How to Get Elite-Like Airline Perks with a Credit Card

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With today's long lines, crowded flights, and ever-shrinking coach legroom, the perks that airlines bestow upon their best customers are more valuable than ever. Upgrades, priority boarding, waived bag fees, and other such tokens of appreciation can make the unfriendly skies at least a little friendlier.

But those perks are harder than ever to attain through normal channels, since elite status is now typically awarded not just on the basis of distance flown, but also on the basis of money spent. Under the new rules, mileage runs—long, cheap flights taken solely to rack up elite-qualifying miles—are no longer a thing. Now, it's pay to play.

When it comes to upping the travel-comfort level, however, the right credit cards can be difference-makers. Some will help travelers earn elite status by awarding cardholders with bonus miles that count toward elite qualification. Others come bundled with perks that go a long way toward duplicating those associated with elite status. All have high annual fees, which can potentially be more than offset by the value of the benefits.

Here are five popular cards in the category.

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Current new member bonus: 10,000 elite-qualifying miles plus 10,000 bonus miles after first purchase.

Editor's note: Information about the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express has been collected independently by Airfarewatchdog. The issuer did not provide the details, nor is it responsible for their accuracy.

Annual fee: $450

Perks:

  • Annual Sky Club airport lounge membership
  • 15,000 elite qualifying miles and 15,000 bonus miles after spending $30,000
  • Higher priority for upgrades
  • Companion certificate upon card renewal
  • Fee waived for first checked bag
  • Priority boarding, security clearance
  • Discount on inflight purchases

Tim's Take: Compare to the American and United cards.

The Platinum Card from American Express

Current new member bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 within the first three months.

Annual fee: $550

Perks:

  • $200 credit toward bag fees or inflight meals; terms apply
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Access to around 1,000+ airport lounges
  • Gold status with Starwood and Hilton
  • Monthly $15 Uber credit
  • Points transfer to participating airline and hotel programs

Tim's Take: This is the most expensive of the premium travel-rewards cards; it's also a charge card rather than a credit card, so the balance must be paid off at the end of every month.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

Current new member bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 within the first three months.

Annual fee: $450

Perks

  • $300 annual travel credit
  • 50% bonus when redeeming points for travel through Ultimate Rewards portal
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • Points transfer to participating airline and hotel programs on a 1:1 basis

Tim's Take: Chase recently introduced this premium card to compete head-to-head with the The Platinum Card from American Express.

United MileagePlus Club Visa from Chase

Current new member bonus: $100 statement credit after first purchase.

Annual fee: $450

Travel perks

  • Airport lounge membership
  • Free first and second checked bags
  • Priority check-in, security screening, and boarding
  • Elite status in Hyatt, Hertz loyalty programs
  • Fee waived for close-in award bookings
  • Expanded access to award seats
  • Upgrades for Premier members traveling on award tickets

Tim's take: Compare to the cards from American, Delta.

The information related to the Chase Sapphire Reserve has been collected by Airfarewatchdog and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card. 

This content is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the aforementioned entities.

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