The traditional way to elite status with a travel rewards program is to … well, travel. That’s because elite status is usually determined by how many flights or hotel stays you complete within a year.
If you don’t want to spend all that time sitting in airplane seats or sleeping in strange beds to get elite status and the benefits that come with it, there’s a possible shortcut – getting a credit card that fast-tracks your status (see table below).
The value of the fast track
Airlines and hotels require loyalty before they let you into the elite club. The requirements usually involve racking up a certain number of miles or flights, or a certain number of nights in a hotel. Those thresholds are usually high enough that only business travelers can hope to reach them. Cards that give credit toward some of those flights or stays, however, can put elite status within the reach of infrequent or budget traveler.
Terms to know
Airline and hotel elite programs vary, but they all work in similar ways. If you’re new to chasing after elite status, these terms will help you find your way.
Elite-qualifying miles: These apply to airline elite programs and might also go by name specific to the airline (such as “Medallion Qualifying Miles” for Delta). These are not the regular miles you earn by spending on the card. You have to earn them by sitting in a plane seat (unless you have one of the cards below), and how many you earn will be based on the fare paid or distance flown, depending on the airline.
If you earn a certain number of elite-qualifying miles in a year, you get elite status.
Qualifying nights or stays: These apply to hotel elite programs. Often, elite qualification thresholds are written, for example, as “10 qualifying stays, or 25 qualifying nights.” The actual numbers will vary by program. A “stay” refers to a stretch of consecutive nights in a hotel, while a “night” refers to a night you spend in a hotel bed. Whether you hit the “stays” threshold or “nights” threshold first, you get elite status.
Elite status tiers: Elite status often comes in a variety of tiers. The more flights, stays or nights you collect, the higher the tier. And the higher the tier, the richer the benefits. Tier names vary widely throughout the industry. One program’s “Platinum” might be another program’s “Silver.” So check the details.
Common elite benefits
The benefits you get for your elite tier vary widely, so check the fine print. The chart below lists some program benefits, but only scratches the surface.
In general, airline elite status gets you priority boarding, check-in and security screenings, as well as complimentary seat upgrades in the upper tiers. Hotel elite status often gets you late check-out, room upgrades and freebies like in-room Internet.
What to watch out for
Airlines and hotels tout the luxurious benefits of their elite programs, and that can make cards that accelerate your status quite tempting.
However, not all cards get you straight to elite. In fact, some airline programs get you only about half way to the lowest elite tier. When you consider that the airline cards that fast-track you tend to have rather high annual fees, it should become clear that this benefit alone isn’t enough reason to sign up for a particular card.
Hotel rewards credit cards, on the other hand, will often get you automatic elite status (and will sometimes catapult you straight into one of the upper tiers). They also tend to have more modest annual fees.
|Credit cards that accelerate your path to elite status|
|Card||Fast-track elite benefits||Elite tiers & requirements (per year)||Elite status perks||Annual fee|
|Citi Executive AAdvantage||10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles every year you spend $40,000||Gold: 25,000 EQMs|
Sapphire: 50,000 EQMs
Emerald: 100,000 EQMs
|Seat upgrades, companion upgrades, mileage bonus, special service desk, priority check-in, priority boarding lane and more. Depends on elite level reached.||$450|
|Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner)||5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months|
10,000 MQMs every year you spend $25,000 in a year; 10,000 more MQMs after you spend $50,000 miles
|Silver: 25,000 MQMs|
Gold: 50,000 MQMs
Platinum: 75,000 MQMs
Diamond: 124 MQMs
|Seat upgrades, companion upgrades, mileage bonus, special service desk, priority check-in, priority boarding lane and more. Depends on Medallion level reached.||$195|
|Delta Reserve American Express||10,000 MQMs after first purchase|
15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a year; 15,000 more MQMs after you spend $60,000 in a year
|Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier||1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases (up to 15,000 TQPs per year)||A-List: 35,000 TQPs|
A-List Preferred: 70,000 TQPs
|Priority check-in, priority security (where available), dedicated phone line, bonus point earnings, standby priority. Depends on which A-List level reached.||$99|
|Virgin America Premium card||15,000 status points for every $10,000 in spending, up to 15,000 points per year.|
Can roll over extra points into next year.
|Elevate Silver: 20,000 status points|
Elevate Gold: 50,000 status points
|Seat upgrades, lounge passes, priority check-in, priority security, priority boarding, priority baggage handling, free checked bags. Benefits depend on which level you've reached.||$149|
|Starwood Preferred Guest card||5 nights and 2 stays credit toward SPG elite status each year||Gold: 10 stays or 25 nights|
Platinum: 25 stays or 50 nights
|Late check-out, bonus point earnings, room upgrades when available, dedicated phone line, in-room Internet, club access and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$95 (waived first year)|
|Hilton HHonors Surpass||Automatic Gold status as long as card is open||Silver: 4 stays or 10 nights|
Gold: 20 stays or 40 nights
Diamond: 30 stays or 60 nights
|Late check-out, club access, complimentary water bottles at some properties, waived double occupancy charges, point earnings bonus. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$75|
|Hilton HHonors Reserve||$95|
|Hyatt Credit Card||Automatic Platinum status as long as card is open||Gold: automatic with enrollment|
Platinum: 5 stays or 15 nights
Diamond: 25 stays or 50 nights
|Point earnings bonus, in-room Internet, room upgrades, dedicated phone line, expedited check-in, late check-out and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$75 (waived first year)|
|Marriott Rewards Premier||15 elite credits upon account approval and each year at account anniversary||Silver: 10 nights|
Gold: 50 nights
Platinum: 75 nights
|Point earnings bonus, late check-out, weekend discounts, room upgrades, in-room internet, dedicated phone line and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$85|
|IHG Rewards Club card||Automatic Platinum status as long as card is open||Gold: 15 nights|
Platinum: 50 nights
|Priority check-in, point earning bonus, upgrades, dedicated phone line, free Internet and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$49 (waived first year)|
|Club Carlson Premier Rewards||Automatic Gold status upon first use. If you've already reached or surpassed Gold status, you'll get 15 qualifying nights.||Silver: 15 nights or 10 stays|
Gold: 35 nights or 20 stays
Concierge: 75 nights or 30 stays
|Food discounts, free Internet, upgrades, rollover nights, early check-in, late check-out, welcome gift and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$75 annual fee|
|Club Carlson Rewards||Automatic Silver status upon first use. If you've already reached or surpassed Silver status, you'll get 10 qualifying nights.||$50|
|Citi Expedia+ card||Automatic +silver membership for as long as card remains open|
Plus, earn 1 elite-qualifying night toward +gold status for every $2,500 in purchases you make on the card each calendar year.
|+silver: $5,000 in spending or 7 nights|
+gold: $10,000 in spending or 15 nights
|Hotel upgrades at certain properties, exclusive offers, point earnings bonuses, dedicated customer service lines and more. Perks depend on availability and level reached.||$0|
|Citi Expedia+ Voyager||Automatic +gold membership for as long as card remains open||$95|
|Platinum card and Business Platinum card from American Express||Automatic Hilton HHonors Gold status||Silver: 4 stays or 10 nights|
Gold: 20 stays or 40 nights
Diamond: 30 stays or 60 nights
|Rewards bonus on base earnings, 5th night free, late check-out, complimentary bottled water and more.||$450|