After years of feeling like a pawn in the game of credit bureau thrones, many…
Game of tiers: how to get elite status quickly
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Elite status: Pending
There you are standing in line at the departing gate of your flight. You look down again at your ticket only to confirm the harsh reality that you have always known. Your ticket reads “Zone 4,” a cruel fate left for those who will soon have to battle the encroaching gauntlet of narrow aisleways, limited overhead space, and endless rows of curious eyes fixated upon your journey deeper into the belly of the plane. So you take a deep breath and make your advancement towards the gatekeeper’s ticket counter. As you mentally prepare to conquer the pending voyage, you start to wonder how you ended up in this position to begin with.
With every step, you realize that the path that led you to this place was the same path taken by the majority of other travelers on your journey. However, there was a very different path taken by a select few. You notice these select few always appear to board first. They wait the least amount of time in lines. They get upgraded frequently and receive the most elite perks. Finally, as you take your seat and rest your head against the window of the plane, you begin to wonder about the rewards program status of these people who came before you, and how you can achieve the same.
How you can get elite status quickly
It is no secret that that having elite status with an airline, hotel or rental car company provides excellent benefits. In return for your loyalty, these companies will reward you perks like upgrades, free meals, bonus points, and much more. But let’s face it, earning elite status usually isn’t easy. It takes a pretty significant amount of work and money to accomplish. For airlines, you will have to reach a required number of miles or legs flown in addition to hitting a minimum spend threshold. With hotels, you’ll have to complete a required number of stays or nights. Rental car companies require you to complete a certain number of car rentals. And finally, online travel agencies want you to spend a minimum amount of money through their sites or complete a particular number of hotel stays.
Gaining elite status is both a time and monetary investment in whatever program you choose to give your loyalty. And that’s not a simple task. The good news for you is that we’ve found several legit ways that you can gain elite status in various travel rewards programs without doing much work or spending a lot of money.
So how can you get elite status quickly with minimal effort in multiple travel rewards programs? We’ve found that you can achieve this through a combination of having the right credit card that automatically gives you elite status and taking advantage of status matching programs and challenges. Read on as we share more details and a few examples below!
Let’s start with the basics
Before we dive into real-life examples of how you can quickly get elite status, we first should cover a few basics.
What is elite status?
Elite status is a mark of distinction within travel rewards and loyalty programs. It’s basically a way for travel-related companies (airlines, hotels, etc.) to tell you that “you’ve made it.” There are usually various tiers of elite status within a rewards program. For example, Hilton has three elite status tiers: Silver, Gold, and Diamond. And Delta has four: Silver Medallion, Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion, and Diamond Medallion. And the list goes on. Each program has a different set of rules and thresholds to earn the various tiers of elite status. But, they all have one thing in common. The more you do and spend with a particular program, the higher status tier you’ll earn. Travel rewards programs grant elite status for their best and most loyal customers.
Once you’ve earned elite status, you instantly start to reap the benefits. With elite status on airlines, you’ll get a bunch of perks. These perks include seat upgrades, priority check-in and priority boarding lanes, waived baggage fees, complimentary lounge access and more. With elite hotel status, you get access to room upgrades, complimentary internet, free breakfast and other significant benefits. Rental car elite status gives you car upgrades, discounted pricing and more. Benefits vary by program and can take A LOT of research, which is why we have done the hard work for you to provide reviews for the best airlines, hotels, rental car, and online travel agency rewards programs.
What are the benefits of elite status?
Elite status can open your world to luxurious and comfortable travel. Each category within the broader travel industry, like airlines or hotels, features different types of benefits and perks for elite members. And your level in the program will also determine the type of perks you receive. We’ve listed out some of the typical and in some cases, unusual, benefits you can get with elite status.
