How to earn last-minute airline elite status — and whether or not it’s worth it

Dec 21, 2021

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It’s beginning to look a lot like the end of the line to wrap up airline elite status. As the calendar rockets toward Dec. 31, which is the cut-off with most programs for this year’s elite-eligible activity, the options narrow for travelers trying to decide if they will make it to the next elite tier.

This elite status situation could be further complicated in 2021 for travelers who were counting on an end-of-year trip that now may be in jeopardy due to the current omicron surge in cases.

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It would require a small set of encyclopedia-sized information to capture exactly every last-minute airline elite status situation surrounding common questions such as: Is it worth it? How can I earn the final necessary miles/flights/dollars towards status? How can I earn status without flying more this year?

However, we can offer some advice for common end-of-year status dilemmas with a few of the main U.S. airlines.

Related: Credit cards that help you earn airline elite status

In This Post

How to earn last-minute elite status with American Airlines

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Here are the criteria for earning American Airlines status in 2021, which is reduced from previous years.

Metric Gold Platinum Platinum Pro Executive Platinum
Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) 20,000 40,000 60,000 80,000
Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) 20 45 70 95
Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) $2,000 $4,500 $7,000 $12,000

But there’s some good news if you need more time. January and February 2022 are one-time only transition months as American switches to an entirely new way to earn status with its “Loyalty Points” scheme next year. This means that you can earn EQM, EQD, and EQS toward 2022 elite status and Loyalty Points toward 2023 status during January and February 2022, effectively letting you double dip.

Starting in 2022, the elite qualification period will last from March 1 through Feb. 28 of the following year (or Feb. 29 during a leap year). If you achieve elite status during the qualification period, your status will be valid through the following March 31.

American elite status basics

For the sake of clarity, we’ll focus on American’s outgoing way of earning status with elite qualifying miles (EQM), elite qualifying segments (EQS), and elite qualifying dollars (EQD).

Compared to 2019, American reduced the EQM requirement by 20% and EQS and EQD requirements by 20% to 33%. To earn status through March 31, 2023, you’ll have to hit two criteria: Either a combination of EQMs and EQDs or a combination of EQSs and EQDs.

If you spend $30,000 on purchases on any cobranded AAdvantage credit card during the 2021 calendar year, you’ll be exempt from the EQD waiver up to Platinum Pro status. Unfortunately, this promotion doesn’t apply to Executive Platinum, so those gunning for top-tier status will still need to earn the required $12,000 EQDs.

Last-minute strategies to earn or retain American elite status

You’ll have through the end of February to earn status with American next year. So even if you don’t have time to squeeze in a last-minute flight during the holiday period, you could fly in January or February.

Another option to retain status (if you held elite status with American Airlines on Jan. 1, 2021) is to earn 2,000 elite-qualifying dollars by Dec. 31, 2021. This applies to both American or partner-operated flights. However, note that Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum members who requalify through this aren’t eligible for Elite Choice Rewards (soon to be called “Loyalty Choice Rewards”).

But again, there’s no rush to jump on a plane right now. Since the qualification year is extended through the end of February, you have some extra time to earn or requalify.

Related: How to double dip your 2022 elite bonuses with an American Airlines credit card

How to earn last-minute elite status with Delta Air Lines

(Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

These are the criteria to earn Delta Medallion elite status — these are not reduced from previous years.

Metric Silver Medallion Gold Medallion Platinum Medallion Diamond Medallion
Medallion® Qualifying Miles (MQM) 25,000 MQM 50,000 MQM 75,000 MQM 125,000 MQM
Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQS) 30 MQS 60 MQS 100 MQS 140 MQS
Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) $3,000 MQD 6,000 MQD $9,000 MQD $15,000 MQD

It’s important to remember that Delta extended elite status through 2022 for all current elites, so there’s no need to earn status again if you already have it. That said, those who do earn status will be able to pick Choice Benefits and will enjoy higher upgrade priority next year.

Additionally, all MQMs earned in 2020 have rolled over to 2021, and all 2021 MQMs will roll over to next year. This means that you’ll be able to use your MQMs earned in 2020 and 2021 to qualify for Medallion elite status next year.

