Airline elite status comes with enviable perks that have inspired many travelers to go to extreme lengths to maintain them. Whether it’s seat upgrades, free checked bags or a speedier airport experience, having elite status can make travel more pleasant. However, you don’t need to have to status to enjoy these perks. Here’s how you can get airline elite perks without status.
Free checked bags
Many airlines charge checked bag fees of $30 or more, which can definitely add up. But you don’t need to have elite status on an airline to get free checked bags. Many airline credit cards offer free checked bags to both cardholders and their travel companions. Some cards offer free checked bags for cardholders and up to eight companions. They include the following:
In addition to airline credit cards, there are also premium cards that offer airline fee credits. These can be applied toward checked bag fees. Examples include The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, both of which offer $200 airline fee credits annually. The catch? You must choose a single airline to apply this credit to, though you can change which airline you designate each year. Terms apply.
Note that the cards listed above also come with annual fees, and in the case of premium cards, those fees can be hefty.
Have you ever stood in a long airport security line and enviously watched as elite flyers skipped ahead to a shorter security lane? You don’t have to be an elite flyer to do the same. In fact, you can enroll in a trusted traveler program and get the fee waived with credit cards that offer TSA PreCheck fee credits. TSA PreCheck only costs $85 for five years and gets you through a dedicated security lane where you can keep on your shoes, belts and jacket.
A few credit cards that offer TSA Precheck fee credit include The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, Citi Prestige® Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Terms apply.
Have you ever boarded a packed plane only to discover there were no overhead bins left and you were forced to check your bag? That scenario could have been avoided with priority boarding privileges. Normally reserved for elite flyers (along with families and active duty military), priority boarding is offered by several airline credit cards.
Most of the AAdvantage-branded credit cards offer preferred boarding for cardholders and up to four travel companions on the same reservation:
In addition to priority boarding, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® offers cardholders and up to eight travel companions priority check-in and screening.
» Learn more: Citi AAdvantage Executive review: Your key to the club
Delta Air Lines
Non-elite Delta flyers can enjoy priority boarding for themselves and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation with the following cards (terms apply):
» Learn more: Delta Reserve Credit Card: Full details and review
Southwest is famous for its first-come, first-served approach to boarding for non-elite passengers. Travelers are assigned to boarding groups depending on the time they check in. They also have the option to pay for a boarding group upgrade.
With the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card, you have one less thing to worry about because cardholders receive four upgraded boardings per year, subject to availability.
» Learn more: Southwest Priority Card review: Pay more, get more
The United℠ Explorer Card and United℠ Business Card both offer priority boarding to cardholders and travelers on the same reservation.
Meanwhile, United Club℠ Infinite Card holders get Premier Access, which includes priority boarding, luggage handling, check-in and security. Benefits apply to travel companions on the same reservation.
Upgrades are the ultimate elite status perk. Thanks to some airline credit cards, you can earn elite status faster. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® offers 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after $40,000 spent every calendar year. The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs after you spend $60,000 in eligible purchases. Terms apply.
It’s also possible to use the travel credits from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and Citi Prestige® Card to pay for airline seat upgrades.
All information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Citi Prestige® Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Citi Prestige® Card are no longer available through NerdWallet. To view rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page. To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page. The information related to CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
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 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card