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After New Changes, How Does Delta Status Compare to American, United?

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The three major U.S. airlines – American, Delta, and United –  each have their own specific frequent flier loyalty programs, but after the drastic changes Delta made to its Medallion program recently, it's more clear than ever that not all of these programs are created equal.

American's AAdvantage loyalty program, Delta's SkyMiles Medallion program, and United's Premier program all require you to spend a certain amount of money with the airline to reach any level of status. But that's where the similarities stop when it comes to earning status.

However, among the three carriers, the perks you get with status are actually very similar. It's just the paths to get you there that divert.

Let's examine what it takes to get to status with all three major airlines and what benefits you get when you get there. And then we'll dig into what program we think holds the most value for travelers.

 

How to Earn Elite Status with American

To earn status with American Airlines, you need to earn what the airline calls “loyalty points.”

The timeframe in which you need to accrue enough points to earn status with American runs from Mar. 1 to Mar. 31 the following year.

Here's how many AAdvantage loyalty points you need for each level of elite status:

 

LevelLoyalty points required
Gold40,000
Platinum75,000
Platinum Pro125,000
Executive Platinum200,000

 

So, how can you earn AAdvantage loyalty points? It's simple: Every AAdvantage mile you earn is worth 1 loyalty point.

How to earn AAdvantage miles or loyalty points:

  • At least 5 points per $1 spent on flights on American Airlines or its Oneworld airline alliance partners (7x per $1 when you have Gold status, 8x with Platinum, 9x with Platinum Pro, and 11x for Executive Platinum)
  • 1 loyalty point per mile flown on American and partners.
  • 1 point per $1 spent on AAdvantage credit card purchases.
  • Use AAdvantage partners like AAdvantage eShopping, AAdvantage Dining, Simply Miles, or donations to Stand Up to Cancer and more

To earn AAdvantage elite status with American Airlines (without already having some level of it) you need to do one of the following:

 

Level of statusAmerican Airlines Flights Only (without an AAdvantage card)AAdvantage Credit Card Spend Only
Gold (40k loyalty pts.)$8,000$40,000
Platinum (75k pts.)$13,000$75,000
Platinum Pro (125k pts.)$19,250$125,000
Executive Platinum (200k pts.)$29,857$200,000

 

Of course, you can mix and match your spend on American Airlines flights, using your AAdvantage credit card, and using American's shopping portals and other things to earn points more efficiently.

Use American's calculator tool on its loyalty points page to determine the best course for your circumstances.

 

What You Get with American Elite Status

So, what do you get with American Airlines AAdvantage status? Unlike Delta and United, American actually starts rewarding you with perks before you reach status and at certain intervals in between each of its four status levels.

 

gas prices flights

 

Here are some of the top benefits once you hit each loyalty points threshold. For a more exhaustive list of each benefit level, visit American's Loyalty Point page.

15,000 loyalty points (no status)

A choice of…

  • Group 5 boarding
  • Group 4 boarding for one trip with priority privileges
  • 5 preferred seat selection coupons

40,000 loyalty points (Gold status)

  • Priority privileges
  • Group 4 boarding
  • Free upgrades for you and a companion
  • 24-hour upgrade window
  • Free Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats
  • 1 free checked bag
  • Oneworld Ruby status

60,000 loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Gold status, plus:

  • Avis Preferred Plus

75,000 loyalty points (Platinum status)

Everything you get with Gold status, plus:

  • Group 4 boarding
  • 48-hour free upgrade window
  • 2 free checked bags
  • Oneworld Sapphire status

100,000 loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Gold status, plus:

  • Avis President's Club status

125,000 loyalty points (Platinum Pro status)

Everything you get with Platinum status, plus:

  • Group 2 boarding
  • 72-hour upgrade window
  • 3 free checked bags
  • Oneworld Emerald status

175,000 loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Platinum Pro status, plus a choice of:

  • 2 systemwide upgrades
  • 20,000 bonus miles (or 25,000 if you're an AAdvantage cardholder)
  • 6 Admirals Club one-day passes
  • $200 trip credit (or $250 for cardholders)
  • 2 gifts of AAdvantage Gold status

