Earning Status With The Big 3 US Airlines – Earning Miles Towards Elite Qualification

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The announcement on Monday that American Airlines will be introducing minimum spend criteria to its AAdvantage program spurred me into taking another look into how elite status can be earned on the Big 3 US legacy airlines. Yesterday I took a look at the criteria set by American, Delta and United for those wishing to attain status in their rewards programs and today I’m going to take a look at how easy each airline makes it to earn the required number of miles that each elite status level requires.

Earning Miles Towards Elite Qualification

On Flights Marketed by the Big 3 US Airlines

The table below compares how the Big 3 US airlines award miles towards elite qualification across the different fares they offer on flights they market (i.e tickets they will sell you regardless of whether or not the flight is on their own aircraft or on one of their partner’s aircraft).

Figures represent the number of miles towards elite qualification awarded, as a percentage of miles flown.

eqm-on-big-3

Just like yesterday, where I showed that American Airlines and United Airlines now have identical elite qualification requirements, here we can see that American Airlines and United Airlines award miles towards elite qualification in exactly the same way for flights they market.

Delta, on the other hand, matches American and United on the lower fare classes but is considerably more conservative when it comes to handing out Medallion Qualifying Miles (what Delta calls miles towards elite qualification) for premium cabin travel on flights that it markets.

On Partner Marketed Flights:

The miles towards elite qualification awarded on partner marketed flights varies from partner to partner so, to get a general idea of what each airline offers, I selected a few of each airline’s more prominent partners and used them to get a range of miles awarded for each fare class.

Figures represent the number of miles towards elite qualification awarded, as a percentage of miles flown.

eqm-on-partners

It would appear that, for flights booked through partner airlines, American Airlines is considerably less generous than both of its competitors.

There is a chance that American will once again tweak the AAdvantage program before 15 July (the date by which they say they’ll announce how many award miles will be earned for partner flights) but this is the information we have for now.

United Airlines is clearly the more generous of the Big 3 US Airlines in this category.

Non-flying ways of earning miles towards elite qualification:

American Airlines

American Airlines awards 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles to anyone who spends $40,000 on their co-branded Citi AAdvantage Executive credit card.

Delta

With the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express flyers can:

  • Earn 5,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) in the first year of card membership
  • Earn 10,000 MQM for spending $25,000 on the credit card
  • Earn a further 10,000 MQM for spending a further $25,000 on the credit card

With the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express flyers can:

  • Earn 15,000 MQM in the first year of card membership
  • Earn 15,000 MQM for spending $30,000 on the credit card
  • Earn a further 15,000 MQM for spending a further $30,000 on the credit card

There are ways of finessing the MQM from those cards that I’m not going to go into here but, suffice it to say, you  can earn a lot of MQM in one Delta SkyMiles account just by spending a lot on Delta co-branded credit card and being clever with how you credit the miles.

United Airlines

As far as I’m aware there are no credit cards that are still open for applications that can be used to generate miles towards United Airlines status qualification.

One Other Thing

Delta has one other big bonus for its flyers that isn’t matched by the other two US legacy carriers – it allows members to carry over miles in to the next qualification year.

For example:

A traveler who earns 85,ooo Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) in a year will have earned Delta Medallion Status (for passing 75,000 MQM) and will carry over 10,000 MQM into the next qualification year. That makes qualifying for elite status the following year a lot easier.

Bottom Line

In yesterday’s post I showed that United & American have identical elite qualification requirements while Delta has similar requirements at the lower elite levels but higher requirements at the higher elite levels.

Now we can see:

  • American And United award elite qualifying miles on flights they market in exactly the same way
  • Delta awards miles on flights they market in a less generous way for premium cabin travel but matches United and American on lower class fares.
  • American is the least generous (by a distance) of the Big 3 US carriers when it comes to awarding miles for travel on partner marketed flights – discounted economy class fares booked through Cathay Pacific actually earn zero miles.
  • United is the most generous of the Big 3 when it comes to awarding miles towards elite qualification on premium cabin flights marketed by partner airlines.
  • Delta offers the most ways for earning miles towards elite qualification without flying and they allow flyers to carry over any miles earned over and above their elite target into the next qualification year.

All in all, if you just take a look at earning elite status purely from an elite qualifying miles perspective, these would appear to be the conclusions:

  • If you mainly book international premium cabin fares United Airlines offers the easiest way to meeting elite status Elite Qualifying Mileage requirements.
  • If you mainly book international economy cabin fares American Airlines is offers the hardest way to meeting elite status Elite Qualifying Mileage requirements.
  • If you mainly book domestic premium cabin fares United and American are a better proposition for meeting elite status Elite Qualifying Mileage requirements – they reward premium cabin travel better and award top tier status with a lower requirement than Delta.
  • If you mainly book domestic economy cabin fares you will earn elite qualifying miles at the same rate with all of the Big 3 US airlines but you’ll reach the higher tiers quicker with American and United due to their lower qualifying thresholds.
  • If you are in a position where you can apply for a number of credit cards and then manufacture spend (or have another way of putting a high amount of spend on the credit cards) Delta offers the easiest route to status.

In the next post in this series I’ll take a look at how easy (or hard) it is to meet the minimum spend requirements on the Big 3 US airlines and what ways there are (if any) to circumvent those spending requirements.

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