Earning top-tier status with airlines and hotels can be incredibly rewarding. Elite members enjoy upgrades, freebies (luggage, breakfast) and bonus points. Whether you’re a business traveler or taking the family on a much-needed vacation, having elite status can pay off tremendously. Of course, it takes time and effort to earn top-tier elite status, not to mention a lot of time away from home.
Luckily, some programs make it possible to earn top-tier status without stepping onto a plane or into a hotel lobby. It can be as easy as applying for a credit card and paying the annual fee, to generating thousands of dollars of spending on your card. Whether the effort is worth it depends on how often you’ll put these elite benefits to use, but if you’re considering going this route, now is the best time to pursue it.
Most airline and hotel programs have lowered their requirements due to the pandemic. In most cases, you will likely end up having to spend significantly less to hit your status goals than before.
And while lower status thresholds and a financially devastating year also mean cutbacks in elite status benefits, that will likely change as travel demand continues its upward trend. In short: If you’re attempting to earn top-tier elite status through credit card spending, now is the best time to do so.
Here’s everything you need to know about earning top-tier elite status via credit card spending.
Airline cards that let you earn top-tier status via card spending
While nearly every airline credit card lets you make progress toward elite status, not many let you earn top-tier status through credit card spending. Luckily, a good array of airlines do, including Delta, Frontier JetBlue and Southwest. The benefits offered to top-tier elites vary by airline, but you can expect practical perks like free checked bags, waived change fees and possible upgrades.
If you’re looking to earn top-tier airline status through credit card spending, the following airlines make it possible to do so:
Delta Air Lines
Delta has an extensive line-up of credit cards that allow you to earn your way towards top-tier Diamond Medallion status through credit card spending. Delta Diamond Medallion requires 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs). Alternately, you can earn status through 140 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and 15,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).
You can earn these requirements entirely through Delta co-branded credit cards. The MQD requirement can be waived entirely for Silver, Gold and Platinum status if you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. The Diamond status MQD requirement is waived if you spend $250,000 on either of these cards in a calendar year.
If you’re ready to tackle the MQM requirement, here’s a look at how four of Delta’s co-branded credit cards can help you do that.
Frontier Airlines may not have an extensive route network, but those who frequently fly the low-cost carrier may enjoy its top-tier elite benefits. Frontier Elite 100K members enjoy a free checked bag, Discount Den membership, family seating, family status, waived redemption fees, priority boarding and other perks.
Elite 100K status normally requires earning 100,000 miles, but you can also meet that requirement purely via credit card spending. The Frontier Airlines World Mastercard® lets you earn 1 elite-qualifying mile per $1 spent on all purchases. This is in the addition to the redeemable miles you earn on the card.
Most people won’t be able to channel $100,000 worth of spending onto this card, but if you fly Frontier fairly frequently and just need help getting over the finish line, the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard can help you get there.
Do you want to earn top-tier JetBlue Mosaic status without boarding a plane? Then the JetBlue Plus Card and The JetBlue Business Card might be worth considering. Both cards offer Mosaic status every calendar year you spend $50,000 on the card. Mosaic status normally requires earning 15,000 qualifying points or 12,000 plus flying 30 segments.
Whether that’s worthwhile depends on your travel needs. Mosaic members receive practical benefits like same-day changes, two free checked bags, same-day upgrades to Even More Space seats, 3x bonus points, early boarding and expedited security. These can be worthwhile for occasional travelers and frequent flyers alike.
Southwest offers something better than elite status to its top flyers: the Southwest Companion Pass. This is one of the best travel benefits out there, allowing you to designate a travel companion who gets to fly with you free of charge (plus taxes and fees). If you’re a frequent Southwest flyer, this benefit can be incredibly valuable.
To earn the Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll need to complete 100 one-way qualifying flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in a calendar year. Points earned from credit card activity count towards this requirement. That includes the following sign-up bonuses.
Hotel cards that let you earn top-tier status via card spending
Earning top-tier status via credit cards is much easier with hotels than airlines. While earning top-tier status with airline credit cards often requires a large amount of spending, some hotel cards offer top-tier status outright. That’s a great way to bypass stay requirements of 50 or more nights per year. Plus the annual fees on these cards are fairly reasonable considering the added benefits they’re packed with.
Here’s a look at hotel credit cards that offer top-tier elite status through credit card spending.
Hilton Honors is perhaps the most generous program when it comes to allowing members to earn top-tier elite status through credit cards. In fact, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card offers top-tier Diamond status outright in exchange for a $450 annual fee. This may well be worth it, considering Hilton Diamond status normally requires completing 60 nights at Hilton properties. Those requirements were reduced to 30 nights in 2021, but instant status from the Hilton Aspire Card still presents an excellent value.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers more than just the ability to fast-track your Hilton Honors status. The card offers an annual $250 Hilton resort credit, a $250 annual airline fee credit, Priority Pass Select membership and a $100 Global Entry/TSA Precheck. These perks alone more than off-set the card’s $450 annual fee, though you may be able to generate additional savings through Amex Offers and elite benefits like free breakfast, lounge access and room upgrades.
If those perks don’t appeal to you and you’re looking to earn Hilton Diamond status with a lower fee card, then the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card might be a better fit. The card carries a $95 annual fee and offers Hilton Gold elite status, with the ability to earn Diamond after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. This level of spending will also earn you an annual free night award, which requires $15,000 in credit card spending.
If the prospect of channeling $40,000 worth of spending to a Hilton card for Diamond status sounds daunting, you can bypass this step. Hilton’s Gold elite status offers many of the same benefits Diamond members receive (complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, bonus points). So you may not need to go beyond Hilton Honors Gold after all.
World of Hyatt
World of Hyatt has just one personal co-branded credit card but it certainly packs a punch. Not only does The World of Hyatt Credit Card allow you to spend your way to top-tier Globalist status, but you could earn all 60 nights required for elite status through the card. The World of Hyatt card currently offers five nights towards elite status annually. You can earn an additional two elite nights for every $5,000 spent.
Marriott Bonvoy has six status levels and while it’s not possible to earn top-tier Ambassador Elite status through a credit card, you can get pretty close. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card comes with 15 annual elite nights and allows you to upgrade to Marriott Platinum status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year. Last year, the card even included instant Platinum status as part of its welcome bonus.
That’s how I came to earn Marriott Platinum status for the first time. It hasn’t been very rewarding during the pandemic, since most hotels have cut breakfast and room upgrades have been sparse as hotels tried to stop the financial bleeding. However, all that might change as the travel industry experiences an upswing in the coming year.
If you want to earn top-tier Marriott Ambassador Elite status, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card can certainly help get you there.
Wyndham Rewards may not be as well-known as the other big hotel programs on the list, but the program has its share of wonderful perks and reasonable award redemptions. Top-tier Diamond members receive benefits like suite upgrades and the ability to gift Gold elite status to someone else. It normally takes 40 nights to earn this status level, though since the pandemic Wyndham has cut the requirement down to 24.
You can bypass this requirement by picking up a Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Business Card. Cardmembers receive instant Diamond elite status, which is pretty generous for a card with a $95 annual fee. Other recurring benefits include 15,000 bonus points annually, a 10% discount on free night awards and a special cardmember discount on paid nights.
The information about the Frontier Airlines World Mastercard®, JetBlue Plus Card, JetBlue Business Card, Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, The World of Hyatt Credit Card and the Wyndham Rewards® Earner℠ Business Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.