Hotel and airline elite status is serious business for frequent travelers — especially at the end of one year and the beginning of the next. And it makes sense — if you spend lots of time on the road, why not make sure you’re as comfortable as possible?
Hotel and airline elite status can put you at the front of the plane, get you extra legroom, protect you from fees, open up better customer service, provide free breakfast, include snacks, bigger rooms, shorter lines and more. But it isn’t always easy earning elite status the old-fashioned way.
To give you an example, in addition to accruing 15,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars, earning top-tier Delta Air Lines Diamond elite status requires racking up 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles every year. If you earn 1 MQM per mile flown, you’d be the equivalent of over halfway to the moon or around the world five times. That’s a ton of flying.
So, you might wonder if buying elite status makes more sense. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to secure top-tier elite status without flying that number of miles each year. And in a few cases, it might be worth buying the status you need instead of spending weeks on end in the sky or on the road.
Do the math
To determine whether or not you should buy your way to the top (or middle) of the elite status pack, you’ll need to do a little math.
First, you’ll have to figure out how much it will cost to buy the status — more on that in a minute. Then, consider how much the perks are worth. The perks are worth approximately nothing if you don’t use them, so you’ll need to at least generally know your travel plans for the following year.
For example, if you are chasing elite status with two confirmable first-class upgrades, you need to know how much that is worth. Is a domestic upgrade worth $150? What about $300? You be the judge. If the upgrade is an international long-haul upgrade, that number might be much higher, but the valuation is personal to your situation. Feel free to refer to these guides for our valuations of these benefits.
If it costs you $500 to buy up to elite status, which will give you $1,500 in perks, it may make sense to open your wallet and lock it in. It’s also worth considering how much it would cost to do a mileage or mattress run. Occasionally, this can be less expensive than buying status outright.
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How to buy elite status
There are a few different ways to buy elite status, so we’ll break down each one.
The easiest (and sometimes cheapest) way to buy your way to elite status may very well be via a credit card.
Some credit cards come with automatic elite status. Others require a certain amount of spending on the card to earn the status. In either case, factor in the annual fee for the card, plus potentially the opportunity cost of any spending you would be shifting to the card to earn status.
As a pretty easy example, if you want Hilton Diamond top-tier status, you can get it simply by having the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. The card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), but as long as you have the card open, you’ll have instant Hilton Diamond status, which can get you free breakfast or a food and beverage credit at most Hilton properties, lounge access, potential upgrades, bonus points and more. I wouldn’t say doing this costs you $450 for Diamond status since the card also comes with other valuable perks, including an annual up-to-$250 airline fee credit, up-to-$250 Hilton resort credit, 150,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months and more. But there certainly is an annual cost to having the card.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card is another great example of a credit card that provides valuable hotel status just by holding the card. Cardholders enjoy Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status, which includes benefits like annual Choice Benefits, enhanced room upgrades (including suites), a dedicated phone line and free breakfast at select properties. The card has a $650 annual fee (see rates and fees), but with a $300 annual dining credit ($25 per month), one free night valued at 85,000 points and many other perks, this card can be worth it for travelers who want Marriott Bonvoy status starting from day one.
Lots of credit cards can dramatically shortcut your way to hotel elite status or provide the status you are chasing outright just by having the card.
While airlines generally don’t offer status just for holding a given credit card, some airline cards can help you qualify for status without having to fly.
For example, you can qualify for all the published AAdvantage status tiers (even top-tier Executive Platinum status) through cobranded American Airlines credit card spending alone. All American’s cobranded credit cards earn 1 Loyalty Point per dollar, except for the no-annual-fee AAdvantage® Aviator® Mastercard®, which earns half a Loyalty Point per dollar spent.
The information for the AAdvantage® Aviator® card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card…
Read More: Should you buy hotel or airline elite status?