Earn elite status: AA vs Delta vs United


Now that Delta has moved to a single metric for earning elite status (see: Delta’s 2024 elite program – it ain’t pretty), it’s interesting to compare the requirements for earning elite status among the big three: AA, Delta, and United.  All three have simplified their program to make it possible to earn elite status through a single metric.  And all three make it possible to earn status through credit card spend.  United confuses things by also considering a second metric (segments flown), but if we ignore that complexity, we can now compare the three programs head to head.  Which program offers the easiest path to status?  Which is worst?  The answers to these questions may surprise you (they surprised me!).


All three Airline elite programs used to award elite status based on distance flown.  Now, as of Jan 2024, all three award elite status based primarily on how much money you spend with the airline.  Delta is the most overt with this.  Their elite metric, MQDs, stands for “Elite Qualifying Dollars” and, other than a few exceptions, it is a direct measurement of how much each person spends on Delta flights.  United’s system is similar but they chose to obfuscate a bit by calling their metric PQPs (Premier Qualifying Points) even though PQPs are really dollars spent flying United.  United confuses things further by letting you earn status with a combination of PQPs and PQFs (Premier Qualifying Flights), but otherwise Delta and United have comparable elite metrics.  American Airline’s system is very different.  With AA, the amount you spend on AA flights awards loyalty indirectly.  With AA, other than a few exceptions, anytime you earn redeemable miles, you also earn the same number of Loyalty Points.  And since AA awards redeemable miles based on the amount paid for a flight, they also award Loyalty Points based on the amount paid.  But, unlike Delta and United, there is not a one to one correspondence between the amount paid on AA flights and Loyalty points earned.  This makes it difficult for people to compare elite requirements across programs.  That’s where this post comes in…

How to earn status with American Airlines

AA awards status based on Loyalty Points earned within the status qualification period (March-Feb).  In most cases, when you earn AA redeemable miles, you also earn the same number of Loyalty Points.  This is very different from Delta and United because it includes earning points from AAdvantage e-Shopping, Simply Miles, and more.  Some examples of where you do not earn Loyalty Points when earning redeemable miles are:

  1. With credit card spend, you only earn one Loyalty Point per dollar spent even when the credit card offers more miles per dollar.  Additionally, miles earned from welcome bonuses and other bonuses, do not earn Loyalty Points.
  2. With portal rewards, you do earn Loyalty Points at the same rate as you earn miles, except that you do not earn Loyalty Points for portal-wide bonuses.  For example, if a store offers 10 miles per dollar for purchases, you will also earn 10 Loyalty Points per dollar.  However, if the portal is offering, for example, 1,000 bonus miles, portal-wide, after a certain amount of spend, you will not earn 1,000 Loyalty Points from that promotion.
  3. Bask Bank does not offer Loyalty Points for miles earned from banking.

How to earn status with Delta Airlines (starting 2024)

Delta’s new elite earnings are pretty straightforward.  You will earn one MQD for each dollar spent for Delta Flights, Delta Vacations, Delta Car Rentals, and Delta Stays.  With credit cards you’ll earn either 1 MQD per $10 spent (Delta Reserve) or 1 MQD per $20 spent (Delta Platinum).

Delta also awards MQDs on award flights when flying Delta.  You’ll earn 1 MQD for each 100 SkyMiles spent on your award flight.

How to earn status with United Airlines

Now that Delta has simplified its status requirements, United stands alone as having the most convoluted system.  At a high level, though, it seems simple.  Just like Delta, you can earn status entirely with dollars (PQPs) spent on United flights.  Except that you do have to fly a minimum of 4 segments on United or United Express to qualify at all.  If you fly a lot of segments (also known as PQFs), you can qualify status with fewer dollars (PQPs).

United award flights earn both qualifying dollars (PQPs) and segments (PQFs).  For the first, PQPs, United gives you 1 PQP for each 100 miles redeemed.  That’s the exact same equation that Delta uses for MQD earnings on award flights.