Airlines rewards programs, such as Delta SkyMiles or AAdvantage, mostly focus on giving elite benefits to frequent travelers on the day(s) they are flying. These perks are intended to make your flying experience, both at the airport and in-flight, more easy, efficient and comfortable. In airline rewards programs, you’ll typically see great benefits like:
- Complimentary seat upgrades
- Waived checked baggage fees
- Priority check-in line
- Priority boarding access
- Free membership to various airport lounges
- And much more
In addition to the day-of-flight perks, airlines have been recently stepping their game up to offer a variety of benefits that extend far beyond the day you are flying. And we find that these are really what sets some of the top frequent flyer programs apart from the rest. Some of these awesome added perks include:
- Gifting elite status to a family member or friend
- Elite membership in other rewards program (in another sub-industry, like a rental car program)
- Waived fees for TSA PreCheck, Global Entry and CLEAR
- Dedicated phone support and customer service
- Exclusive discounts with partners
- And much more
Earning bonus miles with airlines
And on top of this, achieving elite status with airlines usually means you’ll be able to earn more miles per dollar spent and also get bonus miles more frequently and easily. This becomes extremely useful as you become more loyal to an airline. Your loyalty is further rewarded with additional miles for each flight you complete. And as you probably already know, miles add up quickly and the ways you can redeem them are plentiful.
For example, let’s take a look at the bonus miles structure for a few of the top airline programs:
- Delta SkyMiles gives 120% bonus miles for Diamond Medallion members, 80% bonus miles for Platinum Medallion members, 60% bonus miles for Gold Medallion members, and 40% bonus miles for Silver Medallion members
- American AAdvantage gives 120% bonus miles for Executive Platinum members, 80% bonus miles for Platinum Pro members, 60% bonus miles for Platinum, and 40% bonus miles for Gold
- United Mileage Plus gives 11x fare bonus miles for Premier 1k members, 9x fare bonus miles for Premier Platinum, 8x fare bonus miles for Premier Gold, and 7x fare bonus miles for Premier Silver
Just like airlines, hotels also offer fantastic perks to loyal members. These benefits are mostly focused on enhancing your stay at their various properties but have also been extending into areas that go beyond your hotel reservation. These additional perks can be experienced without ever physically checking-in to a hotel or resort. We’ve done a ton of research on the top hotel rewards programs and have found most of them to offer the following perks to elite members during:
- Guaranteed best available room rates
- Complimentary internet
- Free room and suite upgrades
- Late check-out
- Early check-in
- Free meals and snacks
- Welcome amenities and gifts
- Hotel lounge access
- 48 or 72-hour room guarantees
- Dedicated phone support and customer service
- And more
In addition to these benefits, hotel rewards programs also offer elite members bonus points on top of the base points they earn for their stays. Bonus points are a major deal in terms of accumulating points towards hotel free stays. This is a typical standard across all hotel rewards programs that we’ve seen, and it helps members rack up points even quicker than they already do.
For example, let’s take a look at the bonus points structure for a few of the top hotel programs such as Hilton, Marriott, and IHG:
- Hilton Honors gives 100% bonus points for Diamond members for stays, 80% bonus points for Gold members, and 20% bonus points for Silver members.
- Marriott Rewards gives 75% bonus points for Platinum Premiere Elite members, 50% bonus points for Platinum Elite members, 25% bonus points for Gold Elite, and 10% bonus points for Silver EIite.
- IHG Rewards Club gives 100% bonus points for Spire Elite members, 50% bonus points for Platinum Elite, and 10% bonus points for Gold Elite.
Similar to airlines and hotels, rental car companies have realized that incentivizing customer spending behavior through rewards programs allows them to exchange perks and privileges for a captive customer base. It’s quite typical to see the following perks in a car rental rewards program:
- Vehicle upgrades
- Choosing your own vehicle
- Waived additional driver fees
- Priority service and check-out
- Discounted pricing
- And more
Plus, we’ve even seen a couple of the top rental car companies give points bonuses to their members, on top of what they already earn in base points for rentals. For example, take a look at the bonus points structure for the following two rental car rewards programs:
- Enterprise Plus gives a 20% points bonus for Platinum members, 15% for Gold members and 10% for Silver members.
- Hertz Gold Plus gives a 25% points bonus for President’s Circle members and a 10% bonus for Five Star members.
Online Travel Agencies
Online travel agencies, like Expedia and Hotels.com, have recently started to offer their own rewards programs. This helps them keep up with the airlines, hotels and car rental companies. As you can imagine, their programs are a bit different because they are third parties in the game of travel. This is because the online travel agencies themselves do not offer any methods of traveling or accommodation. They are not an airline or hotel. They instead offer a way for you to book travel on their platforms. Plus, you usually get good rates by doing so.
