Comparing Airline Elite Status in 2014

Over a year ago I created some comparison tables of elite status across the five major U.S. carriers: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and US Airways. Now, American and US Airways are merging while Delta and United have introduced new elite qualification requirements.

Otherwise, there haven’t been too many changes to the benefits of elite status in each program …but these projects take a lot of work and I may have overlooked some things. When looking at the tables, please keep in mind that there is only so much space to describe and compare the various benefits, each with their own nuances. If something is radically incorrect, I’ll change it. If something just isn’t described in sufficient detail for your liking, that might take me some more work to determine if it’s (1) necessary and (2) possible. Also note that while I say that AAdvantage Gold members only receive access to Main Cabin Extra seats at check-in, in fact they remain complimentary at the time of booking through February 28.

If you want more information about earning elite qualifying dollars and possible waivers for this requirement, you can read more in my posts on United Premier Qualifying Dollars and Delta Medallion Qualifying Dollars. I also discussed in December what I think are the “best value” tiers in each program:

Feel free to download these for your personal use or share them for public use as long as you include attribution and a link to this page. They get larger if you click on the image. Or you can download a PDF containing all three tables.

Bottom Tier Elite Status (25K Miles)

Bottom Tier Airline Status (January 2014)

Middle Tier Elite Status (50K Miles)

Mid-Tier Airline Status (January 2014)

Top Tier Elite Status (75K, 100K, and 125K Miles)

Top Tier Airline Status (January 2014)

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Shari

    This is insanely helpful – thank you! As a Delta Platinum, I’ve found that few upgrades actually get confirmed 5 days out – and it’s not as frequent that I’m actually upgraded at all. There are a few other perks, but this is a big one and now with MQDs might make switching more appealing.

    • Scottrick

      Upgrade processing windows are pretty similar across the same elite tiers at each airline, so I didn’t include them, but you’re right that it still depends on whether the airline is able/willing to open upgrade inventory.

  • John Polley

    Delta Diamonds have the opportunity to choose eight Regional upgrades or four Global upgrades with their Diamond choice. They can also choose four Regional upgrades with their Platinum choice. There are other Choice Benefits, including gifting Gold membership for Diamonds. Delta also offers Crossover Rewards with SPG. Do other airlines have similar programs?

    • Scottrick

      Correct. My table assumes they will choose 4 regional upgrades as a Platinum member (“domestic” upgrades) and 4 global upgrades as a Diamond member (“international” upgrades) since I expect a very frequent traveler flying 125K miles a year will have some international travel or transcon routes that require a global upgrade.

      United has a limited partnership with Marriott, but I wouldn’t draw too many comparisons to Crossover Rewards. Since Crossover Rewards uses status with a hotel to assign airline benefits — or status with an airline to assign hotel benefits — it didn’t seem like a practical topic to include in these tables, which are about airline status and airline benefits.

  • jayy

    On the award change/redeposits, are those $’s per person or per reservation?

    • Scottrick

      Fees are typically applied per ticket, and each person has his/her own ticket.

  • Tom

    Hi Scott, i somewhere read that the Qualifying Dollars amount necessary for earning a status on Delta only applies to US citizens. Actually, i think it was on the delta.com site itself. When i called Delta, none of the representatives was able to answer my question either way (yes/no). I am a EU citizen travelling to US very often on skyteam, using delta flights for its 100% of miles flown tariffs on any booking class, but im a Czech Airlines/CSA/ (OK PLUS program) FF as a skyteam elite plus member. CSA is only keeping your miles for 24 months since mid 2013, therefore i wanted to switch to Delta, but i dont spend $7.500 or $12.000 on the flights per calendar year. Would you be able to answer the question if foreign nationalities on Delta FFP are not forced to the spending limit condition as US citizens are, or suggest which FFP on skyteam would be the best to join / switch to from CSA OK Plus? I usually travel between europe/us/china, 60-120k miles / year.