With credit card spend, you can earn 500 PQPs for every $12,000 in card spend.  Compared to AA and Delta (at least, with the Delta Reserve card), that’s pathetic.  And to make it worse, there are caps to how many PQPs can be earned with each card (the no-longer-available United Presidential Plus Card and United Presidential Plus Business Card are exceptions with no caps).  Clearly United is less interested than AA or Delta in awarding elite status to heavy credit card spenders.

Caps on earning PQPs with United credit cards:

  • United Explorer Card: Up to 1,000 PQP in a calendar year
  • United Quest Card: Up to 6,000 PQP in a calendar year
  • United Club Infinite Card: Up to 8,000 PQP in a calendar year

Details about other United cards can be found here.

Elite status through flying

In this section you’ll find a comparison of the cost to achieve elite status through paid flights with each airline.  For comparative purposes, this assumes that you’re not earning elite qualifying points through other means such as credit card spend, award flights (which is possible with Delta and United), car rentals, etc.

With Delta and United, the amount of spend required to achieve each level of status is straightforward since their requirements are directly based on the amount spent.  With AA, it’s more complicated.  AA awards more miles based on your elite status level when you fly.  Therefore, the amount of spend required to reach or renew a level of status differs based on your status when you fly.  In other words, elite earnings accelerate as you reach higher and higher levels of status and renewing high level status through paid flights is easier than getting it in the first place.

AA awards miles and Loyalty Points for paid flights, as follows:

  • Base Member: 5 miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Gold: 7 miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Platinum: 8 miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 9 miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 11 miles per dollar

The following table assumes that all elite earnings are from flight spend.  This is a necessary simplification in order to compare programs.  In the real world, I believe that most people will earn status through a combination of flight spend, credit card spend, and other opportunities.  Further, for American Airlines status, I made the simplifying assumption that once you reach a level of status, all further flight spend will earn points based on that level of status.  In the real world, it is unlikely to be that clear cut since you’ll have some spend that overflows into the next level of status earning before your status changes.

Airline Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
AA Gold: 40K LPs Platinum: 75K LPs Plat Pro: 125K LPs Exec Plat: 200K LPs
Fresh start1 $8,000 $13,000 $19,250 $27,583
Renew status2 $5,714 $9,375 $13,889 $18,182
Delta Silver: $6K Gold: $12K Platinum: $18K Diamond: $35K
United Silver: $5K3 Gold: $10K3 Platinum: $15K3 1K: $24K3
w/ PQFs $4K
+12 PQF
+24 PQF
+36 PQF
+54 PQF

1) Assumes starting with no AA status. LPs earned per dollar increase w/ each status level gained.
2) Assumes renewing the same level of AA status that was earned the previous year.
3) Requires a minimum of 4 segments flown on United regardless of the # of PQPs earned.

Before crunching the numbers, I had assumed that Delta would require the most spend for each tier of status.  The truth, though, is more complicated.  If you’re starting from scratch, AA actually has the highest spend requirements for all but top-tier status.  This is particularly notable at the first tier (which AA calls “Gold” but everyone else calls “Silver) where AA requires $8K of spend which is $2K higher than Delta’s requirement.  For those who already have AA status, though, the picture changes.  Here you’ll find that AA is right in line with the competition and cheaper than others for renewing high-tier status.

Another surprise to me was that while Delta’s new requirements are higher than the competition, they aren’t totally out of whack… until you get to top tier status.  There, the difference between programs is huge.  When comparing Delta’s MQD requirements to United’s PQPs, we see that Delta requires exactly 20% more spend for each status level except top tier.  At top-tier, Delta requires 46% more spend for Diamond status than United requires for 1K status.  Wow.

Overall, for those who earn status entirely through paid flights, AA provides the cheapest path for renewing status, with one notable exception: United is cheaper for those who fly a lot of segments.  It’s worth noting here that United award flights earn both qualifying dollars (PQPs) and segments (PQFs), so United might have an edge for most flyers.  Delta also offers MQDs for award flights, but they’re otherwise noncompetitive with United or AA (for those renewing status).