Online travel agency rewards programs are mostly based on earning and redeeming points and free hotel nights. As a result, their benefits packages typically offer less than what you would see with airlines, hotels and rental cars. Here are some of the benefits you can find in various online travel agency rewards programs:
- Priority customer service phone support
- Exclusive rates and travel deals
- Price matching
- Hotel room upgrades
- Flexible check-in
- And more
And in the case of Expedia Rewards, elite members are even given points bonuses so they can earn more for each booking they make on Expedia. Currently, +Gold members get a 30% point bonus and +Silver members get a 10% point bonus. This is currently the only online travel agency reward program that we’ve found has this perk.
What does it take to get elite status?
So now that you’re probably bought into why you should care about having elite status, it’s important to understand what one normally would have to do to achieve status. In most cases, it’s not something that is easy. The good news is that later on in this article we’ll outline recommended shortcuts we’ve found that can help cut down the time, money and steps it normally takes to earn elite status.
As we mentioned above, it usually takes a pretty significant amount of time and money to earn elite status in travel rewards programs. For example, on Delta Airlines, you need to fly 25,000 miles or 30 flight segments AND spend $3,000 on Delta flights to earn their base tier of Silver Medallion. To earn their top level, Diamond Medallion, you’ll need to fly 125,000 miles or complete 140 flight segments AND spend $15,000 on Delta flights. Whether you’re going for the bottom or top tier, you’ll need to do some hefty flying and spend a few thousand dollars to even think about qualifying for Medallion Status within Delta’s SkyMiles program. And all other major airlines have very similar thresholds.
For hotels, it’s all based on the number of nights or number of stays within a specific hotel property group. Let’s take a closer look at the Marriott Rewards program. To earn the bottom tier, Silver Elite, you’ll need to stay 10-24 nights a year at Marriott properties. For their highest level, Platinum Premier Elite with Ambassador, that number increases to 100+ nights a year, AND you must spend $20,000 with Marriott. That’s a LOT! Even earning Silver Elite requires a significant spend. We estimate you’d have to spend around $2000 (assumes a $200 per night average over ten nights). And this isn’t only the case with Marriott, as most other hotel chains have very similar requirements.
With rental cars, it all comes down to the number of times or days you’ve rented a car. For example, with National Emerald Club, you’ll need 12 paid rentals or 40 paid rental days for the first tier called the Emerald Club Executive (there are only two elite tiers in the program). Let’s assume that on the low-end, a car rental will cost you an average of $30 per day. This means to gain elite status you’d need to spend $1,200 (40 nights multiplied by $30 per day). And there is yet another significant investment to earn elite status, which you can now see is a very predictable pattern with rewards programs.
Online Travel Agencies
The steps to earning elite status in an online travel agency rewards program vary with each program. With online travel agencies, there isn’t one consistent industry standard for how to earn elite status. There’s also a lot less competition with the rewards programs for online travel agencies. Only three major companies compete with each other in the rewards game. Those three are Expedia, Orbitz, and Hotels.com. Here’s how you earn elite status in all three:
- Expedia Rewards’ top two levels of elite status (+silver and +gold) can be achieved either through spending a minimum amount on eligible bookings on Expedia.com or by staying a certain number of hotel room nights (also must be booked through Expedia).
- Orbitz Rewards grants elite status in their top two levels (Gold and Platinum) when you stay a minimum number of nights in a year at hotels booked at Orbitz.com.
- Hotels.com Rewards also gives elite status in their top two levels (Silver and Gold) to members who book and stay a certain number of nights in a year with Hotels.com.
Shortcuts to help you get elite status quickly in rewards programs
There are a few ways that you can get elite status quickly without going through the time and money commitments that we described above. Plus if you use these tactics in combination with each other, you can even achieve elite status in multiple rewards programs. We go into these in more detail below.
Credit cards can be the easiest way to gain elite status in a travel rewards program quickly. Some top-tier credit cards will automatically grant you status in their associated rewards program just for owning the card. So if you can put effort into submitting the online application, that’s all the work that you’ll need to do to earn elite status. Most of these types of cards will have some sort of annual fee. These fees can even be as high as $550 per year. We know that sounds like a lot of money! However, considering how much it costs to earn status with airlines, hotels and rental car companies, this is still a steal. You can easily save several hundred dollars at a minimum (and usually much more) by owning elite credit cards.
We have only seen automatic status given by credit cards to hotel and car rental rewards programs specifically. Unfortunately, we have yet to come across a way to get elite status with a domestic US airline through owning a credit card. So which cards can get you automatic elite status?
