If you travel often, you may have heard of an elite status program. Each airline offers their own elite status program, varying in tiers, status requirements, benefits offered and more. These programs are often hard to compare but in this guide we’ll help you out with that.
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In this guide we’ve gathered all the data and perks we could find for differing programs in order to rank them by status tier. From there, we determined the best domestic airline elite status programs. Keep reading to find out which airlines are considered the best!
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Domestic Airline Elite Status Programs
While there is a plethora of domestic airlines that offer elite status programs, we will not be considering them all in this analysis. Instead, we’ll focus on airlines that have a large domestic route network or partner carriers. Below are the airlines that will be considered as well as their elite levels categorized from Low Tier to Road Warrior.
|AIRLINE||LOW TIER||MID TIER||HIGH TIER||ROAD WARRIOR|
|Alaska||MVP||MVP Gold||MVP Gold||MVP Gold 75K|
|American||AAdvantage Gold||AAdvantage Platinum||AAdvantage Platinum Pro||AAdvantage Executive Platinum|
|Delta||Silver Medallion||Gold Medallion||Platinum Medallion||Diamond Medallion|
|Southwest||–||A-List||A-List Preferred||A-List Preferred +
|United||Premier Silver||Premier Gold||Premier Platinum||Premier 1K|
Here are some carriers we didn’t include in this analysis and why:
|Frontier Airlines||Usually flies from Point A to Point B with limited connecting options.|
|Hawaiian Airlines||Limited network outside Hawaii.|
|Spirit Airlines||Usually flies from Point A to Points B with limited connecting options.|
|Sun Country Airlines||Limited network outside the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area.|
What We Consider
In this analysis we’ve compiled all the elite status benefits we could think of and put them into eight comprehensive categories.
Since spending and flying behavior differs from person to person, you’ll want to prioritize these categories to reflect your own travel style.
Inflight Benefits (25%). Upgrades, preferred seats and free drinks, snacks, entertainment and WiFi.
Bonuses (20%). Extra miles or points.
Fee Waivers (20%). Checked bag, flight change, same-day confirmed or standby, ticket and processing fees.
Airport Benefits (10%). Priority check-in, security, boarding, baggage handling as well as lounge access.
Flexible Benefits (10%). Perks you can either choose or transfer to other passengers.
Reservation Benefits (5%). Priority phone line and better award inventory.
Partner Benefits (5%). Same perks as Inflight Benefits, Airport Benefits and Fee Waivers, but extended to partner airlines.
Other Benefits (5%). Includes RewardsPlus (United/Marriott) and car rental company perks.
Unlocking an elite status level will depend on how much you fly or how much you spend with the airline. The following models were used to make our calculations for this analysis:
|LEVEL||MILES FLOWN||MONEY SPENT|
Benefit Values: In order to pinpoint a value to each key benefit, we made sure the same perks offered by two or more airlines were valued equally and that benefits with small differences also reflected corresponding dissimilarities in their valuations.
Focus On Added Value: By comparing the benefits you’d receive with elite status compared to what you’d get without status, we were able to look at the added value you’d receive as an elite member versus a non-elite member.
Best Domestic Airline Elite Status Programs
Now that we’ve discussed the factors considered in our decision, here are the best domestic airline elite status programs:
|LOW TIER||Alaska MVP|
|LOW TIER||Alaska MVP Gold|
|LOW TIER||Alaska MVP Gold|
|ROAD WARRIOR||United Premier 1K|
Let’s dive a little deeper into our analysis below.
As previously mentioned, the Low Tier is analyzed based on 25,000 miles of flying and $3,000 of spending in one calendar year. With these assumptions, here’s how status programs ranked at their Low Tier:
- Alaska MVP
- American AAdvantage Gold
- Delta Silver Medallion
- United Premier Silver
JetBlue and Southwest Airlines were not included because they don’t have elite status at this spending level.
Alaska MVP is ranked first, because Alaska gives rewards based on how many miles you fly rather than how much money you spend.
At MVP level, you’ll get a 50% bonus on flights. Which equals to an additional 12,500 miles, worth $225 based on our most recent valuations. American, Delta and United all give Low Tier members an additional 2x miles, so you’ll only get 6,000 bonus miles for $3,000 in spend. That’s less than half of what you’d earn with Alaska MVP status.