Elite status through credit card spend

The following table shows the amount of credit card spend required to reach each elite status level.  This analysis assumes that status is earned 100% through credit card spend.  Note that United caps the number of PQPs can be earned with each credit card.  It’s not really possible to earn top tier United status through spend unless you have the no-longer-available United Presidential Plus Card or the United Presidential Plus Business Card since those cards have no caps.

Airline Tier 1 Tier 2 Tier 3 Tier 4
AA Gold Platinum Plat Pro Exec Plat
1 LP / $ $40K $75K $125K $200K
Delta Silver Gold Platinum Diamond
1 MQD / $101 $60K $120K $180K $350K
1 MQD / $202 $120K $240K $360K $700K
United Silver Gold Platinum 1K
500 PQP / $12K3 $120K $240K $360K $576K

1) Delta Reserve cards earn 1 MQD per $10.   
2) Delta Platinum cards earn 1 MQD per $20
3) United has limits on how many PQP can be earned with each card.  Additionally, United requires a minimum of 4 segments flown on United regardless of the # of PQPs earned.

For those interested in earning elite status through credit card spend, there’s really no comparison at all.  AA is dramatically cheaper than the competition.  Delta is in the middle when putting spend on the Delta Reserve card, but ties United for last when putting spend on the Delta Platinum card.

It’s interesting to see how poorly United fares here.  If you’re interested in earning status through credit card spend, the amount of spend required is staggering.  To make matters worse, unless you have the no-longer-available United Presidential Plus Card, or its business twin, you would need to juggle three different United cards to get to Platinum status through spend.  And you’d have to fly four United segments per year too.


Several clear patterns emerged from the analyses presented above:

  1. United is arguably the best option for earning elite status solely from flying, and it’s clearly the worst option for earning through credit card spend.
  2. If you try to earn status purely through flying when starting from scratch, AA is a poor choice.  That said, once you have status, renewing AA status through flying is approximately on par with the United, or even better than United if you don’t fly many segments.  If you’re thinking of switching loyalty to AA, make sure to request a status match so that you can earn at a higher rate from the get-go.
  3. The cost to earn Delta elite status through flying is exactly 20% higher than United for each status level except top-tier (where Delta is almost 50% higher).
  4. For those who prefer to earn status through credit card spend, AA is the best choice, and United is the worst choice… by a large margin.
  5. The amount of spend required to earn Delta elite status through Delta Platinum credit card spend for the first three elite tiers is exactly the same as with United.  Fortunately for Delta card spenders, half as much spend is required with the Delta Reserve card.  Even with the Delta Reserve card, though, Delta requires 40% to 75% more spend compared to AA to reach each elite status tier.

Overall, AA has the best combination of elite earnings through flights and through credit card spend.  Amazingly, that’s before considering the fact that AA lets you earn Loyalty Points through their shopping portal and many other avenues.

Those with big flight spend who are not interested in earning status through credit cards or portals would do best with United.

While Delta doesn’t compare well to AA, its elite earnings from the Delta Reserve credit card are so much higher than United’s credit card elite earnings that anyone with high credit card spend and relatively low flight spend would be better off with Delta than with United.

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This is an amazing article, excellent analysis and comparison! A keeper for sure

Richard Child

Personally I think that United’s method of achieving status based on flying and not using cc spend is a true metric of loyalty to the airline.

Frequent Wanderer

The flip side of this true statement above: United really wants to make sure you’re flying United (and earning PQPs that way), rather than people buying internet shopping portal stuff and charging it, which is who AA is rewarding. Totally different customer profiles.

Richard Child

So an AA frequent flyer is ok with an Amazon shopper taking his upgrade?


So if can manufactured spend 125K to achieve AA Platinum pro for a net cost of around $500 then is this a good deal ?


You get three guesses. A person could conceivably do it for all three. And, SW. The rub with Delta and United is they don’t afford the range of methods that AA does.

