How to Think About Airline Elite Status in 2024

Some airline elite status programs, including Frontier Miles and Delta SkyMiles, will undergo big changes in 2024.
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Giselle M. Cancio

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2023 was a turbulent year for airline elite status. A few major airlines announced significant loyalty program changes — many of which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2024. In most cases, it’s made a more challenging path with higher spending requirements to earn airline elite status.

Some of the most notable and drastic shifts happened to the Delta Air Lines SkyMiles loyalty program. In September, the airline announced it would award Medallion elite status solely based on spending and limit Delta Sky Club access for many customers starting in 2024. The updates were so drastic that Delta walked back some of its most controversial changes, including reducing the spending requirement to earn status.

Other airlines have made minor loyalty program modifications:

  • Frontier Airlines overhauled its loyalty program to align status earning with dollar spending rather than based on physical miles flown. This kicked in with the new year. 

  • Southwest Airlines made it easier to earn elite status in 2024 by reducing the number of flights needed to earn status.

  • As of March 2024, Alaska Airlines will simplify partner redemptions based on distance and cabin. According to Alaska Airlines, more than 60% of partner nonstop routes will start at a lower price point (but that implies others will become more expensive).

  • American Airlines made some changes in 2024, including adding new earning and redemption opportunities. It’ll also soon offer one-day lounge passes for sale.

In short, airline mileage programs widely vary. A mile with one airline is not worth the same as a mile in another, and status tiers differ among the airlines. NerdWallet compared the value of airline elite status programs to determine which ones offer the best value and ultimately find the best airline rewards program for 2024.

Which airline program provides the most value?

NerdWallet’s analysis focuses on elite status perks that offer concrete value, such as bonus rewards, seat upgrades and free checked bags. We compared these values against the spending needed to earn each status level. That indicates which elite programs truly offer excellent value per dollar spent.

To generate a single number to compare loyalty programs, we calculate an “effective rewards rate,” which accounts for the value of the benefits you receive relative to the amount you already spent with the airline.

There’s variation across airline loyalty programs, but the average return across all programs is 6.28% in value per dollar spent, meaning you’d get an average of a little over $6 per $100 spent.

Alaska’s rewards program stands out at the top end with its 9.7% rate — the equivalent of earning nearly $10 in value for every $100 spent. Hawaiian Airlines, which in December announced plans to merge with Alaska, isn't far behind with an 8.89% earning rate.

Frontier and Spirit Airlines trail far behind with paltry 3.92% and 3.45% rewards rates, respectively.

Understand what status is worth

Some programs slap labels like “Gold” and “Platinum” on benefits that hardly sparkle, so be skeptical of chasing titles that sound fancy but ultimately offer mediocre benefits.

A-List Preferred is the highest level of status with Southwest, but its value is low, with no option for premium class seats or airport lounges. You’d have to spend an estimated $14,400 to earn A-List Preferred (though you could get it for less if you fly a lot of low-cost flight segments), yet NerdWallet values its benefits at less than $1,400. Don’t try too hard to chase Southwest status.

Meanwhile, the top tiers at Alaska, Hawaiian, United Airlines and American Airlines mean something. With Alaska MVP Gold 100K, you’ll receive nearly $9,000 in value with the first-class upgrades, free checked bags and lounge passes. Earning it requires an estimated $12,000 in Alaska spending, translating to a roughly 73% rewards rate.

Earning United Premier 1K status is neither cheap nor easy, as you’ll have to spend an estimated $30,000 with United for the honor. But NerdWallet values the benefits (which include instant premium cabin upgrades and priority check-in) at nearly $19,000, offering a 64% return.

Look for promotions

You can sometimes find limited-time promotions with easier routes to earning elite status. For example, United MileagePlus is currently running a Premier Status Match Challenge through the end of 2024.

Leverage airline credit cards

Some airline credit cards help you qualify for elite status by earning points at a faster rate.

If you’re chasing elite status for benefits like free checked bags, Wi-Fi or early boarding, many airline credit cards offer those perks without awarding you elite status.

How to approach airline elite status in 2024

As more airlines tie elite status to spending, it can feel like the value of your loyalty has taken a nosedive, especially if you previously earned status through low-cost flights. On the other hand, some high rollers are rejoicing. After all, a higher threshold to earn status only makes it more valuable for folks who have it through reduced competition for seat upgrades or fewer people overcrowding airport lounges.

However, having elite status is only part of the reason to pick which airline to fly. Sometimes elite status can be more limiting than freeing, as you might be more inclined to fly at an inconvenient time or book a more expensive flight just to flex your benefits.

By leveraging credit card bonuses, seeking targeted promotions and being open-minded to the best flight rather than one operated by the brand you have status with, you can maximize the value of your travel.

Not to mention, airfares have dropped over the past year despite inflation affecting most other sectors. Some experts expect airfares to continue dropping. According to American Express Global Business Travel’s 2024 Air Monitor report, economy class flights from North America to Europe are expected to drop by 3.5% versus their 2023 prices, while those to Asia are expected to drop by 7.5%.

For price-conscious consumers, that might be a better trade anyway.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024, including those best for:

Travel Cards from Our Partners
Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


5x on travel purchased through Chase Travel℠, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.


Intro offer


Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate


Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.


Intro offer


Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

See more travel cards
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