How much should you pay for Elite Qualifying Miles?

When opportunities arise to purchase elite qualifying miles, should you go for it?  How do you know if it’s a good deal?


Delta is running a promotion through December 30th in which they are allowing people to buy elite qualifying miles, with prices between 9 and 11 cents per mile.  Should you do it?  Is it a good deal?

Note: Delta refers to their elite miles as MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles), but since everyone else uses the term “elite qualifying miles”, I’ll stick with that.

Elite qualifying miles (EQMs) are completely different from the regular kind of miles that can be redeemed for travel.  EQMs can’t be traded for anything at all.  Instead, they are used to earn airline elite status.  Typically, airlines require you to earn 25000 EQMs per year to reach the lowest level elite status, 50,000 per year to reach mid level status, and 75,000 to 125,000 to reach upper/top level status.  If this is all new to you, you might be interested in reading this post by The Points Guy for more information.

The Value of EQMs

It is extremely difficult to determine the value of EQMs in any broad way.  With most airlines, EQMs don’t roll over from year to year.  So, if you collect 25000 EQMs in a year, then each EQM has measureable value since it got you to elite status.  If you collect something short of that, say 24000 EQMs in a year, then the value is essentially zero since the miles didn’t get you to elite status and you will loose them all at the end of the year.  An exception to that is if you are trying to get to lifetime “million miler status” with an airline, then those lost EQMs at least do count towards that goal. 

See why this is hard? 

The Points Guy took an admirable stab at coming up with values for elite status tiers.  In this post he suggested that low level status is worth $400 to $500, mid level status is worth $900 to $1200, and top tier status is worth $2800 to $3500.  I see these as useful benchmarks as long as you keep in mind that elite status is worth nothing at all if you don’t fly!  The more you use your elite status benefits, then the more it should be worth to you.

EQM Fair Pricing

Another way to look at this is to determine the going rate for buying EQMs.  Just as I published fair trading prices for redeemable points and miles, we can use similar techniques to determine fair trading prices for EQMs.  This won’t tell you how much value you’ll get from EQMs, but it will give you an idea of whether or not you’re getting a good deal if you do buy them.

There are two usual ways to “buy” EQMs.  One is to fly.  Many people do “mileage runs” where they fly for the sole purpose of earning EQMs.  Another option is through credit card spend.  There are several credit cards that will award you with EQMs when you reach certain high level spending targets.  Let’s look at the trading price of each approach:

Mileage Runs:

Mileage runners look for opportunities to get the most EQMs for the smallest price.  A great mileage run is considered to be one in which the cost per EQM is 3 cents or less.  It is not easy to find deals like that, however, so let’s set the benchmark at an easier to achieve 6 cents per EQM.  This does not mean, though, that the going rate for buying EQMs through mileage runs is 6 cents per EQM.  The reason is that mileage runners also get redeemable miles from those runs.  Since elite flyers get bonus miles, let’s assume that, on average, a mileage runner will earn 1.5 redeemable miles for each EQM.  Since the average fair trading price for redeemable miles is about 1.3 cents each, that means that the mileage runner earns roughly 2 cents in the form of redeemable miles for each EQM earned.  So, going back to the 6 cents per EQM estimate, if we subtract the 2 cents worth of redeemable miles, we get to a fair trading price of 4 cents per EQM.

Credit Card EQMs

Now let’s go back to credit cards that earn EQMs for reaching large spending thresholds.  The number of EQMs one can earn ranges from .2 to .5 per dollar spent.  For the purpose of this analysis, let’s split the difference and say that it is possible to earn .35 EQMs per dollar spent on certain credit cards.

