Airline Elite Status – the What and the How?

In my last article – The Value of Elite Status, I discussed why you should have a goal to be an Elite on the airline program you earn miles on. I discussed the benefits airlines offer to their Elite Customers. This article was Part 2 of my series on the Economics of Airline Miles. In Part 1 I talked about the value of Airline Miles. In this article, I am taking a break from that series to do an in-depth description of what Elite Status is and how you qualify to be an Elite.

Elite levels and the benefits that come with them is how airlines reward their loyal and best customers. Every airline has its own Elite levels, its own requirements to qualify them and its own set of benefits that come at each level. Let’s start with the basics.

Elite levels:

Most airlines seem to have at least three tiers of Elite levels. While every airline has its own names for these, they can be classified as Basic, Mid-tier and Highest tier Elite levels.

Earning Elite Status:

It is important to point out here that all Elite Levels are attained based on the Status miles or EQM you fly. I discussed status miles in an article on that topic, posted earlier. Other than EQM, airlines also have an alternate qualification criteria based on segments flown. Every flight is considered a segment. So, if your trip involves one connection to go from city A to city B (IAD-CLT-RDU, for example), the trip will count as 2 segments. Qualification based on segments becomes very helpful for people who regularly take routes that have a connection and even more so for commuters who take several very short flights.

Some airlines, like Southwest have their own index (Southwest calls them credits) instead of Airline Miles that you accumulate to earn rewards. They hence, also have their own criteria for Elite Status. In the case of Southwest, they just have one Elite level – the A-List. Qualification for the A-list is based purely on the revenue spent on ticket purchases at Southwest, irrespective of actual miles/segments flown. In this article, I am going to focus on airlines that use Airline Miles for rewards. Let’s leave the discussion on Southwest and other airlines like it for a future article.

Now, let’s look at the Elite levels in detail.

Basic Tier:

Usually referred to as Silver. Example of names of this level are: Premier on United, Gold on American Airlines, ‘Frequent Traveler’ on Miles-and-More (the airline miles program for Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss). This is usually attained at the 25,000 status miles level. Some airlines do 35,000 Miles. If qualification based on segments is available, 30 segments are needed to qualify. Typical benefits include:

  • Priority Check-in and boarding
  • Bonus award miles (typically 25% bonus miles)
  • Access to upgrade award instruments or complementary upgrades
  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Free access to Premium seats


Usually referred to as Gold. Examples of names are: Premier Executive on United, Platinum on American Airlines and Senator on Miles-and-More. It is usually attained at 50,000 status miles level (at 100,000 Miles for Miles-and-More) or 60 segments.

Most airlines also give lifetime status at this mid-tier level to their customers who have demonstrated long term and consistent loyalty.

Some airlines (such as United) award their mid-term Elite Status for life to people who have flown a Million Miles on flights operated by United in their life so far. British Midlands Airlines awards lifetime status to you if you have been at the Gold level for 10 consecutive years. It bears to note here that ‘lifetime’ status means for your life or that of the airline, whatever comes first. Given the financial state of most airlines…

Elite Status.jpg

Typical benefits include – All benefits for Basic Tier level and:

  • More bonus award miles (may be as high as 100% bonus miles)
  • Additional baggage allowance
  • Access to much sought after premium seats such as exit row seats

Highest Tier:

Usually referred to as Platinum. Examples of names are: 1K on United Airlines, Platinum Executive on American Airlines and ‘HON Circle Member’ on Miles-and-More. It is usually attained at the 100,000 status miles level (at 600,000 miles over 2 years for Miles-and-More) or 100 segments.

Typical benefits include – all the benefits of the Mid-Tier level and:

  • Access to more upgrades. Example would be ‘System Wide Upgrades’ (SWU) which are instruments that can upgrade any trip with one coupon each way, irrespective of routing, number of connections, etc. (subject to availability of seats, of course)
  • Dedicated customer service phone # and email
  • Highest priority on waiting lists (for seats or for upgrades)
  • Ability to award Basic Elite status to someone else

Well, that’s my round up of Elite status. Look at your mileage earning patterns. Which airline miles program do you earn miles on? How many miles in a year? Let’s get you to Elite next year. If you have a specific question about your mileage program/earnings, feel free to reach out to me. I can be reached via my email id on the Contact Me page or you can DM me on Twitter. Remember; never give out your account information in public. Security of your mileage account is nowhere near where it needs to be. That is a rant I will leave for another post.

Thoughts on this article? Leave a comment below…

I will now be going back to my series on the Economics of Airline Miles. Part 3 is on How to Maximize Earning Airline Miles.

You can receive regular Tips on Maximizing Airline Miles via RSS or Email. Links are on the left. You can also keep upto date with Frequent Flyer and Airline News by following me on Twitter.

Shop with your points and miles at


  1. […] Along the same lines, such airlines do not allow you to earn Elite Status by flying any other airline. If they even do have an Elite Status available thru their program, you can only achieve Elite Status by flying the airline itself. Airlines like Southwest and JetBlue do have a limited Elite Status program. Achieving Elite Status here is achieved based on the revenue spent on the airline, not on miles or segments flown. I compared Southwest’s frequent flyer program’s Elite Status with traditional full featured programs’ Elite Status in my article on the What and How of Elite Status. […]

  2. […] Elite qualification is something some of us have to fight for all year. As a (un)road warrior, this is an annual process for me – scrounge for every PQM to get to (for me) 50,000 PQM in a year for qualifying as a Gold Elite with United. This year was no different. And plans did not go as I had hoped either. There were cancelled trips, trips on Delta (yikes!) as United has terrible early morning connectivity to Atlanta from DC, missed flights that resulted in me flying American (double yikes!) and the mother of them all – I redeemed miles on myself (breaking my own rule) for a roundtrip Business Class ticket to India! […]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *