Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

Oct 7, 2019

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Airline elite status can provide many benefits. These benefits range from a complimentary 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 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 co-branded airline credit cards offer a complimentary checked bag and early boarding, so these usually shouldn’t be the primary reason you’re seeking elite status.

However, if you’re looking to accelerate your progress, there are two ways that co-branded 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 in order to qualify for 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 elite qualifying miles and/or elite qualifying dollars. 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.

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: What is American Airlines elite status worth?

While you can only earn EQSs by flying, credit card spend 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®

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 the first 3 months of account opening.

You’ll also enjoy Admirals Club membership (for the primary cardholder and 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 2 miles per dollar spent on AA purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The card has no foreign transaction fees, but there’s a $450 annual fee. See our card review for more details.

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 to the Aviator Silver card.

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). EQDs are a bit more confusing, as cardmembers that upgraded Jan. 1, 2018 through Oct. 31, 2018 can earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000, and another $3,000 EQDs after spending $50,000, in 2019. But, cardmembers that upgraded prior to January 1, 2018, and all cardmembers starting in 2020, will only be able to 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 3 miles per dollar spent on AA purchases, 2 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The Aviator Silver has a $199 annual fee.

Related: 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 2 miles per dollar spent on purchases with American Airlines as well as on eligible telecom, office supply and car rental purchases. The card has a $95 annual fee.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Delta Air Lines

In order 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: 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 in order 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.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
Flights on Delta will be better with your first checked bag free and priority boarding, both of which are provided by the Gold Delta Amex. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Through Dec. 31, 2019, Gold Delta Amex cardholders can still qualify for Delta Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion Status even if the MQD threshold is not met as long as the required MQMs or MQSs are met and they spend at least $25,000 on their card during the qualification period. Likewise, you can qualify for Diamond Medallion Status if you’ve met the MQMs or MQSs requirements and spend at least $250,000 on your card during the qualification period. After Dec. 31, 2019, this card won’t offer a MQD waiver unless you also hold another eligible card.

Currently, the Gold Delta Amex is offering an elevated welcome bonus of 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

The card currently earns 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. You’ll also get a first checked bag free and priority boarding on Delta flights for you and up to eight other travelers in your reservation. The annual fee (waived the first year) is $95 (see rates & fees) and there are no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees). However, the card will be undergoing some changes on Jan. 30, 2020 — such as increased earnings at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets as well as a slightly higher annual fee — so be sure you understand these changes before applying.

If you have a small business, you may be more interested in the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express which offers similar benefits as the personal version. However, like the personal version, this business card will no longer offer the MQD waiver starting Jan. 1, 2020.

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

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
Enjoy an annual domestic companion certificate with the Platinum Delta Amex. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

As a Platinum Delta Amex 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 on an eligible card during the qualification period. Eligible cards include other Delta SkyMiles Credit Card with a MQD Waiver benefit as well as the Blue Delta SkyMiles Card, Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card, Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card and Gold Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card.

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 Platinum Delta Amex. Before Jan. 30, 2020, you can also earn 10,000 miles when you reach each of these spending thresholds.

The Platinum Delta Amex currently has a welcome bonus of 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $100 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.

There are a number of 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 & fees). You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. However, note that some benefits on this card are changing as of Jan. 30, 2020, and the annual fee will also increase from $195 to $250 on this date (see rates & fees).

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

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

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
Get Delta SkyClub access when flying Delta with the Delta Reserve. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Delta Reserve offers the exact same MQD waiver as the Platinum Delta Amex, but you have the potential to earn more MQMs with the Reserve. Through Jan. 29, 2020, Reserve cardholders will earn 15,000 miles and 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and another 15,000 miles and 15,000 MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year. From Jan. 30, 2020 onward, the benefit will change to no longer earn miles but to award 15,000 additional MQMs when you spend $90,000 in a calendar year and another additional 15,000 MQMs when you spend $120,000 in a calendar year. So, starting on Jan. 30, 2020, Delta Reserve cardholders will be able to earn a total of 60,000 MQMs when you spend $120,000 or more in a calendar year.

The Delta Reserve Card is currently offering 40,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening.

The card also comes with Delta Sky Club access when flying Delta, an annual domestic companion certificate and no foreign transaction fees (see rates & 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 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases (3x starting Jan. 30, 2019) and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The card currently has a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees), which will increase to $550 on Jan. 30, 2020 when many changes take effect on the card.

