Each airline offers their own elite status program, varying in tiers, status requirements, benefits offered and more. It’s not easy to compare one status program with the next. But in this guide, we’ll do just that.
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We gathered all the data we could find and gave every perk at every status level a value. With those values, we were able to rank loyalty programs by status tiers. From there, we determined the best domestic airline elite status programs.
To find out which airlines finished at the top, keep reading!
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Domestic Airline Elite Status Programs
There are plenty of domestic airlines with elite status programs, but we didn’t consider all of them for this analysis. Instead, we focused on airlines with a large domestic route network or partner carriers. Below are the ones that made the cut and their elite levels categorized into Low Tier, Mid Tier, High Tier and Road Warrior.
|AIRLINE||LOW TIER||MID TIER||HIGH TIER||ROAD WARRIOR|
|Alaska||MVP||MVP Gold||MVP Gold||MVP Gold 75K|
|American||AAdvantage Gold||AAdvantage Platinum||AAdvantage Platinum Pro||AAdvantage Executive Platinum|
|Delta||Silver Medallion||Gold Medallion||Platinum Medallion||Diamond Medallion|
|Southwest||–||A-List||A-List Preferred||A-List Preferred +|
|United||Premier Silver||Premier Gold||Premier Platinum||Premier 1K|
Below are the carriers we didn’t include in this analysis and why:
|Frontier Airlines||Usually flies from Point A to Point B with limited connecting options.|
|Hawaiian Airlines||Limited network outside Hawaii.|
|Spirit Airlines||Usually flies from Point A to Points B with limited connecting options.|
|Sun Country Airlines||Limited network outside the Minneapolis-St.Paul metro area.|
What We Considered
We compiled every elite status benefit we could think of and generalized them into eight comprehensive categories. They’re listed below, along with how much weight we gave each in our analysis:
Because spending and flying behavior varies from person to person, you’ll want to adjust these category weights to reflect your travel style.
Inflight Benefits (25%). Upgrades, preferred seats and free drinks, snacks, entertainment and WiFi.
Bonuses (20%). Extra miles or points.
Fee Waivers (20%). Checked bag, flight change, same-day confirmed or standby, ticket and processing fees.
Airport Benefits (10%). Priority check-in, security, boarding, baggage handling as well as lounge access.
Flexible Benefits (10%). Perks you can either choose or transfer to other passengers.
Reservation Benefits (5%). Priority phone line and better award inventory.
Partner Benefits (5%). Same perks as Inflight Benefits, Airport Benefits and Fee Waivers, but extended to partner airlines.
Other Benefits (5%). Includes RewardsPlus (United/Marriott) and car rental company perks.
Unlocking an elite status level depends on how much you fly or how much you spend with the airline. We used the following models to make our calculations for this analysis:
|LEVEL||MILES FLOWN||MONEY SPENT|
Benefit Values. For this analysis, we needed to pinpoint a value to each key benefit. We made sure the same perks offered by two or more airlines were valued equally and that benefits with small differences also reflected corresponding dissimilarities in their valuations.
Focus On Added Value. In our analysis, we compared the benefits you’d get with elite status compared to what you’d get without status. That means we only looked at the added value you’d receive as an elite member versus a non-elite member.
Best Domestic Airline Elite Status Programs
Without further ado, the winners for the bet domestic airline elite status programs are:
|LOW TIER||Alaska MVP|
|MID TIER||Alaska MVP Gold|
|HIGH TIER||Alaska MVP Gold|
|ROAD WARRIOR||United Premier 1K|
Let’s go more in-depth with our findings below.
As we mentioned before, we analyzed the Low Tier of elite status programs based on 25,000 miles of flying and $3,000 of spending in one calendar year. With these assumptions, here’s how status programs ranked at their Low Tier:
- Alaska MVP
- American AAdvantage Gold
- Delta Silver Medallion
- United Premier Silver
JetBlue and Southwest Airlines were not included because they don’t have elite status at this spending level.
Alaska MVP takes first place, mainly because Alaska gives rewards based on how many miles you fly rather than how much money you spend.
At MVP level, you’ll get a 50% bonus on flights. Which equals to an additional 12,500 miles, worth $225 based on our most recent valuations. American, Delta and United all give Low Tier members an additional 2x miles, so you’ll only get 6,000 bonus miles for $3,000 in spend. That’s less than half of what you’d earn with Alaska MVP status.
|AIRLINE||BONUS MILES||MILE VALUATION||BONUS VALUE|
American AAdvantage Gold takes the #2 spot, because it waives same-day standby fees and processing charges for last-minute award tickets. AAdvantage Gold members also enjoy priority security.
