Paying Cash to Earn Elite Status — Reader Success Story

Dec 28, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Meghan, who opted not to use miles for a flight over Thanksgiving:

I was booking a last-minute trip from San Francisco (SFO) to Newark (EWR) over Thanksgiving, and found United award flights with a schedule I liked for 50,000 miles round-trip. Right before I booked, however, I checked my progress toward United MileagePlus status and noticed I was just $166 Premier Qualifying Dollars short of requalifying for Silver status for 2019.

I already have a few domestic United flights planned next year on which I’ll have to check a bag, so having Silver status will save me $30 each way. I also appreciate boarding with Group 2 so I can find room on the plane for my carry-on, and I’ve been bumped up to Economy Plus a few times (which I hope will continue next year).

Lastly, I’ll be booking a few intra-Asia flights on Star Alliance airlines during an international trip next year, and I’ll be happy to have priority standby in a crunch. I did some calculations and determined it was more advantageous to book with cash and earn the status than to use miles for the flight. When you’re booking travel late in the year and deciding how to pay, take elite status qualification into consideration!

For many award travelers, the end of the calendar year is a race to qualify for elite status, but it’s not a race you should run impulsively. Before you take a mileage run or buy a block of elite qualifying miles, it’s worth asking yourself whether the cost and effort is justified. If you travel infrequently or you still have a lot of elite credits to earn, then the answer is probably no. But if you’re close to the threshold and confident your benefits will be useful, then you should explore your options.

Meghan avoided getting caught up in the idea of elite status and instead made a practical assessment of the value she expected to get from it. Unless her ticket was exorbitantly expensive, I’d argue she was better off paying cash anyway (just in terms of maximizing her redemption value), but the bonus of earning Premier Silver status made the decision even easier. If your own assessment is indecisive, keep in mind that you can also get benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding if you have a cobranded airline credit card.

If you’re aiming for elite status, planning early in the year will help you avoid scrambling to meet requirements later. Examine your travel plans to get a sense of how close you’ll be to qualifying, and make sure you account for how elite credits are awarded — for example, taxes paid don’t count as elite-qualifying dollars. Once you have a reasonable estimate, you can look for opportunities to boost your earnings as needed.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Meghan a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of The Points Guy.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

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.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • 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 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 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 $75 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.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
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.