Delta elite status basics

Delta is the only “Big 3” carrier that did not reduce elite status requirements in 2021. To earn Delta elite status, you’ll need to earn the required MQDs for your desired status tier and either the required MQMs or MQSs.

That said, you can earn an MQD waiver for Silver, Gold and Platinum status by spending $25,000 on a Delta cobranded credit card. Diamond requires a whopping $250,000 in spending to earn an MQD waiver, which is a major feat unless you have lots of business spending.

Last-minute strategies to earn or retain Delta elite status

This year, Delta has run a handful of promotions that made it easier to qualify for elite status. The biggest has been Status Accelerator, which offers a 50% to 75% bonus on MQMs, MQSs and MQDs earned on Delta-operated paid and award flights booked through Delta. The 50% bonus is earned on basic economy and Main Cabin flights, while the 75% bonus is offered on Comfort+, Premium Select, first class and Delta One flights.

On award flights, you earn MQMs and MQSs like you would on a paid flight. That said, you earn MQDs by dividing the number of points redeemed for a flight by 100. So if you spend 20,000 SkyMiles on an award ticket, you’d earn $200 MQDs before the Status Accelerator bonus. If you booked Comfort+, you’d earn $350 MQDs with the 75% bonus on that flight.

Likewise, if you have any end-of-the-year travel coming up, you might want to consider booking it in a Delta premium cabin. This way, you’ll earn a 75% bonus on your elite metrics, which can be a huge help if you’re just a few thousand MQMs or MQDs short of the next elite tier. You might even consider redeeming some SkyMiles to book your ticket, as these are eligible to earn elite qualifying metrics too.

Or, if you already have a trip booked, consider upgrading it. When you do this, you’ll earn MQDs for the upgrade with the 75% Status Accelerator bonus. Delta often offers upgrades online before check-in, so you may want to purchase one to earn bonus MQDs to close the gap toward the next elite status tier.

Delta upgrade earnings
(Screenshot courtesy of delta.com)

Also, remember that Delta partner flights earn MQMs, MQSs, and MQDs too. Specifically, these flights earn MQDs based on distance-flown, so you might want to book a partner fare if you’re short on MQDs and need to book a last-minute trip somewhere that a Delta partner flies.

Finally, Delta is also offering extra MQMs when you spend on its premium cobranded credit cards. Typically, you earn 10,000 MQMs for every $25,000 you spend on purchases on the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (or its small business equivalent), up to two times. Likewise, you earn 15,000 MQMs for every $30,000 you spend in purchases on the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (or its small business equivalent) in the calendar year, up to four times.

In 2021, you’ll earn 25% more points when you meet these spend thresholds. This means that you’ll earn 12,500 MQMs when you spend $25,000 on the Delta Platinum and 18,750 MQMs when you spend $30,000 on the Delta Reserve. But, you need to meet these spend thresholds before the end of the year.

Consider taking advantage of these promotions to top-up your Delta account with the MQMs, MQSs or MQDs required for elite status. For example, if you have a big purchase coming up, you may want to pay for it before the end of the year to meet the bonus threshold on your Delta card. Just note the purchase has to post to your account in 2021 for it to count toward the spend threshold.

Related: Here’s how a last-minute award trip to Italy got me halfway to Delta Silver status

How to earn last-minute elite status with United

(Photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

As a refresher, here are the criteria for earning the four published elite status with United in 2021. All are reduced from pre-pandemic levels.

Metric Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum Premier 1K
Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) 3,500 PQP 7,000 PQP 10,000 PQP 15,000 PQP
Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) 8 PQF and 3,000 PQP 16 PQF and 6,000 PQP 24 PQF and 9,000 PQP 36 PQF and 13,500 PQP

United elite status basics

Each United elite level has two pathways to status. One pathway is to earn a combination of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQFs) — which is just a fancy word for a take-off and touch-down (aka a segment) — and a certain number of Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs). The other pathway is a PQP only option, which carries a higher PQP threshold than the combo option.

It’s important to look at how close you are in either pathway to status. After all, you may be multiple PQFs short but within striking distance of the PQP-only number that could be achieved without having to take multiple additional flights before the end of the year. 

