Top Off Your Elite Qualifying Miles Without Flying

It’s getting close to the end of the year and it’s time to take a hard look at your status miles year-to-date, add up the miles from all remaining travel through the end of the year, and figure out if you’re going to be a few miles short of that next elite level.

The traditional way to make up the difference in miles is to book a mileage run (flying just for the sake of the miles).

And while that’s incremental revenue for the airline, it’s also crowding the front cabin (from domestic upgrades) by folks who don’t need to be in the air, it’s usually done at the cheapest prices, and flying is no longer the primary income stream for the mileage programs themselves — other revenue sources like selling miles to credit cards and partners make up a significant part of the business. So airlines have moved in the direction of offering status miles, especially at the end of the year, for activities other than flying.

US Airways
A few years ago, US Airways ran a promotion where miles earned via their shopping portal counted towards elite status at the end of the year. They were the pioneers of offering non-flying ways to earn status. And in fact with US Airways there’s the option to do a straight buy-up for the miles or segments you need.

US Airways offered up to 10,000 status miles as part of their Grand Slam promotion.

Last month they were offering 3000 qualify miles for a club membership with promo code CLB30, presumably that’s no longer supposed to work but I haven’t tried it, the standard offer seems to be just 500 qualifying miles with promo code NM500.

The US Airways Mastercard (with no fee the first year offer and 40,000 miles after first purchase) will award 10,000 qualifying miles based on spend. So will the small business version of the card.

Between Grand Slam, two US Airways credit cards, and the lounge signup promo that’s 33,000 qualifying miles possible this year without flying — and that’s before then buying up the qualifying miles that you need. The buyup may seem pricey but I’m actually surprised at how inexpensive it is, if you have even one flight segment or one qualifying mile, you can buy right up to top tier Chairmans Preferred for $2999.

The Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard used to be great earning 1000 qualifying miles for every $5000 in spend which could be saved up and also dropped into anyone’s account any time, that benefit is now capped and the qualifying miles cannot be used to achieve 100,000-mile flyer status.

However there are some really great ways to generate qualifying miles with United and Continental before the end of the year without flying.

If you’ve earned miles from a United Visa (signup bonus miles count), then you can redeem those miles for qualifying miles — Each 10,000 miles is worth 1000 qualifying miles, up to a total of 50,000 miles for 5000 qualifying miles.

The best way to do it, though, is through the Continental website where they’ll actually sell you almost the exact number of qualifying miles that you need.

You need a Continental ticket and a Continental Onepass account. This doesn’t work with a United ticket or a United Mileage Plus account.

Buy a ticket at It can be any ticket at all, since they’ll refund whatever you purchase within 24 hours, although you can also buy a refundable ticket if that makes you more comfortable or you’re worried about not being able to get around to doing the refund within a day.

Once you’ve purchased your ticket, choose to purchase ‘elite maximizer’ elite qualifying miles. Basically they will sell you elite qualifying miles equal to the qualifying miles you’ll earn from the paid ticket. The elite maximize qualifying miles post right away, and stick whether you take the purchased flights or not.

These miles cost about 10 cents apiece. So buying 1000 qualifying miles costs $100. That, to me, is a much better deal than redeeming 10,000 miles for the 1000 qualifying miles (you’re effectively buying back those 10,000 miles at a penny apiece).

The best part is that you can buy just the right number of qualifying miles that you need this way, find and purchase a flight itinerary that gets you the right number of miles, whether it’s a short hop like one-way Newark – Philadelphia or a Newark – Beijing roundtrip.

Using this method you should even be able to buy 100,000-mile flyer status for $10,000. That’s not really a good deal compared to flying inexpensively for the miles, but many 1K members spend more than $10,000 miles and of course you’re not spending time up in the air to get the status. (If you’re not flying at all, what you’d need 100,000-mile flyer status for I have no idea, but we’ll leave that issue aside — the example was purely illustrative).

Of course while the offer needs to be taken advantage of through the Continental website and with a Continental Onepass account, United and Continental accounts can already be linked and status miles will be combined between the two programs to determine your 2012 status.