In previous posts, I’ve pointed out that when you put spend on a point earning credit card, you are giving up the 2% back you could get if you put your spending on a 2% cash back card.  So, when you put your spend on an EQM-earning credit card, you are essentially paying 2 cents per dollar in exchange for the bonus miles and EQMs you get in return.  Since the average fair trading price for redeemable miles is about 1.3 cents each, we can say that the difference between 1.3 cents and 2 cents is the price you pay for EQMs.  Since, on average, these cards deliver .35 EQMs per dollar, we can divide the cost (.7 cents) by the EQMs (.35) to get to a fair trading price of 2 cents per EQM.


The calculated fair trading price for EQMs in this analysis ranges from 2 to 4 cents per EQM.  Since it can be quite difficult to reach the high spend requirements of EQM-earning credit cards, I believe that it makes sense to split the difference between the two approaches and state that the fair trading price per EQM = 3 cents.

Now, let’s get back to the original question: is Delta’s “Buy MQM” promotion a good deal?  The answer is no.  However, it is clearly too late in the year to start running up credit card spend, and it’s getting near the end of mileage running opportunities, so it might still make sense for you.

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  1. […] If you are a big spender and you value Delta elite status, this card is a great choice (it is, in fact, my “all other” card).  At $30K of annual spend (and again at $60K), you’ll earn 15K bonus miles and 15K MQMs (“Medallion Qualifying Miles” are Delta’s version of Elite Qualifying Miles).  If you plan carefully and end the year just above the big spend threshold (either $30K or $60K) you can maximize earnings on this card: you will earn an average of 1.5 miles per dollar and .5 MQMs per dollar.  If you use the 1.29 cents Fair Trading Price of Delta SkyMiles, and 3 cents per MQM valuation, then your earnings per dollar come to 3.435%.  For more details, please see “An analysis of the Delta Reserve credit card” and “How much should you pay for Elite Qualifying Miles?“ […]


  1. Buying EQMs would normally only be done by someone who is just a little short of the next status level.

    An EQM is not a tangible thing but a tool to get something else. Therefore the real question is not how much per EQM but how much extra will the next status level cost and how much do I value it at. If it’s worth an extra $500 to the individual and that person is only 1 EQM short, then purchasing that single EQM would be worth $499.99. Conversely, if that person is 49,000 miles short, then each EQM would be worth only 1 cent.

    So really, to determine if any offer is a good deal one must value the advantages of the next status level over the already earned level – and that will be a very subjective exercise.

  2. The value of the EQMs is also a function of how you value your time. I used to do tons of mile runs, but I now see that I can do better things with my time. Therefore, I think that 6-7 cents per EQM is a fair price, and 9 cents per EQM is not totally outrageous.

  3. I am a Delta gold level flyer and would like to note that the email that I got from Delta about buying elite miles said the promotion ended on December 15. Also you can rollover Delta elite miles.

  4. I agree with NB. I think there are too many assumptions.

    How many less mileage runs would somebody have to do if they bought them?

    If someone buys 10k MQM now and then can have rollover? They are investing in their future travel.

    If they get a higher mileage bonus % for redeemable and MQM for flights they wouldn’t have before. So they would be generating more miles now than before.

    I appreciate your efforts and it is a good idea.

    • Grant: The Delta promotion was extended until December 30th (see: Yes, as long as you reach elite status, any additional Delta miles will roll-over. This is a great benefit to earning elite miles on Delta. If you don’t earn Silver, though, the MQMs are lost.

      NB, TTA: I agree that the value of buying elite miles varies drastically according to the situation. So, in my analysis, I tried to stay away from discussing “value”, but focused on current going rate or “fair trading price” instead. That is, I showed that it is possible to buy elite miles for around 3 cents per mile. If you pay more than that, then you are paying more than the current going rate / fair trading price. So, I’m defining a “good deal” as one where you spend less than the fair trading price, and a “bad deal” as one in which you pay more. For any given person, that information may be irrelevant, and that’s fine. For example, if the local grocer has a great sale on fine cuts of beef, the price may be a “good deal” (relative to the going rate) even though it might be irrelevant to a particular person: e.g. a vegetarian, or someone who has a freezer full of beef at home, etc.

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