    Thanks,

    Tom

    • Scottrick

      The waiver is granted on the basis of residency, not citizenship. If you live outside the United States you should be okay. More information is on the page below (with a quote from the relevant section):

      http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles/about-skymiles/medallion-program/medallion-qualification-dollars.html

      Residency: Country of residence is determined by the primary address in the member’s SkyMiles account at the time of qualification for Medallion status. Documentation may be required for some types of address changes. Please see the SkyMiles Membership Guide for more information and a list of acceptable documentation. Delta reserves the right to audit an account at any time for residency requirements, request further supporting documentation and update the address for any member’s SkyMiles account using the National Change of Address (NCOA) data filed by relocating postal customers, but shall have no obligation to do so. Accounts found in violation are subject to penalty, up to and including termination of Medallion status and closure of the SkyMiles account.

      • Tom

        thanks. i knew i was understanding it correctly. weird none of the reps on the delta line was able to answer it.
        Would you say switching to Delta is a good decision? As far as i understand their mileage chart, they are giving you 100% of miles flown on 90% of booking classes on Delta plus the TIER1 partner airlines (klm,airfrance,aeromexico,koreanair,virgin). Just making sure i get this correct – if airfrance is only giving their flying blue members 25% of miles flown for a certain booking class, Delta is giving SkyMiles members 100% of miles flown for the same flight (AF operated flight, for example…. flown on a SkyMiles account number). So just by having Delta FFP favors you over FlyingBlue FFP huge, right?
        Are there any cons on SkyMiles for me? (EU citizen, residency outside the US, mostly international flights 99% of time).

        thanks again, this blog is exactly what i needed. Too bad i didnt know about it until a few days ago. Wish i knew for the last 9 years. I am fascinated by all the FD and all the forums (mp,ft) and super hooked on it.

        • Scottrick

          Delta has great service, especially for elite members. Their miles and award availability, however, are very poor.

          If you are picking Delta as an airline to earn miles with, I don’t recommend it. They continue to devalue their award chart and even added an interim devaluation late last year with no notice when they decided the one they scheduled months in advance didn’t come soon enough. The lowest level award space is hard to find. One-way awards are difficult to book.

          But if you are faced with a choice between Delta and FlyingBlue, then maybe Delta still looks better. It really depends on what airlines and routes you fly.

          • Tom

            im usually going on delta just for the reason they are giving me the 100% mentioned above. I have faced this problem (on booking award flights) when i tried to fly ANYWHERE from LAX to Central America. They would tell me there are ZERO flights as connections within the great land US and A. Basically they offered me zero destinations for the next 365 days. (this is when i tried to book through my CSA OK PLUS program – but DL is obviously the airline for connections in North and Central America).

            I mostly fly: PRG-LAX-PRG, LAX-PVG-LAX, LAX-PEK-LAX, PRG-PVG-PRG, then some inner-european routes, once a year i go LAX-FOR-LAX and once a year PRG-ICN-PRG for the intercontinental routes, have been skyteam elite plus for a long time. pisses me off they are making my life more and more difficult – all this as a reward for being loyal…

            I am not stuck with skymiles or flyingblue (as i said im with okplus at the moment), but i cant loose my status as i NEED to travel with 2 luggage pieces most of my flights and im always late for checkin, so i cant start somewhere else with nothing. Also, i dont know what other airlines would be giving me 100% of miles for discounted or deeply discounted fares?

            To the question about skymiles / flyingblue – that is correct: delta would give me 100% of miles and segments flown, even if AF/KL/CSA/KE would by their chart be giving me 75%/50%/25% or nothing?

            sorry for all these questions, im trying to understand things and i see im trying to do mile-long jumps here:)

          • Scottrick

            There doesn’t seem to be any particular need for you to stick with Sky Team. You could switch to AA or UA, for example, and probably request some kind of status match.

            I’m not familiar with all the earning charts for Sky Team partners, but it’s correct that some airlines award different numbers of miles for the exact same trip depending on which program you credit to.

  • Ryan

    Free drinks in economy….like a free diet coke, or a beer?
    Also for upgrading what is the exact way airlines do it?
    Highest fare class in highest tier, then go down to lowest fare in same class, then down to next highest and do the same?

    • Scottrick

      It refers to an alcoholic beverage. Except for certain low cost carriers, I’m not aware of any domestic airlines that don’t offer ANY free beverages.

