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By the Numbers: Stats on What It Really Takes to Get Frequent Flyer Status

Motley Fool - Fri Dec 22, 2023

A man and woman sitting at an airport and waiting for their flight while looking at a tablet.

Image source: Getty Images

For decades, airlines have operated frequent flyer programs to reward loyal customers. There are normally multiple tiers in these programs. Each status tier includes perks, such as complimentary upgrades when available.

Airlines used to base your status on how many miles you'd flown, but it has gotten more complicated. Many of them now base frequent flyer status on spending, or on a combination of spending and mileage. This often includes spending on airfare, as well as on any airline credit cards you have.

If you're deciding which program to focus on for frequent flyer status, you'll find the requirements and notable benefits for the four largest U.S. airlines below.

American Airlines AAdvantage®

American Airlines bases your AAdvantage® status entirely on Loyalty Points. Each eligible AAdvantage® mile you earn is equal to one Loyalty point. Since American Airlines credit cards earn miles, they also earn Loyalty Points that can help you raise your AAdvantage® status. This makes American Airlines one of the easier airlines for frequent flyer status -- if you spend enough on your credit cards.

TierRequirementsTop Benefits
AAdvantage Gold®40,000 Loyalty PointsComplimentary upgrades when available (24-hour upgrade window)
40% mileage status bonus
One free checked bag
AAdvantage Platinum®75,000 Loyalty PointsComplimentary upgrades when available (48-hour upgrade window)
60% mileage status bonus
One free checked bag
AAdvantage Platinum Pro®125,000 Loyalty PointsComplimentary upgrades when available (72-hour upgrade window)
80% mileage status bonus
Three free checked bags
AAdvantage Executive Platinum®200,000 Loyalty PointsComplimentary upgrades when available (100-hour upgrade window)
120% mileage status bonus
Three free checked bags
Data source: American Airlines

Delta Air Lines SkyMiles®

Delta Air Lines recently made changes to its SkyMiles® program. Starting on Jan. 1, 2024, members earn Medallion status through Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). You can earn MQDs by flying with Delta and its partners, booking Delta vacation packages, and using some of the more expensive Delta credit cards.

TierRequirements (starting Jan. 1, 2024)Top Benefits
Silver Medallion$5,000 MQDsUnlimited complimentary first-class upgrades on eligible tickets (begins 24 hours prior to departure)
Waived baggage fees
Priority check-in and boarding
Gold Medallion$10,000 MQDsUnlimited complimentary first-class upgrades on eligible tickets (begins 72 hours prior to departure)
Waived baggage fees and same-day confirmed fees
Priority check-in, boarding, and security line access
Expedited baggage service
Platinum Medallion$15,000 MQDsUnlimited complimentary first-class upgrades on eligible tickets (begins 120 hours prior to departure)
Waived baggage fees and same-day confirmed fees
Priority check-in, boarding, and security line access
Expedited baggage service
Diamond Medallion$28,000 MQDsUnlimited complimentary first-class upgrades on eligible tickets (begins 120 hours prior to departure)
Waived baggage fees and same-day confirmed fees
Priority check-in, highest priority boarding boarding, and priority security line access
Expedited baggage service
Data source: Delta Air Lines.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

Southwest Rapid Rewards has fewer tiers than most programs. There are two: A-List and A-List Preferred. You can reach them either through taking enough flights or earning tier-qualifying points. The fastest way to earn points is with one of the Southwest credit cards.

In addition to frequent flyer status, the Rapid Rewards program also offers a Companion Pass. This is one of the most valuable perks that Southwest offers, so it has even higher requirements than A-List Preferred status.

TierRequirementsTop Benefits
A-List25 qualifying one-way flights (20 starting January 2024) or 35,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year25% earning bonus
Priority boarding
Priority lane and express lane
Dedicated A-List member phone line
A-List Preferred50 qualifying one-way flights (40 starting January 2024) or 70,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar year100% earning bonus
Free in-flight internet
Up to two premium drinks (available for each flight 176 miles or more)
Priority boarding
Priority lane and express lane
Dedicated A-List member phone line
Companion Pass100 qualifying one-way flights or 135,000 tier-qualifying points in a calendar yearChoose one person to fly with you, free of airline charges (doesn't include taxes and fees from $5.60 one-way) every time you purchase or redeem points for a flight
Data source: Southwest Airlines.

United Airlines MileagePlus®

The United MileagePlus® program uses two qualifying activities:

  • Premier qualifying flights (PQFs): Based on the number of flight segments flown.
  • Premier qualifying points (PQPs): Based on airfare cost. Some United credit cards can also earn PQPs, up to annual PQP limits that depend on the card.

There are two ways to reach frequent flyer status with United. You can either meet a PQF and PQP requirement, or meet a higher PQP-only requirement.

TierRequirementsTop Benefits
Premier Silver12 PQFs and 4,000 PQPs or 5,000 PQPsEligible for complimentary Premier upgrades
Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in for you and one companion
One complimentary checked bag
7x miles earned on every flight
Premier Gold24 PQFs and 8,000 PQPs or 10,000 PQPsComplimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in for you and one companion
Star Alliance Gold Status
Two complimentary checked bags
8x miles earned on every flight
Premier Platinum36 PQFs and 12,000 PQPs or 15,000 PQPs40 PlusPoints
Complimentary access to Economy Plus at check-in for you and one companion
Three complimentary checked bags
9x miles earned on every flight
Premier 1K54 PQFs and 18,000 PQPs or 24,000 PQPs280 PlusPoints
Pre-boarding
One free drink and snack in economy
Three complimentary checked bags
11x miles earned on every flight
Data source: United.

Should you try to get frequent flyer status?

It makes sense to go for frequent flyer status if you travel with the same airline several times per year. In that case, check out the travel credit cards that the airline offers to see if they can help you elevate your status more quickly.

The benefits you get as a frequent flyer can help your finances and make traveling with that airline more enjoyable. Complimentary upgrades, in particular, are a fantastic benefit. The higher your status is with an airline, the more likely you are to qualify for an upgrade.

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