How to keep your elite airline status when you are flying less

Use everyday spending and status matches and challenges to add miles


Frequent flyers with elite airline status can struggle to keep that status if family or business changes mean you’re flying less. Charging everyday spending on an airline card and using status matches and challenges can add miles to your bank.

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Whether you’re a frequent flyer for business or pleasure, it’s easy to assume you will maintain your current flight patterns and elite status. Personal and business changes, though, can cause turbulence to your points-earning.

Once my wife and I had two kids back-to-back, those quick jaunts to San Francisco or redeyes to Manhattan were replaced with diaper runs and literal red eyes.

My elite airline status seemed to be on the way out, too, since we were traveling a lot less.

Luckily, there are ways to extend elite status with your favorite airline, even as your actual flying drops.

Add miles with your everyday spending

Though you are catching planes less, you’re still spending, and that’s how an airline credit card can help you bank points in three ways.

First, the sign-up bonus gives you a significant leg up in the frequent flyer miles department.

Second, each purchase you make adds at least one frequent flyer mile per dollar spent, and up to three miles per dollar spent directly with the airline, again adding to your stash.

Third, and most importantly, the higher-end co-branded cards apply your spending toward elite qualifying miles. In other words, hitting certain spending thresholds counts the same as you actually being on a plane.

For Delta flyers, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express awards 10,000 elite qualifying miles (MQMs for short) after spending $25,000 on eligible purchases annually, and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express awards 15,000 qualifying miles after $30,000 on eligible purchases.

See related:How to earn elite status with airlines

Match your status before it runs out

A status match or challenge is another great way to keep your elite status (or earn elite status with another airline, too).

Matches allow you to get the equivalent of your current status with another airline: United, for instance, will match your American Airlines Gold or Delta Silver to its MileagePlus Premium Silver.

Challenges require you to do a certain amount of flights and spending with an airline to earn a particular status.

Keep in mind that status matches and challenge rules vary widely among airlines, from one qualifying or earning one every few years to once in a lifetime (seriously). So, strategize carefully before committing to either opportunity.

For me, as my family expanded, I applied for an American Airlines Executive Platinum status match with Alaska Airlines and received its MVP Gold 75K for an entire year.

I also, for a short time period, had elite status on both airlines, rapidly expanding my flight options for when my family did fly.

Lastly, I focused my spending on my Citi Prestige and Citi ThankYou Premier cards, both offering 2x – 3x Citi ThankYou points on travel.

This agnostic approach enabled me to use my frequent flyer points for either American or Alaska, and purchasing a ticket with ThankYou points kept me earning miles – further counting toward my elite qualifying spending.

See related: How status matches and challenges can boost your rewards

Book elite flights to keep status when you fly

As your elite status period draws to a close, book your known – and most costly – flights. By doing this you can reap the benefits of your status, even if you are flying after it expires.

For instance, I was able to grab American’s premium Main Cabin Extra seats for my whole family for free even though our flight would be after my Executive Platinum status would lapse.

We saved anywhere from $60 to hundreds of dollars for our three seats (my youngest was a lap child at the time).

Booking elite status flights is worth even more now as American, like other carriers, is adding new perks to Premium Economy like free drinks and food.

Also, the higher your elite status, the more miles you get for purchasing a flight. Alaska, American, Delta, United and nearly all carriers will multiply the frequent flyer points you receive per dollar based on your status.

Your frequent flyer points can help offset any additional monetary cost for flying after your elite status ends – enabling you to still go first-class without losing your wallet.

These strategies kept me in elite status for a full two years after family life brought an end to my frequent flying days – and these tips can help you to keep flying like an elite, too.


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Published: July 26, 2018

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