Airline Elite Fast Track

airline elite status challenge

In a previous section I covered the benefits of hotel elite status and I described various ways to fast-track your way to elite status. In this resource we’ll take a quick look at airline status.

High level airline elite status comes with many valuable perks such as free domestic first class upgrades (when available), elite security lines, waived fees (such as free checked bags, and free changes to award bookings), improved availability of award seats, and more. As with hotels, airlines usually have multiple tiers of status with better benefits going to those at higher tiers. Typically, airlines require you to fly 25,000 miles within a calendar year to reach first level status, 50,000 miles to reach mid level status, and more to reach top level status (top level requirements vary by airline).

Airlines differentiate between redeemable miles (RDMs) and elite qualifying miles (EQMs). RDMs are the miles you get for using airline branded credit cards, transferring points from flexible points programs, shopping via shopping portals, etc. Usually, EQMs are earned only when actually flying. This is why obtaining elite status can be difficult: only EQMs count towards elite status.


I have almost top level Platinum status with Delta and I love it. Delta requires 75,000 EQMs (which they call MQMs – Medallion Qualifying Miles) to reach Platinum status. Luckily for me, unlike other airlines, Delta provides a few ways to earn EQMs that do not require flying. First, Delta allows excess EQMs to roll-over from one year to the next. That is, if you reach a particular level of elite status, any EQMs you earned above that will roll over to the next year. This is a great benefit because, unlike with other airlines, extra Delta EQMs are not wasted. Secondly, there are two American Express credit cards that make it possible to earn huge numbers of EQMs each year. For full details, please see my blog post “Mileage running, from home.”

Other Airlines

If you regularly fly an airline other than Delta, here are a few things you can do to try to reach elite status:

  • Chose the worst routes.  Let’s say you’re planning to fly across the country and you can pick either a non-stop route or a two stop route that takes you far out of the way. If you can bear it, consider the latter. It will add lots of miles (EQMs) to your account.
  • Credit flights to your preferred airline. If you fly a different airline that is part of the same alliance with your preferred airline or is a partner with your preferred airline, it is usually possible to credit the flight to your preferred airline’s frequent flyer program. Usually this will result in earned EQMs.
  • Fly bonus routes. Occasionally airlines will run promotions for “double EQMs” for certain routes. Make sure to register for these promotions even if you don’t think you will fly the route. You never know what may come up.
  • Mileage run. If all else fails, you can fly just for the sake of earning EQMs. The trick is to find the longest, cheapest routes. Browse the Flyertalk mileage running forum for routes that work for you.

Status Challenge

If you have status on one airline, but would like status on another, call the second airline and ask if they offer status matches or challenges. Most will not offer a direct match, but will instead offer a challenge in which you will be given temporary elite status and will need to fly a certain amount to retain that status. If you have long or numerous flights planned for a given airline, then I’d recommend waiting until about 3 weeks prior to those flights to start the challenge. That way, you will benefit from elite status on those flights and you will have a better chance of meeting the challenge.  A good source for learning about the status match requirements of different airlines is Status Matcher.

Pseudo Elite Status

Some of the perks that make airline elite status valuable are given to you simply by owning an airline branded credit card. For example, cards from American Airlines, United & Delta all give you priority boarding, free checked bags, and other benefits. If you regularly fly a particular airline, but don’t fly enough to earn elite status, I highly recommend getting an airline branded card. That does not mean I recommend using the card for daily spend though! Cards like the Citi ThankYou Premier, Chase Sapphire Preferred, Amex Everyday Preferred, and the SPG Amex will typically earn more miles for your daily spend than airline branded cards (with a few exceptions). So, consider getting an airline card (make sure to get the best possible sign-up bonus!) and stick it in a drawer except when making purchases directly with that airline.

Go to: Table of Contents - Credit Cards - Flexible Points Programs - Airline Programs - Hotel Programs - Earning & Managing Points - Miscellaneous

About Shawn Coomer - Senior Editor

Shawn Coomer has spent nearly a decade circling the globe for pennies on the dollar. He uses that first-hand knowledge and experience to teach others how to achieve their travel dreams for the least amount of money possible.

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