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How to earn last-minute airline elite status — and whether or not it’s worth it

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest information.

It’s nearing the finish line for people to earn airline elite status. As the calendar rockets toward Dec. 31 (the cut-off with most programs for this year’s elite-eligible activity), the options narrow for travelers trying to decide if they will make it to the next elite tier.

Just about every situation is unique based on the emails we get from our readers, but just about all involve similar questions. How can I earn the final necessary miles, flights or dollars toward status? How can I earn status without flying more this year? And — perhaps most importantly — is airline elite status even worth it?

Related: 5 things I’d tell my younger self about airline status

Here’s some advice for common end-of-year status dilemmas with a few of the main U.S. airlines.

How to earn last-minute elite status with American Airlines

American Airlines Boeing 737 New Winglets LaGuardia LGA

Here’s the criteria for earning American Airlines status during the current qualification period (Jan. 1, 2023, through Feb. 29, 2024) with the Loyalty Points system:

  • Gold: 40,000 Loyalty Points
  • Platinum: 75,000 Loyalty Points
  • Platinum Pro: 125,000 Loyalty Points
  • Executive Platinum: 200,000 Loyalty Points

American’s elite qualification period runs from March 1 through Feb. 28 of the following year (or Feb. 29 during a leap year). If you achieve elite status during the qualification period, your status will be valid through the following March 31. So, if you earn AAdvantage status by Feb. 28, 2024, you’ll keep status through March 31, 2025.

Under the AAdvantage program, you need Loyalty Points to earn elite status with American Airlines.

You might have heard that one American mile earned equals one Loyalty Point earned, but unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Instead, you only earn Loyalty Points when you earn base American Airlines miles. Bonus American Airlines miles won’t get you Loyalty Points.

So, be careful to understand whether you’re earning base miles or bonus miles when looking for ways to earn Loyalty Points.

Last-minute strategies to earn or retain American elite status

American Airlines domestic first

You’ll have through the end of February to earn status with American. You can earn Loyalty Points when you fly American and most of its partners.

However, there are also many ways to earn Loyalty Points besides flying. Here are a few of them:

Loyalty Points must be posted to your account by the end of February to count toward your current qualification period. So, you have some extra time to earn or requalify compared to other major airlines with qualification periods that end on Dec. 31.

Loyalty Points typically post to your account based on the flight or transaction date. However, Loyalty Points from credit card spending are based on the date the activity hits your AAdvantage account — which usually happens on (or shortly after) your statement closing date. As a result, it’s important to complete your spending before your February statement closes.

Related: Last-minute strategies for earning American AAdvantage elite status

How to earn last-minute elite status with Delta Air Lines

Delta plane

These are the criteria to earn Delta Medallion elite status during the current qualification period, which runs from Jan. 1, 2023, through Dec. 31, 2023:

Metric Silver Medallion Gold Medallion Platinum Medallion Diamond Medallion
Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs
Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) $3,000 MQDs or MQD waiver 6,000 MQDs or MQD waiver $9,000 MQDs or MQD waiver $20,000 MQDs or Diamond MQD waiver

You’ll need to earn the required MQDs for your desired status tier and either the required MQMs or MQSs to earn Delta elite status. If you’re able to hit these requirements by Dec. 31, 2023, you’ll keep your status through Jan. 31, 2025.

However, you can currently earn an MQD waiver for Silver, Gold and Platinum status by spending $25,000 on a Delta cobranded credit card in a calendar year. Diamond requires a whopping $250,000 in spending to earn an MQD waiver, which is a major feat unless you have lots of business spending.

Normally, Delta will roll over the MQMs you earn above your Medallion tier qualification threshold to the next qualification year if you earn at least Silver status.

Delta has also made Medallion earning on award tickets permanent. On Delta-issued and -operated award tickets, you’ll earn MQSs based on segments, MQMs based on your flight distance and MQDs at a rate of 1 per 100 SkyMiles redeemed.

This will be the final year for Delta’s current methodology for earning elite status. Beginning in 2024, Delta’s elite earning requirements will be simplified, and we will see the removal of MQMs and MQSs. Instead, Delta’s elite status will be entirely based on how many MQDs you earn in a calendar year. This is tied directly to how much you spend, specifically on Delta flights, partner flights, cobranded American Express cards, rental cars and hotel bookings through Delta’s portal, and Delta Vacations.

Related: Delta makes it harder to earn Medallion status in 2024, adds new Choice Benefit options.

Last-minute strategies to earn or retain Delta elite status

Delta Airbus A321neo New First Class Product

If you’re looking to top off your MQMs, MQSs or MQDs by Dec. 31, 2023, here are some options:

  • Spend on a Delta cobranded credit card: Some Delta credit cards let you earn MQMs when you meet specific spending thresholds (though these options will no longer be in effect starting Jan. 1, 2024).
  • Book a flight: You can earn on flights whether you redeem Delta miles for a Delta-operated flight or spend cash to fly on Delta or one of its partners.

However, remember that the MQMs, MQSs and MQDs must post to your account this year to count for elite status qualification for the 2023 status year. So, especially if you’re looking to earn MQMs by spending on your Delta credit card, make sure your spending is on a statement that will be issued before the end of the year.

