How Best to Gain Sky Cred
Tips for Earning Elite Airline Status
We’re all looking for an avenue to make air travel more comfortable and affordable. Benefits like upgrades, lounge access, early boarding, free seat selection and waived baggage fees are universally desirable but only applicable to the small percentage of flyers who hold elite status.
What’s not to like about having elite status with an airline! Travel becomes less stressful when you can board the plane early, have priority seating, and be able to access dedicated service if things go wrong during your trip.
Note that the levels of elite status vary from program to program, with each airline using a different naming convention. For example, the Delta Medallion program has the following elite levels: Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond. Meanwhile, American AAdvantage breaks status down into Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum, while United’s MileagePlus program has Silver, Gold, Platinum and 1K. Of course, the higher the level of status, the more benefits you’ll enjoy.
Most elites earn status via the traditional method of many days in the air and thousands of dollars spent. However, there are two ways to get around these requirements: everyday spending, airline promotional offers, and status matches.
Co-Branded Credit Cards
If you don’t fly often enough to earn airline status the traditional way, you can earn through spending. And, let’s face it, regardless of how much we fly, we all spend money on other things every day. Why not earn points while we’re at it?
A co-branded airline credit card can help you bank points in three ways. First, the sign-up bonus gives you a significant leg up in the frequent flyer miles department. Second, each purchase you make adds at least one frequent flyer mile per dollar spent, and up to three miles per dollar spent directly with the airline, again adding to your stash. Third, and most importantly, the higher-end co-branded cards apply your spending toward elite qualifying miles. In other words, hitting certain spending thresholds counts the same as flying. Here are a few Co-Branded Airline Credit Cards to consider:
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Best for American Airlines
- Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card: Best for Southwest
- United Explorer Card and United Explorer Business Card: Best for United
- Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express: Best for Delta
- JetBlue Plus Card: Best for JetBlue
Flexible Rewards Credit Cards
If you are having trouble committing to any one particular airline, consider opening a flexible rewards credit card which allows you to transfer points to various airline partners on a whim.
The Chase Ultimate Rewards program, for instance, allows points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and other Ultimate Rewards cards to transfer at a 1:1 ratio to frequent flyer programs including United Airlines, British Airways, Korean Air, and Southwest.
Airline Status Promotional Offers
The best way to get offers for airline status upgrades is to be an active part of an airline’s rewards program. Get on their mailing lists, always login and bank points when securing airfare, and participate in their credit card offers if able.
If you already have elite status at one airline but need/want to fly on another airline, you don’t have to forgo the usual VIP treatment! The other airline may want your business enough to match your existing elite status, or offer you an opportunity for a “shortcut” to elite status if you fly with them. Several airlines such as Alaska, Delta, and United, have programs where they match status for a short period of time and offer you an opportunity to extend that temporary status if you agree to complete a “challenge,” in which you need to fly a specific number of miles/segments. There may also be a requirement to generate a specific level of revenue for the airline during the status challenge. It’s certainly worth investigating in order to maintain your usual VIP experience when trying on other airlines for size!