Credit cards that can help you earn airline elite status

Apr 15, 2021

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Airline elite status can provide many valuable benefits. For example, airline elites often get free checked bags, early boarding, better mileage earning rates, complimentary upgrades, preferred seat selection and even lounge access. Some of these perks might be obtainable through select airline credit cards. But the best of these perks are typically only offered to elite members.

If you want to earn airline elite status, you’ll usually need to accrue a specific amount of elite-qualifying dollars, segments and/or miles each year. Luckily, there are credit cards that can accelerate your progress towards these requirements. And, some airlines are offering lower requirements to earn status in 2021 due to ongoing coronavirus concerns.

So, today I’ll take a look at several credit cards that can accelerate your progress toward earning elite status with several major U.S. carriers.

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In This Post

American Airlines

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

(Screenshot courtesy of AA.com)

However, since many travelers are still limiting their travel due to coronavirus concerns, American Airlines announced status extensions for elite members. Status expiring on Jan. 31, 2021, has been extended until Jan. 31, 2022. American also announced reduced requirements for 2021:

American AAdvantage status requirements 2021
(Screenshot courtesy of AA.com)

While you can only earn EQSs by flying, spending on three cobranded American Airlines 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 spending $40,000 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.

With the card, you’ll also enjoy Admirals Club membership for the primary cardholder, Admirals Club access for authorized users, a first checked bag free on domestic flights and priority boarding for the primary cardholder and up to eight other passengers on the same reservation. 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: 3 reasons why this is the best card for Admirals Club lounge access when travel returns

AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard

Unfortunately, you can’t apply directly for this 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 card, you can earn both EQMs and EDQs via credit card spending. 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 of that, you and up to eight travelers on the same reservation will get your first checked bags for free (when flying domestically) as well as preferred boarding. You’ll enjoy up to $25 in daily statement credits on inflight food and beverage purchases and up to $50 back every anniversary year for inflight Wi-Fi purchases on American Airlines-operated flights.

You’ll earn 3x miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 2x miles 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 Red and the Aviator Silver cards 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: How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program

AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard

(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

With the AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard, you can earn $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. When you spend $30,000 in a cardholder year, you’ll earn a Companion Certificate valid for a $99 companion fare (plus taxes and fees). As an added spending incentive, you’ll earn a 5% mileage bonus every year after your account anniversary date.

Plus, you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation will get your first checked bag free (when flying domestically) 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: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Delta Air Lines

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

Delta elite status requirements
(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

Delta was the first major U.S. airline to announce status extensions due to coronavirus. The Delta Medallion status earned in 2020 will be automatically extended for the 2021 Medallion year, which ends Jan. 31, 2022. All Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) earned during 2020 were rolled over to 2021 to qualify for 2022 Medallion Status, including MQMs earned by spending on cobranded Delta credit cards.

You can waive the MQD requirement for all status tiers with combined spending on select cards, and a few will even help you earn MQMs. Note that to get the MQD requirement waived, 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 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.

Cardholders earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, plus another 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year with the Delta Platinum card.

The Delta Platinum card currently has a welcome bonus of 50,000 bonus miles, plus 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases and up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants within the first three months of account opening.

Several other benefits come with the card, including a free first checked bag and priority boarding for you and up to eight travelers on your reservation when flying with Delta, an annual domestic companion certificate and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees). You’ll earn 3 miles per dollar on purchases made directly with Delta or hotels, 2 miles per dollar at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets, and 1 mile per dollar on all other eligible purchases. 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. It offers similar benefits as the personal version, along with an MQD waiver and the possibility to earn MQMs via card spending.

Related: 5 things you need to know about Delta SkyMiles

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 spending $120,000 or more in a calendar year.

The Delta Reserve Card is currently offering 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first three months of card membership.

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. It offers similar benefits as the personal version, including an MQD waiver and the ability to earn more MQMs through card spending.

Related: Earn 20,000 MQMs the easy way: Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card review

United Airlines

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

(Screenshot courtesy of United.com)

However, due to the impact of coronavirus concerns on travel, United extended status for existing elites to Jan. 31, 2022. And for 2021, United has reduced Premier qualifying requirements.

United elite status requirements 2021
(Screenshot courtesy of United.com)

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

Earn up to 1,000 PQP

The United Explorer CardUnited Business Card, United Club Business Card, United Explorer Business Card, United MileagePlus Awards Card, United MileagePlus Card with annual fee and United MileagePlus Business Card earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 1,000 PQP in a calendar year.

