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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

The three US legacy carriers (American, Delta and United) have moved in lockstep in recent years to make it harder to qualify for elite status. This has left travelers looking for every edge they can get to qualify for status, and TPG reader Tim wants to know if buying a mileage multiplier before his flight will help …

I’m $72 elite qualifying dollars and 3,000 elite qualifying miles short of hitting AA Gold status. I just purchased a mileage multiplier for my trip next Saturday. Will these put me over the threshold for elite status?

TPG READER TIM

It’s a good thing that we’re still early in the year and Tim has plenty of time left to finish earning his American Airlines Gold status. As readers in the TPG Lounge were quick to point out, buying a mileage multiplier with American Airlines won’t earn him the elite-qualifying miles or dollars he needs.

Keeping track of all the different elite-qualifying metrics (dollars, miles and segments) can be confusing, but people seem to have the most trouble separating elite-qualifying miles from the good, old fashioned redeemable miles you use to book award tickets. A good rule to follow is this: Unless you’re specifically told that you’ll receive extra elite-qualifying miles, you should always assume that the miles you’re buying or earning are regular redeemable miles.

This is especially important today, as there are very few ways to earn elite-qualifying miles that don’t involve actually flying. Let’s take a look at what options you have for each major US airline.

American Airlines

Since Tim asked about American, we’ll start here. Outside of butt-in-seat miles (and bonus multipliers for flying in a premium cabin), the only way to earn bonus Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs) is to open the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. If you spend $40,000 a year on this card, you’ll earn 10,000 bonus EQMs.

You could also earn extra Elite-Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) on select Aviator cards issued by Barclays, though these rates have changed as of 2019. Those who applied between Jan. 1, 2018 and Oct. 31, 2018 can earn $3,000 EQDs on the the AAdvantage Aviator Silver, Red, Blue and Business cards if you spend $25,000 on purchases in a calendar year on the card, while Aviator Silver cardholders can earn another $3,000 EQDs by reaching $50,000. If you signed up for the Blue or Red card before Jan. 1, 2018, you’re no longer eligible for this bonus, while Silver cardholders are now capped at $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year.

United Airlines

United offers two different types of mileage accelerators you can purchase for an upcoming trip: Award Accelerator and Premier Accelerator. Make sure to pay attention to which one you’re purchasing, as the award accelerator will give you redeemable miles, while the Premier accelerator will earn you Premier-Qualifying Miles (PQMs).

Buying miles, either for an award or to earn elite status, is rarely the best option. Before making this purchase you should consult TPG Editor Nick Ewen’s valuation of United Premier Elite status to make sure you’ll be getting a good return on your purchase. You should also make sure you’ve made a plan to meet your Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) revenue requirement already or to get it waived by spending on the United Explorer Card .

In addition, Premier Accelerator prices tend to creep up as the year goes on and travelers start to feel the pressure to qualify, so bear in mind that any PQMs you purchase in this fashion will likely be more expensive in November than in March.

Delta

American Express’ cobranded Delta credit cards are currently offering elevated welcome bonuses, and many of these include a bonus of 5,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) in addition to redeemable SkyMiles. You can even earn bonus MQMs by yearly spending on these cards:

Delta fliers have another option if they’re looking to qualify for elite status: Upgrading to a higher class of service with SkyMiles, which normally represents a poor redemption value, does earn you bonus MQMs based on your upgraded fare class. TPG’s Darren Murph tested this out recently, and you can check out his experience upgrading here.

Bottom Line

Earning elite status takes planning and concentration, and once you settle on an airline, you absolutely should be on the lookout for every avenue to earn more elite-qualifying miles, dollars and segments. Unfortunately, the options are limited, and unless you are explicitly told that the product you’re buying or the deal you’re getting earns elite-qualifying miles, you should assume that you’re only going to get redeemable miles.

Thanks for the question, Tim, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo via Shutterstock

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