At Mid Tier, we’re looking at 50,000 miles of flying and $6,000 of spending in one calendar year. Using these numbers, here’s how status programs ranked at Mid Tier:
- Alaska MVP Gold
- United Premier Gold
- Delta Gold Medallion
- American AAdvantage Platinum
- JetBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List
Once again Alaska is rewarded first place because of the massive amounts of bonus miles you’ll earn. Other Alaska MVP Gold key features include waived change/cancellation fees and four one-way Gold Guest Upgrades.
United Premier Gold is awarded second place because it offers better availability for saver economy award tickets than the competition, two checked bags up to 70 pounds each, and free same-day confirmed flight changes. Additionally, United’s Mid Tier members enjoy complimentary Marriott Gold status, thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership.
Our High Tier analysis of status programs is based on 75,000 miles of flying and $9,000 of spending in one calendar year. From our calculations, we ranked High Tier statuses in this order:
- Alaska MVP Gold
- Delta Platinum Medallion
- United Premier Platinum
- American AAdvantage Platinum Pro
- JetBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List Preferred
We’re starting to sound like a broken record, but Alaska comes out on top, yet again. As you might guess, the reason is because of the bonus miles the carrier gives to its MVP Gold members.
The #2 spot goes to Delta Platinum Medallion, with its wide upgrade window, extra-legroom economy seats with added perks, upgrades on award tickets and complimentary access to preferred seats. Plus, Platinum Medallions get Choice Benefits.
At the Road Warrior level, we’re assuming 125,000 miles of flying and $15,000 of spending in one calendar year for our analysis. With that in mind, here’s how status programs ranked at the Road Warrior tier:
- United Premier 1K
- American AAdvantage Executive Platinum
- Delta Diamond Medallion
- Alaska MVP 75K
- Southwest A-List Preferred
- JetBlue Mosaic
At this level, Alaska finally gets knocked off the top and United finishes first. MileagePlus rewards its Premier 1K members across all eight categories, including enhanced award availability for both economy and premium cabins, a complimentary inflight drink and snack on every flight, and a total of six Regional Premier Upgrades and six Global Premier Upgrades.
American AAdvantage Executive Platinum takes the #2 spot, thanks to its waived checked bag, same-day standby/confirmed, award-processing and award change/cancellation fees. Executive Platinum members also enjoy Oneworld Emerald status with access to First Class lounges when traveling internationally with a Oneworld partner.
For the “overall” analysis, we combined our findings for Low Tier, Mid Tier, High Tier and Road Warrior to determine the overall best airline elite status program. Here’s how the six carriers ranked:
Of course, Alaska Airlines takes top prize because it finished first in three of the four status levels. As we mentioned before, that’s mostly because of the generous way Mileage Plan awards bonus miles.
United Airlines earns the runner-up spot in the overall rankings because of its strong performance in the Mid Tier, High Tier and Road Warrior levels.
Elite Status Worth
We made a series of guides that discuss exactly how much value you can get from six domestic airline elite status programs. If you want a deeper understanding of elite status worth, click on the links below:
Alternative to Elite Status
If you don’t plan on at least flying 25,000 or spending $3,000 within a year, then you probably won’t benefit from elite status programs. Instead, look into opening an airline cobranded credit card. They often come with travel perks that even the not-so-frequent flyer can take advantage of.
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines rewards card for elite flyers. You’ll get an annual companion certificate, access to Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs, fast-track to elite status and plenty of other travel benefits.
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offers 80,000 Bonus Miles and 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
You can earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases & 1X mile for every eligible dollar spent on purchases.
This card does come with a $550 annual fee and no foreign transaction fees. Seems hefty but perks like being able to check your first bag free on Delta flights. In addition, you can enjoy complimentary access into the Delta SkyClubs for you when travelling on a Delta flight, complimentary access to The Centurion Lounge or Escape Lounge - The Centurion Studio Partner when you book a Delta flight with your Reserve Card., fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. (See Rates & Fees)
The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines card for regular flyers. You’ll get bonuses on hotel, restaurant and supermarket spending, an annual companion certificate and much more.