Earn up to 3,000 PQP

The new United Quest Card, United MileagePlus Select Card (no longer open for new applications), United Club Infinite Card and United Club Card earn 500 PQP for every $12,000 in card spend, up to 3,000 PQP in a calendar year. These can be applied up to United 1K status.

The United Quest Card is currently offering 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open. This is a limited-time offer, so apply soon to ensure you snag this bonus.

Related: Who should (and shouldn’t) get the United Quest card?

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.

The information for the United Club Business Card, United Explorer Business Card, United MileagePlus Awards Card, United MileagePlus Card with annual fee, United MileagePlus Business Card, United MileagePlus Select Card, United Club 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: The best credit cards for United Airlines flyers

Southwest Airlines

Southwest planes at the terminal
(Photo by Edward Russell/The Points Guy)

Southwest only has two tiers of status: A-List and A-List Preferred. You can earn status with Southwest by compiling Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) or flying a certain number of segments with the airline. Additionally, you can earn TQPs by spending on the following Southwest credit cards.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

Southwest Premier card
(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

The Southwest Premier Card currently offers 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.

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 2x points on all Southwest purchases and 1x points 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 Southwest’s top business 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.

Check out the Southwest Premier credit card review for more details.

Related: The best Southwest Airlines credit card for family travelers

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

Southwest jet Miami Airport March 2021
(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

The Southwest Priority Card currently offers 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months. Plus, earn 3x points on dining, including takeout and eligible delivery services, for the first year.

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 2x points on Southwest purchases and 1x points 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.

See the Southwest Priority credit card review for more information.

Related: The ultimate guide to Southwest credit card eligibility

Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

The Southwest Performance Business Card offers a sign-up bonus of 80,000 bonus points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 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.

See the Southwest Performance Business credit card review for more details.

Related: How to quickly earn the Southwest Companion Pass

JetBlue

(Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

JetBlue only has one level of elite status — Mosaic. Here’s how you can earn Mosaic in 2021:

  • 7,500 Mosaic Qualifying points (usually 15,000 points)
  • 6,000 Mosaic Qualifying points + 15 segments (usually 12,000 points and 30 segments)
  • $50,000 spent on purchases with the JetBlue Plus or JetBlue Business Card during the calendar year (as before)
  • $30,000 spent on purchases with the JetBlue Plus or JetBlue Business Card + 4,000 Mosaic Qualifying points during the calendar year (new and exclusively for 2021)

Mosaic status is not particularly difficult to earn, especially compared to some of the higher status levels on American, Delta or United.

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 the JetBlue Plus credit 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: 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 is earned after  50,000 Qualifying Miles or 50 Segments. You’ll earn top-tier Elite 100k status when you earn 100,000 Qualifying Miles or 100 Segments in a calendar year.

However, with Frontier, you can charge your way to status with its cobranded credit card.

Related: Everything you should know before flying Frontier Airlines

A Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 taxis toward the runway at Salt Lake City International Airport in September 2014 (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
A Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 at Salt Lake City International Airport. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

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

Frontier Airlines World Mastercard

(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

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

Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines recreated its Free Spirit frequent flyer program in early-2021 and it now offers some actual elite status tiers and benefits such as included seat assignments, waived bag fees and more.

The two Spirit elite status tiers are:

  • Free Spirit Silver: 2,000 Status Qualifying Points (SQPs)
  • Free Spirit Gold: 5,000 Status Qualifying Points (SQPs)

When flying on a Spirit flight, you can earn 1 SQP for every dollar spent on things like base airfare costs, seat assignment fees and bag fees. But you can also earn 1 SQP for every $10 spent on the Free Spirit® Travel More World Elite Mastercard®.

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Like with Frontier, you could theoretically earn entry-level status with Spirit by charging $20,000 annually to eligible Spirit cobranded credit cards. You could unlock Spirit’s top-tier Gold status level with $50,000 in annual spending on the card. Or, of course, you could mix earnings from paid flights with SQPs earned with the Spirit credit card.

Related: What to know about Spirit’s all-new frequent flyer program 

Bottom line

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

That said, it’s essential 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.

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 photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Earn 3X miles on United® purchases, 2X miles at restaurants, on select streaming services & all other travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Earn 3X miles on United Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and on select streaming services
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  • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.
Regular APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

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.