Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

Feb 14, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current information and offers. It was originally published on March 12, 2019.

Airline elite status can provide benefits ranging from a free checked bag and early boarding to better mileage earning rates, lounge access and complimentary upgrades. But if you’re considering airline elite status — and you wouldn’t earn it organically through your flights — be sure to determine whether striving to get elite status is logical. After all, many travel credit cards offer lounge access, and some cobranded airline credit cards offer a complimentary checked bag and early boarding — so these perks usually shouldn’t be the primary reason you’re seeking elite status.

However, if you’re looking to accelerate your progress, there are generally two ways that cobranded airline credit cards can help: elite-qualifying dollars and elite-qualifying miles. Most airlines require you to fly a particular amount of elite-qualifying miles (or elite-qualifying segments) to earn elite status, and some airlines also require you to spend a particular amount of elite-qualifying dollars.

Luckily, there are credit cards that can help you earn these two metrics. Let’s take a look at some of the credit cards that can accelerate your progress toward elite status with several of the major U.S. carriers.

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In This Post

American Airlines

To earn elite status with American Airlines, you need a certain amount of Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) plus Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) or Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). Here’s the table showing the current requirements for earning each level of elite status with American:

Related reading: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

While you can only earn EQSs by flying, spending on three cards can help you earn EQMs and/or EQDs. So, let’s take a look at these cards.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

The AAdvantage Executive card earns you 10,000 EQMs after you spend $40,000 on the card during a calendar year. The card currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening.

You’ll also enjoy Admirals Club membership for the primary cardholder, Admirals Club access for authorized users, a first checked bag free on domestic itineraries (for the primary cardholder and up to eight other passengers on the same reservation) and priority boarding. Plus, you’ll earn 2x miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x mile per dollar on everything else. The card has no foreign transaction fees, but there’s a $450 annual fee.

Related reading:

Here’s the official application link: Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard

You can’t directly apply for this lucrative card; you’ll need to have the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard for at least 90 days before you can call Barclays and request an upgrade.

Once you have the Aviator Silver, you can earn both EQMs and EDQs by spending on the card. You’ll get 5,000 EQMs for every $20,000 you spend in a calendar year (up to 10,000 EQMs per year). You can also earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $50,000 on purchases each calendar year.

In addition to all that, you and up to eight other travelers on the same reservation will get first checked bags for free as well as preferred boarding. You’ll enjoy up to $25 back a day as statement credits on inflight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines-operated flights and up to $50 back a year as statement credits on inflight Wi-Fi purchases on American Airlines-operated flights. You’ll earn 3x miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases, 2x miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars and 1x mile per dollar on everything else. The Aviator Silver has a $199 annual fee.

The information for the Aviator Silver has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: Should you upgrade from the AAdvantage Aviator Red to the AAdvantage Aviator Silver?

AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

With the AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard, you can earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

Plus, you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free and preferred boarding. You’ll get a statement credit for 25% of food and drinks purchased on American Airlines flights with your card. Plus, you’ll earn 2x miles per dollar spent on purchases with American Airlines as well as on eligible telecommunications, office supply and car rental purchases. The card has a $95 annual fee.

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

Related reading: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Delta Air Lines

To earn status on Delta, U.S.-based members need to earn a certain number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) as well as a certain number of Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

Related reading: What is Delta Air Lines elite status worth?

Luckily, you can waive the MQD requirement for all status tiers with combined spending on the following cards, and a few will even help you earn MQMs as well. Note that to waive the MQD requirement, you’ll need to spend $25,000 in a calendar year for all status levels except Diamond, for which the requirement is a staggering $250,000.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

As a Delta Platinum cardholder, you can still qualify for Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion Status even if you don’t meet the MQD threshold as long as the required MQMs or MQSs are met and you spend at least $25,000 on an eligible card during the qualifying calendar year. Likewise, you can qualify for Diamond Medallion Status if you’ve met the MQMs or MQSs requirements and spend at least $250,000 during the qualification period.

You can earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year, with the Delta Platinum.

