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Our points & miles expert shares tips for eking out those last-minute elite qualifying miles before December 31.

As the end of 2017 approaches, the clock starts ticking for travelers hoping to achieve or maintain coveted elite status for the coming year. It’s important to remember that as airlines have changed the way they award miles, they have also changed the way you maintain your status. It now involves a combination of crossing a designated distance-flown threshold and spending a minimum amount of money with the airline and its partners. This new methodology may leave some unsuspecting fliers without status in the coming year.

While you may think you’ve flown enough to earn elite status, be sure to check again because your dollars spent may not qualify just yet. The good news is that you have three more weeks to make magic happen.

We will examine the ways that you can still earn those “elite qualifying miles” (EQMs) with each of the three legacy carriers if you’re just shy of the next threshold. Of course, it is wise to go through your calendar and make sure that all of your flights (and corresponding mileage and dollars spent) have posted properly. You may be closer than you think if the airline made a mistake in posting them. These things can happen often, especially with partner airlines, so it is wise to conduct a mileage audit of your own account just in case.

American Airlines

American was the last of the legacy airlines to shift to revenue-based earning for its loyalty program, and since it is the newest, many AAdvantage members may still be unaware of their status level progress. A cheap “mileage run” could save the day, but if it involves a partner airline, be sure to check the amount of “elite qualifying dollars” awarded per flight because it will be different than American’s chart.

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A helpful trick is to make reservations through American Airlines Vacations’ special website because these fares often qualify for the old-fashioned way of mileage earning based upon distance flown, so this could be helpful on longer, cheaper flights.

Two affiliated credit cards—Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard and Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard—each award 5,000 EQMs for every $20,000 per year you spend on the cards. If you put a lot of charges on the card, you might be close to earning those extra elite miles. If you don’t have enough holiday spending on the books to reach the milestone, consider paying your taxes on the card. Sure, there is a small percentage fee that you are charged, but it could be money well spent if elite status is important to you.

If it’s “elite qualifying dollars” (EQDs) you’re after, and not EQMs, the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver, Red, Blue, and Aviator cards award $3,000 in EQDs after spending $25,000 on the card. With three weeks to go, there is still time to apply, get approved, and put some holiday spending on the card. Neither Delta nor United offers the chance to earn EQDs via credit card spending, so this is valuable for AAdvantage members.

American often sells elite-status upgrades for travelers who have not yet requalified, but they are vastly overpriced and are rarely a good offer unless you’re desperate.

Delta Air Lines

Delta offers its own methods for earning bonus EQMs (Delta calls them Medallion Qualifying Miles, or MQMs). If you stay at a Hilton family hotel for at least two nights and opt to earn airline miles, you are awarded 250 MQMs. This offer is good for as many as 10,000 MQMs, but you must register for the promotion before your stay.

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Delta’s American Express credit cards come with 10,000 MQMs for spending $25,000 during the calendar year on some cards or 15,000 MQMs for spending $30,000 during the year on other cards.

Delta is known for putting its MQMs on sale to outright purchase, but like American’s offer, they are vastly overpriced unless you are desperate. An alternative: If you know Platinum or Diamond Medallion fliers, be especially nice to them because they can gift elite status to other people as one of their choice benefits.

United                              

One of the nice benefits of United’s MileagePlus program is that it always makes the opportunity available to buy elite qualifying miles (the airline calls them Premier Qualifying Miles, or PQMs) when purchasing a ticket (even on an award ticket), but like its competitors, the prices are sky high. Still, it is an easy alternative for those desperate to requalify.

That’s where the similarities end with other airlines because United is the stingiest when it comes to earning requalification miles, and there are no credit cards that offer elite miles (unless you were grandfathered in with the MileagePlus Presidential Plus card). So you might just have to book a ticket to fly before year’s end.

Mileage runs

The practice of flying simply to earn miles has become less valuable with revenue-based award programs, but for the chance to earn elite qualifying miles, it’s still worth it. If you’re looking for cheap flights, both Secret Flying and The Flight Deal showcase good bargains. Remember to maximize the distance you’re flying (including connections) to earn the most requalification miles and pay attention to both the distance flown and dollars spent thresholds.


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