If you have a business, you may be more interested in the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card which offers similar benefits as the personal version as well as a MQD waiver and the ability to spend to earn MQMs.

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

delta Seattle skyclub
Get a side of lounge access with the Delta Reserve Card (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy)

United Airlines

In order to earn elite status on United, you need to reach a certain number of Premier Qualifying Miles (PQMs) or Premier Qualifying Segments (PQSs), along with a certain number of Premier Qualifying Dollars (PDQs).

2019 United status requirements

Related: What is United Airlines elite status worth?

PQMs and PQSs can generally only be earned by flying United and its partner airlines. But if you happen to still have the United MileagePlus Presidential Plus Card or the United MileagePlus Select Card, which are no longer available to new applicants, you can earn some PQMs through spending on your card.

In terms of PQDs, you can waive the PQD requirement for each status level up to and including Premier Platinum by spending $25,000 across any and all of your Chase co-branded United cards in a calendar year. Here’s more information about three of the currently available cards.

Related: The 8 best credit cards for flying United

United Explorer Card

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
Use the two United Club one-time passes that come with the United Explorer Card when you need lounge access while flying United. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)

The United Explorer Card currently offers a limited time offer of up to 65,000 bonus miles; 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, an additional 25,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent on restaurants, hotels and United purchases. There’s also up to a $100 Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit, 25% back on United inflight purchases, two one-time United Club passes, no foreign transaction fees and you can check the first bag for free (for you and a companion on the same reservation) when you use the card to purchase your ticket on a United-operated flight. The annual fee is $95, but it’s waived the first year. See our card review for more details.

Here’s the official application link: United Explorer Card

United Club Card

United Club at London Heathrow (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
Get United Club access with the United Club Card. (Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

The United Club Card has a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after opening your account. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases. Extra perks include United Club membership, Premier Access Travel Services and Hertz Gold Rewards President’s Circle. And, you and a companion traveling on the same reservation get a first and second checked bag free when traveling on a United-operated flight that you’ve purchased with your card. The annual fee is $450, and there are no foreign transaction fees. See our card review for more details. The information for the United Club 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.

Here’s the official application link: United Club Card

United Explorer Business Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
The United Explorer Business Card may be perfect if you travel on United for business purposes. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

The United Explorer Business Card has a sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 bonus miles after qualifying purchases: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open and 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations, office supply stores, and on United purchases, as well as 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. You also get priority boarding, two United Club one-time passes and the first checked bag free (for you and a companion on the same reservation) when you use the card to purchase your ticket on a United-operated flight. The annual fee is $95, and there are no foreign transaction fees. See our card review for more details.

Here’s the official application link: United Explorer Business 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 segments with the airline. You can only earn TQPs from the following three Southwest credit cards.

Related: What is Southwest Airlines elite status worth?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

(Photo by Wyatt Smith / The Points Guy)
The Southwest Premier Card has simple earning but lets you earn TQPs through spending. (Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

The Southwest Premier Card currently offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months.

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 also get 6,000 points on your anniversary, as well as 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. This card has an $99 annual fee, and no foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for more details.

Here’s the official application link: Southwest Premier 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 you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

You’ll get a $75 annual travel credit valid for Southwest purchases as well as 7,500 anniversary points. Plus, you’ll earn 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. You also get 4 upgraded boardings per year, along with 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year). This card has a $149 annual fee, but no foreign transaction fees. See our card review for more details.

Here’s the official application link: Southwest Priority Card

JetBlue

JetBlue only has one level of elite status, Mosaic. You can earn Mosaic by flying 30 flight segments plus 12,000 flight points or just earning 15,000 flight points. You earn 3 flight points per dollar spent on JetBlue purchases, so Mosaic is not particularly difficult to earn, especially compared to some of the higher status levels on American, Delta or United. There’s one card you can use to earn Mosaic, and you can do it via card spending alone.

Related: 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 6 points per dollar on JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and grocery stores and 1 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.

Related: 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. Here’s what you should know about the card.

Related: Everything you should know before flying Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

With the Frontier Card, you’ll get Priority Zone 2 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 5 miles per dollar spend on purchases on Frontier’s website as well as 3 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else. The card has a $79 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees.

Related: 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 co-branded 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.

Featured image by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.

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

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and discounted Delta  Sky Club access.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in purchases within your first 3 months and a $50 Statement Credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 miles on every eligible dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta.
  • Earn 1 mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 for a family of 4 roundtrip.
  • Receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights, stow your carry-on bag and settle in sooner.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.