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Earning elite status with any of the major US carriers entails significant spending. American, Delta and United all require flyers to spend $3,000 a year just to earn the lowest level of elite status.

While there’s no denying that earning airline elite status can be expensive, it can also be quite valuable. If you can maximize the perks such as complimentary upgrades, free checked bags and waived fees, you could be getting hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars’ worth of benefits.

Luckily, if you’re hoping to earn elite status and don’t fly frequently enough (or spend enough on airfare) to meet the carrier’s status spending requirements, a cobranded credit card may be the solution.

Free checked-bags on flights? Yes, please. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Free checked bags on flights? Yes, please. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

There are two ways that cards can help with your status goals:

Cards That Offer Elite-Qualifying Dollar Waivers

Delta and United customers who spend a significant amount on cobranded credit cards are eligible for an elite status spending waiver. That means they won’t have to meet the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) or Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirements for status if they hit $25,000 on their eligible card in a qualification year, which is doable if you charge taxes and other large purchases on the card. Just note that the top levels of elite status are excluded from this waiver; for United, you can only waive the PQD requirement up to Premier Platinum status, and for Delta, it’s waived up to Platinum with $25,000 in spend in a year. If you want an MQD waiver for Delta’s top-tier Diamond Medallion status, you’ll need to spend a whopping $250,000 in a year.

Cards That Offer Elite Qualifying Miles Toward Status

Other cards earn you Elite Qualifying Miles that can help you reach a higher status level without any additional flying. Earning these Elite Qualifying Miles (called EQMs by American, MQMs by Delta and PQMs by United) also requires meeting spending thresholds, but this option could make sense if you can comfortably meet an airline’s spending requirement but you’re short the Elite Qualifying Miles needed to reach the next tier.

Now that you’re familiar with the two main types of cards that can help you get airline elite status, let’s take a look at the options for each of the major US carriers.

American Airlines

There are just two American Airlines cards that can help you earn elite status, which requires a certain amount of Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) plus Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSes) or Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). While you can only earn EQDs and EQSes by flying, credit card spend on the following two cards can help you earn up to 10,000 EQMs per year. For some context, Gold status (the lowest tier) requires 25,000 EQM or 30 EQSes, so you’ll need to do more than just spend to earn elite status with AA.

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

  • The AAdvantage Executive card earns you 10,000 EQMs after $40,000 in purchases in 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 card holder and authorized users), a free checked bag, priority boarding, 2 miles per dollar spent on AA purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The card has no foreign transaction fees and has a $450 annual fee.

Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard

  • You can’t directly apply for this lucrative card; you’ll need to have the Aviator Red card for at least 90 days before you can call Barclays and request an upgrade to the Aviator Silver card. But if you can get there, this card is full of lucrative benefits. As a card member, you’ll get a free checked bag, priority boarding, 3 miles per dollar spent on AA purchases, 2 miles per dollar on select hotels and rental cars, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The Aviator Silver also gives you the opportunity to earn both EQMs and EDQs. You’ll get 5,000 EQMs for every $20,000 you spend in a calendar year (up to 10,000 EQMs per year) and $3,000 in EQD after spending $50,000 in a calendar year (for all new card members starting in 2020). The Aviator Silver card is adding some benefits, including a $25 daily inflight food and beverage credit, in May, and the annual fee will increase to $199.

Delta Air Lines

In order to earn status on Delta, you need to earn a certain number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSes) as well as a certain number of Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). Luckily, you can waive the MQD requirement for all status tiers with combined spending on the following cards, and there are even a few that will 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 $250,000).

Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • The Blue card is the one partial exception to the rule here; you’ll need to have at least one other Delta card in order to earn the MQD waiver by spending on your Blue card. This card has a welcome bonus of 10,000 miles after spending $500 on purchases within 3 months of account opening. It earns 2 miles per dollar at US restaurants and on Delta purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. This card has no annual fee (see rates & fees).

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

The Gold Delta Amex is offering a welcome bonus of 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. It earns 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. You’ll also get a free checked bag and priority boarding on Delta flights. The annual fee (waived the first year) is $95 (see rates & fees), and there are no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees).