And again, the new qualification metrics announced in September (and modified a few weeks later) do not take effect until 2024. As a result, this year’s approach to earning Medallion status is status quo.

Related: Last-minute strategies for earning Delta Medallion elite status

How to earn last-minute elite status with United

United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

Finally, here are the current requirements for qualifying for United elite status during the current qualification year, which runs from Jan. 1, 2023, to Dec. 31, 2023.

Metric Premier Silver Premier Gold Premier Platinum Premier 1K
Premier qualifying points (PQP) 5,000 PQP 10,000 PQP 15,000 PQP 24,000 PQP
Premier qualifying flights (PQF) and PQP 12 PQF and 4,000 PQP 24 PQF and 8,000 PQP 36 PQF and 12,000 PQP 54 PQF and 18,000 PQP

Once you earn United elite status, you’ll keep your status for the rest of the current year, the entire next year and the first month of the following year. So, if you qualify for elite status with United in 2023, you’ll keep your status through Jan. 31, 2025.

Each United elite level has two pathways to status. One pathway is to earn a combination of Premier qualifying flights (PQFs) — which is just a fancy word for a takeoff and touchdown (in other words, a segment) on an eligible flight — and a certain number of Premier qualifying points (PQPs). The other pathway is a PQP-only option with a higher PQP threshold.

It’s important to look at how close you are in either pathway to status. After all, you may be multiple PQFs short but within striking distance of the PQP-only number that you could achieve without having to take multiple additional flights before the end of the year.

To qualify for United status through either pathway, you must fly at least four paid segments on United or United Express during your qualification year.

Last-minute strategies to earn United PQFs

United A320 plane

If you need additional United PQFs, you must squeeze in more flights before the calendar turns to Jan. 1, 2024.

Luckily, distance doesn’t matter for PQFs. When earning PQFs, you can take the shortest flights you can find. However, to earn PQFs, your flight cannot be an award flight, can’t be booked in United basic economy and must be credited to United MileagePlus. You won’t earn PQFs or PQPs when flying on select MileagePlus partner airlines, so double-check eligibility if you aren’t flying on United or a Star Alliance partner.

Remember that a PQF is a takeoff and touchdown, so an eligible round-trip with a connection each way would count as four PQFs. If you have a few nonstop flights remaining on your schedule in 2023, you could change them to connecting flights to increase your PQF count. Consider a same-day change or rebooking if the fare is the same.

Last-minute strategies to earn United PQPs

You can still earn PQPs for this qualification year with eligible United spending. Keep in mind that PQPs from flights don’t post until you fly. So, if you earn more PQPs from flying, the flight(s) have to happen this year.

Here are some ideas for earning more PQPs before the end of the year:

  • Book a paid United or United Express flight: Flights operated by United and United Express typically earn PQPs at 1 PQP per dollar of base airfare and carrier-imposed surcharges (excluding taxes).
  • Book an eligible paid partner flight: Most flights operated by a Star Alliance partner airline and connecting partners earn PQPs based on the award miles earned (before any elite bonuses) divided by either 5 or 6, depending on the partner.
  • Buy Economy Plus or preferred seats: You can earn PQPs when you buy Economy Plus subscriptions and one-time seat reservations.
  • Splurge on a paid upgrade: You can earn PQPs when you buy an upgrade on United or United Express flights.

United usually credits PQPs from flights and ancillary purchases (like Economy Plus or paid upgrades) to your account two days after your flight. Meanwhile, the PQPs will usually credit to your account two days after you purchase or renew an Economy Plus subscription.

You can also earn PQPs when you spend on select cobranded United credit cards. You can earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 of purchases with select cards, although different cards have different earning caps per calendar year. However, ensure you’ll reach the spending threshold with enough time for the PQPs to post to your United account by the end of the year.

Related: Last-minute strategies for earning United Premier elite status

Is it worth trying for last-minute elite status?

Travelers at check in

Being short a few segments or a few hundred dollars is worth the investment toward the end of the year to close the gap toward elite status because the year-long benefits are worth it.

However, if you still have hundreds — or thousands — of dollars in incremental cost to close the gap, the equation quickly shifts to potentially not worth it. Factor in the time additional flights will take if you need to fly, and be very honest with yourself about how much the perks will be worth next year.

The amount it’s worth to close the gap to a top-tier status is likely more than a lower-tier status. In any case, if you are going to spend more than a few hours or a few hundred dollars at this point in the year chasing airline status, really gut-check yourself on the true value you’ll get.

Even if you’re going for American Airlines elite status and can rely on non-travel opportunities to earn Loyalty Points at home, there’s still an opportunity cost to earning Loyalty Points instead of other rewards on your shopping, dining and more.

Related: Is airline elite status still worth it?

Bottom line

Airline elite status can still be worth it, but time is decreasing for you to close the gap to status this year. Depending on your exact situation, you may need to spend some money, fly some additional flights or do both in the quest to have the perks you want next year.

As a last resort, remember that sometimes airlines offer a way to buy your status back after the year has ended. It is also free to ask an airline for a one-time bump if you came close but missed earning status. Neither of those methods is guaranteed to work, but they are worth considering if all other pathways to status don’t work out.