At Mid Tier, we’re looking at 50,000 miles of flying and $6,000 of spending in one calendar year. Using these numbers, here’s how status programs ranked at Mid Tier:
- Alaska MVP Gold
- United Premier Gold
- Delta Gold Medallion
- American AAdvantage Platinum
- JetBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List
Again, Alaska finishes first. And again, it’s because of the massive amounts of bonus miles you’ll earn. Other Alaska MVP Gold key features include waived change/cancellation fees and four one-way Gold Guest Upgrades.
United Premier Gold takes second place because it offers better availability for saver economy award tickets than the competition, two checked bags up to 70 pounds each, and free same-day confirmed flight changes. Let’s not forget, United’s Mid Tier members enjoy complimentary Marriott Gold status, thanks to the RewardsPlus partnership.
Our High Tier analysis of status programs is based on 75,000 miles of flying and $9,000 of spending in one calendar year. From our calculations, we ranked High Tier statuses in this order:
- Alaska MVP Gold
- Delta Platinum Medallion
- United Premier Platinum
- American AAdvantage Platinum Pro
- JetBlue Mosaic
- Southwest A-List Preferred
We’re starting to sound like a broken record, but Alaska comes out on top, yet again. As you might guess, the reason is because of the bonus miles the carrier gives to its MVP Gold members.
The #2 spot goes to Delta Platinum Medallion, with its wide upgrade window, extra-legroom economy seats with added perks, upgrades on award tickets and complimentary access to preferred seats. Plus, Platinum Medallions get Choice Benefits.
At the Road Warrior level, we’re assuming 125,000 miles of flying and $15,000 of spending in one calendar year for our analysis. With that in mind, here’s how status programs ranked at the Road Warrior tier:
- United Premier 1K
- American AAdvantage Executive Platinum
- Delta Diamond Medallion
- Alaska MVP 75K
- Southwest A-List Preferred
- JetBlue Mosaic
At this level, Alaska finally gets knocked off the top and United finishes first. MileagePlus rewards its Premier 1K members across all eight categories, including enhanced award availability for both economy and premium cabins, a complimentary inflight drink and snack on every flight, and a total of six Regional Premier Upgrades and six Global Premier Upgrades.
American AAdvantage Executive Platinum takes the #2 spot, thanks to its waived checked bag, same-day standby/confirmed, award-processing and award change/cancellation fees. Executive Platinum members also enjoy Oneworld Emerald status with access to First Class lounges when traveling internationally with a Oneworld partner.
For the “overall” analysis, we combined our findings for Low Tier, Mid Tier, High Tier and Road Warrior to determine the overall best airline elite status program. Here’s how the six carriers ranked:
Of course, Alaska Airlines takes top prize because it finished first in three of the four status levels. As we mentioned before, that’s mostly because of the generous way Mileage Plan awards bonus miles.
United Airlines earns the runner-up spot in the overall rankings because of its strong performance in the Mid Tier, High Tier and Road Warrior levels.
Elite Status Worth
We made a series of guides that discuss exactly how much value you can get from six domestic airline elite status programs. If you want a deeper understanding of elite status worth, click on the links below:
Alternative to Elite Status
If you don’t plan on at least flying 25,000 or spending $3,000 within a year, then you probably won’t benefit from elite status programs. Instead, look into opening an airline cobranded credit card. They often come with travel perks that even the not-so-frequent flyer can take advantage of.
The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines rewards card for elite flyers. You’ll get an annual companion certificate, access to Centurion Lounges and Delta Sky Clubs, fast-track to elite status and plenty of other travel benefits.
The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines card for regular flyers. You’ll get bonuses on hotel, restaurant and supermarket spending, an annual companion certificate and much more.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card is the best Delta Air Lines card for occasional flyers. The card offers bonuses on restaurant and supermarket spending and comes with a handful of travel perks.
The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the best Southwest Airlines rewards card. It gives cardmembers bonus points on partner hotel and car rental spending, fast-track to elite status, $75 in Southwest travel credit every year and more.
The United℠ Explorer Card is the best United Airlines rewards card. It offers bonuses on hotel and restaurant spending and plenty of travel perks.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® is the best American Airlines rewards card. It offers bonuses on dining and gas spending and a handful of travel perks. And the key reason American Airlines travelers use this card: complimentary Admirals Club lounge access and 10K EQMs!
The JetBlue Plus Card is the best rewards card for JetBlue frequent flyers. It offers bonuses on restaurant and grocery store spending, fast track to Mosaic elite status and a few other travel benefits.
Deciding on an airline to pledge loyalty to involves many factors and is a decision only you can make. All we’ve done, in this guide, is give you objective rankings and summarized data to help you decide which carrier deserves your repeated business.
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