Mileage running, from home

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High level airline elite status comes with many valuable perks such as free domestic first class upgrades (when available), elite security lines, waived fees (such as free checked bags, and free changes to award bookings), improved availability of award seats, and more.

I used to earn elite status the old fashioned way: I flew often for work and vacation; I stuck to one airline as much as possible; and sometimes I paid for trips that could have been booked using miles just so I could earn more elite qualifying miles.

Now that I’m on my own work-wise (see “Up in the air”), earning elite status the old fashioned way is no longer viable.  I no longer have someone else paying for most of my trips.  As a result, I’m now more motivated than ever to use miles instead of cash.  And, when I use miles I give up the opportunity to earn elite qualifying miles.

I currently have Platinum status with Delta.  Detroit is my home airport and a major Delta hub, so I expect to continue to fly Delta most of the time.  Should I give up my elite status?  I really don’t want to.  My favorite perk of Delta’s Platinum status is the ability to make award reservation changes for free.  To me, this perk makes my miles much more valuable.  I can book travel speculatively whenever I see good award redemption options, and I can change the reservations whenever my actual plans become more clear.  Since I first obtained Platinum status last December, I’ve used this perk about a dozen times.  No, I’m not willing to give it up.

As background, MQMs stand for “Medallion Qualifying Miles” and are Delta’s version of what most other airlines call EQMs (Elite Qualifying Miles). MQMs are completely different from the regular kind of Delta SkyMiles that can be redeemed for travel. MQMs can’t be traded for anything at all. Instead, they are used to earn elite status. Delta requires 25000 MQMs per year to reach Silver status, 50,000 per year to reach Gold status, 75,000 per year to reach Platinum status, and 125,000 per year to reach top level Diamond status.

My goal is to keep Platinum status, so I’ll have to accumulate 75,000 MQMs this year.  A great feature of Delta’s elite program is that MQMs earned above the amount used to reach your level of elite status roll over to the next year. Last year I managed to earn close to 100K MQMs, so almost 25K rolled over to this year.  I need to earn at least 50K MQMs this year to maintain my status.

Mileage running

Most people handle my dilemma by mileage running.  The idea is to look for cheap fares and crazy routings that result in a very low cost per elite qualifying mile.  A great mileage run is considered to be one in which the cost per MQM is 3 cents or less.  It is not easy to find deals like that, however, so one should expect to average about 5 cents per MQM.  Some of the cost of doing this is offset by earning not just elite qualifying miles, but redeemable miles as well.  

If I were to mileage run for 50,000 MQMs, I would expect to pay about $2500 in airfare altogether.  In exchange, I would earn about 100,000 redeemable miles, worth $1290 in Fair Trading Prices.  Along the way, I would also have many trips to the airport, many parking fees, and many adventures both good and bad.

I’ve dabbled in mileage running before.  See, for example, “Mileage Run Shopping: Buying 162,000 Miles for $500.”  I don’t mind flying just for the sake of flying, but I don’t love it either.  When opportunities arise to mix a desired destination with a mileage run (such as with “The Family Mileage Run”) I’m much happier.  I’ll probably continue to do a few of these each year, but I’d rather not make this the primary means for achieving my goals.

Mileage running via credit card spend

An alternative to mileage running is to earn elite status through high levels of credit card spend.  There are two Delta branded credit cards that reward you with MQMs for meeting high spend thresholds: The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, and the Delta Reserve card.  With the Platinum card, you get 10,000 MQMs after $25K in spend (within a calendar year), and another 10,000 MQMs after $50K in spend.  Similarly, with the Reserve card, you get 15,000 MQMs after $30K in spend, and another 15,000 MQMs after $60K in spend.

American Express limits each individual to one personal Delta credit card and one business Delta credit card.  One person can sign up for both the personal and the business Reserve card and earn as much as 60,000 MQMs per year (on top of the 10K MQM sign-up bonus for each card).  The Reserve card is expensive, though.  At $450, the card is arguably worth it’s annual fee for it’s lounge club benefits, MQM earning potential, and free companion pass (starting in year 2).  However, one would be hard pressed to argue that the benefits of a second card are worth as much since the lounge benefits are duplicative. 

