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Top-tier elite status can make all the difference when it comes to traveling in comfort and with peace of mind. Whether you have airline or hotel status, your travel experience can be significantly improved thanks to upgrades, waived fees, dedicated phone lines and other perks reserved for elite members.
But you don’t have to be a frequent traveler to get there. In fact, there are many programs that let you earn top-tier elite status via credit card spending and even more that will help you get at least part of the way there.
Airline elite status is becoming more difficult to achieve thanks to revenue requirements, but airline credit cards can help you reach top-tier status faster via credit card spending. Although only a few programs allow you to obtain top-tier status purely via credit card spending, many make it possible to get at least halfway there.
American Airlines AAdvantage
If you have an AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®, you can upgrade your status by earning Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) via credit card spending. Those who obtained the card between Jan. 1, 2018, and Oct. 31. 2018 can earn up to $6,000 EQDs: $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000, plus another $3,000 EQDs after spending $50,000.
The AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard® offers $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year. Since Executive Platinum members need at least $15,000 EQDs per year to qualify for status, AAdvantage credit cards are a great way to achieve this.
Top-tier Delta Diamond status requires a combination of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs):
125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs, and
$15,000 MQDs or MQD waiver.
The MQD waiver for top-tier Delta Diamond status requires $250,000 worth of credit card spending in a calendar year. If you can manage this much spending, you can get your MQD waiver and earn MQMs with the following credit cards:
Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card: Earn 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, up to twice per year. Terms apply.
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card: Earn 15,000 MQMs after you make $30,000 in eligible purchases on the card annually, up to four times per year. Terms apply.
While you won’t make it all the way to top-tier Diamond status via credit card spending, you can get a substantial amount of the requirements out of the way. Terms apply.
» Learn more: Full review of the Delta Reserve credit card
The JetBlue Plus Card offers JetBlue Mosaic status after $50,000 spent in a calendar year. Normally, this status level requires earning 15,000 flight points or flying 30 segments and earning 12,000 flight points within a calendar year.
United co-branded credit cards won’t let you earn top-tier elite status directly through credit card spending, but you can get the Premier Qualifying Dollar (PQD) requirement waived by putting $25,000 worth of spending on these cards every year. And if you have multiple United credit cards, the spend on all of them will be combined toward the $25,000 requirement.
This can help you get to top-tier status if you’re short of the $15,000 PQD requirement for top-tier United Premier 1K status.
Southwest requires 70,000 tier qualifying points (TQPs) or 50 flight segments for top-tier A-List Preferred status.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card lets cardholder earn 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 in purchases, up to $100,000 in purchases annually. That’s 15,000 TQPs, which isn’t all the way to the 70,000 required, but still gets you part of the way there.
While not exactly the same as other types of status, credit cards can also help you earn the coveted Southwest Companion Pass. As of 2020, 125,000 TQPs are required to earn the pass. Credit card welcome bonuses, credit card spending, TQPs earned from flights, and more all count toward the Southwest Companion Pass.
Earning top-tier elite status via credit card spending is much easier with hotel rewards programs than with airline frequent flyer programs. Some hotel credit cards issue top-tier status outright, while others have staggering spending requirements. Below is a breakdown of hotel rewards programs that let you spend your way to top-tier elite status.
The easiest way to earn top-tier Hilton Honors elite status is by applying for a Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. The card comes with instant Hilton Honors Diamond status, which normally requires 30 stays, 60 nights, or 120,000 Hilton Honors base points. If you’d rather have a lower annual fee, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is a good alternative. It has a $95 annual fee and comes with Hilton Gold status. You can upgrade to Diamond status by spending at least $40,000 on your card within a calendar year. Terms apply.
» Learn more: Hilton AmEx Surpass review: Decent value, lounge perks
The World of Hyatt Credit Card comes with Hyatt Discoverist status. Other than a 10% bonus on base point earnings, this status level doesn’t have much to offer. However, cardholders do get five qualifying elite credits towards status every calendar year and can spend their way to a higher status level: Every $5,000 spent on this card earns two additional elite night credits.
Hyatt’s top-tier Globalist status requires 60 elite qualifying nights. Minus the five elite qualifying nights issued to cardholders every year, that means cardholders who spend $140,000 every year can earn top-tier status. Whether it’s worth it to spend that much on a Hyatt card is up to individual cardholders, but it’s an available option for those who want to earn top-tier Hyatt elite status via credit card spending.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
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