The Best Credit Cards for Earning Airline Elite Status [2021]

Delta One A330-300
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If you fly frequently, you know the value of having airline elite status. Free checked bags, priority boarding, assistance when things go wrong, and complimentary upgrades can really make travel more comfortable.

Qualifying for elite status year after year, however, has become more difficult. In addition to flying the required number of elite qualifying miles, some airlines have added levels of hefty spending requirements (elite qualifying dollars) in order to achieve any level of elite status.

It can be easier to qualify for elite status with the help of an airline-branded credit card. While none of the major domestic air carriers offers a credit card that offers complimentary airline elite status, there are credit cards that do offer a faster path to elite status.

Being a cardholder and spending on specific airline-branded cards can earn you miles that help you qualify for elite status. You may also earn elite qualifying dollars on certain airline-branded credit cards that count towards elite status revenue requirements or earn a waiver of those spending requirements.

Let’s take a look at the airline-branded cards that can expedite your path to airline elite status and explain how the process works for each card.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Platinum American Express
Medallion Qualifying Miles earned on specific Delta credit cards count toward Medallion elite status, even MQMs earned from welcome bonuses. Image Credit: American Express

Medallion Elite Status Qualifications

In order to attain Medallion elite status with Delta, you must fly a specified number of Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) or segments (MQS) each calendar year and meet the annual revenue (MQD) requirement.

Elite Status LevelMedallion Qualifying Miles or Medallion Qualifying Segments NeededMedallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) Required
Silver Medallion25,000 or 30$3,000
Gold Medallion50,000 or 60$6,000
Platinum Medallion75,000 or 100$9,000
Diamond Medallion125,000 or 140$15,000

The revenue requirement (MQD) is met by purchasing paid (not award) tickets and then flying on Delta and its SkyTeam Alliance partners. The base fare plus a portion of taxes and fees count toward the MQD requirement.

Another avenue for earning some of the required MQMs is by spending on Delta-branded credit cards. You can also earn a waiver of the MQD requirements for Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion level statuses by spending on your qualifying Delta-branded credit cards.

Top-level Medallion elite status comes with free system-wide upgrade certificates, Delta Sky Club lounge access, waived fees for changes or cancellations, complimentary upgrades, and much more.

Hot Tip: Through the end of 2021, you can earn up to 50% more credit towards elite status on paid tickets, award tickets, and Pay with Miles. Earn up to 75% more on premium cabin flights and subsequent upgrades purchased with cash or miles. 

How Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards Can Help You Qualify

Let’s take a look at each of the Delta-branded credit cards that earn MQMs and/or offer the ability to waive the MQD requirement for certain Medallion elite levels.

Delta-Branded Credit CardEarning Elite Qualifying MilesWaiver of MQD Requirement for Silver, Gold, or Platinum Status
  • Spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the card and earn 15,000 MQMs, up to 4x
  • Throughout 2021 earn an additional 3,750 MQMs after making $30,000 in purchases, up to 4x
Spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the card
  • Spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the card and earn 10,000 MQMs, up to 2x
  • Throughout 2021 earn an additional 2,500 MQMs after making $25,000 in purchases, up to 2x
Spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the card

MQD requirements are only for those Medallion members who have a U.S. address.

To earn an MQD waiver for top-level Diamond Medallion elite status, you must spend $250,000 in a calendar year on any of the cards in the above table.

In addition to earning MQM from spending on your Delta credit card, there may be an MQM earning offer included in a Delta credit card’s welcome bonus. In addition to bonus miles, the new cardholder would earn MQM after meeting the minimum required spending in the first 3 months after card approval.

These offers vary but are typically around 5,000 to 10,000 MQM.

The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card, and the Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card cannot earn the MQD waiver. However, if you do have another Delta SkyMiles-branded card listed in the above table that does qualify for the waiver, additional spending on the Gold and Blue cards will count toward the MQD waiver.

Hot Tip: You can earn Medallion Qualifying Miles on several different Delta credit cards and all of those MQMs count toward Medallion elite status, even MQMs earned from welcome bonuses. For example, you could earn 30,000 MQMs on the Delta Reserve card and 20,000 MQMs on the Delta Platinum card and all 50,000 will count toward qualifications for elite status. 

