Credit Cards That Come With the Best Elite Status

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Credit cards are a huge source of revenue for travel companies. They’re a big source of revenue for banks, of course, but they rent the brands of airline and hotel companies to attract consumers, customers who have an affinity for the brand and who want a rebate in the form of the travel brand’s points.

As a result credit card customers can be the most profitable customers of those travel companies, sometimes even more so than people who stay or fly very frequently. Frequent flyers buy a lot of tickets, but planes and fuel are expensive. Loyalty points aren’t nearly as costly to offer.

And customers who carry a brand with them in their wallet, bringing the card out each day, are more loyal than someone who just transacts with an airline or hotel chain every other week.

As a result it’s common for airlines and hotels to treat their credit card customers as being among their most valuable customers.

  • Giving cardmembers benefits that are usually acquired with status
  • Reserving some benefits only for cardmembers
  • Actually giving status to cardmembers
  • Making it possible to combine card use with flying or stays to earn higher elite tiers

Hotels Hand Out Status Just For Getting Their Cards

The new The World Of Hyatt Credit Card has an initial offer to earn up to 50,000 Bonus Points – 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus an additional 25,000 Bonus Points after you spend a total of $6,000 on purchases within the first 6 months of account opening.

Cardmembers receive ‘Discoverist’ status which comes with 2 p.m. late check-out, upgrades to preferred rooms, and premium internet. The status matches to MGM’s Pearl status (free parking) thanks to Hyatt’s MGM partnership.

Similarly you get entry level status from the Marriott’s primary consumer co-brand.

Mid-tier status though comes with the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card (Platinum) and the card has an initial bonus offer is 80,000 points after $2000 spend within 3 months [Offer expired]

Intercontinental Singapore

You can get mid-tier Hilton status just for holding the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express. It comes with Gold, and Hilton’s Gold is better than similar tiers at most other chains. IHG Platinums and Hyatt Explorists, for instance, don’t get complimentary breakfast (except that Explorists can secure club lounge access four stays per year).

You Can Earn Higher Levels of Hotel Status With Cards, Too

The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express lets you earn Diamond (top tier) status after $40,000 spend in a year. Hilton’s Aspire card comes with Diamond status, though the published benefits of the Diamond tier aren’t substantially better than those of Gold.

American Express retained the ability to issue premium personal cards in the new Marriott program, and $75,000 spend on their Luxury card earns Platinum status — of course that’s only mid-tier in the new program, but does come with upgrades and lounge access or breakfast as an amenity choice.

My favorite is the The World Of Hyatt Credit Card where you receive 5 elite nights per year for having the card and earn 2 more elite nights with each $5000 spent on the card. That’s valuable because Globalist (top tier elite) members get,

  • Best available room at check-in, including standard suites
  • Club lounge access at properties with lounges
  • 4 suite upgrades (for up to 7 nights each) confirmed at booking
  • Full breakfast at properties without club lounges (not just continental breakfast like other chains offer)
  • A dedicated reservations representative to handle all of your Hyatt needs (‘My Hyatt Concierge’), I don’t have to call to reserve suites, make complicated bookings, or follow up with properties.

Evening Cocktails and Snacks for Globalists at the Park Hyatt Tokyo

And the spend itself generates free nights on top of points because the card comes with a free (category 1-4) night at $15,000 spend in addition to the one that’s awarded each year at card renewal, and there’s another category 1-4 night earned upon reaching 30 elite nights for a year and a category 1-7 night upon earning Globalist status for the year. That makes spend for status highly lucrative.

Park Hyatt Hadahaa, Maldives

Airlines Give Status-Like Benefits Just For Having Their Cards

US airlines don’t give out actual status to their cardmembers, but cards come with several similar benefits to the first tier of status.

The UnitedSM Explorer Card is the strongest mass market airline card for benefits. You not only get better boarding privileges and complimentary checked bags, each year they give two club lounge passes at card renewal, something neither American nor Delta offers. You do have to use the card to buy your tickets for the baggage benefits to apply. Like for elites, United makes extra award space available to cardholders as well.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card is for people who fly Delta but not enough to earn elite status receive some of the key benefits of that status just for being a cardholder, specifically priority boarding (which helps avoid having to gate check carryon bags) and first checked bag free on every Delta flight (a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card is the new premium Southwest Airlines co-brand card really designed for folks who fly Southwest — it makes Southwest travel better, and spending helps earn both A-List status and a companion pass.