Last edited 12 days ago by Lee

I guess a follow-up article might compare what benefits one actually gets (or likely gets) from each airline’s tier status. I’d say AA/One World offers the best overall package, United/Star Alliance is in the middle, and Delta/SkyTeam is the weakest. As you guys have been there and done that, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Bruce l

Great post. I’m amused by the absurdly high credit card spending needed to earn even a modest portion of status, never mind earning status solely or mostly through credit card spending. Earning status mostly through credit card spending is a very bad deal vs. other reward cards and only for the top 2% or 3%. I can’t really see anyone earning status mostly through credit card spending, if your rich enough to spend high 5 figures or 6 figures on a credit card, you would likely just buy first class seats making status essentially irrelevant.


“…Their elite metric, MQDs, stands for “Elite Qualifying Dollars” 
I believe that MQD is actually an acronym for Medallion Qualifying Dollars.

Regardless, great article …saved me some number crunching as I contemplate jumping ship (plane) from Delta…thanks Greg.


United won’t apply credit card PQP to 1K. You have to earn that all by flying


I don’t think that is accurate. From


”Members can apply PQP earned through co-branded MileagePlus credit cards toward Premier 1K status.”


”Cardmembers must meet the Premier qualifying flight (PQF) requirement for card-earned PQPs to be applied toward achieving Premier 1K status.”

Last edited 12 days ago by TravelGeek

It must have changed for this year as last year it wasn’t possible and you still have to fly 54 segments which likely means you hit it anyway.

Last edited 12 days ago by Chris
Jeffrey Zarir

What about those AA flyers like me, who have lifetime platinum status after reaching 2 million points/miles/ in the past. I still fly, I pay for first class, where do I fit in?


Thank you for all of these details. I think it’s interesting that all three throw around the word “simple” with their loyalty programs, but realistically, they seem anything but simple. Good read though!

Frequent Wanderer

It’s simple in that you just pay for a lot of airline tickets and then get status, rather than have to figure out far you flew. Of course in the rewards space, we’re not doing that. But for the general public, and the road warrior flying on OPM, now they can take the nonstop, and it earns MORE than the connection, IF the nonstop costs more. Which it usually does. “Simple”


“Delta also awards MQDs on award flights when flying Delta. You’ll earn 1 MQD for each 100 SkyMiles spent on your award flight.”

This is how Delta calculates MQD now in 2023, is it also going to be the case going forward?


Is it true that more than one travel companion cant upgrade to Delta Comfort + when traveling on same reservation if a Delta member has status? I think on American everyone on the same reservation can move to Main Cabin Select (and I am not sure but possibly be eligible for upgrades), but it looks like Delta doesn’t work like that?


That’s correct. Most of the times 3 of us travel on Delta. I always make 2 separate bookings (2+1). Two of us gets complimentary upgrade to Comfort+. For the 3rd person, I buy Comfort+ outright. On AA, you’ll get Main Cabin Extra complimentary for everyone if any of you have status, but complimentary upgrade will be for one companion only.


How do partner flights impact the elite qualifying earnings? Delta says

Earn $1 MQD per $1* spent on the ticket price for a Delta-marketed flight operated by Delta or by one of our partner airlines.”

So no MQD for an AF flight that isn’t marketed by Delta?

Paul LoBo

Thanks, Greg. Exactly what I needed.


I can always count on you to bring it all together with a thorough analysis! Great article.

Boise Ding

Awesome article! Thanks Greg! AA is definitely the winner for me!


I love posts like this – so helpful. I’ve been working through the math recently as I will be losing my smidgen of United status next year (Silver, thanks to Marriott Titanium), and American is a more convenient airline to fly from my local airport. I had planned to play the LP game next year, but the Hyatt status match promo to PPro has accelerated my plan after seeing how the requirements are reduced when you start from an existing AA elite status. I don’t think it is included in the analysis above, but you also get LP bonuses at 60K (20%) and 100K (30%) on spend from Simply Miles, AA shop portal/Dining/Hotels.


Excellent article. Thanks.

Pat Berntsen

I thought United also gave points for award flights.

Kim M

Nice, informative article — thank you!

Larry S

I really love when you write direct comparison posts like this. Very informative and helpful. I’m current Delta Platinum, qualified for next year already, and running the numbers on what to do next year. I also have UA Platinum and will hit UA Gold this year. Live in mid-sized, non-hub city served by all three major airlines.


Thanks for the helpful comparison!