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Airlines like United and Delta are making it easier than ever to access elite status and its perks like free first class upgrades

  • United Airlines and Delta Air Lines are making their top flyers earn elite status this year.
  • But both are making it easier to reach the top levels of their frequent flyer programs. 
  • Average travelers now have a better chance at getting status, and the perks that come with it.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The upper echelons of airline frequent flyer programs have historically been reserved for airlines’ most frequent flyers and top spenders. But airlines, eager to get their top flyers back in the air, are making it easier for more travelers to reach the coveted levels of status, and all the perks that come with it. 

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have rolled out new programs that help speed along the process. And the result will be flyers spending fewer dollars and less time in the air in order to join or renew their membership in the elite status club. 

Delta is giving all of its SkyMiles members 50 percent more of the qualifying credits needed to earn elite status. Currently, flyers need to fly a certain amount of miles, while also spending a certain amount of money with the airline to achieve elite status.

The minimum spending amount to earn elite status on Delta, known as “minimum qualifying dollars” or MQDs is $3,000. A flyer will also have to fly at least 25,000 miles, known as “minimum qualifying miles” or MQMs, or 30 flight segments, known as “minimum qualifying segments” or MQS, to qualify. 

Flyers booking tickets in economy will earn 50 percent more MQDs, MQMs, and MQSs  with each flight. Those that pay more for Delta Comfort+, Delta One business class, first class, or Premium Select premium economy seats will earn 75 percent more of each category.

Delta customers that book their tickets using SkyMiles, also known as award tickets, will also earn credits towards qualifying for status. Award tickets are traditionally exempt from counting towards status on most airlines because no revenue is being earned, so this is a major shift from Delta. 

Tickets that are purchased using a combination of cash and miles will also count towards qualification. 

Delta’s is largely egalitarian and even members on the lowest rung of the elite status ladder — known as Silver Medallion — can be upgraded to first class on any domestic US flight if seats are available. 

Insider put Delta’s elite status to the test during the pandemic and received over $800 in upgrades across three flights alone, including an upgrade to Delta One business class on a flight from Los Angeles to New York

Other perks of earning elite status with Delta include a free checked bag, access to priority check-in and boarding lines, dedicated phone lines, and complimentary lounge access, depending on the level of status. 

United’s MileagePlus program is similar to Delta’s where flyers have to earn a certain number of premier qualifying points, or PQPs, while also flying a certain number of flights to qualify for elite status. Those thresholds were lowered by United in November, however, to make elite status more easily attainable. 

Attaining Premier Silver status, for example, only requires 3,000 PQPs and eight flights. That’s down from 4,000 PQPs and 12 flights. 

All MileagePlus members will earn bonus PQPs for their first three trips to kickstart the process while existing Premier members received 25 percent of the PQPs required for their status level at the beginning of the year. 

From there, MileagePlus Premier members had an opportunity to pick between receiving another 25 percent of the required PQPs for their status level after three trips or have 10 percent of the required PQPs deposited with no travel required. The latter option was meant for flyers that didn’t plan on flying before the promotion’s expiration date. 

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population — and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

United offers a similar upgrade model to Delta where any elite status holder can receive an upgrade if there are seats on most domestic flights. Additional perks of having elite status with United include a free checked bag, access to priority check-in and boarding lines, and dedicated phone lines.

Both models make it easier for all flyers to earn elite status while United’s is slightly geared toward helping existing elite flyers keep their status. Both strategies differ, however, from last year when airlines simply extended status levels through 2021.

But now, airlines are giving frequent flyers a reason to get back in the air and start flying again. 

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