It’s unknown what the future of elite maximizer will be as part of the new program next year. Certainly the program likes to monetize offerings like this, so I imagine something of the sort will continue, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it tweaked in the future to make it less easy to buy status miles without flying.

The Points Guy posted yesterday about ways to get Delta medallion qualifying miles without taking a mileage run.

Through December 15, Delta will let you buy up to 10,000 qualifying miles:

2,500 MQMs for $295
5,000 MQMs for $495
7,500 MQMs for $695
10,000 MQMs for $895

The Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express offers both a personal card and a small business card which offer 10,000 qualifying miles with first purchase and up to 30,000 more qualifying miles based on spend (I do not receive any referral credit for these cards). The annual fee is $450, so it’s less expensive to get a Reserve card than to buy qualifying miles from Delta.

Delta has offered qualifying miles in the past for Hilton stays but there’s no such current promotion. Earlier this year they also offered 25,000 elite qualifying miles for transfers from American Express, that’s another one to watch for a repeat of next year perhaps.

There is currently an offer of 1500 qualifying miles for a SkyClub lounge membership by the end of the year.

The only way I’m aware of to earn elite qualifying miles from activities other than flying is through the new Citi Executive Mastercard which offers 10,000 qualifying miles after $40,000 in spend.

And if you get approved for the card today your spend on the card will count towards lifetime miles earned in the program as part of their lifetime elite status program. And that spend will continue to count for at least a year. (Otherwise, starting tomorrow, only flight miles count.)

Surely there are other ways of earning elite qualifying miles without flying that I’m missing as I type this at 2 a.m. What are they? Your fellow readers will appreciate the insights!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I believe that you mis-calculated the number of EQM’s available thru the USAirways Grand Slam. The total is 10,000 (not 17,000), as the 2000, 5000, and 10,000 EQM’s are cumulative at the various levels.

  2. Yeah, US Airways totally misrepresented that. The total was a measly 10,000.

    As for the CO/UA deal. I have 500 EQM with CO and 24,971 with UA, but my accounts were linked before the 500 EQM was earned with CO. Why and how do I get that total to combined to give me Premier? It is not doing it automatically.

  3. I beleive there’s a status sweep every couple of weeks. And for sure at the end of the year at a minimum EQMs in both programs will be combined for 2012 status.

  4. Yeah, I did read that correctly. 10K status AAdvantage miles after $40K in spending… wonder why S&P downgraded the banks.


  5. I’m new at this so I hope you can help. Thanks! in advance.
    I’m 2,500 miles short of the next elite level on CO.
    A mileage run between now and the end of the year is next to impossible. However, I am purchasing a ticket today for the first week in January and recently acquired the Presidential plus card.
    If I purchase the Elite maximizer miles for this ticket will they count towards 2011 status even though the flight is Jan 2012?
    I have several large purchases coming up. Am I correct in saying that if I spend $5,000 on the PP credit card that I’ll get 1,000 of the the 2,500 miles I am short?

    Thanks for any advice.

  6. I’m new at this so hopefully you can help.
    I am 2,500 miles short of the new tier on CO.
    There is no possibility of a mileage run thru the end of the year.
    I do have the Presidential card so with that in mind:
    I am purchasing a ticket for early January today. Can I buy the elite maximizer miles and have them count toward status in 2011 even though the flight is not until 2012?
    Also I have a couple of large purchases to make – Am I correct in saying that if I spend $5,000 I’ll get 1,000 miles towards the 2,500 I need?
    Thanks for any advice? (sorry if I posted this twice!)

  7. There is still a Delta/Hilton MQM promotion. 250 MQMs for a two day stay at Hilton properties. I think it’s good through 12/11.

  8. “The Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard used to be great earning 1000 qualifying miles for every $5000 in spend which could be saved up and also dropped into anyone’s account any time,”

    I cannot find where this is confirmed. The Flex EQMs are deposited in the card holders account and used when needed, upto 75k. I do not see where this benefit is transferable to anyone. The CC would be full of offers if true. Please correct me if wrong

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