How to Spend Your Way to Airline and Hotel Elite Status on Credit Cards
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.
With perks like free checked bags, room upgrades and complimentary breakfast, elite status can go a long way toward soothing stressful travel experiences. But what if you’re not a frequent traveler? Or perhaps you are, but you’re likely to opt for whatever’s cheapest, earning you little in the way of loyalty?
Don’t worry. With co-branded credit cards, it’s possible to earn elite status without needing to travel frequently. Let’s take a look at how to spend for elite status with airlines and hotels.
How to get airline status from spending on credit cards
The big three airlines within the U.S. — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — feature co-branded credit cards that will help you earn elite status with your spending. JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines also feature pathways to status with their credit cards.
This year, American Airlines debuted Loyalty Points, an all-in-one frequent flyer program that will award you status based on a number of activities. Those activities include booking flights, using shopping portals and making purchases with eligible credit cards.
Even better? There’s no cap on the level of status you can achieve, which means it’s possible — though difficult — to earn top-tier Executive Platinum status strictly by using your credit card.
The earning structure is simple(ish); you’ll receive one Loyalty Point for every eligible dollar you spend with your co-branded AAdvantage credit card. This includes options such as the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® issued by Barclays, as well as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. Keep in mind, though, that bonus points earned from sign-up offers or spending on bonus categories will not earn you extra Loyalty Points.
Each level of elite status requires a different number of Loyalty Points:
Elite status level
» Learn more: Is American Airlines a good airline?
Delta Air Lines
Delta has a handful of co-branded credit cards that can help you earn the Medallion Qualification Miles needed each year for elite status. Being a cardholder also allows you to spend toward earning a Medallion Qualifying Dollars waiver.
Generally, flyers need a combination of Medallion Qualifying Miles or Medallion Qualifying Segments AND Medallion Qualifying Dollars to earn status.
Here’s how much you need to earn to qualify for elite status without flying:
Elite status level
Spend for Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver
25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MDQs or MQD waiver.
50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $8,000 MDQs or MQD waiver.
75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $12,000 MDQs or MQD waiver.
125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $20,000 MDQs or MQD waiver.
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card will allow you to earn up to 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) each year. You’ll receive 10,000 miles after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and another 10,000 miles after spending $25,000 more. So if you can spend $50,000 on the card per year, you’ll earn the MQD waiver and only need 5,000 more MQMs to qualify for Silver Medallion status. Terms apply.
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, meanwhile, can earn you up to 60,000 MQMs per year. You’ll receive 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000, up to four times each year. Terms apply.
There are also two small-business credit cards that will earn you MQMs. The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card both earn the same number of MQMs as their consumer counterparts, with the same requirements.
You can stack more than one of these cards together to maximize the number of MQMs you’ll earn each year. In fact, it’s possible to stack three of these cards together to earn a total of 130,000 MQMS each year, thereby giving you top-tier Diamond elite status.
Keep in mind, however, that this will cost you big: You’ll be spending at least $265,000 on these cards in order to do so.
» Learn more: Which Delta Air Lines credit card should you get?
JetBlue has a total of two published elite status tiers. Its first, Mosaic, is its standard level and includes a slew of benefits for members.
The second, dubbed Mosaic+, is available only in 2022 and provides perks such as upgrade certificates to JetBlue’s coveted Mint seats. Both of these statuses can be reached by spending on either the JetBlue Plus Card or the JetBlue Business Card.
Elite status level
(You can no longer earn Mosaic+ as of Jan. 1, 2023, but if you earned it in 2022, your benefits last through the end of this year. Read about other changes to the program here.)
» Learn more: Your guide to flying first class with JetBlue Mint
Southwest doesn’t have traditional elite status levels like other big airlines, but its benefits for frequent flyers include priority boarding and earning bonuses.
There are a total of four co-branded Southwest credit cards that will earn Tier Qualifying Points toward elite status:
All of these cards will award you with 1,500 TQPs for every $10,000 you spend in a calendar year, with no limit.