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

  • The Platinum Delta Amex 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 earn a $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. In addition, you’ll also earn 10,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year. To go along with no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees) and just a $195 annual fee (see rates & fees), the card has a number of other benefits, including a free checked bag, priority boarding, an annual companion certificate, 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express

The Reserve card is currently offering 40,000 miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months after account opening. It offers a Miles Boost of 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. The card also comes with Delta Sky Club access, an annual companion certificate, upgrade priority, 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. The card has no foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees) but a $450 annual fee (see rates & fees).

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card

  • These three business cards have nearly identical benefits as their personal counterparts, and also offer MQD waivers.

Southwest Airlines

Southwest only has two tiers of status: A-List and A-List Preferred. And then there’s the Companion Pass, which gets you two-for-one travel, making it one of the most valuable perks that you can earn on any airline. You can earn status with Southwest by compiling Tier Qualifying Points (TQPs) or by flying a certain number of one way segments with the airline. You can only earn TQP from three Southwest credit cards.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

  • The card is offering a sign-up bonus of up to 60,000 points; earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months your account is open. It earns 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year). 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.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

  • The Priority card offers a $75 annual travel credit and 7,500 anniversary points, as well as 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. It’s also offering a sign-up bonus of up to 60,000 points; earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, earn 20,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months your account is open.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Business Credit Card

  • The Premier Business card carries a number of benefits. First, there’s a sign-up bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You also get the same deal of 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend on your card (up to $100,000 per year), 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases, and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
Southwest offers 3 versions of its Rapid Rewards cards.
Southwest offers 3 versions of its personal Rapid Rewards credit cards.

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 (PQSes), and a certain number of Premier Qualifying Dollars (PDQs). While PQMs and PQSes can only be earned by flying United and its partner airlines, you can waive the PQD requirement for any status level (except for 1K) by spending $25,000 across any and all of your Chase cobranded United cards in a calendar year.

United Explorer Card

  • The United Explorer Card has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account. It earns 2 miles per dollar spent at 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, and you can check a bag for free when you use the card to purchase your ticket. The annual fee is $95, but is waived the first year, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

United Club Card

  • 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 two free checked bags. The annual fee is $450, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

he 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.

United Explorer Business Card

  • 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 and a free checked bag. The annual fee is $95, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

United Club Business Card

  • Like its personal counterpart, the card gives you United Club membership, Premier Access Travel Services, and two free checked bags. You’ll also have access to the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status. This card earns 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on everything else. The annual fee is $450, and there are no foreign transaction fees.

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.

Honorable Mention: United Presidential Plus Card

  • While you can’t apply for this card anymore, it comes with some crazy benefits if you happen to have it already. You’ll enjoy a PQD waiver for up to Premier Platinum status without even needing to spend $25,000 on the card in a year. This card also lets you earn PQMs; you’ll get 1,000 Flex PQMs for every $5,000 you spend, and these can be converted to regular PQMs to help you qualify for status (up to Premier Platinum).

JetBlue

JetBlue only has one level of 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.

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

The JetBlue Plus Card

  • You’ll earn Mosaic after spending $50,000 on the Plus card in a calendar year. There’s a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of card membership. You’ll also 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.

Bottom Line

While it’s not usually possible to earn airline elite status via card spend alone, airline cobranded credit cards can come in handy for people who might have trouble hitting normal elite status spending requirements with any specific airline.

That said, it’s important to evaluate your situation and make sure you can comfortably meet the $25,000 elite-qualifying dollar waivers easily, since the value you’ll be getting from elite status won’t come close the amount you’ll need to spend to earn it.

For rates and fees of the Blue Delta Amex, click here.
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.

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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 for every dollar spent on eligible purchases made directly with Delta. Earn one mile for every eligible dollar you spend on other purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on Delta flights – that’s a savings of up to $240 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle into your seat sooner with Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding.
  • 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
17.49%-26.49% 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.