7 ways to rack up enough qualifying frequent-flier miles to achieve elite status

After spending the last year flying tens of thousands of miles, frequent fliers might feel as though they have just crossed the airline elite-status finish line.

That’s the line that gets you to extra perks, including upgrades and fee waivers.

Those miles aren’t always easy to come by. When you fly, you get awards miles, usually based on how much you spend. Those are the miles that give you free travel. But elite miles are the miles that make you feel less like cattle, and they’re based on how far you fly and what fare class you’re using.


A new year means the elite-status calendar has reset (unlike those awards miles that hang around for a while) so now is a good time to consider a strategy for the year. Here are seven ways travelers can rack up those elite-qualifying miles faster and get a jump start on status qualification for next year. Many will work just as well for occasional leisure travelers as for business travelers.

An offer of status “challenge” or a match. Several U.S. airlines (and some foreign ones) offer the chance to “challenge” for status, including American Airlines and Delta. Once you enroll for a challenge, you typically have 90 days to fly a certain number of qualifying miles (7,000 for American AAdvantage Gold or 12,500 for AAdvantage Platinum, for example) to earn a new status.

If you already have elite status with a competitor, Alaska Airlines offers outright status “matches” in which you prove your status with another airline, no additional flights required. One caveat: Status matches and challenges typically can be completed only once per person per airline per lifetime, so choose wisely.

Credit-card spending. Though most of the miles you earn by spending with an airline credit card are miles you can redeem for award tickets, some credit cards let you earn elite-qualifying miles, but the spending thresholds are high.

American Express Delta Reserve cardholders can earn up to 30,000 Medallion-Qualifying Miles by spending more than $60,000 on their card in a calendar year. Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier cardholders, meanwhile, can earn 1,500 tier-qualifying points for every $10,000 in purchases up to 15,000 points per calendar year.

Promotional bonuses. Airlines sometimes highlight new routes by offering double elite miles on them for the first few months. American Airlines, for instance, offered certain LinkedIn members a fast-track to elite status at the end of last year. Virgin America offered automatic Gold status to folks who transferred 80,000 or more American Express Membership Rewards points to their Elevate accounts.

Elite boost. American Airlines is offering its elite fliers (or those who have just missed qualifying) a chance to buy an elite-status renewal or boost to requalify for status or even to jump a tier in status. Prices vary based on tier and mileage but range from $399 to $2,499. Fliers have until July 31 to decide, and the status will be good through Feb. 28, 2017.

Elite accelerator. United’s Premier Accelerator program lets fliers pay for extra elite-qualifying miles when they buy tickets. Prices for those miles tend to be high (20 to 30 cents each in some cases) but might be worth it if you are close to qualifying.

Hotel partner elite programs. Airlines and hotels have started partnering to offer their loyalty-program members benefits. Most, such as the American Airlines-Marriott partnership, offer bonus mileage-earning opportunities, though Delta and Starwood’s Crossover Rewards partnership offers Starwood elite airline benefits such as priority check-in and boarding.

United has a partnership with Marriott called RewardsPlus in which Marriott Rewards and Ritz-Carlton Rewards Platinum members get automatic United Premier Silver status. Even if you do not fly frequently but do book a lot of hotel stays, this can be a good backdoor to airline status.

Business programs. Several airlines, including American, Delta and United, have business frequent-flier programs in which small businesses can earn benefits based on their employees’ travel. (The company isn’t taking anything away from employees; they will also earn miles and status as usual on their business travel.) Among the possible redemptions is the gift of elite status to employees. So ask your corporate booking agent if they can help you out.


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