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Comparing the elite status extensions of American, Delta and United

April 16, 2020
8 min read
American Delta United ZRH
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The airline industry is hyper-competitive, especially in the U.S. When one of the big 3 airlines makes a change, you typically don't have to wait too long for a competitor to do the same.

And that's especially true in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Airlines across the world are all experiencing a massive drop in demand coupled with tightening government travel restrictions. As such, we've seen American, Delta and United all issue similar flexible travel waivers, ticket expiration extensions and more.

But there's one change that we at the The Points Guy have been following very closely, and that's elite status extensions. With the (temporary) halt in travel, we knew the airlines would need to do something about elite status in 2020. On Sunday, April 5, Delta led the way by announcing sweeping elite status extensions. United followed suit later the same afternoon. American took eight days to respond but ended up pulling a similar move to its two biggest competitors.

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However, just because American, Delta and United are all extending elite status doesn't mean that there aren't some subtle — and important — differences between them. Let's dive deep into those now.

Elite status extensions

Naturally, this one's the same across all the legacy carriers. American, Delta and United are all extending elite status that was due to expire in Jan. 2021 for another full year, until Jan. 2022. There's nothing that you need to do on your end, as the airlines are going to be granting the extensions automatically.

Related: Complete guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak

Though these extensions are great for most elites, those are the very top of the ladder may not be as happy. That's because American is the only airline so far to extend status for its secretive, invite-only status, ConciergeKey. Delta and United, on the other hand, have told their invite-only top-tier members (Delta 360 and Global Services, respectively) to wait it out until later this year to hear more details about possible extensions.

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Related: Your guide to invitation-only elite status tiers

But if you're not a member of these invite-only statuses, then rest assured that your status is being extended by a year — regardless of your airline.


Now this is where the differences begin to shine through. Unsurprisingly, Delta's being the most generous here by giving its Platinum and Diamond Medallion members a fresh set of Choice Benefits next year. Plus, the airline is extending existing upgrade certificates by six months. That means that there will be some Delta Diamonds with eight(!) Global Upgrades Certificates in 2021. That's especially awesome, considering that you don't even need to re-qualify in 2020.

American and United will be a bit stingier in 2021. Though both are extending the validity of existing systemwide upgrades and PlusPoints, respectively, by six months, Executive Platinum and Premier 1Ks will need to re-qualify for status in 2020 in order to receive a fresh set of upgrades in 2021.

That being said, both AA and UA are making it easier to earn status this year ...

Earning status in 2020

With travel way down — and likely to stay down for weeks (if not months) to come — many carriers around the world have adjusted their qualification requirements for this year. American and United are among them, slashing elite-qualifying thresholds for the remainder of 2020. AA is applying a variable cut across the elite tiers, while United's decreasing all thresholds by 50% across the board.

Even though it may appear that AA status will be tougher to earn in 2020 (since it's not cutting all thresholds by 50% like United), truth is that earning United status in 2020 at the outset was much harder than with American.

Delta, however, isn't making any changes to the thresholds for 2020.

A lot of readers have messaged us since these changes were announced, asking questions like, "Why does it matter than AA and UA lowered the elite-qualifying thresholds for 2020 if they're already extending status?" Well, as I mentioned above, that's the only way for top-tier elites to earn a new set of upgrades. And, if you're looking to bump up to a higher tier with American or United, there's no better time than in the second half of 2020 — assuming travel opens back up in the months to come.

Earning status in 2021

Experts aren't exactly sure when travel will recover to pre-coronavirus levels, but some worry that it will take years. One thing's for sure, though: The airlines are going to need to convince people to get in the air for at least the next few months.

To that end, Delta is making it significantly easier to earn status in 2021. That's because it's going to rollover all Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned in 2020 into 2021. Traditionally, Delta only rollovers the additional MQMs you earn above and beyond a certain tier. But for this year, it's going to roll all of them over. This basically means that you have 24 months to earn the required MQMs for elite status in 2022. (Note that you'll still need to earn the full amount of Medallion Qualification Dollars in 2021).

United recognizes that it's going to need to make changes to the qualification goalposts in 2021. Although the airline doesn’t have details to share yet, it promises that “changes” will be made “to help you earn status in 2021 for 2022.” We expect to learn more about those plans later this year.

American, however, is silent about the possibility of changing the requirements for next year — for now. That being said, my bet is that AA is waiting to see what United does about the requirements. That way, it can mimic those changes without being too generous. Plus, if United announces changes to qualification requirements in 2021 and AA doesn't, it'd irk its most frequent fliers, who'd certainly consider jumping ship to another competitor.

Other unique perks

There's some pretty creative and generous perks in each airline's elite status extension announcement. Though Delta was a trailblazer with the news, it didn't necessarily announce anything super creative. But its generosity in rolling over all MQMs and granting a fresh set of Choice Benefits without the need to requalify is certainly enough to keep me, Scott Mayerowitz and Brian Kelly happy.

If you’re a very loyal American Airlines flier, the airline has some great news for you. AA is making it a lot easier to earn lifetime elite status by granting 1 mile toward Million Miler status for every $1 spent on eligible, cobranded credit cards between May and the end of the year. This promotion applies to all Citi / AAdvantage and AAdvantage Aviator products, as well as select AAdvantage credit cards outside of the U.S.

Related: Earn bonus miles and lifetime elite status with these American Airlines credit cards

AA's also giving all elite members up to $400 in credit towards a future vacation package that's priced at $2,500 or more. Although this may not be for everyone, it's great to see airlines using their loyalty program to drive awareness for lesser-known parts of their business.

Related: United, following Delta’s lead, extends elite status for all Premier members and more

Combined with the lower Premier thresholds, this could be a great year to open a cobranded United credit card and earn valuable status through Jan. 31, 2022.

The information for the United Club Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Before the coronavirus, I was worried that I'd have trouble requalifying as a United 1K. That's because the airline made it much harder to earn status this year. However, we're now living in unprecedented times. As such, all three major U.S. airlines extended elite status, so my 1K status is safe for another year.

But aside from sweeping elite status extensions, lots of the details vary based on your preferred carrier. For instance, Delta's the only one not making it any easier to earn status in 2020, but it's also being the most generous when it comes to treating its top-tier elites to more upgrades.

American arguably has the most unique and creative perks among the big three. Between the ability to earn Million Miler status from credit cards and the Vacations credit, AA elites should be quite happy too.

Above all, though, frequent flyers across the country should rest assured that their elite status isn't going away when this unprecendented year ends — and there may still be more changes to come.

All photos by the author.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.