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When it comes to flying, status is everything. These days, loyalty programs are much more than just a way to earn miles that you can eventually use toward another flight. Your status with an airline determines everything from whether you’re stuck in a middle seat on a cross-country flight to whether there will be enough overhead space for your bag by the time you board.

Certainly you should sign up for the frequent flyer programs connected with every single airline you have ever flown. However, it pays to truly be loyal to just one. I’ve also found that using a credit card attached to your program of choice gives you even greater benefits and allows you to move up in status more quickly.

Personally, I believe Delta has one of the best frequent flyer programs in the business, which is why I choose to stay loyal to them and have been using their credit card for more than three years now. However, I encourage you to research all of the airlines you fly to determine which program would be best for you.

DELTA

Delta’s loyalty program is referred to as the Skymiles Medallion Program, and there are four levels: silver, gold, platinum and diamond. To reach each level, travelers must gain the required Medallion Qualification Miles, earned based on the distance flown and class purchased; Medallion Qualification Segments, earned through various connections; and Medallion Qualification Dollars earned by the sum of ticket prices between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31.

To reach silver, you would need either 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs in conjunction with $3,000 MQDs. Gold requires 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and 6,000 MQDs. Platinum status is earned once you reach 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and 9,000 MQDs. And the highest status of all requires 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and 15,000 MQDs. Because Delta is a part of the SkyTeam, these qualifications can also be earned through nearly 20 other international airlines.

It should be noted that the traveler whose name and SkyMiles number are listed on the ticket, regardless of who purchased the flight, would earn the MQMs, MQSs and MQDs. Also, MQMs accrued above your earned medallion level will be rolled over to the next qualification year.

Each level comes with its own flight benefits. A few notable benefits are free checked bags, unlimited complimentary first class upgrades for your ticket and your companion’s ticket (someone whose flight was booked under the same reservation as yours), waived same-day confirmed/standby fees, priority check-in and boarding and even rewards from Hertz and Starwood Hotels.

If those requirements sound as if they may be a bit unattainable, a Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express can be used to help you qualify you for those medallion levels a little faster. For instance, the MQDs requirement for the qualification year will be waived if you make $25,000 or more in eligible purchases in that year with your credit card. You can choose from three different cards: the gold, the platinum and the Delta reserve.

The credit card also has other benefits. Simply signing up will give you a lot of the same benefits as being a Silver Medallion Member, including free checked bags and priority boarding. Your Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express allows you to earn unlimited miles through purchases that will never expire and can be used to book flights. It also saves you 20 percent on all in-flight purchases and has no foreign transaction fees.

AMERICAN AIRLINES

American Airlines’ loyalty program is known as the AAdvantage Program and has only three levels: gold (or OneWorld Ruby), platinum (or OneWorld Sapphire), and executive platinum (or OneWorld Emerald). Each level is determined by the amount of Elite Qualifying Miles and Elite Qualifying Segments you’ve earned within one calendar year.

American Airlines requires the same number of miles and segments for their Gold and Platinum levels that Delta requires for their Silver and Gold levels, respectively. To reach their Executive Platinum level, you’ll need 100,000 EQMs and 120 EQSs. However, once you’ve flown 1 million miles with the airline, you’ll qualify to have Gold status for the life of the program. Because American Airlines is part of the OneWorld team, these miles and segments can be earned from 15 other international airlines.

American Airlines does require that you fly at least four segments on American Airlines or American Eagle to qualify for Executive Platinum, Platinum, or Gold status within the qualifying year. Miles and segments are rewarded to the traveler regardless of who may have purchased the ticket.

To me, the AAdvantage Program doesn’t have the best benefits. Of course, you’re allowed one to three checked bags, depending on your status, and priority during the check-in, security and boarding process, but only Executive Platinum members are given complimentary same-day flight change. And shockingly, none of the levels allow you to gain access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club; they simply get you a discounted membership.

If you want the benefit of complimentary upgrades to first class, American Airlines’ loyalty program is definitely not for you unless you are able to reach the Executive Platinum level, as it is the only level where members get unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades. Platinum and Gold members get unlimited, auto-requested complimentary upgrades only if the flight is 500 miles or less. Longer flights require those members to use 500-mile upgrades (for every extra 500 miles flown) to pay for that upgrade.

American Airlines has credit cards through both Citi and MasterCard that give travelers the option to choose from nine different cards and subsequent benefits. Notable Citi/AAdvantage benefits include a membership to the Admirals Club, special access to pre-sale tickets and VIP packages for thousands of concerts and sporting events, as well as travel accident insurance. Travelers who choose the AAdvantage Aviator through MasterCard can enjoy $100 flight discount after reaching a spending goal within the first year, a $100 Global Entry application fee credit and accumulate miles through their purchases.

As a traveler, you have several airlines to choose from when booking a flight. Make sure you are being rewarded for your choices! Visit http://www.delta.com/content/www/en_US/skymiles.html and https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/aadvantage-program.jsp?anchorLocation=DirectURL&title=AAdvantage.

Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.