Delta SkyMiles Credit Cards Snapshot

American Airlines

American Airlines Admirals Club at Orlando MCO bar stools
Having airline elite status can help you relax before a flight with lounge access. American Airlines Admirals Club at Orlando MCO. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

AAdvantage Elite Status Qualifications

Each calendar year, to qualify for AAdvantage Elite status you must fly the required number of Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) or Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS). You must also generate a specified level of Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) by purchasing American Airlines tickets.

American Airlines has reduced qualification thresholds for 2021 by 20% to 33% from the pre-pandemic requirements. Here are the reduced requirements for 2021:

2021 Qualifying MetricGold
Oneworld Ruby
Platinum
Oneworld Sapphire
Platinum Pro
Oneworld Sapphire
Executive Platinum
Oneworld Emerald
EQDs$2,000$4,500$7,000$12,000
EQMs20,00040,00060,00080,000
EQSs20457095

Executive Platinum, the top elite status, comes with systemwide upgrade certificates, complimentary domestic and regional upgrades, cancellation or award fee waivers, and flight benefits.

You can learn all about the American Airlines AAdvantage loyalty program in our complete review.

How American AAdvantage Credit Cards Can Help You Qualify

Each calendar year you can earn EQMs and EQDs that count toward elite status by spending on your AAdvantage credit cards.

Barclays or Citi/AAdvantage Credit CardEarn Elite Qualifying MilesEarn Elite Qualifying Dollars
Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®Spend $40,000 in a calendar year and earn 10,000 EQMN/A
AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®
  • Spend $20,000 in a calendar year and earn 5,000 EQM
  • Spend an additional $20,000 for a total of $40,000 and receive another 5,000 EQM
Spend $50,000 in a calendar year and earn $3,000 EQD

The AAdvantage Executive World Elite card comes with premium travel benefits such as Admirals Club lounge access for the cardholder (and up to 2 guests plus authorized users), priority boarding, and a free checked bag.

The AAdvantage Aviator Silver card is not open to new applicants but can be requested as a product change once you have an AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.

Hot Tip: For 2021, you can secure an EQD waiver for Gold, Platinum, and Platinum Pro elite status levels by spending $30,000 in net purchases on an eligible Citi/AAdvantage, AAdvantage, and AAdvantage Aviator credit card. The qualifying spending must post by December 31, 2021, to waive 2021 EQD requirements.

American AAdvantage Credit Cards Snapshot

United Airlines

United Airlines Business Class
Top United MileagePlus Premier elite status earns PlusPoints that can be used to upgrade flights booked in specific fare classes. Image Credit: United

United MileagePlus Elite Status Qualifications

Each calendar year, the MileagePlus frequent flyer member must complete the required levels of activity to qualify for United Premier Elite status. The first requirement is to meet the appropriate amount of Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF) and/or Premier Qualifying Points (PQP).

Due to COVID-19, United has reduced requirements for status through the 2022 program year as of January 1, 2021:

2022 StatusEarn Premier Qualifying Flights (PQF)and Premier Qualifying Points (PQP)…or Meet a Higher PQP Goal
Premier Silver83,0003,500
Premier Gold166,0007,000
Premier Platinum249,00010,000
Premier 1K3613,50015,000

Members who held United MileagePlus Premier status at the end of 2020 will receive a 25% bonus of the 2021 PQP requirement to help them achieve status for the following year.

Top-level United Premier 1K members receive complimentary PlusPoints that can be used to upgrade domestic and international paid flights, cancellation or award fee waivers, and more.

Hot Tip: We also have 2 in-depth dedicated posts for what United MileagePlus elite status is worth — one in terms of perks prior to departure and at the airport and another for benefits related to seating and upgrades.

How United MileagePlus Credit Cards Can Help You Qualify

United credit cardholders can earn Premier qualifying points (PQP) through their annual credit card spend and for 2021 can apply this earned PQP toward Premier 1K status.

For every $12,000 spent on your qualifying United-branded card, you will receive 500 PQP. Maximums apply depending on the card.

