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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!
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.
DELTA SKYMILES RESERVE AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD
The Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card has an offer for 50,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
This card earns 3X Miles on Delta purchases and 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases.
Upon the annual renewal of your Card, receive a Domestic First Class, Delta Comfort+® or Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate. *Payment of the government-imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
You and up to 8 travel companions get your first checked bag free on Delta Flights. You’ll also receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
This card gets a Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
Another great benefit is the complimentary Delta Sky Club access. You’ll also get complimentary access to The Centurion® Lounge or Escape Lounge – The Centurion® Studio Partner when you book your Delta flight with your Reserve Card.
There are no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $550.
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.
DELTA SKYMILES PLATINUM AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD
The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card has an introductory offer for 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
This card earns 3 miles per $1 on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels. It also earns 2 miles per $1 at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets. You’ll earn 1 mile per $1 on all other eligible purchases.
Upon renewal of your card each year, you will receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. The cost of government imposed taxes and fees will be no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments). Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
You and up to 8 travel companions get your first checked bag free on Delta flights. You’ll also receive Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding on Delta flights.
You’ll also get an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓. There are no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $250.
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.
DELTA SKYMILES® GOLD AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.
The Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card has an offer for 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months.
Ongoing rewards are 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases, and purchases at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery in the U.S., and at U.S. supermarkets. You’ll earn 1 mile per dollar for all other eligible purchases.
Spend $10,000 in purchases on your card in a calendar year and receive a $100 Delta Flight Credit.
You’ll also get Main Cabin 1 Priority Boarding and your first bag checked for free on Delta flights.
Enjoy a $0 introductory Annual Fee for the first year, then $99. See Rates & Fees, Terms Apply.
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.
SOUTHWEST RAPID REWARDS® PRIORITY CREDIT CARD
Earn 75,000 points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. We value each Southwest point at an average 1.5 cents a piece, or $750 for the 50,000 points. The best value will be redemption for flights. As with most other airline rewards cards, point value can vary a lot depending on flight time, destination, etc.
You’ll also get 7,500 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary, fast-track to elite status, and a $75 annual Southwest travel credit.
Earn 3 points for every $1 spent on Southwest Airline purchases. Also, earn 2 points for every $1 spent on local transit and commuting, including rideshare, and on internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming. You’ll get 1 point for every $1 on all other purchases.
There are no foreign transaction fees with this card. Unfortunately, the $99 annual fee isn’t waived for the first year.
The United℠ Explorer Card is the best United Airlines rewards card. It offers bonuses on hotel and restaurant spending and plenty of travel perks.
CHASE UNITED℠ EXPLORER CARD
The Chase United℠ Explorer Card from Chase has an offer for up to 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 total in the first 3 months. We value these 50k miles at around $700.
The card earns 2X miles on dining and eligible delivery services, hotel stays and United® purchases. United purchases include:
- Economy Plus
- Inflight food, beverages, Wi-Fi
- Other United charges
You’ll earn 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Other benefits include up to $100 as a statement credit for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck™ application fee every 4 years. You and a traveling companion on the same reservation will each receive the first standard checked bag free. This card provides priority boarding privileges and 2 one-time passes each year to United Clubs.
The Chase United Explorer Card has a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 thereafter.
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!
CITI® / AADVANTAGE® EXECUTIVE WORLD ELITE MASTERCARD®
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® has a 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles offer. Make $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening to earn this bonus. See our valuation of AAdvantage miles are worth. You’ll easily receive at least $500 in value from these bonus miles.
The card earns 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.
You’ll receive expected perks like no foreign transaction fees and your first checked bag for free on domestic American Airlines flights. Up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation will also receive this free checked bag perk.
The main reasons travelers choose this $450 annual fee card are:
- Complimentary Admirals Club lounge access
- 10,000 AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
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.
JETBLUE PLUS CARD
The JetBlue Plus Credit Card has an offer for 40,000 TrueBlue bonus points when you spend $1,000 within the first 90 days. We value these points to be worth around $520.
This is a card designed for the JetBlue loyalist. With the 40K welcome bonus, you can begin earning and redeeming points for award flights, seat upgrades, and more. Read our guide to the TrueBlue program for more information on how to use these points. One of the great features of the TrueBlue program is that its points never expire. You can earn and redeem at your own leisurely pace.
The JetBlue Plus card rewards members with 6x points on JetBlue spending, 2x points on dining and grocery purchases and 1x points on everything else. It also offers a variety of value-added benefits, like 5,000 anniversary bonus points, one free checked bag for you and up to 3 companions, and a 50% discount on eligible inflight purchases.
Other card benefits include a $100 statement credit after purchasing a JetBlue Vacation package of $100 or more, Mosaic elite status after you spent at least $50,000 on purchases, and the ability to pool your points with other members at no extra cost.
There are no foreign transaction fees and the annual fee is $99 for this card.
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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