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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express, Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury Credit Card from American Express
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One option for travelers who want to reach elite status with their favorite airline or hotel doesn’t require traveling at all. Some co-branded hotel and airline credit cards allow you to earn elite status through annual spending.
Sure, this strategy may be an unrealistic undertaking for some cardholders, as many travel cards require tens of thousands of dollars in annual spending to earn elite-qualifying miles or status upgrades at hotel properties. But you can make that scary spending requirement a bit less horrifying by charging things to your credit card — like your monthly mortgage payment — that you normally wouldn’t be allowed to do.
You’ll need to employ a payment service like Plastiq to make this work, and you may have to spend some extra money to do it, as Plastiq normally charges a 2.5% fee for credit card transactions. Good news, though: The company is temporarily waiving its fee on transactions of up to $500 if you use Masterpass through Plastiq. However, this promo will change as of June 1, when the fee waiver will only be good on up to $250 in payments.
If you can’t or don’t want to use Masterpass, you’ll have to judge the value of elite status against the cost of having your car payment or student loan run through your credit card. Putting $10,000 of rent payments through Plastiq will cost you $250 if you aren’t getting the fee waived. That might be worth the cost depending on what elite status at your favorite airline or hotel gets you in return.
A note of caution, though: Although Plastiq advertises that you can use its service to pay for things like insurance, taxes and childcare, along with your monthly housing expenses, the networks all have different rules about what you can charge. You can’t use your Visa card to make mortgage payments, for example. And American Express cards can only be used to make payments for government debts, utilities, education, residential rent and club fees and memberships.
Here’s a look at some credit cards that offer faster routes to elite status through annual spending.
What You’ll Need to Spend Using Airline Cards
If you’re up for placing $10,000 to $50,000 a year or more on plastic, these credit cards offer elite miles toward status upgrades:
- Earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles every calendar year you make $40,000 or more on purchases on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. The lowest elite tier in American’s program is AAdvantage Gold status, which normally requires 25,000 EQMs, so you’ll have to find other ways to earn the remaining 15,000 EQMs to reach the minimum if you spend $40,000 in a year to get 10,000.
- Earn 10,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles by spending $25,000 in a calendar year, plus another 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs by spending $50,000 in that same year using the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express or the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express. The lowest tier in Delta’s program is Silver Medallion, which normally requires 25,000 MQMs or 30 Medallion-qualifying segments, plus $3,000 Medallion-Qualfying Dollars (MQDs). The cards’ welcome bonuses get you at least 5,000 MQMs depending on the current offer when you apply, so could earn the full 25,000 MQMs just through credit card spending if $50,000 in a year isn’t out of the question for you.
- Another SkyMiles card, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express, grants you 15,000 bonus miles plus 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 in a calendar year, plus another 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs by spending $60,000 in that same year. Like the other SkyMiles cards, this one also generally includes MQMs in its welcome bonus, further boosting your progress toward Medallion status.
- Reach Mosaic status in JetBlue’s TrueBlue program by spending $50,000 on the JetBlue Plus Card in a calendar year. You can also earn this status by flying 30 segments and earning 12,000 base flight points; or just by earning 15,000 base flight points in a calendar year.
- Earn up to 15,000 Tier Qualifying Points each calendar year at a rate of 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you make in purchases on the consumer or business versions of the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card. You’ll usually need 35,000 Tier-Qualifying Points or 25 paid one-way flights in a calendar year to qualify for Southwest’s A-List status.
What You’ll Need to Spend Using Hotel Cards
The good news here is it’s much easier with some hotel programs to earn elite status with credit card spend only. Here’s what you’ll get using hotel credit cards to earn status:
- You’ll automatically get Hilton Honors Gold status when you are approved for the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, but you can bump yourself up to the top-tier Diamond status when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year. (Diamond status is included automatically if you own the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express.)
- Similarly, the Hilton Honors American Express Card comes with Silver status and awards Gold after $20,000 in spend within a calendar year.
- You’ll automatically receive Discoverist status when you open a Hyatt Credit Card. Earn Explorist status after you spend $50,000 in a calendar year. Explorist is the second tier in the World of Hyatt program, and you usually earn it after 30 nights or 50,000 base points (equal to $10,000 in spending).
Some credit cards under the Marriott/Starwood umbrella will change after the two loyalty programs are combined in August 2018. Here’s how spending will affect elite status under those new rules:
- The new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Credit Card comes with Silver Elite status. Earn Gold Elite status by spending $35,000 on the card each year.
- You’ll earn automatic Silver Elite status for 2018 with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express or the Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express. Starting in 2019, you’ll earn 15 elite night credits. You can earn Gold Elite status by spending $30,000 in 2018 and $35,000 in 2019.
- The new Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Credit Card from American Express (available starting in August 2018) comes with Gold status. You can earn Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 on the card each year; 15 elite night credits starting in 2019
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card comes with Gold status, which you can keep after the first year by spending $10,000 annually. You can earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 in an account year. Platinum is typically earned after 75 nights.
Nobody said earning elite status with an airline or hotel program would be easy. It’s still not easy even if you use a bill payment service like Plastiq to put more of your spending on a rewards credit card that helps you earn status. But in many cases, sending your personal or business payments through Plastiq can help you get there faster. Combine this strategy with your regular business travel routine to ensure that you can earn elite status where you fly or where you sleep.
Featured photo by Getty Images.
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