United MileagePlus Credit Cards Snapshot

JetBlue

JetBlue Mint A321 left cabin
Use your TrueBlue points to book JetBlue Mint. Image Credit: Stephen Au

JetBlue Elite Status Qualifications

You can earn JetBlue TrueBlue Mosaic elite status each calendar year by earning 15,000 flight points or earning 12,000 flight points and flying 30 segments.

Flight points are earned at the rate of 3 points for each dollar you spend on JetBlue flights.

JetBlue Mosaic status comes with free checked bags, waived cancellation or change fees, priority boarding, bonus points, and free alcoholic beverages onboard. You also receive a dedicated customer service phone line.

How JetBlue TrueBlue Credit Cards Can Help You Qualify

You can earn JetBlue Mosaic status simply by spending $50,000 in a calendar year on The JetBlue Plus Card or The JetBlue Business Card.

JetBlue TrueBlue Credit Cards Snapshot

Southwest Airlines

couple in airport with suitcases
A Southwest branded credit card can help you qualify for elite status and a Companion Pass. Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk via Shutterstock

Southwest Rapid Rewards Elite Status Qualification

Here’s what it takes to qualify for Rapid Rewards elite status with Southwest Airlines:

Rapid Rewards Elite Status LevelCalendar Year Qualification Requirements
A-List25 one-way qualifying flights OR 35,000 tier qualifying points
A-List Preferred50 one-way qualifying flights OR 70,000 tier points
Companion Pass100 one-way qualifying flights OR 125,000 qualifying points

A-List Preferred members receive priority check-in, boarding, and security lane access. Free onboard Wi-Fi, 100% bonus points for flights, and the ability to stand by for other same-day flights are also valuable benefits of being A-List Preferred.

A Companion Pass allows a member to purchase a ticket and add a pre-selected companion for the cost of just taxes and fees. The pass can be used unlimited times during the valid time period for which the member has qualified.

Hot Tip: Are you a frequent flyer with Southwest? If yes, see our complete guide to the best credit cards for Southwest flyers.

How Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards Can Help You Qualify

Rapid Rewards-branded credit cards earn qualifying tier points that count toward elite status and bonus points that count toward the Companion Pass. In addition, anniversary points granted when you renew your Rapids Rewards credit card count toward Companion Pass status.

The generous sign-up bonus you receive after meeting minimum spending requirements in the first 3 months you have the card also counts toward Companion Pass requirements.

Rapid Rewards Credit CardRenewal Points (Count Toward Companion Pass)Elite Tier Points (Don’t Count Toward Companion Pass)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card3,000Earn 1,500 elite tier points for each $10,000 spent on the card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card6,000Earn 1,500 elite tier points for each $10,000 spent on the card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card7,500Earn 1,500 elite tier points for each $10,000 spent on the card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card 3,000Earn 1,500 elite tier points for each $10,000 spent on the card

There are several ways to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points that count toward the Companion Pass and free flights. To review some creative ideas and learn more about the Rapid Rewards loyalty program, you’ll want to check out our guides.

Bottom Line: Southwest Airlines elite status offers several benefits, but the Southwest Companion Pass has become the holy grail of travel and is a sought-after perk for those who frequently fly Southwest Airlines. 

Southwest Rapid Rewards Credit Cards Snapshot

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines Planes at Denver Airport
Qualify for elite status with 1 Elite Qualifying Mile earned for every dollar spent on the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. Image Credit: Robert Cicchetti via Shutterstock

Frontier Airlines Elite Status Qualifications

Frontier Airlines has 3 tiers of status in its FRONTIER Miles program. Here’s how you qualify for each level during any calendar year.

Status LevelRequirements
Elite 20KFly 20,000 miles or 25 segments
Elite 50KFly 50,000 miles or 50 segments
Elite 100KFly 100,000 miles or 100 segments

Top-level Elite 100K status includes priority boarding, priority security, award and travel fees waived, discounted lounge access, and a bonus mileage multiplier.

How a Frontier Credit Card Can Help You Qualify

Earn 1 Elite Qualifying Mile for every dollar spent on the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®. Having the card also opens up the option to pool miles between family members. In addition, you’ll earn 5 reward miles per dollar spent on the card, 3x miles for dining, and 1 mile on all other purchases. Another benefit to this card is that when you spend $2,500 on the card each year, you’ll earn a $100 flight credit.

