So, what exactly is elite status in travel — and how can I get it?

Dec 7, 2021

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Airlines, hotels and other travel providers offer loyalty programs to encourage travelers to book reservations with them. Then, the more you travel with a brand, the higher the level of elite status you can reach, and that often translates into additional perks and rewards, such as free hotel breakfast, room and seat upgrades and much, much more.

We use the term “elite status” frequently, but some travelers are unsure of what it actually means. In this article, we’ll explain the very basics of elite status and how you can get it, and then we’ll share other ways to get elite benefits without the status.

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What is elite status?

Elite status is the term used for members who have progressed beyond the basic membership of a loyalty program.

You can typically achieve higher levels of elite status based on your spending with a brand and its partners, how frequently you make reservations and sometimes through other activities. In some cases, you’ll receive elite status simply for having a cobranded credit card.

Airline loyalty programs

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Many airlines offer elite status for travelers who fly regularly with them and their partners. In the past, you would usually earn elite status by flying a certain number of miles or taking a certain number of flights with an airline and its partners each year. However, many airlines have been overhauling their frequent flyer programs in recent years to reward spending (on airfares, with cobranded credit cards, etc.) rather than simply flying.

Elite status benefits from airlines include things like complimentary upgrades, priority boarding, free checked bags and higher mileage-earning rates on flights. Some programs also include complimentary lounge access, free checked bags and change fee waivers.

While most credit cards don’t automatically get you airline elite status, there are several cards that make it easier to qualify. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card earns up to 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles each year based on your spending.

Hotel loyalty programs

Hotel chains encourage frequent stays through their loyalty programs, too. Members can earn elite status in a variety of ways, depending on the program. Some of the metrics include how many stays or nights you book each year, how many points you earn based on your stay, how much you spend on a cobranded credit card or even if you just carry a cobranded credit card, in some cases. 

The higher your elite status, the more perks you receive when staying at the hotel chain. Depending on the program and your tier of status, the perks might include earning bonus points on stays, complimentary upgrades, free breakfast, free Wi-Fi, VIP lounge access and the ability to gift status to friends or family.

Some hotel credit cards, like the World of Hyatt Credit Card, provide automatic elite status and stay credits just for carrying them. This type of benefit can be a great jump-start if you want to earn even higher levels of status than you normally would through stays. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card even extends automatic Diamond status — the top tier of Hilton Honors that normally requires completing 30 stays or 60 nights in a calendar year — as one of its benefits.

The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.

Rental car and cruise line loyalty programs

Other travel companies offer elite status benefits within their loyalty programs as well. Depending on how valuable or useful customers find these benefits, they might be compelling enough to cause travelers to book with one brand over another, even when it might be more expensive to do so.

Car rental elite status lets some folks avoid certain fees, enjoy free category upgrades and earn more points. In some cases, car rental elites have a greater selection of vehicles to choose from, too. While rental car companies do not have their own cobranded credit cards, some premium travel credit cards offer rental car elite status as a benefit.

Some cruise line loyalty programs also provide elite status for the best customers. While lackluster at the lower rungs, higher tiers can offer attractive perks such as free drinks, priority service, complimentary laundry and special events. Some cruise lines offer their own credit card, like the Royal Caribbean Visa Signature Card. However, the best credit cards for booking cruises are often general travel credit cards because of protections such as trip cancellation and interruption coverage that can save you time and money if you end up not being able to take your voyage for a covered reason.

Elite status vs. credit card benefits

Many travel credit cards offer automatic elite status or similar benefits. Best of all, you don’t have to take numerous flights or spend dozens of nights in a hotel to access them.

Many card elite benefits are available immediately after you are approved for your card. However, in some cases, you must manually activate the perks before you can use them.

Some credit card elite or elite-like benefits may include:

  • Automatic elite status. If you’re an occasional traveler, reaching elite status can be a challenge. Some travel credit cards include automatic elite status (or elite status via spending) so that you can enjoy elite status perks starting with your first reservation.
  • Airport lounge access. Some premium travel credit cards include a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership for access to airport lounges around the world. Some provide unlimited use, while others only include a handful of visits. Certain airline cards also extend membership or access to their specific airport lounges.
  • Free checked bags. Many airline credit cards allow cardholders to check a bag for free on the cobranded carrier — but pay special attention to the terms regarding the number of bags, travel companions and whether or not you need to pay for your ticket with the card.
  • Priority boarding. Likewise, many airline credit cards include priority boarding among their perks.

How to get premium hotel benefits without elite status

If you don’t have elite status with a hotel, you can still receive similar benefits just for booking through these sites, even if it’s your first time making a reservation.

Fine Hotels + Resorts

Those with The Platinum Card® from American Express can receive exclusive perks when booking through the issuer’s Fine Hotels + Resorts portal. Elite-level benefits include early check-in, late checkout, a complimentary upgrade, a daily breakfast for two and an experience credit worth at least $100. Plus, some reservations include a complimentary night for additional savings. The $200 annual credit for Platinum cardholders can be combined with these stays.

The Hotel Collection

The Hotel Collection is Amex’s scaled-down version of Fine Hotels + Resorts that is available for both Amex Platinum and American Express® Gold Card members. When booking a room, you’ll receive a complimentary upgrade and a $100 resort credit. Some hotel offers also include a free night, complimentary breakfast or both.

Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services

Mastercard offers its own hotel booking portal that provides elite-like benefits. When you book through Mastercard Travel & Lifestyle Services, you’ll receive a complimentary daily breakfast, a special amenity worth up to $100 and a room upgrade. Guests may also take advantage of early check-in and late checkout during their stay.

Visa Luxury Hotel Collection

Visa also has a hotel booking program that offers elite-style benefits for eligible credit cardholders. There are over 900 luxury hotels around the world that participate in the Visa Luxury Hotel Collection. When you make a booking through this service, you’ll receive several premium benefits at no extra charge. These benefits include an automatic upgrade, free Wi-Fi, complimentary continental breakfast, a $25 food or beverage credit and late checkout.

Bottom line

Having elite status with your favorite airline, hotel or other travel programs can improve your travel experience.

Depending on the specific loyalty program, elite status can unlock free travel faster with points- or miles-earning bonuses. Elite members also receive valuable perks such as upgrades and priority services at the airport or the hotel. Qualifying for elite status varies by program, but some credit cards can help you get there faster based on your spending or even just for being a cardholder.

Featured photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy. 

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

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More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer ends 8/3/2022.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs up to two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $80 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
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  • $250 Annual Fee.
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