Manufacturing airline elite status, infinitely.

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Move over, Delta Diamond status: there’s a new way to use a credit card to manufacture airline elite status that isn’t limited to Delta. Well, not necessarily new. And “manufacturing” may be stretching it a little….but there are at least some easy-ish opportunities to manufacture attain airline elite status that I’d been overlooking and might just be worthwhile for some folks.

Visa Infinite Air discount

One of the awesome benefits of the Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa and the CNB Crystal Visa Infinite is the Visa Infinite Discount Air benefit, which is essentially an uncapped repeatable airfare discount when booking for 2-5 passengers. When making a domestic (US) round trip economy class booking through the Visa Infinite Discount Air portal, you receive a $100 discount when booking for 2-5 passengers. The discount is the same whether booking for 2 people or for 5 people, so you’d obviously want to use this to book for two passengers in order to maximize the discount per person.

In other words, you get $100 off on two round trip domestic economy class tickets and you can repeat that discount again and again. Infinitely, if you will.

Unfortunately, the Ritz card is no longer available for new applications. However, it should be possible to product change to the Ritz card from a Chase Marriott personal card. The CNB Crystal Visa Infinite is probably the best card that most of us can’t get. Read more about it here.

Note that while the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and the US Bank Altitude Reserve are both Visa Infinite cards, neither of them carry this benefit.

Also worth mentioning here is that to access this benefit, you must book through the Visa Infinite Discount Air portal:

Visa Infinite Discount Air portal for CNB Crystal Visa Infinite
Visa Infinite Discount Air portal for Chase Ritz-Carlton Visa Infinite

The portal does not show any low cost carriers, so you can’t use this benefit with Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant, or even Southwest.

While the benefit did not initially have any other notable restrictions, I could have sworn that a restriction was added a couple of years ago requiring flights to cost a minimum of $100 round trip per person in order to apply the discount, but I guess I was making that up….

An airfare sale that led me to look for status runs

Last week, I saw an airfare sale reported with round trip flights from New York to Florida for under $100 round trip. When I hit Google Flights, I saw some options for $102-$105 round trip also, which I expected would qualify for the Visa Infinite Air discount.

However, when I put in a city pair for the New York-to-Florida sale, the cheapest United fare in the Ritz portal came up at $97.

Curious to see what would happen, I went through to booking. Sure enough, the $100 discount came off at the end, dropping two tickets to a grand total of less than $94 round trip.

That led me to search a totally different route, where I found Delta charging $89 round trip ($178 for two people). After the $100 discount, that came down to $78 round trip for two people.

A little further searching and I found Alaska Airlines itineraries between Las Vegas and Los Angeles for $79 round trip ($158 round trip). Sure enough, after the discount, those came down to $58 round trip. For two passengers. That’s $29 each — or $14.50 each way.

And then it dawned on me: You can qualify for Alaska airlines elite status based on segments flown. I should have remembered that from when Greg wrote about it a couple of years ago (See: Visa Infinite: a path to elite status for couples?), but I had probably pushed it out of mind because I was 83.5% sure that they had added a minimum fare before the Visa Infinite discount that made that type of thing obsolete. Apparently I was 100% wrong. Paying $14.50 per segment seemed like a cheap way to pick up the segments required for elite status. Alaska’s first tier, MVP, requires 30 segments. At $14.50 a pop, that would be $435 in flights (per person) to reach MVP status. And so that got me wondering about other levels/carriers: just how much would it cost to manufacture airline elite status via the Visa Infinite airfare discount?

Of course, the answer depends on how much you spend per flight, which in turn depends on where you live and when you fly. In other words, there isn’t really an easy answer.

There’s also the problem that most US-based carriers require both a number of segments (or miles flown) and a minimum amount of money spent on flights (called “Elite Qualifying Dollars” or some other name that means you’ve spent enough money with the airline). Alaska has no such spending minimum and Delta waives the elite spending requirement for those who spend at least $25K per year across their Delta credit cards.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a software program that checks for the cheapest airfare on a given airline, so Greg and I went back and forth with a little trial-and-error, which led to more trial-and-error. I’d love to get feedback from readers: who can find the cheapest round trip domestic economy class ticket that’s bookable with the Visa Infinite discount?