Hot Tip: Because you earn 1 Elite Qualifying Mile for every dollar spent on the Frontier Airlines World card, you could qualify for elite status just by spending on the card. 

Final Thoughts

If you frequently travel on several airlines and elite status isn’t important to you, you may fare better with a premium travel rewards credit card. These cards offer benefits such as worldwide lounge access, accelerated earnings on all airlines, and travel statement credits.

The Platinum Card® from American Express and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card are 2 such alternatives to consider if an airline-branded card isn’t right for you.

But, if you frequently fly 1 particular airline, you can experience additional benefits and earn frequent flyer miles quickly by having that airline’s branded card. Many airline-branded credit cards come with elite-type benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding, waived fees, companion tickets, and more.


The information regarding the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®, JetBlue Card, JetBlue Plus Card, JetBlue Business Card, and Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Gold Business American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, click here.


Frequently asked questions

Which is the best credit card for airline elite status?

The best credit card for airline elite status will be one that aligns with your flying habits and your spending profile.

If you frequent United Airlines, for example, the best card for you may be a United-branded credit card because you’ll receive travel benefits and elevated earnings specific to United.

If you frequently fly a lot of different airlines, a travel rewards credit card may be a better match.

Selecting a card that offers elevated earnings on airline flight and travel purchases, has premium travel benefits, and offers statement credits for purchases you’re making anyway could be equally beneficial.

Do the miles I earn on the credit card count toward elite status?

Bonus miles you earn by spending on an airline credit card don’t count toward elite status.

However, some airline credit cards do earn elite qualifying miles for spending a lot on their branded credit card.

If the miles will be counting towards elite status they will be described as such. For example, look for statements such as “spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the card and receive 10,000 elite (or Medallion, Premier, etc.) qualifying miles.”

Can I earn airline elite status just by spending on the credit card?

The short answer is yes. It’s possible to earn elite status by just spending on a credit card.

Delta-branded credit cards, for example, allow you to earn Medallion (elite) qualifying miles. Additionally, the Medallion Qualifying Dollar spending requirement can be waived for most elite levels by spending $25,000 on select Delta-branded credit cards.

How do elite qualifying dollars work?

Airlines normally require you to fly a certain number of miles on their airline (or their partner airlines) each year in order to achieve elite status in their frequent flyer program.

In addition to flying miles with the airlines, most airlines have added a revenue requirement that’s measured in the form of elite qualifying dollars.

Elite qualifying dollars are earned by spending money on flights with the airline. They’re calculated in different ways but normally the base cost of the flight is included plus a portion of the surcharges and fees.

If you fly with partner airlines, the revenue can be calculated not based on price but on miles flown.

The metrics can be confusing but the bottom line is that in order to make elite status with an airline you’ll normally have to fly the required miles and spend a certain amount with the airline.

Some airlines will waive the revenue requirement (elite qualifying dollars) for some elite status levels if you spend a specified level on their branded credit card each calendar year.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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2 comments

  1. I am a graduate student and my program just announced that we can pay tuition with a credit card without any convenience fees. I will be traveling frequently next year around the United States and I’m looking for the best points card to get the most “free” flights. I will spend about $53,000 a year in tuition so cards with signup bonuses and “tiers” are in my sights. I have excellent credit and already have a Capital One Venture card, but looking for something that I can get more out of. Suggestions?

    Reply

    • Hello T.Nielsen and congrats on establishing a fine credit history. The Capital One Venture card is going to earn you 2 miles per dollar spent so that card will work well for paying tuition. It also allows you to transfer points to airline partners for potentially greater value when redeeming for free award flights. However, it makes sense to utilize some of that spending towards securing a new card welcome bonus. It can also be beneficial to earn a variety of rewards currencies. You might want to check out our list of the best travel rewards cards and see which one fits your tolerance for paying an annual fee, has a generous welcome bonus, offers benefits you can use, and aligns with your spending. https://upgradedpoints.com/credit-cards/travel-rewards-credit-cards/ and this article on first-time rewards cards: https://upgradedpoints.com/best-first-credit-cards Thank you for reading.

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