Elite status level
Tier Qualifying Points required
» Learn more: The pros and cons of Southwest’s Companion Pass
United is the only one of these airlines whose credit cards won’t get you all the way to top-tier status. Instead, you can earn up to 1,000 Premier Qualifying Points per card, which is less than a third of the PQPs needed for the lowest level of status.
United℠ Explorer Card: Earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in credit card spending, up to 1,000 PQPs per year.
United Quest℠ Card: Earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in credit card spending, up to 3,000 PQPs per year.
United Club℠ Infinite Card: Earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in credit card spending, up to 4,000 PQPs per year.
United℠ Business Card: Earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in credit card spending, up to 1,000 PQPs per year.
United Club℠ Business Card: Earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in credit card spending, up to 1,000 PQPs per year.
If you had all five cards and earned the maximum PQPs available across every single United credit card, you’d end up with Premier Platinum status, which is the third-highest tier United offers.
Elite status level
PQPs required (PQP only)
How to get hotel elite status from spending on credit cards
Happily for those seeking to earn elite status, hotel status is much easier to acquire than airline elite status.
Hilton is the only hotel chain that will give you top-tier elite status simply for holding one of its credit cards. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card grants Diamond status to all cardholders, regardless of spending. Terms apply.
Otherwise, it’s possible to spend your way to Hilton elite status using any of Hilton’s other co-branded credit cards:
Hilton Honors American Express Card: Complimentary Silver elite status; earn Gold elite status after spending $20,000 in a calendar year.
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Complimentary Gold elite status; earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year.
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Complimentary Gold elite status; earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year.
» Learn more: How to keep your hotel loyalty status
Like Hilton, Marriott’s co-branded credit cards also offer some level of elite status. However, you’ll only ever receive Platinum status as a result of merely holding a credit card. This is a benefit of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card, but other Marriott cards allow you to spend your way to top-tier Marriott elite status. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: Grants you 15 elite qualifying nights per year, which gives you Silver status.
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: Grants you 15 elite qualifying nights per year, earning you Silver status. You’ll be granted Gold elite status after spending $35,000 in a calendar year. You’ll also earn 1 elite qualifying night for every $5,000 you spend in a calendar year, with no cap.
Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card: Grants you 15 elite qualifying nights per year, earning you Silver status. You’ll be given Gold elite status after spending $35,000 in a calendar year. Terms apply.
You can only receive 15 elite night credits total from any Marriott consumer credit cards; these numbers won’t stack. However, if you hold both a consumer and small-business version of these Marriott credit cards, you can get a total of 30 elite night credits toward status per year.
Elite status level
Elite night credits required to earn
10 elite qualifying nights.
25 elite qualifying nights.
50 elite qualifying nights.
75 elite qualifying nights.
100 elite qualifying nights (plus $23,000 in spend per year).
» Learn more: Marriott elite member benefit guarantees explained
Hyatt only has two co-branded credit cards in total; you can have the consumer version, the business version, or both.
Both of these cards will earn you elite night credits toward World of Hyatt elite status. Holding either of these cards will also grant you automatic Discoverist elite status.
You can earn elite night credits to upgrade your status through spending:
World of Hyatt Credit Card: Five elite night credits each year. Plus, earn two elite night credits for every $5,000 you spend on your card in a calendar year.
World of Hyatt Business Credit Card: Earn five elite night credits for every $10,000 spent per calendar year.
Unlike the loyalty programs from Hilton and Marriott, Hyatt’s loyalty program offers room upgrades at every level of elite status.
Elite status level
Elite night credits required
» Learn more: How hotel elite status Is shaping up this year
If you want to spend your way to airline or hotel elite status
Earning your way to elite status can be an expensive and time-consuming venture, especially if you’re not an a frequent traveler. Happily, there are multiple credit card options from both airlines and hotels that will allow you to spend your way to elite status.
This is true for even the most exclusive levels of a company’s loyalty program, though be aware that you’ll likely end up paying heavily for those higher levels. It’s more likely that a combination of spending on a credit card and traveling will earn you the elite status you seek.
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. The information related to the United Club℠ Business Card (annual fee: $450) has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.
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 2023, 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