This $149 annual fee card provides a $75 travel credit with the airline each year; 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies; and four upgraded boardings per year when available (when A1-15 boarding positions are offered at the gate, buy it and you’ll receive a statement credit for the charge).

I put these cards in the category of ‘really good to have’, you should get them if you fly an airline regularly but do not earn elite status. But you shouldn’t put most of your ongoing spend on these cards. You get them and keep them for the travel perks.

The only exception is with Southwest if you’re going for a Companion Pass, where points from co-brand credit card spending count just as much as points from flying.

Using Airline Cards to Make Earning Status Easier

$25,000 spend on the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card waives the qualifying dollars requirement up to Platinum status with Delta. You’d have to spend $250,000 on the card in a year to waive the qualifying dollars requirement for Diamond.

Similarly $25,000 spend in a year on the UnitedSM Explorer Card waives the qualifying dollars requirement for MileagePlus elite status up to Platinum. There’s no waiver of the spending requirement for 1K status.

Spending on the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card contributes towards elite status: 1500 tier qualifying points for each $10,000 in purchases (up to $100,000 in purchases annually or 15,000 tier qualifying points).

For American only the small business card from Barclays and the Aviator Silver (which you cannot apply for, you have to upgrade an Aviator Red card) can help towards the spending component of status — with $25,000 spend on the business card or $50,000 spend on Aviator Silver earning 3000 elite qualifying dollars.

You can spend on the AAdvantage Aviator Silver and earn elite qualifying miles, though — $20,000 spend earns 5000 elite qualifying miles, and $40,000 spend earns a second 5000 elite qualifying miles. In addition $40,000 spend in a year on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® earns 10,000 elite qualifying miles. You can earn elite qualifying miles via spend with both the Aviator Silver and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

Benefits That Are Only Available to Cardmembers

The UnitedSM Explorer Card makes it possible for elite members of MileagePlus to be eligible for upgrades when redeeming domestic economy award tickets. That’s a benefit which elites do not have without the card.

IHG co-brand cardholders receive a free reward night on points stays of 4 or more nights, something not offered to elites, and it’s a benefit better than the ‘5th night free’ from some other chains.

Earning Status With Other Cards

Not only can the Amex Black Card slow down a bullet it comes with Delta and IHG Rewards Club Platinum status. It once came with Starwood Platinum and Hyatt Diamond, but those benefits are long since gone.

Centurion Cardmember Sit Down Dining, Centurion Lounge Hong Kong

The Platinum Card® from American Express comes with Gold status in the Marriott program and with Hilton Honors and Executive status in the National Car Rental program.

And of course Platinum and Centurion cardmembers get complimentary access to American Express Centurion airport lounges; individual cardmember access to Delta lounges when flying Delta same-day; Priority Pass Select membership for cardmember access to lounges that are a part of the Priority Pass network; plus access to Plaza Premium and Escape lounges.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The UA Club card is oddly omitted here. It provides the strongest value of any airline card for those who aren’t actually elite. Cardholders get Premier Access (special ticket counter line, Priority baggage handling, and faster security at select airports). They also pay no close-in booking fee for award travel, get TWO checked bags, and Hertz Presidential Circle membership. Oh, and of course United Club access for the member and two traveling companions worldwide.

  2. @ Jason, depends on where you’re renting. Some of National’s licensees are worse than Hertz’s worst outposts. (Burlington, VT comes to mind.)

  3. People never include the Radisson Rewards card from USB in these lists. Easy approval, mid-tier status for $75/year($60 for business version), and annual renewal points that are more flexible than the more typical certs. I travel a lot to Europe for work and have had some great upgrades at pretty fantastic properties, and their top tier honestly doesn’t get you much more. They are much bigger outside of the US, so I begrudgingly keep loyalty to Marriott as well, but for a niche program are a fantastic value compared to the big names, and make for some fun redemptions for European getaways.

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