December 19, 2011
Today Frequent Miler and Delta Points are joining forces to present a combination blog post! Read Delta Points first to get the big picture, then make your way to Frequent Miler for step by step details.
In Delta Point’s post, he showed that it is possible for a couple to earn Delta’s most coveted Diamond status for one person and valuable Gold status for another. Gold status gives you access to priority security lanes, priority boarding, free upgrades to First Class (when available), and more. Diamond status is the very top tier of Delta’s elite system. It puts you first in line for upgrades, allows you to make free changes to award travel, and in rare cases may even secure for you a private ride in a Porsche to take you from the airplane to your car!
All of these benefits do not come for free, however! In order to make this work, you and a spouse (or relative, or friend, etc.) must each signup for two expensive credit cards ($450 annual fees!), and must each spend $120,000 within a calendar year: $60,000 on each card.
You should only consider this venture if you already have great credit ratings, you are already a relatively high spender, you pay off your credit cards every month, you have extra money in the bank, and you’re willing to take on some risk. Yikes. Are you still with me? If so, read on and I’ll show you step by step what to do.
- You and partner: Signup for the personal Delta Reserve Credit Card. $450 Annual Fee. This card includes SkyClub access and some other good perks, so it’s not a complete waste of money! One great perk is that it puts you ahead on the upgrade list of other flyers with the same fare class and elite status as you. And, after the first year, it almost pays for itself with a free companion pass.
- You and partner: Signup for the business Delta Reserve Credit Card. $450 Annual Fee. This has mostly the same perks as the personal card, so you should really only do this if the purpose is to go for high level Delta elite status. In order to get to the business application, start by clicking through to the personal Delta Reserve application. When you see “Are you a small business owner? Click Hereto find out about the Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card,” follow the “click here” link.
- Timing: Credit card signups should be done right away! In order to reach such high spend in a calendar year, you’re going to want to start spending on those cards as early in January as possible.
Spend $5K per card, per month
In order to reach $60K of spend on each card, you’ll want to spread out this spending across the year. An easy way to spread the risk is to plan to spend $5000 on each card, each month. Below is one way to do this. Remember, this is just a suggested approach, you may have other options you prefer.
- Put all of your day to day spending on this card
- Make sure to use your credit card, wherever possible. Don’t use cash if you don’t have to! Use the card for everything as small as a cup of coffee to as large as insurance payments, utilities, etc.
- At the end of every month, take a look at your spending for that month. By logging into your account online, you can see “Recent Activity”. Make sure to look at both completed transactions and “View Pending Charges” to see how much you spent in the past month.
- Figure out how much more needs to be spent to get to $5000 in spend. Go to Kiva.org and loan the difference using your credit card. Over time, you will get almost all of you money back, and in the meantime you will do some good in the world! For details about this, see How to maximize points and virtue through Kiva loans.
- If you have business expenses, put all of them on this card. If you have your own business that can benefit from advertising, consider putting up to $5K per month into ads. If that would work for you, then you’re done!
- Assuming you do not have big business expenses, another approach to spending lots of money is “gift card churning”. You can read about it here: The Art of Gift Card Churning. The general idea is to buy gift cards at a favorable rate (or with a big rebate) and then find the best option for liquidating those cards so that you either make a profit or, at least, loose as little as possible. Follow Frequent Miler posts regularly to learn about new gift churning opportunities as they come up. To see one example, please read Mileage Run Shopping: Buying 162,000 Miles for $500.
Year End Gifting
With the approach laid out above, you and your partner will each get 60,000 MQMs that can be kept or gifted to another person. For this to work, your partner must gift those MQMs to you. Between your 60,000 MQMs, these gifted MQMs, and your MQM signup bonuses, you will exceed the required 125,000 MQMs for diamond status! In future years, you will get 120,000 MQMs through this approach and will need to fly for the final 5,000 (not a difficult requirement at all!).
Once you make Diamond status, Delta will offer you your choice of two “choice benefits”. One benefit you should choose is to grant Gold status to your partner. The other benefit you can choose is 25,000 bonus miles. With these miles and many more credit card miles, you will have more than enough to reward your partner further by redeeming for free international business class trips!
Is it all worth it?
With the money spending ideas shown above, you are likely to get most of your money back in the long run, but there is some risk, and your money will be tied up for some period of time not earning interest and unavailable for other investments. So, in addition to the combined $1800 in annual credit card fees, these costs need to be considered as well. With interests rates very low these days, let’s estimate this cost as 2% of money spent towards Kiva and gift card churning. Let’s also assume that 75% of your total spend go towards those things. In that case, the cost of this effort can be estimated as 2% of (75% of $240) = $3600. Add in the credit card fees, and the total comes to $5400! But we’re not done yet! You could have spent all of that money using a 2% back card (see The Cost of Credit Card Points), so by spending all of this money on Delta cards, you are giving up $4800 in cash back! Adding up all of the costs, we come to $10,200! Yikes! (Hat tip to The Travel Abstract for reminding me about the cost of credit card spend)
Before you scoff at this, though, let’s look at what you gain:
- Diamond Elite status (worth about $3500)
- Gold Elite status (worth about $1000)
- 385,000 redeemable SkyMiles (worth about $4900 in fair trading price)
- Four companion passes each year, after the first year (worth about $200 each)
- Sky Club membership (worth about $300)
So, in total, the benefits are worth about $10K per year. You will just about break even. Is all of this effort worth it? It depends how much you value top tier elite status.
To a large extent, the prescription above is more of an academic proof that buying Diamond status is possible rather than a recipe for what you should really do. The truth is, though, that Diamond status is not worth anything if you don’t fly much! And, if you do fly a lot, you really don’t need to “buy” so many MQMs. I’m not saying that the idea is a bad one, but rather that you should think about scaling it back. Instead of getting two Delta Reserve cards per person, consider yourself getting two Delta Platinum cards instead. The Platinum offers fewer MQMs (20K instead of 30K) for less spend ($50K instead of $60K), and the annual fee is $300 less! So, if you scale back as described, you will save $600 in annual fees and have $20K per year less required spending. Your partner will still need to get the Reserve cards, though, because that is the only card that would allow them to gift MQMs to you. With this scaled back approach, you will earn a total of 100K MQMs per year (not counting signup bonuses). 125,000 MQMs are needed to get to Diamond status. So, after the first year, as long as you fly enough to cover the final 25K, you’re golden diamond!
A note from Frequent Miler and Delta Points about credit card applications: If you use the links in our posts to signup for any of the listed credit cards, we will receive a referral fee and we’ll be very grateful! If you’re willing to help us out in that way, and if you will be signing up for multiple cards, please consider using links from both posts. Whether you use our links or any other method to signup, you will receive the same signup bonuses and card benefits.
Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.