200,000 loyalty points (Executive Platinum)

Everything you get with Platinum Pro status, plus:

  • Group 1 boarding
  • 100-hour upgrade window

250,000 loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Executive Platinum status, plus a choice of:

  • Admirals Club membership
  • Bang and Olufsen headphones
  • 1 Flagship Lounge single visit pass (2 for AAdvantage cardholders)

400,000/550,000/750,000 loyalty point thresholds (no status change)

Everything you get with Executive Platinum status, plus a choice of two:

  • Gift of AAdvantage Platinum status
  • 2 Flagship First Lounge single visits
  • 1 Flagship First Lounge Dining pass

1 million loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Executive Platinum status, plus a choice of:

  • 4 systemwide upgrades
  • Gift of Platinum Pro status
  • Up to 100,000 miles back on award redemptions

3 million loyalty points (no status change)

Everything you get with Executive Platinum status, plus a choice of:

  • 6 systemwide upgrades
  • Gift of Executive Platinum status
  • Up to 300,000 miles back on award redemptions

5 million loyalty points (no status change) 

Everything you get with Executive Platinum status, plus a choice of:

  • 10 systemwide upgrades
  • Up to 500,000 miles back on award redemptions

 

How to Earn Elite Status with Delta

To earn status with Delta Air Lines going forward, you need to earn what are called “Medallion Qualifying Dollars,” or MQDs.

You have from Jan. 1 to Jan. 31 the following year to meet all the requirements to earn status with Delta for the next year.

Here's what's required:

 

Medallion TiersMQDs Required for 2025 Status
Silver5,000 MQDs
Gold10,000 MQDs
Platinum15,000 MQDs
Diamond28,000 MQDs

 

So, how can you earn Delta Medallion Qualifying Dollars?

  • $1 MQD per $1 spent on Delta flights or a Delta partner.
  • $1 MQD per $20 of purchases made on the Delta SkyMiles American Express Platinum Card or $1 MQD per $10 spent on the Delta SkyMiles American Express Reserve Card.
  • $1 MQD per $1 spent on Delta car rentals, hotel bookings, or Delta Vacations.

To earn Delta SkyMiles Medallion status (without already having some level of it) you need to do the following:

 

Level of statusDelta Flights Only (without a Reserve/Platinum card)Delta Reserve Card SpendDelta Platinum Card Spend
Silver$6,000$60,000$120,000
Gold$12,000$120,000$240,000
Platinum$18,000$180,000$360,000
Diamond$35,000$350,000$700,000

 

Of course, you can mix and match your spending between Delta flights, using your Delta credit cards, and shopping for travel through Delta's portal to earn MQDs more efficiently.

 

delta airlines economy cabin

 

Use Delta's calculator tool on its loyalty page to determine the best course for your circumstances.

 

What You Get With Delta Elite Status

So, what benefits do you get with Delta Medallion status? It depends on the tier you've reached.

Here's what you can expect with each tier.

Silver Medallion Status

  • Preferred seats
  • Free upgrades on the day of departure
  • 1 free checked bag
  • Priority boarding
  • Hertz Five Star Status
  • Priority wait list
  • SkyTeam Elite Status
  • Dedicated customer service phone line

 

Gold Medallion Status

Everything you get with Silver Medallion status, plus:

  • Free upgrades up to 72 hours before departure
  • Waived same-day change fees
  • SkyPriority (check-in, security, baggage service, and boarding)
  • SkyTeam Elite Plus status
  • Onboard drink vouchers

 

Platinum Medallion Status

Everything you get with Gold status, plus:

  • One of the following Choice Benefits
    • 4 regional upgrade certificates (for domestic flights only)
    • $200 Amex statement credit on your SkyMiles credit card
    • 4,000 Starbucks rewards stars
    • $500 MQDs toward the next Medallion Qualification Year
    • Gift of Silver Medallion Status to 2 members
    • 20,000 bonus SkyMiles for yourself or someone else
    • $400 in Delta Vacations
    • $250 Delta travel voucher
  • Free first or business class upgrades up to 120 hours before travel
  • Free Comfort+ upgrades shortly after ticketing
  • VIP customer service phone line (over Gold and Silver Medallion)
  • Hertz President's Circle Status

