Earning Airline Elite Status With Personal Airline Credit Cards

As someone who flies as often as he possibly can, I am someone who really values having status with an airline. I currently hold AAdvantage Platinum status, as well as Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MVP Gold status. Holding status with these airlines helps make my trips much smoother and usually much more comfortable as I am 100% on upgrades to first class this year.

Some fliers are not able to travel as frequently as others however, which can make it just that much more difficult to reach the qualifying points/miles that they would need to obtain status or jump up to the next status level. Luckily there are several co-branded personal airline credit cards that offer you the opportunity to earn elite miles on your airline of choice!

American Airlines

Currently, American is my go-to airline. That may change with their rumored changes to their AAdvantage program (which is a post for a different day), but for now, I think they offer the best bang for your buck as a frequent traveler. There are two co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn AAdvantage elite qualifying miles for reaching certain spend thresholds. Unfortunately only one of these two cards is currently available for new sign-ups, though I will cover both.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard

The Citi AAdvantage Executive card offers 10,000 AAdvantage elite qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 within a calendar year.

In addition, you would earn 50,000 redeemable miles when you spend $5,000 on the card within the first 3 months of opening the account. As the Citi Executive card is considered the “top dog” for AAdvantage cards, you also get a host of other perks and benefits with the card including Admirals Club membership, free checked bags and discounts on in-flight purchases. The Citi Executive card also offers a $100 statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee. The downside to this card is that there is a steep $450 annual for this card which is not waived for the first year.

Analysis:

The Citi Executive card can offer some great value if you regularly fly on American through airports where there are Admirals Clubs. An Admirals Club membership will normally cost a non-elite flyer $500 per year, so if you would already be paying for an Admirals Club membership out of pocket (or are lucky enough to have your employer cover this cost), you’re better off grabbing the Citi Executive card and enjoying some bonus miles in the process. The one thing that I do not like about the Citi Executive card is that the elite qualifying miles bonus is not tiered. Instead, you have to spend a rather hefty $40,000 in a calendar year in order to earn the elite qualifying miles. With that said, 10,000 elite qualifying miles are enough to get you a little less than half way to Gold, a fifth of the way to Platinum and a tenth of the way to Executive Platinum. If you are someone who flies with American regularly, but never quite enough to hit that next top tier, and you have the spend to meet the $40,000 threshold, then this is a great card option.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Master Card

Unfortunately, this is a card that you cannot sign-up for unless you already have an AAdvantage Aviator Red or Blue card. If you do currently have an Aviator Red or Blue card, you can call in and have them upgrade your current card to the Aviator Silver.

The Aviator Silver offers 5,000 elite qualifying miles for every $20,000 you spend per year, up to 10,000 elite qualifying miles per year.

The Aviator Silver also comes with your usual perks like priority boarding, free checked bags, in-flight purchase discounts, and a $100 Global Entry fee credit. You will also earn a $99 companion certificate good for up to 2 guests when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year. This card comes with a $195 annual fee, which is not waived for the first year.

Analysis:

The Aviator Silver carries a relatively modest annual fee with it, but comes with fewer perks. This card has the slight edge in my opinion thanks in part to the tiered elite qualifying miles bonus structure where you earn your elite qualifying miles for segments of $20,000 spend annually. If you max out the elite qualifying miles bonus on this card, you will also earn a $99 companion ticket, which can be quite valuable. I recently used my $99 companion ticket for a quick weekend trip to Key West where the flight prices regularly topped $500 per person – a great value in my opinion! As with the Citi Executive card, 10,000 elite qualifying miles are enough to get you a little less than half way to Gold, a fifth of the way to Platinum and a tenth of the way to Executive Platinum. If you are someone who flies with regularly, but never quite enough to hit that next top tier, and you have the spend to meet the $40,000 threshold, then this is a great card option.

Delta Airlines

Delta used to be my go-to airline for travel, and while I still think they have a pretty good operation, the gutting of the SkyMiles program last year forced me (and many other elite fliers) over to American. With that said, there are still great opportunities to be had with the two co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn Medallion Qualification Miles for reaching certain spend thresholds.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card

The Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles card offers 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (“MQMs”) after $1,000 in purchases during the first 3 months. Thereafter, the Amex Platinum SkyMiles card offers 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs for $25,000 in purchases in a calendar year and an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs for $50,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

The Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles card also comes with 35,000 bonus miles after $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, free checked bags, in-flight purchase discounts and discounted Delta Sky Club access. This card comes with an annual fee of $195, which is not waived for the first year.

