By Jason Steele


5 Min. To Read

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Navigating our modern travel system is all about managing the indignities you must face. Will you have to arrive two hours early to wait in a line to check your bags, go through security, and board the plane? Will you be asked to pay fees for your bags, for a better seat, or to watch an in-flight movie? And when you check into your hotel or go to rent a car, will you have to wait in a line only to receive an inferior room or vehicle?

Many travelers assume that the service they receive will be a reflection of how much they pay, but the truth is that travel companies offer preferential treatment to those who hold elite status in their loyalty programs. One way to earn elite status is simply to travel frequently with paid reservations, while staying loyal to a single airline, hotel, and rental car company. This formula leaves out those who split their business among multiple airlines as well as infrequent travelers who would still like to travel efficiently. Thankfully, these travelers can still enjoy the benefits of elite travel by selecting the proper credit card.

Earning elite status with airlines is hard, but there are several credit cards that offer the special elite qualifying miles that help you reach the next level. The Citi/American Airlines Executive Advantage card offers 10,000 qualifying miles when cardholders spend $40,000 each year.

In addition, Delta and American Express offer their SkyMiles Platinum and Reserve cards with the chance to earn as much as 30,000 qualifying miles each year. More importantly, airline cards can immediately offer customers many of the benefits of elite status, such as priority check-in, waived checked baggage fees, and priority boarding. The Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier and Virgin America Premier cards can also offer cardholders a significant boost towards elite status.

When it comes to hotels, it is relatively easy to earn elite status with the major chains, solely by holding the right credit card. The Hyatt card from Chase offers automatic Platinum status in their Gold Passport program. Chase also offers the IHG Rewards Club card that features Platinum status with the Intercontinental Hotels Group. The Club Carlson Premier Rewards card features Gold status or 15 qualifying nights for those who already have reached Gold. The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express offers Gold status to those who use it to spend $30,000 in a calendar year. The American Express Platinum card also offers cardholders Gold status with Starwood, but cardholders must request this status. In addition, Hilton offers four different credit cards, two each from Citi and American Express, each one of which offers either status automatically, or via a fast track.

Elite status with rental car companies is very easy to obtain as a credit card benefit. Any card that is part of the World Elite MasterCard program offers elite status with Avis, National, and Sixt. These cards include the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Hawaiian Airlines card from Barclaycard, Citi/American Airlines Executive AAdvantage, the Citi Prestige, and other cards. The American Express Platinum cards also offer cardmembers elite status with Avis, Hertz, and National. Finally, the United Club card from Chase also offers Avis status as well. In each case, cardholders must take steps to enroll in each rental car company's program at the elite level.

Travelers should strongly consider acquiring a credit card that offers status and benefits in one or more of these programs. And those who already hold one of these cards should learn about the benefits offer, and be sure to enroll if required.

By holding elite status with airlines, hotels, and rental car agencies, you can minimize the indignities of modern travel and actually enjoy your trip.

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