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card offers 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
Earn up to 20,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
You can earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels; 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, and at U.S. supermarkets; 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
This card comes with a $250 Annual Fee, but for each round trip Delta flight, you can check your first bag for free and save up to $240. In addition, there is no foreign transaction fee. You'll also get fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre?®. (See Rates & Fees).
The Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines card for occasional flyers. The card offers bonuses on restaurant and supermarket spending and comes with a handful of travel perks.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card offers 70,000 Bonus Miles after spending $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
Earn now. Travel when you're ready. After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit on your Card to inspire your next travel.
You'll earn 2X Miles on Delta purchases at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery, and at U.S. supermarkets; 1X mile for every eligible dollar you spend on purchases.
Earn now. Travel when you're ready. After you spend $10,000 in purchases in a calendar year, you will receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit to inspire your next travel.
There is a $99 annual fee, however, there is a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year (See Rates & Fees). Now, you'll get get more savings with your first checked bag for free on Delta flights.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card is the best Southwest Airlines rewards card. It gives cardmembers bonus points on partner hotel and car rental spending, fast-track to elite status, $75 in Southwest travel credit every year and more.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card offers up to 100,000 bonus points. Earn 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open, plus 50,000 more bonus points after spending $12,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.
In addition, you'll earn 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary each year.
• NEW! Earn 3X points on Southwest purchases.
• NEW! Earn 2X points on local transit and commuting, including rideshare.
• NEW! Earn 2X points on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming.
Some perks include $75 Southwest travel credit each year., receiving 4 Upgraded Boardings per year when available, savings of 20% back on in-flight drinks and WiFi, and more!
This card carries a $149 annual fee and no transaction fees.
The United Explorer Card is the best United Airlines rewards card. It offers bonuses on hotel and restaurant spending and plenty of travel perks.
The United Explorer Card offers 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
• Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining, hotel stays, and United purchases
• Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on dining including eligible delivery services
Perks of this card include:
• Getting up to $100 Global Entry / TSA PreCheck Fee Credit
• Get your first bag checked for free (up to $140 savings per roundtrip) when you using your Card to purchase your ticket
• Get priority boarding perks & visit the United Club with 2 one-time passes each year for your anniversary
This card does come with a $95 annual fee, however, the annual fee is waived for the first year.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is the best American Airlines rewards card. It offers bonuses on dining and gas spending and a handful of travel perks. And the key reason American Airlines travelers use this card: complimentary Admirals Club lounge access and 10K EQMs.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite MasterCard® offers 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Plus, earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year.
You'll earn 2X AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1X AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.
This card comes with $450 annual fee, however, there are no foreign transaction fees. You can also save when traveling - first checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation.
On top of that, you'll get an Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you.
The JetBlue Plus Card is the best rewards card for JetBlue frequent flyers. It offers bonuses on restaurant and grocery store spending, fast track to Mosaic elite status and a few other travel benefits.
The JetBlue Plus Credit Card has an offer for 40,000 TrueBlue bonus points when you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days. We value these points to be worth around $520.
This is a card designed for the JetBlue loyalist. With the 40K welcome bonus, you can begin earning and redeeming points for award flights, seat upgrades, and more. Read our guide to the TrueBlue program for more information on how to use these points. One of the great features of the TrueBlue program is that its points never expire. You can earn and redeem at your own leisurely pace.
The JetBlue Plus card rewards members with 6x points on JetBlue spending, 2x points on dining and grocery purchases and 1x points on everything else. It also offers a variety of value-added benefits, like 5,000 anniversary bonus points, one free checked bag for you and up to 3 companions, and a 50% discount on eligible inflight purchases.
Other card benefits include a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacation package of $100 or more, Mosaic elite status after you spent at least $50,000 on purchases, and the ability to pool your points with other members at no extra cost.
There are no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $99 for this card.
There are many factors to consider when deciding on an airline to commit your loyalty to. Ultimately, this call is up to you and your own needs. However, we hope that this guide has helped make you decision easier by giving you objectives to rank and a summarization on the data necessary.
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