      In nearly all cases, upgrades are processed using some combination of elite status first, and then fare class within each elite tier.

  • Bruce

    Alaska MVP Gold 75K also allows gifting of a MVP status to family member/friend…I know, just did it.

    • Scottrick

      Since it isn’t a direct benefit to the member, I decided not to include it. But I did add the 50K miles and club passes. (Why did I leave gifting status for US Airways? Because they don’t offer much else.)

      • Bruce

        I see your point, but keeping my wife happy with all my flying I see as a direct benefit to me :)

        • Scottrick

          Agreed :)

  • ddrum2000

    Everyone seems to do a comparison of the top tier elite levels, but I’d like to see nuanced discussion of the 50k mile levels. I hit United Platinum this year but I can’t guarantee that in the future and 100k is a stretch. 50k I can do reliably and I am considering whether a switch to AA is worth it or not. Home airport is BOS.

    • Scottrick

      I did a tier-by-tier comparison in 2012 when I created the first version of these tables. At the time there were no PQD or MQD requirements at United and Delta, but otherwise the benefits are largely unchanged:

      http://hackmytrip.com/2012/10/comparing-mid-level-elite-tiers/

      More recently I decided to compare elite tiers within each program to identify sweet spots rather than compare the same tier across different programs as I did before. These reviews are linked to at the beginning of this post. For true mid-tier status (50K) I identified a sweet spot with Alaska Airlines. For an intermediate mid-tier status (75K) I identified sweet spots with United Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

      • ddrum2000

        So I guess my biggest question is in the context of United gold vs. AA platinum. With the United award devaluation and the addition of PQD, it would be interesting to see a comparison of these two levels, Delta too for that matter. Alaska sounds great but not really useful for those living in the Boston area.

        • Scottrick

          With Alaska, it depends on where you fly. You won’t get upgrades if you’re flying on American, but you might if you’re flying on Delta. And if you’re flying to the West Coast, both carriers shift a lot of the responsibility over to Alaska for their West Coast routes. You can credit both American and Delta to earn status with Alaska Airlines, making it easier for some to earn status.

  • Ontime

    I thought starting this year, AAdvantage Golds had to wait until check in to select Main Cabin Extra seats. Am I wrong about that?

    • Scottrick

      It is still in effect through February 28, but you’re right, I should update that.

    • Scottrick

      Fixed.

  • Trajan81

    Something I don’t think has been clarified with the new PQDs on United…if you only qualify for Platinum with PQDs and fly 100k, 125k, 150k miles, do you still get RPUs for each additional 25k miles. Yes I know this is a strange group but one I may fall into this year since most of my travel is longhaul to Singapore in Y, where rates are usually only around 6 cpm.

    • Scottrick

      I agree, it isn’t very obvious, but a close reading of the United page on RPUs and GPUs says:

      “Premier members will earn two Regional Premier Upgrades upon meeting all qualification requirements of Premier Platinum status, plus two more upon meeting all qualification requirements of Premier 1K® status. An additional two Regional Premier Upgrades will be awarded for each 25,000 Premier qualifying miles or 30 Premier qualifying segments earned thereafter.”

      This suggests you need to earn Platinum to earn the first two RPUs. You need to earn 1K to earn the second two RPUs. And only “thereafter” are additional RPUs award based solely on Premier Qualifying Miles or Segments.

  • Scottrick

    Thank you, Richard, and I’m sorry it took so long to get back to you. Apparently there is an extra layer of spam filtering I just discovered on my admin panel. The baggage benefit has already been included, and I will update the change fee ASAP.

  • Cathleen

    Scott, as someone who is beginning a job where I’ll be flying rt WAS to southern Europe 3-6x per year, which airline is my best bet for earning status now that US & AA are joined? It seems unattainable on the outside looking in, but my first goal would be to earn long-haul business class upgrades, with a secondary goal of lounge access. Thanks!!

    • Scottrick

      With international travel you probably won’t have an issue fulfilling a requirement for elite qualifying dollars or elite qualifying miles for mid-tier status, enough for lounge access.

