Switching Airline Loyalty Programs: How and When to Do It

Look for status matching opportunities and don't leave too many miles on the table.
Rachel Morgan Cautero
By Rachel Morgan Cautero 
Published
Edited by Mary M. Flory

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I used to be a Delta devotee. Now I only fly American Airlines. While it's not always ideal to do so, sometimes switching airline loyalty is necessary. Personally, my shift was due to the geographic factors and flight availability.

Here are a few of the factors that might influence your decision to make the leap, along with a checklist for what to do when switching airline loyalty programs.

Deciding to switch

Several factors could contribute to your decision to switch airline loyalties:

  • There may be a decrease in the availability of desirable routes from your preferred airline, due to a move on your part or route changes by the carrier.

  • You may not be satisfied with your current loyalty program — maybe you're not getting good value from your miles, or you're getting less-than-stellar experiences as an elite member.

  • You want to take advantage of airline rewards credit cards, and your preferred card just isn’t compatible with your current airline. Maybe you want a card with a heftier bonus or faster mileage-earning potential.

If you haven’t racked up a large number of miles with your current airline loyalty program, switching airlines shouldn't be too big of a deal. That’s because you won’t have to worry about forfeiting a large amount of miles (you can’t transfer miles between airlines).

Other considerations

If you have elite status with your current airline, you may be hesitant to switch loyalties, even if it makes more sense for you in the long run. The good news: You may be able to keep your elite status benefits through a status match.

Putting it simply, status matching is when an airline matches your elite status with another program, to tempt you to switch loyalties. But not all airlines offer a straightforward status match. Some offer a status challenge, meaning you’ll get elite benefits during a limited period of time. In that case, to maintain your status beyond that period, you’ll need to fly a certain amount of miles with that airline.

Delta Air Lines is one carrier that offers a status challenge. Qualifying elite flyers receive a status match for a three-month period, which will be extended when certain requirements are met.

Southwest Airlines offers a status match — granting A-list status to those who provide proof of elite status with another frequent flyer program. A-list status can be extended for another 12 months by completing three round-trips or six one-way flights within 90 days.

Making the switch: A checklist

Thinking of making a switch? Consider this below before making the leap.

  • Current mileage balance: Consider the amount of miles you currently have and if you can properly utilize them prior to switching. (You don't have to use them right away, necessarily, though often they'll expire after a period of inactivity on that airline.)

  • Status match: Determine if the airline you want to switch to offers a status match and what the stipulations are.

  • Timeline: What is your desired timeline? Are you switching with an end goal in mind, say to earn enough miles for a luxury trip abroad, or is the switch a more immediate need? For example, you relocated and the airline with which you have loyalty doesn’t service that area. If your timeline is more flexible, you’ll have a better chance of getting the most bang for your already accumulated miles.

  • Other perks: Before making the switch, research the airline’s branded rewards cards. Often, these cards’ welcome bonuses are an excellent way to jump start your mileage balance.


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

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5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1x-5x

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

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60,000

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Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Freedom Unlimited®
5.0
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

1.5%-6.5%

Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 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 Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 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.

Cashback

Intro offer

$300

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Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
4.7
NerdWallet Rating
Rewards rate

2x-5x

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.

Miles

Intro offer

75,000

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.

Miles
See more travel cards
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