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Airline And Hotel Elite Status


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Updated, April 2, 2020

What You’ll Learn In This Lesson

An overview of airline elite status, and why most of us shouldn't bother with it.
An overview of hotel elite status, and why most of us SHOULD care about it.

Having elite status with airlines and hotels are nice-to-haves, but they definitely aren’t need-to-haves.

Airline Elite Status

When it comes to elite status with airlines, we’re not going to get too far into the weeds on them because the whole point is to try to pay almost nothing for the award flights.

Which means it’ll be pretty hard to earn elite status just by flying since most US-based airlines (except Alaska Airlines) require some kind of spend to earn status.

The biggest perks of elite status are upgrades to premium cabins or preferred seats in coach, free baggage, and maybe access to airport lounges.

Some experts in the travel game go really deep into the elite status rabbit hole and actually go on “mileage runs.”

A mileage run is the practice of finding discounted flights at great deals and flying for no reason other than to earn or renew elite status. This makes more sense if you are already close to an elite tier, and just need a flight or two more to reach the next level.

For most people, mileage runs likely won’t make sense. Neither does another way to earn entry-level elite status: spending large amounts on co-branded credit cards.

If the idea is to earn almost free flights, a better use of that expenditure is to meet minimum spending requirements and earn bonuses with new credit cards.

Earning "Free" Delta Elite Status

That said, for those who really want to give it a go, you could easily earn Delta elite status thanks to the welcome bonus alone that comes with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (card features a $550 annual fee; See Rates and Fees). New cardholders can earn 40,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months. And thanks to Status Boost™, you can earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year, up to four 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. American Express is a CardRatings advertiser.

Status Matches

From time to time, airlines may have status match challenges. This is a promotion targeted for people who already have elite status at one airline, and who may get a matching status with another carrier if they complete a challenge, such as taking a number of minimum flights within a period.

The Bottom-Line

Getting elite status with airlines isn’t a great idea for most people. Free award flights don’t help us earn status, and spending a lot of money on co-branded cards just to earn basic elite status seems like a wasted opportunity for many minimum spends

Hotel Elite Status

Unlike elite status with airlines, status with hotels may actually make sense because most chains track award nights as part of earning status.

Hotels.com: The Alternate Loyalty Program

If you do not care for hotel elite status, you could consider an alternate hotel loyalty program with Hotels.com, which awards you a free night after staying 10 nights.

A reminder: it’s not actually a free night, it’s a discount equal to the average of what you paid for your 10 paid consecutive nights.

When you book a stay at a chain hotel through Hotels.com, you do not get any credit towards a chain hotel’s elite membership, and you probably won’t get any of elite benefits either.

The benefit of Hotels.com’s 11th night free is that it earns you a discount across most properties in the world, from the most luxurious resorts to spartan hostels, even owner-owned properties (aka Airbnb). So you never have to feel like you have to stick to a chain.

If you do not have a Venture® card, you can still get a little something extra by booking through a cashback portal like Ebates, or the United Mileage Plus shopping portal for one mile/dollar spent.

What Does Elite Status Earn You With Hotel Chains?

Like with airline elite status, we’ll just do an overview of hotel loyalty programs in general, then we’ll look at some ways to get elite status if that is something of value to you.

Some of the perks of elite status include the following:

  • Priority check-in
  • Free breakfast for two where available
  • Lounge access
  • Free upgrades to better rooms and occasionally, suites
  • Point multiplier on money spent at the chain
  • Fourth award night free for IHG, and fifth award night free for Hilton and Marriott properties
  • Late check out
  • Property-specific perks. Warning: some can be pretty lame, like premium WiFi that isn’t that much faster, or free water or snacks
  • Personalized service for highest tiers: Hyatt has its Concierge program for members staying 60 nights in a year, and Marriott has its Ambassador program with 100 nights and a steep $20,000 of spend. Reviews of the programs have been mixed

Just like with airline elite status, there are travel rewards experts who do "mattress runs," which is the practice of chalking up nights at a hotel chain’s lower tier properties at great prices or using points, even if they do not really have a need to stay at a hotel.

Unlike mileage runs, mattress runs can be more feasible because award nights count towards elite status.

Earning Free Hotel Elite Status

Another way to get hotel elite status is with a co-branded credit card.

Hilton Honors

Marriot Bonvoy

World Of Hyatt


So that’s the quick summary on hotel elite status. While the order of priority is to work towards award flights, if you do have the points to get award nights at a chain, it might make sense to try to earn elite status.

If you found this course on travel rewards helpful, you may also enjoy this free illustrated guide, packed with many other ways to get more for your buck and win back your financial independence.

Course content originally produced by ChooseFI was edited/updated by CardRatings for this lesson.

See Rates and Fees of the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card.