Owning the American Express Platinum card ($550 annual fee) will get you both Hilton Honors Gold status and Marriott’s Gold Elite status (used to be SPG Gold). You’ll also get Avis Preferred, Hertz Gold Plus Rewards, and National Emerald Club Executive status.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve card ($450 annual fee), you can earn automatic Avis Preferred and National Emerald Club Executive status.
The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend card ($95 annual fee) will give you complimentary Gold status. And their highest card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card ($450 annual fee) will even give you complimentary Diamond status!
With the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card ($95 annual fee), you’ll get Silver Elite status in the new combined rewards program for Marriott, SPG and The Ritz-Carlton.
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards card ($450 annual fee) gives cardholders complimentary Gold Elite status in the combined rewards program for Marriott, SPG, and The Ritz-Carlton.
The Hyatt Visa card ($75 annual fee) will give complimentary Discover it status to cardholders.
Having the HG Rewards Club Traveler card ($29 annual fee) qualifies you automatically for Gold Elite status. The IHG Rewards Club Premier card ($89 annual fee) automatically gives you the Platinum Elite status.
Owning the Radisson Rewards Platinum Visa card ($50 annual fee) grants automatic Silver status. The Radisson Rewards Premier Visa ($75 annual fee) gives you Gold status.
With the Orbitz Rewards Visa card, you’ll automatically earn complimentary Gold status within the Orbitz Rewards program. This card has no annual fee!
There are two Expedia Rewards cards offered by Citibank. Both grant complimentary status in the Expedia Rewards program to cardholders. The Expedia Rewards card (no annual fee) will give you +silver status. Furthermore, the Expedia Rewards Voyager card ($95 annual fee) will get you +gold.
Over the past few years, reward programs have introduced what they call status matching. Yes, this is precisely what it sounds like. Various airlines, hotels and rental car companies will offer to match the elite status you have with another rewards program. This is as a great way to lure you to become a loyal member of their own program. It also is a fabulous way for you to earn elite status quickly without doing very much. The critical part here is that you must already have status in one rewards program. This is required so that you have a status tier to match within the new program.
How to get a status match
To get a status match, you’ll have to provide solid proof that you are a current elite member of another rewards program. This typically means showing your program membership card as well as a recent activity statement. Each program varies with their rules. They will each provide you with detailed instructions with precisely what they need to serve as proof.
One important note is that most status match programs will give you status for a set period. This is usually a three month period, but we’ve seen it as much as an entire year! If by the end of that period, you don’t meet the required level of activity and/or spend within their program, you’ll lose your elite status, and the status match will end. For example, let’s say you get a status match with Delta’s Silver Medallion status. You’ll need to fly at least 6,250 miles or fly eight segments with Delta AND spend $750 on Delta flights, all within a three month period in order to keep that status.
Most of the time, you won’t be able to qualify for a status match between category sub-verticals within the overall travel category. This means that you won’t be able to get a status match on an airlines rewards program with your elite status from a hotel rewards program. It usually needs to be within the same category sub-vertical for you to get the status match. However, there are a couple of exceptions that we know about. For example, National’s Emerald Club will match the status that you have with another rental car, airline, and hotel programs.
Here’s a list of some of the current status matches offered by various travel rewards programs:
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Delta SkyMiles
- United MileagePlus
- Hilton Honors
- National Emerald Club
- Enterprise Plus
Very similarly to status matching, we’ve seen some rewards programs offer what they call status challenges. These are fast-track competition periods where programs will make earning elite status significantly easier for a short period. These challenges may or may not require you to have elite status in their own rewards program already to participate. Sometimes, status challenges are targeted to specific people. For example, if you’re currently at a certain level in a rewards program, you might get a special offer for a status challenge. It’s also worth noting that status challenges are often offered for a temporary timeframe. So you have to act fast once you see one.
World of Hyatt status challenge example
Let’s give you an example to understand how status challenges work. At the time of this writing, The World of Hyatt program had a status challenge running for Members and Discoverists (their two bottom tiers) to earn the next level up, called Explorist. Usually, to become an Explorist, you’ll need to stay 30 nights at Hyatt properties in a calendar year. However, with this status challenge, you need to sign up on their online form, and you’ll get Explorist status immediately for 90 days. To keep Explorist status, you’ll have to stay only ten nights at any Hyatt hotel or resort within those 90 days to keep your Explorist status through February of 2020.