Instead of carrying two Reserve cards, my strategy is to carry the $150 Platinum card (business) and the $450 Reserve card (personal).  With each card, I get a free companion pass which can arguably make up for the combined annual fees.  By spending $110K ($50K on the Platinum card and $60K on the Reserve card), I’ll earn 50,000 MQMs each year

Redeemable miles too

The Delta Reserve and Platinum card big-spend bonuses include redeemable miles along with MQMs.  So, once I spend $110K, I’ll earn 50,000 extra redeemable miles.  Plus, when I achieve Platinum status, I’ll take 20,000 redeemable miles as my Platinum Choice Benefit. In all, I’ll earn at least 180,000 redeemable miles: 110K from base credit card spend, 50K from big-spend bonuses, and 20K from achieving Platinum status.

Achieving big spend

To many, the idea of spending $110,000 across two credit cards each calendar year may sound impossible or insane (or both).  I’ve found, though, that for me it’s not too hard.  I constantly look for opportunities to spend money via credit card and get most (or all) of it back.  For some ideas, see “Top 10 ways spend a lot of money (and get most of it back).”  My goal is to average $9200 per month across both cards.  As the end of each month nears, I check my spending and simply make Kiva loans to make up the difference.  I use the KivaLens web app to make bulk lending as easy as possible (see “Minimum spend requirements? Kivalens to the rescue”).  This works for me because I have enough money in savings to pay off my credit card bills each month even when Kiva loans have not yet been repaid.  If you do not have enough in savings to do the same, I do not recommend this approach!

At what cost?

I often use 2% cash back credit cards as comparison points for schemes like these (see “The Cost of Credit Card Points”).  If I were to spend $110,000 on a 2% cash back credit card instead of my Delta cards, I would earn $2,200.  So, it’s reasonable for me to say that $2,200 is my cost for 50,000 MQMs and 180,000 redeemable miles.  Is that a good deal?  I think so.  I’ve previously argued that MQMs are worth about 3 cents each (see “How much should you pay for Elite Qualifying Miles?”) and that SkyMiles are worth about 1.29 cents each (see “Fair Trading Prices”).  At those rates, the value of 180,000 redeemable miles and 50,000 MQMs comes to $3,822 – significantly more than $2,200.

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  1. […] Pick up some tips on airline elite status. A-plus! The thought of losing Medallion status with Delta was terrifying, so I was determined to find a way to requalify. On the way to our great dinner at In-N-Out Burger on Saturday night, I picked the brain of the Frequent Miler. Along with his Saturday presentation on earning 5X points everywhere, he also offered some tips on amassing MQMs quickly in 2013. I can’t thank him enough for our chat. [Scott: I don't know the exact tips, but here is a FM post on Mileage Running from Home.] […]


  1. I’m going to Moscow next month on my first mileage run – to earn 280 Tier Points on BA’s Exec Club program, which gets me to Silver status in time for the madness of the Olympics – status will definitely help when travelling through London Heathrow’s Terminal 5!
    The flight is about £1200 (approx. $1900 USD), but at $7 per point, it’s a steal compared to a transatlantic flight to, say, New York – for the same points, the flight costs closer to $4k.
    BA’s program doesn’t work on miles, it works on points – which involves actually booking a flight, getting on it and planting your arse in the seat for a few hours. Bronze requires 300 points, Silver 600, and Gold 1500. They then use each level to give you boosts on earning miles (so rewards come quicker), but it’s the status levels (Silver particularly) that get you lounge access & better service on other oneworld partners.
    If it worked on airmiles alone, however, I’d have racked up close to 60,000 since April already…

  2. Are you sure about the one personal/one business card per person limit? From the T&C:

    “Cardmembers may be permitted to have more than one Options, classic, Gold, or Platinum or Delta Reserve SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express account; however, Cardmembers are only eligible to receive one annual Eligible Spending bonus for each type (i.e., Options, classic, Gold, Platinum or Reserve) of Delta SkyMiles Credit Card account from American Express”

    Looks like you could get one personal plat, one personal reserve, one biz plat, one biz reserve. Could get interesting. Here’s the link to T&C, all the way down at the bottom at “Built-in Miles Boost…”

  3. Good post and reminder to me I need to work harder this year to maintain Delta Platinum status. I actually just dropped my Plat Delta card as I had hit the limit of *credit* cards Amex would issue me. I mentioned it in a post here: However I was going to do some shuffling of cards with my wife so I could get the Reserve to start building up MQMS.

