Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Which Airline Elite Status Should You Go For in 2023?

  • 0
The heady days of COVID-era elite status incentives are coming to an end, but airlines are still vying for your loyalty.

After years of promotions and offers from airlines desperate to keep their most valuable customers, the world of elite status is set to return to something like “normal” in 2023.

That doesn’t mean the travel landscape is normal. Although passenger numbers have almost returned to where they were in 2019, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration, business travel has not yet recovered. According to a November 2022 survey by STR, a hospitality analytics firm, 49% of business travelers said they are traveling less than they were before the pandemic. 

Further, the elite status programs have changed. Some airlines, like JetBlue and American Airlines, are set to make major changes to their elite status programs this year. Others have made tweaks and adjustments that affect the value of theirs.

This makes the beginning of the year a good time for frequent travelers to reevaluate their elite status strategy. Is your airline loyalty paying off? Or is it time to switch? 

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer because different airline elite status programs offer different perks and benefits. (And, of course, different airlines serve different markets.) That said, NerdWallet’s latest analysis of the value of different airline elite status programs can help in choosing the best program for you.

Let’s jump in. 

Factors to consider

Airline elite status offers benefits like free checked bags, upgrades to premium economy and first class seats and bonus miles. Some of these benefits overlap with those offered by airline credit cards, so it’s good to compare them to determine whether elite status is worth it or whether you’re likely to get as much benefit from a co-branded card.

When weighing the benefits of different elite status programs, consider:

  • Which airlines serve your home airport? Flyers living near hubs, such as Atlanta for Delta Air Lines or Seattle for Alaska Airlines, are usually best served by those programs. 
  • What benefits matter most? For some travelers, it’s all about upgrades. For others, it’s baggage fee waivers and lounge access.
  • How much will you fly in 2023 — and how much will you spend?

If you’re already loyal to an airline but are considering switching teams, it’s worth looking into a status match. These temporary offerings will let you compare the differences between programs firsthand without having to spend a year accruing miles and qualifying dollars.

For medium-frequent travelers

Setting all those personal factors aside, the two basic questions when considering an elite status program are:

  1. How much does it cost to earn?
  2. What is the value of the benefits?

NerdWallet compared these two variables across entry-level elite status for all the major airlines and found that Alaska Airlines’ MVP status offered the best bang for the buck, followed by AAdvantage Gold on American Airlines and United Silver status.

Spirit and Frontier Airlines, which offer no-frills fares and few premium upgrade options, fell at the bottom of the pack, predictably. This doesn’t mean these airlines aren’t right for some flyers; it means their elite status programs don’t offer the same return on spending that others do.

For ultra-frequent travelers

Entry-level elites might get a free drink and bump to premium economy from time to time, but the real value is lavished on ultra-frequent travelers. Airlines compete hardest for these whales, so the value of higher-level status increases in turn.

The pack is pretty thin and clustered at these upper echelons. Alaska and United tie for first place with a 69% return on spending (meaning a flyer who spends $40,000 with the airline will receive roughly $27,600 back in the value of perks). Yet even American’s Executive Platinum offers a hefty 57% return, despite falling to last place.

Importantly, this assumes that the elite status holder actually travels as much as needed to earn the status. Though now that some programs, such as American’s, are allowing customers to earn status through spending on credit cards and other means, it’s possible for them to realize far less value simply because they’re not flying often enough to enjoy the biggest benefits.

Other changes coming in 2023

JetBlue is set to overhaul its Mosaic program this spring, adding three new levels and changing how status is earned. It’s hard to know yet whether this will make JetBlue better for frequent travelers on other airlines or improve the experience for existing JetBlue loyalists. But it seems like it will make the Mosaic program more appealing for some, especially relatively infrequent travelers. 

In another midyear move, American will raise the threshold for earning its lowest-level Gold status in March. This will knock down the relative value of Gold status when it goes into effect.

Use the data — to a point

Travelers are finally getting back to the skies in their former numbers, and airlines have removed the incentives they offered throughout the pandemic to keep and attract frequent flyers. Now, choosing the right airline loyalty program means comparing the nuts and bolts of how much each status level costs to earn and how much it offers in return.

That said, the most important factors are probably personal. Earning “Double Platinum Royalty” status on Intra-Florida Airlines won’t do you much good if you live in Bemidji, Minnesota. And earning low-level status might not make sense if you already get perks like waived bag fees from a credit card.

Finally, check whether the elite status you’re eyeing has a minimum spending requirement that you can reasonably meet. These requirements might not matter as much to high-rolling business travelers with frequent bookings, but it could make the difference between a year of more luxurious travel and a pile of disappointment.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Unless you’ve been offline for the last week, you’ve probably heard about the Federal Aviation Administration’s temporary shutdown of all air traffic. As a West Coast-based flyer with plans for an in-state trip, I awoke last Wednesday morning to news of widespread flight cancellations and delays. My departure flight was going to leave an hour...

The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort, a Hyatt resort on 15 beachfront acres in Hawaii, is far more than a place to sleep. There are multiple pools, including a lagoon and three infinity pools. As part of the resort fee, you can also take a stand-up paddleboarding course, use the resort’s snorkel equipment and GoPro...

Avoiding peak travel season is one of the best ways to save money on your next vacation. But not all shoulder seasons are created equal. Here’s how to find a Goldilocks spot: not too hot, not too cold.

When Lexi Hensler created HUGZ (, it was with the intent to provide comfort for those suffering from depression. As someone who was bullied as a child, she knew how difficult it could be to feel alone. A portion of her line of weighted stuffed animals benefits nonprofit organizations that concentrate on mental health initiatives. Now 25, the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur and content creator has made it her mission to live each day to the fullest. She chronicles her life and adventures on Instagram (

Airline reward programs offer a simple proposition: If you fly with our airline a bunch, you’ll get paid back in the form of miles or points that can be used for future travel. Yet understanding how many miles you’ll earn, and how much these miles are worth, can be anything but simple. These reward programs drive...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News