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I have top-tier status with 3 airlines — why not 4?

Jan. 25, 2022
10 min read
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The pandemic brought about plenty of odd circumstances for road warriors. Many found themselves grounded overnight instead of following the weekly cadence of business travel. As the pandemic stretched on and companies kept their employees off the road, it became clear that many wouldn't requalify for elite status the conventional way in 2020.

Airlines started extending status and then ultimately lowered the bar for qualification. Along the way, an unexpected thing happened. I started racking up elite status, quite a bit of it. It's definitely not normal for road warriors to hold top-tier status with more than one airline, let alone three. Four isn't something I'd ever even considered. How did I get here?

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It started with United 1K status

While I started my career in business travel as a devout American Airlines flyer (racking up almost 10 years of Executive Platinum status), United Airlines has been my primary carrier for almost 10 years now. I entered 2020 with 1K status and ultimately carried that status into 2021, but with almost no travel to show for it.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

After sitting out the first part of 2021 I ended the year with 32 United flights along with a whopping 23,000 Premier qualifying points. That was due largely to various promotions that United ran throughout the year. Because of those, and a moderate travel schedule, it was easy to qualify for 1K status. I'm already well on my way to 1K status again for 2023, and that's not even taking into account any promotions or modifications United rolls out later in the year.

(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on United Airlines

Delta makes Diamond status easier

Just prior to the pandemic I had started to fly Delta occasionally. Its service was better, as was its treatment of elite members. I had Delta Platinum status by virtue of a corporate American Express Business Centurion Card and enjoyed a decent number of upgrades. I was still flying United on all nonstop routes — that's just common sense. But on destinations where I was forced to connect, it became easy to choose Delta. Still, Delta Diamond status, which normally requires 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles, was largely out of reach.

Related: TPG employees share their elite status wins

That was, until Delta and American Express teamed up to increase the amount of MQMs you could earn from credit cards in 2021. With a 25% bonus, you could earn a total of 75,000 MQMs after spending $120,000 on either of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card cards. As a small-business owner I'm fortunate to have a bunch of spending I can put on credit cards, so this was an easy goal to achieve. That meant I only needed another 50,000 MQMs. Through a promotion midyear I was able to earn bonus MQMs on a number of flights and easily qualified for Delta Diamond status.

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(Screenshot courtesy of Delta)

My new top-tier status paid off quickly. Shortly after qualifying, I ended up with a flight disruption that was going to cause me to miss my connection and prevent me from getting home to my family. A quick call to the Diamond desk and they moved me to United Airlines. Those are the soft benefits of elite status I most look forward to.

On a sour note, the other development with Delta Diamond status was the announcement that Global Upgrade Certificates would no longer qualify you for a move from economy class to business class on three-cabin aircraft. Going forward, these certificates will only get you an upgrade to the next class of service. That means an economy-class passenger can upgrade to premium economy, or Premium Select. To score that upgrade to business class, you'll need to purchase a premium economy ticket.

Related: 5 things you need to know about Delta SkyMiles

Taking advantage of a great status match

It would be more poetic (and corny) to say that I took AAdvantage of a great status match, but we're not to the American Airlines part of the story yet. Air Canada burst onto the scene with a complete revamp of the Aeroplan program. Along the way it launched a great new credit card for U.S. residents and also launched a very lucrative status match offer.

If you're a U.S.-based road warrior, you might be wondering why Air Canada is relevant to you. Sure, you won't be able to book a connecting flight from the Washington, D.C., area to Las Vegas via Toronto (due to an arcane rule called cabotage). But you can credit flights on Star Alliance partners such as United Airlines and you can obviously book Air Canada for trips to and from Canada.

The real gem is booking onward flights from Canada. Think of it this way: If you're based in the D.C. area like me (or one of the other major metropolitan areas in the Northeast), Toronto and Montreal are easy hops. From there, you have access to international flights to plenty of overseas destinations on Air Canada. Its business-class product definitely passes muster, and its Signature Suite lounges are excellent. If you're located on the West Coast, Vancouver can serve as a wonderful connecting point to Asia.