I was particularly curious what would happen if I found an airfare that costs less than $50 round trip per person as that could theoretically ring up as free, but I haven’t found anything that low. But I’ll happily send one Delta Tumi amenity kit to the first reader who finds one under $50 that’s bookable via the portal.

Realistically, most readers would be able to use this discount to manufacture either Alaska status or Detla status.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska offers a great elite program in my opinion. A mile flown is still a mile earned and you can earn some huge bonuses on paid premium cabin fares with select partners. Those passengers with even the lowest level of elite status, MVP, earn a 50% bonus on the base miles earned — in other words, 1.5 miles per mile flown.

Here are the tiers and qualification requirements from Alaska’s site:

As you can see, you’ll need 30 segments for MVP status, 60 segments for MVP Gold, or 90 segments for MVP Gold 75K.

Unfortunately, those $79 round trips have dried up for now. However, it’s worth keeping an eye out. At $79 round trip before the discount, remember that comes down to $58 round trip after the discount. That’s $29 each, which works out to $14.50 per segment. If you were able to repeat that kind of run, you’d be looking at:

MVP status: 30 x $14.50 = $435
MVP Gold status: 60 x $14.50 = $870
MVP Gold 75K status: 90 x $14.50 = $1,305

That’s of course to say nothing of the value of your time getting to and from the airport, through security, etc, which surely isn’t free.

Delta

Greg has literally written the guide on How to manufacture Delta elite status. See that post for more, but the short story is that you’ll need both segments/miles and spend.

As you can see, you’ll need 30 / 60 / 100 / 140 segments plus “MQDs”, which means dollars spent on Delta. However, you can get a waiver for those MQDs up to Platinum status by spending $25K per year on your Delta credit cards. Top-tier Diamond status requires $250K spend to get a waiver. No thanks.

For Silver through Platinum status, it’s possible to pretty easily spend your way to the MQD waiver. If you’re doing that, you might do better by spending a little more and picking up MQMs from the credit cards as well rather than going after segments.

Alternatively, do your $25K spend and pick up some cheap segments. For example, here’s Los Angeles to Las Vegas for two people for $77.20 round trip total.

That’s $38.60 each round trip or $19.30 per segment. That means the total segments required for status would cost this much per passenger:

Silver: $579
Gold: $1.158
Platinum: $1,930

I definitely don’t think it’s worth paying $1,930 plus taking fifty round trip flights between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to earn Delta elite status. But if you otherwise fly a lot of short hops (perhaps for work), this might be an interesting way to fill the gap and pick up pretty cheap segments towards status.

Cheap fares on other airlines

Unfortunately, I’m not aware of any way to get the spending requirements waived for elite status on United or American Airlines. In other words, I don’t think you could qualify for status using segments alone on those airlines. Which is a shame, because they do have some pretty cheap flights.

At just $73 round trip before the discount, Greg found the above American Airlines itinerary from Charlotte to Tampa came down to just $46.20 round trip for two passengers. That’s $23.10 each or just $11.55 per segment.

Of course, you may be able to credit flights like that to a foreign program that does offer qualification based on partner segments flown, in which case you would be looking at very cheap status indeed ($346.50 for 30 segments).

What can you find?

Hunting for the cheapest airfares is kind of fun. I’m really curious to see the cheapest domestic airfares readers can find. As noted above, I’ll happily ship a Tumi amenity kit to the first reader who finds an eligible flight under $50 per person before the discount as I’m really curious to see how the portal will handle it. Excluding the low cost carriers makes that tough, but I’m not convinced it is impossible. While I’ve never been one to chase airline status, I have to admit that the Visa Infinite Air discount makes it kind of interesting to explore the possibilities. This wouldn’t actually make sense to me if you need to manufacture all 30 or 60 or 90 segments, but if you’re someone who is halfway to status based on segments flown each year, the low cost to pick up additional segments here might just be worth it after all. It’s not exactly “manufacturing” status since you have to seat in the seat — but leveraging your credit card benefits to pay twelve or thirteen bucks for that seat sure beats paying full price to earn status.

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