That’s an AMAZING offer! Without this challenge, you would have to stay 20 nights more. On top of that, if you stay an additional ten nights, for 20 total within that 90 day period, you’ll earn the highest tier possible within the World of Hyatt, called Globalist. You must register by November 28, 2018, to qualify for this status challenge.
The Hyatt status challenge is fantastic! That’s because you can enroll for free in their rewards program today, which automatically makes you a Member, their base level tier. Then you can sign up for their challenge and become an Explorist immediately. And as long as you complete the ten nights within a three month period, you’ll keep that status for 1+ year. This is hands down one of the best status challenges we’ve seen.
Real-life examples of using shortcuts to get elite status quickly
As promised, we wanted to show you some real-life examples of how we’ve used some of the shortcuts explained above to earn elite status quickly.
Example One: getting an instant status upgrade with the Hilton Honors Ascend card
I recently saw an upgrade offer to apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend card. The offer was to get 75,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of upgrading. After weighing the pros and cons, I decided to apply for the upgrade. My application was approved 30 seconds later by American Express. Within two days of getting approved, I received the email above from Hilton notifying me that I had earned Gold status in the Hilton Honors program.
As you can see in the screenshot below, I have stayed 0 nights with Hilton this year. My main hotel loyalty is currently with SPG. However, because I own the Hilton Honors Ascend card, I automatically received complimentary Gold status in their rewards program. Within a matter of days, I went from being a regular member of the Hilton Honors program to having Gold status. Luckily for me, this also has brought a package of great perks along with it.
Example Two: status matching on Alaska Airlines with Delta Diamond Medallion status
Late last year, I decided to use my Delta Diamond Medallion status to request a match on Alaska Airlines for MVP Gold 75K. That’s Alaska’s highest tier in the Mileage Plan rewards program. I booked a direct round-trip flight to Mexico on Alaska and wanted to take advantage of the perks and potential first-class upgrades. I submitted my request on the Alaska Mileage Plan status match site and shared my proof that I had Diamond Medallion status already on Delta. Sure enough within a couple of weeks, I received an email from Alaska letting me know my upgrade was approved and I was automatically granted MVP Gold 75K elite status in the program.
Alaska’s status match program can only ever be approved once in your account lifetime. So it’s important to make sure to use it at the right time. For me, it paid off. I was upgraded to first class on my return flight. Since then, I’ve also gotten to enjoy perks such as upgrade certificates and lounge day passes. What’s even more extraordinary about Alaska’s status match program is that they extended my MVP Gold 75K status for an entire calendar year. This is extremely rare. Most status match programs only match the status for a three-month period. Again, make sure you choose the right time to do the Alaska status match, because you only get one shot.
Example Three: using a credit card plus status matching to earn elite status in two rewards programs
My savvy CompareBare colleague was able to combine two of the shortcuts described above to earn elite status in two programs in just a matter of days. He first applied for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card. This is the highest card offered by Hilton and American Express (and has a $450 annual fee). One of the best perks of this card is that it gives cardholders automatic Diamond status in Hilton Honors. This is the highest level within the program. To earn this status, one would typically have to achieve 30 stays or 60 nights at a Hilton property within a calendar year. That’s a lot of money and time. But as you can see with the screenshot below, my colleague was automatically given Diamond status just for being an Aspire cardholder.
After he officially earned Diamond with Hilton Honors, he discovered the excellent status matching program offered by National Rental Car’s Emerald Club. This program is one of the very few to provide status matching across sub-verticals. This means that they will accept and match the status you have not only with other rental car companies, but also with other hotels and airlines. This is very unusual in the travel industry, but is something we highly recommend taking advantage of! He submitted proof of his Diamond status with Hilton on the Emerald Club status match site, and within a few days he was approved for Emerald Club Executive Elite status, the highest level offered in the program.
In summary: you don’t have to spend a lot of time or money to earn elite status
As you can now hopefully see, elite status can be for everyone, even newbies in the travel rewards game. It is totally possible for you to get elite status quickly with airlines, hotels, rental cars, and online travel agencies. Credit cards, status matching, and status challenges are all great ways to cut down the amount of time and money that you would normally need to spend to earn elite status. With these shortcuts, you can become an elite member of most travel rewards programs within a couple of days (or less). And in some cases, you can do so without even spending a dime. So now there’s definitely no excuse to not travel in style and comfort. Elite status is only a shortcut away from being yours!