Aeroplan was offering status match opportunities for elites from many other airlines (though not its partner United). I was able to use my Delta Diamond status to match to Aeroplan 75K elite status.

(Screenshot courtesy of Air Canada)

And with one round-trip flight to Toronto, I completed the qualifications for Super Elite, Aeroplan's top-tier status. Now I'm just waiting for Aeroplan to update that status, which will give me top-tier status with three airlines.

Super Elite status comes with some great benefits, like free Maple Leaf Lounge access, free Star Alliance lounge access, the ability to gift status to a friend and eCredits, which can be used to upgrade flights.

Related: Why the new Aeroplan card is surprisingly a great choice for everyday purchases

Contemplating a run at Executive Platinum

American Airlines was the first airline I ever achieved elite status with and the first top-tier elite status I ever earned. Up until a few months ago, I had no shot at achieving Executive Platinum without a serious and detrimental shift in my travel patterns. Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), my home airport, is not served by many of American's hubs. That would mean connecting flights on pretty much all my itineraries, in many cases flying far out of my way to connect.

The elite status landscape shifted drastically at American Airlines in late 2021. It announced a completely new way to earn elite status, one that's significantly easier to earn without stepping on a plane. By spending money with its partners and using an American Airlines cobranded credit card, such as the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard, Executive Platinum is now attainable for me. In fact, I'm even getting a head start on that spending with an offer I received on the Aviator card that allows me to earn 15,000 bonus Loyalty Points to start off 2022. But there's a catch to earning status largely through credit card and partner spending.

American Airlines seemingly took a page out of the Delta playbook, creating a system of choices you earn at higher status levels. Dubbed Elite Choice benefits, Systemwide Upgrades are one of a handful of choices that you can pick once you get to Platinum Pro and/or Executive Platinum status. To get the best perks, such as Systemwide Upgrades, I'll need to fly at least 30 segments on American or its partners. That's a lofty goal. More importantly, American has shown a propensity for following Delta's lead on changes in the past. Committing to 30 flights on American only to find that Systemwide Upgrades become less valuable would be a kick in the teeth.

Related: Why now is the perfect time to be double dipping with American Airlines

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite 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.

Bottom line

(Photo by Stella Shon/The Points Guy)

A decade ago when I held both American Airlines Executive Platinum and United Airlines 1K status at the same time, it was due to plenty of hours spent with my butt in airline seats. Back then credit card spending didn't really contribute to earning elite status, at least not the way it does now. Fast forward to now and it's amazing to think that I could qualify for top-tier status on three different airlines while traveling a fraction of what I normally do. American's massive shift with its AAdvantage loyalty program now opens another unique path to achieve top-tier status.

Related: Elite status extensions: US airline policies that led the way — and some that need improvement

It seems like there will be plenty of opportunities to earn AAdvantage Loyalty Points throughout the year. I plan to be opportunistic and commit spending to American Airlines and its partners when there are opportunities to leverage the Loyalty Points system. My lifetime Platinum status with American Airlines doesn't earn me much in the way of benefits, so I may try to shoot for 200,000 Loyalty Points in 2022 to see how an "Executive Platinum Lite" member is treated. I doubt I'll fly 30 segments with American this year. But, if the last two years have taught me anything, it's that anything can happen.

(Screenshot courtesy of American)

I'm hopeful for a return to international travel as 2022 goes on so I can try out Aeroplan Super Elite status on some longer flights. Ultimately, I'm not sure I'll be able to hold onto Super Elite status beyond 2022, so I'll try to take advantage of it while I have it.

I'll be making the same calculation for both Delta and American as the year goes on. Is it worth committing some spending to either airline's credit card or partners if that means giving up more lucrative earning elsewhere? In 2020 and 2021, I was able to focus spending that didn't earn a bonus elsewhere, to earn Delta Diamond status. That will be harder to do if AAdvantage Executive Platinum will also require a ton of spending on a cobranded credit card.

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