United has recently (and quietly) extended elite status for another year for some members, so before you do anything at all to re-qualify or earn status, double-check the expiration date on your current status. If it already says 2023, then there’s probably nothing left for you to do this year.

Last-minute strategies to earn United elite status

If you need additional United PQFs, you are going to have to squeeze in more flights before the clock turns to Jan. 1, 2022.

Luckily, distance no longer matters, so when it comes to earning PQFs, you can take the shortest United flights you can find to rack up the total. However, to earn PQFs, your flight cannot be an award flight and needs to be credited to United MileagePlus.

In my case, I needed two more PQFs to earn United 1K status after a planned holiday trip to New York City fell apart at the last minute. So I flew from my home airport of Houston (IAH) to Austin (AUS) and back all in one afternoon.

Keep in mind that a PQF is literally a take-off and touch-down, so a round-trip with a connection each way would count as four PQFs. As such, if you have a few nonstop flights remaining on your schedule in 2021, you could potentially change them to connecting flights to goose up the PQF count. Consider a same-day change or rebooking if the fare is the same and you may be able to snag some extra PQFs for no extra charge.

For example, instead of earning one PQF flying nonstop from Houston to Las Vegas, you could earn two by flying Houston (IAH) to Denver (DEN) to Las Vegas (LAS).

How to earn United PQP

If you need additional PQPs, it’s potentially too late to earn more via spending on your eligible co-branded United cards which post 500 PQPs for every $12,000 charged.

However, you can still earn 2021 PQPs with eligible United spending. Keep in mind that PQPs from flights don’t post until you fly, so if you earn more PQPs from flying, the flight(s) have to happen this year. Here are some ideas for earning PQPs:

  • Most flights operated by United and United Express earn PQPs at a rate of 1 PQP per dollar of base fare (which does not include taxes/fees)
  • Most flights operated by a Star Alliance partner airline and connecting partners, Air Dolomiti, Azul, Edelweiss, Eurowings and Olympic Air award PQPs. (This is calculated by taking the award miles earned divided by either 5 or 6, depending on the partner. They should also earn you PQFs.)
  • Most Economy Plus purchases — this includes Economy Plus subscriptions and one-time purchases, but only applies to that traveler (These subscriptions can cost $599 – $899.)
  • Most preferred seating purchases
  • Paid upgrades on flights operated by United and United Express
  • MileagePlus Upgrade Award co-pays
  • Purchase PQPs via an Award Accelerator option that is attached to an existing itinerary (see the PQP option shown below). Warning: this won’t be any cheaper than flying, but it can be done from your couch. You will need an existing flight reservation to have this Award Accelerator option.
(Screenshot courtesy of United)

Related: How I’m closing the gap to United 1K status 

Is it worth trying for last-minute elite status?

When my last-minute trip to New York City was pushed into 2022 due to the omicron surge, I was left 44 United PQPs (aka dollars) and two United PQFs (aka flights) short of United 1K status, the highest United tier that’s not invite-only. Closing the gap only required taking the shortest, most affordable round-trip flight I could find. So, that was almost certainly worth the exercise.

However, once you get into the several hundreds — or thousands — of dollars of cost to close the gap, the equation quickly shifts to potentially not being worth it. Factor in the additional time it may take you if you need to fly (and any increased COVID-19 exposure risk right now), and be very honest with yourself about how much the perks will be worth in 2022.

The amount it’s worth to close the gap to a top-tier status is likely a bit more than a lower-tier status. But in any case, if you are going to be spending more than a few hours or a few hundred dollars at this point in the year chasing airline status, really gut check yourself on the true value you’ll get.

Related: Is airline elite status still worth it?

Bottom line

Airline elite status can still be worth it and this is your last chance to close the gap to status for the year. Depending on your exact situation you may need to spend some money, fly some additional flights or both in the quest to have the perks you want for 2022. As a last resort, keep in mind that sometimes airlines offer a way to buy your status back after the year has ended.

Additionally, it is free to ask for an airline to offer a one-time bump if you came very close but missed earning status. Neither of those methods is guaranteed to work, but they are worth considering if all other pathways to status don’t work out.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh and Chris Dong.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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