      I think UA might be the best option given their large international hub at IAD. AA, however, would give you more flexible upgrades without UA’s fare restrictions. In either case you would have to fly 100K miles, which may not be possible if these international trips are the only ones you’re taking. (DL is definitely out of reach, but has rollover miles that could help you get status every other year.)

      Regardless of your choice, without some additional travel to hit 100K per year you may find yourself redeeming miles to get international upgrades.

  • Colin Carrier

    Scott – this is really helpful. Thanks for putting this together. Hoping you can help with my particular situation which also involves a comparison not undertaken here: Southwest Airlines.

    I fly every week from LA (BUR – bc it’s closer) to SF (OAK – bc less delays than SFO) round trip. I go to Chicago, DC and NY 2-3 times a year, each and international 3-6 times/year (EU+East Asia). I have top status with Southwest, so the primary benefits for me are no switching costs and lots of free flights, but limitations of no direct flights to NY and DC as well as no international is a pain. (Flying as much as I do and not ever having a 1st class upgrade is sad, and I know my wife would appreciate it for our international vacations) Company pays for flights, so not trying to over-economize on costs, just convenience.

    If I were to switch from SW, what would you suggest?

    • Scottrick

      Based in LA, American is probably the best choice. Give the amount of travel you do I think you could obtain Executive Platinum status with a fairly good upgrade rate. They have nonstop routes to ORD, JFK, and DCA (closer than IAD) and frequent service up to SFO, OAK, and SJC if you include Alaska Airlines codeshares.

      It’s the Asian flights that might be difficult if flying on American, but they’re adding more routes and have great service on their partner, Cathay.

  • Biz Owner

    Scott –

    Appreciate this post. I was wondering………

    I am currently a MVP75K with Alaska Airlines. I fly predominately between DFW and SEA, but also fly to PHX about once a quarter, ORD and CLE twice a year, and I fly to MCO, ATL, LAX, BNA, or STL once a year or less. All together, I rack in at least 125K on AS plus another 40-50K on AA, DL, and UA per year.

    I’ve been eyeing AA’s Executive Platinum level and wondering if it made sense for me to switch. They have more flights between SEA and DFW which is really the only issue I have with AS.

    But the trade offs worry me. One of the biggest underreported benefits of AS’s program is when you cancel your ticket you get all the money put back into your Alaska account even if it’s a heavily discounted fare. When you fly as much as I do, that adds a lot of flexibility because it basically makes all fares refundable (in the sense that they go back to your account). It looks like AS is the only airline that has that benefit so if I switched to AA, I’d lose that benefit even at their top tier.

    Nevertheless, I called AA to see what they’d offer me, but they’d only offer me Gold. Their Gold seems like a serious step down to what I already have so I’m not really interested, but it might make more sense to accept that offer on Jan 1 and spend the 7-8 months it would take to get to executive platinum…..? Like to hear your thoughts on the two programs and if I should stay where I am.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Scottrick

      The refund policy is definitely a good one, and something I try to mention as often as possible. In fact, all members can now get a refund for fares they cancel up to 60 days before departure (MVP Gold and higher up to the day of departure). It’s not quite as good as Southwest, but Southwest doesn’t have upgrades and international award partners…

      It’s not such a good benefit if you work for a company that needs to track expenses, but for a small business owner or a frequent leisure traveler it can be perfect.

      The main benefit of moving to American is a larger network and perhaps better first class service. But you would have relatively little elite recognition when you still flew Alaska, and American has a fairly small network on the West Coast. I know some people who split their travel to earn status with both American and Alaska for this reason and it works great if you can fly that much. You might not be there yet, but you could be if you were willing to settle for MVPG and AA Plat (not a bad deal). Although the upgrades on AA would require 500-mile stickers, you can purchase them relatively cheaply.

      Are you sure AA only offered you Gold? Most other carriers call that Silver, and UA’s Gold is actually AA Platinum. You should be eligible for a trial at the Platinum level. But they’re not likely to give you EXP since AA doesn’t have a similar level and EXP trials are rare to begin with.

      These things are not typically revenue based, but you could consider sending AA a new request for a Platinum trial and include your entire 2013 and 2014 to-date Mileage Plan account history showing all the tickets credited to AS.

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