    Question on Kiva: I have not done this so far. I work in finance, and know that lending to deadbeats here in the USA even at high interest can lead to big losses if you are not careful. So lending to people in third world countries… while it is for sure an admirable concept, I can’t believe it does not involve losses. What has your experience been here? I can’t believe you simply get 100% of what you put in back risk free. I am sure it is open to huge abuse too and those sad looking pictures of a lady in Colombia trying to feed her kids is actually just a drug baron looking for cheap float from dumbasses like me. Maybe I am too cynical??? Convince me! :)

    • Phil: Kiva reports their default rates and they are only at about 1%. Kivalens makes it easy to filter out risky loans, so you have a good chance of doing better than 1% loss. I have been loaning since August 2011 and have yet to have a single loan default. There are great discussions about this in the Kiva forums on Milepoint. I highly recommend reading those posts and asking questions to the true experts that watch those threads carefully.

  4. Thanks for the update!
    FYI, you didn’t add the annual fees into the final cost (should be 2200+450+150 I think).

    • Steve: Good point about the annual fees. I’m going with the argument that the fees are offset by the benefits. In exchange for the combined $600 annual fees, I get: Delta lounge access for myself and two guests, two companion passes (one of which can be used with a first class flight), and improved upgrade priority. I reliably save about $400 per year using just one companion pass when I fly my sister and niece out to visit us for the holidays, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to ignore the fees for this analysis.

  5. Also, it’s the end of June. Does that mean you’ve spent 9200+6 = 55,200? How much have you plunked into Kiva?

  6. Kiva is great, but it takes them a while to transfer the money to your Paypal account when you request a withdraw, usually takes 1-2 weeks, so don’t count on it happening right away.

  7. So normally you cannot book award flights and cancel whenever you want? Is that true for all airlines?

    I remember reading somewhere (not sure if it was you) that someone books flights with points and then cancels if there’s a better deal/time. My dad booked a ticket to visit me for 40,000 points, I told him to cancel and fly a different set of days and Delta told him he had to pay $150 to get his points back. Any ideas?

  8. @dreamingofpoints – BA lets you cancel and rebook with no fees (you just loose the $5 tax). United lets you do that up to 21 days before the trip with no fee I believe. Delta charges $150 for any chances once ticketed.

  9. Hi bro

    so I have few Vanilla Reload cards and my wife and I both got the Netspend prepaid cards as well.

    Help me with some tricks/advice to loading and cashing them out please

    Load $1k on each cards and pay $1000 worth of bill like my citi or chase card balance?

    since they are closing it anyway , we better load $500 or $1000 on each card and pay huge bill or anyway way to get cash?

    will they block the ACH Bill payment and if they do, do you get your money back?


  10. you’re crazy!! =P btw, why not another airline since delta skymiles aren’t worth THAT much and a lot harder to redeem??

  11. oneyejack: Delta is the only airline (that I know of) in which you can earn high level elite status via credit card spend. Also, for me, Delta is the most convenient airline since they have a major hub at my local airport.

  12. Yes and when you’re done since you no longer have a job at all. Make sure you call your attorney and add your name to the City of Detroit’s largest EVER bankruptcy filing.

    I’m sorry but I absolutely love reading a post by someone who says “Well I used to do all these things when I was on the Corporate dime” but no eh , that I have to reach into my own pocket….

    Eh .. .not so much. Have fun DETROIT ROCK CITY!

  13. Or maybe it should be titled as should a majority of these “Let’s just see what happens when I put a shotgun in mouth” websites should be titled…


  14. i just read your blog, and i see i have 6446 MQMs tip silver and 9MQs . what does this mean? IS there a credit card i can open to get silver status? is it worth it? i have great credit and will have no problem with a minimum spend.

    • It’s probably too late for you this year to go for Silver status. It is possible: you could sign up for both a personal and a business Delta Reserve card to get 10K MQMs from each signup, but that card costs $450 per year. A better bet is to wait until January to signup for either the Reserve or Platinum card ($150/yr) to get the signup bonus MQMs and then spend enough on the card during the year to earn additional MQMs. You will need to earn 25K MQMs in one calendar year to get Silver status.

      Is it worth it? Probably not. It does give you free checked bags and priority boarding (but the credit cards give you those benefits too). And, it does give you a small chance of getting upgraded to first class on domestic flights. If you fly Delta a lot but not from a hub (where upgrades are much harder), then it might pay off.

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