The Delta Platinum currently has a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Plus, earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

There are several other benefits that come with the card, including a free first checked bag and priority boarding for you and up to eight travelers on your reservation, an annual domestic companion certificate and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). You’ll earn three miles per dollar on Delta purchases, two miles per dollar at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and one mile per dollar on everything else. The Delta Platinum has a $250 annual fee (see rates and fees).

If you have a business, you may be more interested in the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card, which offers similar benefits as the personal version as well as an MQD waiver and the possibility to earn MQMs by spending.

Related reading:

Here are the official application links: Delta Platinum Amex and Delta Platinum Business Amex

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Delta Reserve offers the same MQD waiver as the Delta Platinum Amex, but you have the potential to earn more MQMs with the Reserve. Delta Reserve cardholders can earn 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 on their card, up to four times each calendar year. So, Delta Reserve cardholders can earn up to 60,000 MQMs after they spend $120,000 or more in a calendar year.

The Delta Reserve card is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

The Delta Reserve card comes with Delta Sky Club access and Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta, an annual domestic companion certificate and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). Plus, you’ll get priority boarding and the first checked bag free for you and up to eight other passengers on your reservation when flying Delta. You’ll earn three miles per dollar on Delta purchases and one mile per dollar on everything else. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

If you have a business, you may be more interested in the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card which offers similar benefits as the personal version including an MQD waiver and the ability to spend to earn MQMs.

Related reading:

Here are the official application links: Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card and Delta Reserve SkyMiles Business Card

United Airlines

United’s elite status qualification is now based on Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) and Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs).

Eligible United MileagePlus Chase cardmembers can now earn PQPs based on their annual credit card spend on select cards as follows:

  • Earn up to 1,000 PQP: The United Explorer Card, United Club Infinite Card, United Explorer Business Card, United Club Business Card, United MileagePlus Awards Card, United MileagePlus Card, and United MileagePlus Business Card earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 1,000 PQP in a calendar year, that can be applied up to Platinum.
  • Earn up to 3,000 PQP: The United MileagePlus Select Card and United MileagePlus Platinum Class Visa Card earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 3,000 PQP in a calendar year, that can be applied up to 1K.
  • Earn up to 10,000 PQP: The United Presidential Plus Card and United Presidential Plus Business Card earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 10,000 PQP in a calendar year, that can be applied up to 1K.
  • United TravelBank cardmembers do not earn PQP for card spend.

As you can see, none of these cards provide excellent PQP earnings, and the cards currently accepting new applicants won’t let you earn that many PQPs each year.

If you’re looking for the ability to top-off your PQPs and get United Club lounge access when flying United, you’ll likely want to consider the United Club Card or United Club Business Card. The United Club Infinite Card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

If you’re not looking for United Club lounge access more than a couple times each year, the lower-annual-fee United Explorer Card may be a better fit. The United Explorer Card is currently offering a limited-time sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months.

The information for the United MileagePlus Select Card, United MileagePlus Platinum Class Visa Card, United Club Business Card, United MileagePlus Awards Card, United MileagePlus Card, and United MileagePlus Business Card, United Presidential Plus Business and United Presidential Plus 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.

Related reading:

Here’s the official application link: United Explorer Card

Southwest Airlines

Southwest only has two tiers of status: A-List and A-List Preferred (although valuable, the Companion Pass is not technically an elite status level). You can earn status with Southwest by compiling Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) or by flying a certain number of one-way flights with the airline. You can earn TQPs from revenue flights on Southwest and by spending on the following Southwest credit cards.

Related reading: What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Southwest Premier Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

You can earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year, which would earn up to 15,000 TQPs). You’ll get 6,000 points on your anniversary, as well as two points per dollar on Southwest purchases, and one point per dollar on everything else. This card has a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

If you have a small business, you may want to consider the business version of this card, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card. The Southwest Premier Business Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

The information for the Southwest Premier 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.

Related reading:

Here are the official application links: Southwest Premier Card and Southwest Premier Business Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)
You’ll get a $75 annual travel credit for travel on Southwest, which can make the annual fee effectively $76. (Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)

The Southwest Priority Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening.

