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Upgrading to higher airline status levels isn’t exactly easy. Using the right airline credit card gives you a head start toward reaching those higher tiers. These cards can also provide a few other perks as a loyalty award. Most airlines offer expedited elite status when you use their co-brand credit cards. Besides earning elites airline status, you may also enjoy perks like free checked bags and lounge access.

Delta SkyMiles

The prize for having the best credit cards to earn airline status might belong to Delta.

Delta Reserve Credit Card (Expired)

The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express is the premium product of the Delta credit card lineup. You can also enjoy these SkyMiles travel benefits:

  • Complimentary Delta Sky Club Access
  • Annual companion certificate for a domestic roundtrip first class, Comfort+, or main cabin ticket
  • First checked bag free for up to 9 travelers
  • Main Cabin 1 priority boarding
  • 20% in-flight purchase savings

The welcome bonus for the Delta Reserve® Credit Card gives you a head start on earning Medallion status as you can earn 10,000 bonus MQMs and 40,000 SkyMiles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

Plus, cardholders can earn an additional 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and 15,000 bonus miles after spending $30,000 on eligible purchases in the calendar year.

Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card

Business travelers can also enjoy the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express which has similar benefits as the personal card version. The welcome bonus is 5,000 bonus MQMs and 35,000 bonus SkyMiles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Plus, cardholders can earn a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase within the first 3 months.

You can also enjoy Main Cabin 1 priority boarding, 20% on eligible in-flight savings in the form of a statement credit, and discounted Sky Club access at $29 per person (up to two guests). Cardholders can also check their first bag for free and save up to $60 on a round trip Delta flight.

American Airlines AAdvantage

The Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is the most benefit-rich American Airlines credit card. It’s $450 annual fee gives you free Admirals Club membership. You can also add up to 10 authorized users for free. They also receive free Admirals Club access when you (the primary cardholder) doesn’t travel with them.

To achieve American Airlines AAdvantage airline elite status sooner, you get 10,000 bonus elite qualifying miles after spending $40,000 in annual purchases. You can also enjoy the “enhanced airport experience” which includes priority check-in, airport screening, and boarding for you and eight travel companions. Cardholders can also get the first checked bag free for them and up to 8 travel companions.

New cardmembers can also earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months.

United Airlines MileagePlus

For MileagePlus Premier members, the United MileagePlus Club Card can be the best fit if you’re willing to pay a $450 annual fee. You get immediate access to United Club which can be a $550 annual value. Other complimentary Premier benefits include:

  • Space-available Premier upgrades on award tickets (United-operated flights only)
  • Priority check-in, security screening, boarding, and baggage handling
  • No close-in award booking fees (this fee disappears for all MileagePlus members in late 2019)

You will also have Hertz President’s Circle elite status and special amenities when staying at the Luxury Hotel and Resorts Collection portfolio.

The current signup bonus is 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards

There are three personal Southwest Airlines credit cards and one business card. Southwest doesn’t quite fit the typical mold for airline elite status. While you might think the Southwest Companion Pass is the highest elite status, that honor actually belongs to the A-List Preferred membership tier as the Companion Pass only lets your companion fly free, minus fees and taxes, but doesn’t include other perks like priority boarding and same-day standby.

Having the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card helps you achieve A-List status and Companion Pass simultaneously. The 40,000-point signup bonus (after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months) counts toward the annual 110,000-point Companion Pass requirement. You also get these exclusive card benefits:

  • $75 annual Southwest travel credit
  • 4 annual Upgraded Bookings (when available)
  • 7,500 points anniversary bonus

The annual fee is $149.

JetBlue TrueBlue

The JetBlue Plus Card gives you TrueBlue Mosaic status after spending $50,000 in a calendar year. Without this card, you must either earn 15,000 flight points or fly 30 segments and earn 12,000 flight points each year. Mosaic benefits include waived change and cancellation fees, two free checked bags, and discounted Even More Space award seats.

Being a Plus cardholder lets you check you and three travel companions check your first bag free. You can also enjoy an annual $100 statement credit on JetBlue Vacations package and a 50% in-flight savings for drinks and food.

The annual fee is $99 and you get 5,000 bonus points each card anniversary. New cardmembers can earn 40,000 bonus points after spending $1,000.

American Express Platinum Card

Maybe you have airline elite status with several frequent flyer programs and can benefit more from a flexible travel rewards card. The Platinum Card® from American Express is one of the best air travel credit cards. This is because you earn 5x points on plane tickets booked directly through the carrier or on AmexTravel.com. It’s also an awesome card because of the following air travel benefits:

  • Annual $200 airline fee credit
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee reimbursement
  • Complimentary Global Lounge  Collection Membership (includes The Centurion, Priority Pass, and Delta Sky Club networks)
  • 1:1 point transfers to airline loyalty programs (includes Delta SkyMiles, Emirates, and British Airways)

You can also get upgraded hotel elite status at Hilton Honors (Gold) and Marriott Bonvoy (Gold Elite). Plus, you can enjoy up to $200 in annual Uber ride credits.

For a limited time, you might qualify for the 100,000 bonus Membership Rewards points welcome offer that’s worth $1,000 in award travel. If you qualify for this offer, you only need to spend $5,000 in the first 3 months to receive the full bonus amount.


Loyalty has its perks. The best airline credit cards reward you with elite qualifying miles when you reach certain annual spending targets. In the meantime, you can enjoy special perks typically reserved for elite status members that you don’t get as a general loyalty program member with a travel credit card.

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Josh Patoka

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7 Best Credit Cards for Airline Status
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