Analysis:

The Amex Platinum Delta SkyMiles card carries a relatively modest annual fee with it, but comes with fewer perks than the Amex Delta SkyMiles Reserve card. If you have $50,000 in spend you can make on this card per year, the sign-up bonus and the spend bonus are enough for you to reach Silver Medallion status without even so much as stepping foot on an airplane! With that said, I do not think this is a worthwhile option unless you really value Medallion status or need the MQMs bump at year end to reach Diamond Medallion status. With that said, Amex is among the most generous with earning elite qualification points/miles just for spend.

American Express Delta Reserve Card

The Amex Delta Reserve card offers 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (“MQMs”) after your first purchase with the card. Thereafter, the Amex Delta Reserve card offers 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs for $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year and an additional 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs for $60,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

The Amex Delta Reserve card also comes with 10,000 bonus miles after your first purchase, free checked bags, priority boarding, in-flight purchase discounts and Delta Sky Club access. This card comes with an annual fee of $450, which is not waived for the first year.

Analysis:

The Amex Delta Reserve card can offer some great value if you regularly fly on Delta through airports where there are Sky Clubs. A Sky Club membership will normally cost $450 per year, so if you would already be paying for a Sky Club membership out of pocket, you are probably better off picking up the Amex Delta Reserve card and enjoying some bonus miles in the process. The Amex Delta Reserve card also offers a tiered bonus structure for MQMs, which I do like. However, the spend is rather hefty at 15,000 MQMs after $30,000 spend and an additional 15,000 MQMs after $60,000 spend. With that said, if you spend $60,000 per year on this card, with the sign-up bonus you would be just shy of Gold Medallion status without stepping foot on a Delta plane! This offer can be especially enticing as well given Delta’s rather generous offer of rollover MQMs, especially if you are someone who flies with Delta regularly, but never quite enough to hit that next top elite tier.

Southwest Airlines

Chase Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card

The Chase Southwest Premier card offers 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases each calendar year, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points.

The Chase Southwest Premier card also comes with 25,000 points (which count towards the companion pass) after $1,000 in purchases in the first 3 months, no foreign transaction fees and 6,000 bonus points after your card member anniversary. This card comes with an annual fee of $99, which is not waived the first year.

Analysis:

Southwest is a great airline and the companion pass is one of the best values out there in my opinion. I think this card is ideal for earning miles towards your companion pass, but I don’t think it offers great value for elite status. To earn A-List status, you would need 35,000 Tier-Qualifying Points, so even if you maxed out this offer by spending $100,000 in the calendar year on this card, you still would be less than half of the way to A-List status (which is not even the highest tier for Southwest).

Virgin Atlantic

Bank of America Virgin Atlantic World Elite MasterCard

The Virgin Atlantic card offer 1 tier point per $2,500 in purchases up to a maximum of 2 tier points per month.

The Virgin Atlantic card also comes with 20,000 bonus Flying Club miles after your first purchase, 5,000 additional Flying Club miles when you add an additional cardholder, 7,500 Flying Club miles when you spend $15,000 annually or 15,000 Flying Club miles when you spend $25,000 annually, plus you get a second reward ticket for half the miles when you redeem Flying Club miles for a Virgin Atlantic economy reward ticket after spending $25,000 annually. The card comes with an annual fee of $90 which is not waived for the first year.

Analysis:

Virgin Atlantic is one of the hippest and coolest airlines in the industry. With that said, this card allows you to earn up to 24 tier points per year, which is enough for Silver status (which you earn with 15 tier points), but only a little over half of what you would need for Gold status (which you earn with 40 tier points). Unless you are flying frequently on routes that are serviced by Virgin Atlantic, I do not think the $60,000 in spend justifies the Silver status.

Final Thoughts

While there are some good options out there for earning additional elite qualifying miles/points, it is often not worth it unless you have a specific need for those points to qualify for top tier status. While you could in theory earn top tier status with Delta just by having all of their co-branded credit cards, the spend required for that would be much better spent earning status the old fashioned way – butt in seat miles.

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