You’ll get a $75 annual travel credit valid for Southwest purchases as well as 7,500 points every year on your account anniversary. Plus, you’ll earn two points per dollar on Southwest purchases and one point per dollar on everything else. You also get four upgraded boardings per year, along with 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year, which would earn up to 15,000 TQPs). This card has a $149 annual fee, but no foreign transaction fees.

Related reading:

Here’s the official application link: Southwest Priority Card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

The Southwest Performance Business Card offers a sign-up bonus of 70,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months and an additional 30,000 points after you spend $25,000 on purchases in the first six months. You can earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on the Southwest Performance Business card (up to $100,000 per year, which would earn up to 15,000 TQPs).

Southwest Performance Business cardholders get 9,000 points each account anniversary, four upgraded boardings per year, up to 365 inflight Wi-Fi credits each year and a statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years. The card has a $199 annual fee, but there’s no charge for additional employee cards. You’ll earn three points per dollar spent on purchases with Southwest, two points per dollar spent on social media and search engine advertising, internet, cable and phone services and one point per dollar spent on everything else.

Related reading:

The information for the Southwest Performance 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.

JetBlue

JetBlue only has one level of elite status — Mosaic. You can earn Mosaic by flying 30 flight segments plus earning 12,000 base points or just earning 15,000 base points. You earn between 1x and 3x base points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases: Blue Basic fares earn one point on the base fare and Blue, Blue Plus, Blue Extra and Mint fares earn 3x points on the base fare.

So, Mosaic is not particularly difficult to earn, especially compared to some of the higher status levels on American, Delta or United. And, you can even earn Mosaic simply by spending $50,000 on a card.

Related reading: What is JetBlue elite status worth?

The JetBlue Plus Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
You can earn JetBlue Mosaic status simply by spending $50,000 on the card each calendar year. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

You can earn Mosaic elite status after spending $50,000 on the JetBlue Plus card each calendar year. With the JetBlue Plus Card, you’ll earn 6x points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2x points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1x point per dollar on all other purchases. The card has a $99 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for more information.

The information for the JetBlue Plus has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: Why the JetBlue Plus Card remains firmly in my wallet

Frontier Airlines

Frontier offers three tiers of elite status: Elite 20k, Elite 50k and Elite 100k. You’ll earn Elite 20k status when you earn 20,000 Qualifying Miles or 25 Segments in a calendar year, Elite 50k status when you earn 50,000 Qualifying Miles or 50 Segments in a calendar year and Elite 100k status when you earn 100,000 Qualifying Miles or 100 Segments in a calendar year.

You’ll earn one Qualifying Mile for every mile flown on Frontier, as well as one Qualifying Mile for every $1 spent on Frontier’s co-branded card, the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard. This means you can earn Frontier’s top-tier status completely based on credit card spending.

Related reading: Everything you should know before flying Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

With the Frontier Card, you’ll get priority boarding, unlock family mileage pooling, keep your points from expiring by making a purchase at least every six months and earn a $100 flight voucher every account anniversary after spending $2,500 or more during the preceding year on your card. Plus, you’ll get an award redemption fee waiver when you use your card to pay for the taxes and fees on Frontier awards. You’ll earn five miles per dollar spent on purchases on Frontier’s website as well as three miles per dollar spent at restaurants and one mile per dollar spent on everything else. The card has a $79 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

The information for the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related reading: The best credit cards to use on low-cost carriers

Bottom line

While it’s not usually possible to earn airline elite status via card spend alone, it is possible in some situations. For the most part, airline cobranded credit cards can come in handy for people who might have trouble hitting normal elite status spending requirements with any specific airline without a little extra help.

That said, it’s important to evaluate your situation and consider whether spending toward status is right for you. You’ll be giving up the opportunity to put purchases on other cards and potentially earn more valuable points. You may find the following articles useful while deciding whether you should spend toward airline status:

Additional reporting by Sam Lipscomb.

For rates and fees of the Delta Platinum, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta Reserve, click here.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
Recommended Credit
Excellent

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.