as early in the year as possible to get close to two full years of free companion flights.

For additional details, check out our guide to Southwest Rapid Rewards elite status.

United

Of the big three legacy carriers, United is the only one that doesn’t explicitly detail out its elite status expiration policy. As it says on the carrier’s website:

“Once you qualify for a Premier status, the status is valid from the date when you qualified through the end of the following Program year.”

However, the carrier defines “Program year” as the calendar year following your qualification and then one month into the next year. As a result, if you earn United Premier status based on 2019 flying, it’ll be good for the rest of the year, all of 2020, and the first month of 2021, expiring on January 31, 2021. This matches the other two legacy carriers.

For additional details, check out our guide to United MileagePlus elite status.

Bottom Line

Earning airline elite status can unlock an array of perks, but it’s important to understand both how to earn this status and how long it’ll last. All major US carriers will grant you status for the remainder of the calendar year in which you earn it and the entire following year. While some use December 31 as a hard cutoff, many travelers on other carriers are surprised in January to see that they still have elite status, even though they didn’t requalify the previous year. Unfortunately this is only temporary, and by February the clock has reset for everyone.

Featured image by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy

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