 

Diamond Medallion Status

Everything you get with Platinum Medallion status, plus:

  • One of the following Choice Benefits
    • 4 global upgrade certificates (international flights) or 8 regional upgrade certificates (or a combination of 2 global and four regional)
    • $500 Amex statement credit on your SkyMiles credit card
    • 4,000 Starbucks rewards stars
    • Delta SkyClub Executive Membership
    • $1,000 MQDs toward the next Medallion Qualification Year
    • Gift of Gold Medallion Status to 2 members
    • 25,000 bonus miles for yourself or someone else
    • $500 in Delta Vacations
    • $250 Delta travel voucher
  • Free CLEAR membership
  • Highest priority boarding after Delta One and First Class
  • VIP customer service phone line for just Diamond members

 

How to Earn Elite Status with United

To earn status with United Air Lines, you need to earn what are called “Premier Qualifying Points,” or PQPs. If you also fly enough flight segments, called PQFs, you can reduce the number of PQPs you need. A segment is any one-way flight on United or United Express.

You have from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 each year to meet all the requirements to earn status with United for the following year.

Here's what's required:

 

Level of statusPQPs (+ flights)Just PQPs
Silver4,000 (+ 12 flights)5,000
Gold8,000 (+ 24 flights)10,000
Platinum12,000 (+36 flights)15,000
1K18,000 (+54 flights)24,000

 

So, how can you earn United Premier Qualifying Points?

  • 1 PQP for every $1 spent on United or United partner flight (including seat upgrades)
  • 1 PQP for every 100 United MileagePlus miles redeemed on a United flight (including seat upgrades)
  •  500 PQP for every $12,000 spent on your United Airlines credit card for a maximum of 15,000 PQPs a year
    • United Explorer Card is capped at 1,000 PQPs per year.
    • United Quest Card is capped at 6,000 PQPs per year.
    • United Club Infinite Card is capped at 8,000 PQPs per year.
    • United Presidential Plus Card is capped at 10,000 PQPs per year.

To earn United Premier status (without already having some level of it) you need to take four or more United or United Express flights in the qualifying year, plus hit either the combination of flights and PQPs or the higher PQP threshold on its own.

For that reason, it's nearly impossible to chart exactly what you have to spend to reach United status since you can earn it multiple ways.

 

how to use united miles

 

Plus, each of United's credit cards heavily restricts the amount of PQPs you can earn each year from credit card spend (as shown above), so no matter what you have to purchase and fly United flights in order to earn United status.

 

What You Get With United Elite Status

So, what do you get with United Premier status? It depends on the tier you've reached.

Here's what you can expect with each tier.

 

Premier Silver

  • 1 free checked bag
  • Priority services
  • Group 2 boarding
  • Preferred seating
  • Economy Plus upgrades available at check-in
  • 1 free Economy Plus upgrade for companions
  • 8 preferred seatings for companions
  • Free upgrades on the day of departure
  • Free same-day changes
  • Waitlist priority
  • Avis Preferred Plus

 

Premier Gold

All the benefits you get with Premier Silver status, plus:

  • 2 free checked bags
  • Group 1 boarding
  • Economy Plus upgrades at booking
  • Free upgrades up to 48 hours before travel
  • Marriot Bonvoy Gold Elite status

 

Premier Platinum

All the benefits you get with Premier Gold status, plus:

  • 3 free checked bags
  • 8 free economy plus upgrades for companions
  • Free upgrades 72 hours out
  • $50 off a United Club membership
  • Avis President's Club

 

Premier 1K

Everything from Premier Platinum status, plus:

  • Pre-boarding
  • Free upgrades up to 96 hours before travel
  • 1 free drink and 1 free snack in economy
  • $100 off a United Club membership
  • Free CLEAR membership

 

Our Analysis

Maybe Just Don't?

I need to start here: When it comes to dollars and cents, airline loyalty is costing you money. Status is not a winning strategy for most travelers. Airlines are making millions and millions of dollars off of blindly loyal travelers every year, despite all three major airlines offering more or less the same product.

