Hacking airline status: How I earned Delta Gold and United Gold status after flying just 12,500 miles

My wife and I just traveled around the world for a year. Before we started our trip I got Delta Gold status and United Gold status, and I did it without flying the 100,000 miles that would normally be required.

Having gold status on United and Delta didn’t just mean we got hooked up when flying on these two carriers; it meant we were also hooked up when flying on any of their 47 total partner airlines worldwide. Benefits included:

  • Lounge access on international flights
  • Free checked baggage
  • Free economy plus/comfort
  • Priority lines at check in, security, and boarding
  • Priority rebooking if a flight is delayed/cancelled
  • Free upgrades to business class

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Earn Delta Gold Medallion using credit cards and spending

  1. Apply for the Delta Reserve American Express card. You earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase.
  2. Charge $60,000 on that card to earn 30,000 additional MQMs.
  3. Apply for the Delta Reserve Business American Express card. You earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after your first purchase.

In total you’ll earn 50,000 MQMs which gets you Delta Gold status for the year. There’s no flying needed.

Spending $60,000 (without being stupid) in a short time period isn’t easy. Here’s how we did it:

  1. We moved 100% of our spending to this card.
  2. We purchased gift cards for sites like Amazon, Apple, iTunes, and others. We knew we’d use these eventually.
  3. Instead of giving people cash/checks as gifts, we only gave gift cards.
  4. We prepaid a bunch of our taxes. This incurred a fee, but it was worth it (more on this later).
  5. What we didn’t do: buy anything we wouldn’t have otherwise bought.
air china upgrade

Free upgrade to business class on Air China, a United partner.

Step 2: Earn United Gold by doing a status match challenge

Once I had Delta Gold status, I applied for the United Airlines status match challenge. Through this challenge, you only need to fly 12,500 miles in 90 days to get Gold status for the year.

Lucky for us, we already had trips to Cabo and Buffalo lined up on United. It wasn’t quite enough so I booked the cheapest roundtrip ticket to the east coast I could find. Once I hit 12,500 miles on United, I had Gold status for 2016!

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 2.53.30 PM

Mileage run! My flight to Boston landed early, and I was able to jump on an even earlier flight back to San Francisco. I was in Boston for less than an hour.

What was the total cost?

  1. The annual fee on two Delta Amex credit cards: $900
  2. Roundtrip ticket to Boston on United: $300
  3. Credit card fee (2%) for online tax payments: $600

Total cost was $1800 to get status on both airlines, so it wasn’t cheap. But I also earned about 80,000 bonus Delta miles, which are worth $1600-$2000. Taking that into account, I broke even.

sing lounge

The Singapore Airlines lounge was incredible. Unlimited high end champagne! We were able to get into a partner lounge for almost every single flight we took (60 flights total).

Was it worth it?

Absolutely! I did all this at the end of 2015, so I had gold status for all of 2016 through February 1, 2017, almost our entire trip. Instead of dreading going to the airport, we looked forward to getting through the checkin process quickly and hitting the lounge for some wine.

Flying can be difficult and stressful. But having gold status can help make things go smoothly. You can’t do this every year, but if you have a year when you’ll be flying a ton it’s totally worth it.


  1. You can get lounge access with Amex Platinum via Priority Pass for $450/yr. But the free upgrades to business class sound like it could have made this all worth it, given how much you guys moved around last year…

    1. yes we have priority pass also and it’s great! in general the airline lounges are a lot nicer.

      and as you mentioned, there are other benefits like cutting all the lines and the upgrades.

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