The airlines make these programs complicated on purpose. You have to be hyper-organized and think through every penny you spend and every flight you take in order to maximize these programs unless you're rich enough that you don't look at your bank statements.

So, my first bit of analysis of these programs is…just don't, OK? It's cheaper and easier to travel on the best fare at the best date and time for you. Period.

 

But If You Want to…

But if you're dead set on earning airline loyalty status, I have some thoughts on the value of these programs.

It used to be you had both fly AND spend a ton with an airline to earn any level of status. That’s not the case anymore. On both Delta and American, you can now earn status without ever flying the airline in question. That would have been unheard of a few years ago, but co-branded credit cards are extremely lucrative for the airlines and they’re finding more ways to incentivize travelers to open and spend on these cards. 

 And with Delta’s recent changes, the actual miles flown no longer help you in the quest for status – just how much you spent on the flight. 

 

delta first class cabin

 

If you’re chasing airline status, though, you’re probably flying that airline a lot. Realistically, all of these airlines require a great deal of spend on flights in order to achieve status.

On American, spending $8,000 on American flights would earn you 40,000 loyalty points – enough for Gold status. But since you also earn 1 loyalty point for every mile flown, you can subtract from that number however many miles you flew on those flights purchased, so the amount you actually have to spend is likely much less.

On Delta, you have to spend $6,000 on Delta flights to achieve 6,000 MQDs.

On United, you have to spend $5,000 on United flights (from just the base fare – taxes and fees don't count toward that number) to reach 5,000 PQP. Or, you can fly 12 flight segments and spend just $4,000.

Here's my final thought: American Airlines loyalty points are the easiest to earn out of these currencies, and you'll likely need to spend less to get more of them if you're flying American Airlines enough. Plus, American's loyalty tiers mean you'll start earning benefits when flying American before you even reach any kind of status. It's for that reason I think American status is the most beneficial for frequent fliers.

 

American airlines business class seat

 

Of course, this depends on lots of things from which airport you frequent the most to your spending habits to your most frequented destinations. It probably depends on other factors, too, like your income, the size of your family or traveling party, and on and on and on.

And most of all, it will depend on how much you value the perks associated with each loyalty program.

Still, my recommendation stays the same: Don't chase airline status. It's costing you money.

 

Bottom Line

American, Delta, and United each have a frequent flyer loyalty program that gives flyers perks like preferred seating, free upgrades, and more. But the ways to earn status on the three airlines couldn't be more different.

After Delta's drastic and costly changes to its Medallion program, it's clear that the airline no longer offers the most valuable airline status of the big three airlines.

The most important thing to note, however, is for most travelers, airline status is not a cost-effective travel strategy at all. You're almost always better off sitting on the sidelines and traveling on the best deals.

 

6 Responses

  • Living on the west coast, I think the main perk of having status with American is being able to use that status when flying Alaska. Many of the perks transfer like free upgrades and bags!

  • I really don’t understand what the outrage is all about. Delta is a premium airline with a far superior product. They don’t need to offfer free upgrades and early boarding to their elite flyers anymore. Upgrades have been rare if ever the past two years for me and I’m Platinum Medallion. If I want the forward cabin, I just purchase it.

    People are willing to pay for it by just purchasing the experience they desire. Why would you spend all this money for status when you could spend that same money instead on purchasing the cabin experience you want.
    Am I missing something?

  • The 3 programs are all good for shit. I am not looking for status – I am looking at travel costs. For example, every “x” trips are free, paid for by my “loyalty” to your schedules. I religiously look at my credits and they never seem to change. I am always 5000 short on paying for my next trip.

  • What you failed to mention is that the most. important perk is not always available. With reduced cost of First class it is common it is sold out before the upgrade window opens

  • I agree with Joey. I am also a Platinum medallion and the upgrades except for comfort plus are rare. Since I usually bought comfort plus I had basically no benefits. Lately I started buying main cabin for short flights since I was always upgraded to comfort plus but, if you don’t fly too often, the difference in price is relatively minor and what you pay for the credit card fee is probably more than the extra cost for comfort plus. In the past was worth while but right now is no longer useful.
    By the way with the new rules , Delta make it totally useless to be an elite member or pay a membership fee for the American express cards.

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