Progress toward Delta Platinum

This year, I’m continuing my quest to maintain Delta Platinum status without flying.  Here’s my approach and how I’m doing so far…

Delta has four levels of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond.  Each has increasingly better benefits.  In order to earn elite status, you need to earn “Medallion Qualifying Miles” (MQMs).  MQMs are different from the redeemable miles that can be traded in for award flights.  MQMs are a way of measuring how much you have flown Delta within a calendar year.  The more you have flown, the higher the elite status you can earn.  Silver requires 25K MQMs in a calendar year; Gold requires 50K MQMS; Platinum requires 75K MQMs; and Diamond requires 125K MQMs.  While it would be cool to earn Diamond status, Platinum gives you most of the same benefits for far fewer MQMs.

Unlike other airlines, Delta allows MQMs earned above each status threshold to roll-over to the next year.  Last year I ended the year with almost 100,000 MQMs.  As a result, I rolled over almost 25,000.  Also, unlike other airlines, Delta allows you to earn a huge number of MQMs through high credit card spend.

Mileage Running from home

As I’ve described before (see “Mileage running, from home“), my approach to earning Delta MQMs is to run up spend on my Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum credit cards.  The Reserve card delivers 15K MQMs after $30K of spend (within a calendar year) and then another 15K MQMs after $60K of spend.  Similarly, the Delta Platinum card delivers 10K of MQMs after $25K of spend (within a calendar year) and then another 10K MQMs after $50K of spend.  Altogether, by holding each of these cards (one personal, one business), I can earn 50,000 MQMs per year without flying.  My trick is simply to use those cards to make approximately $5K in Kiva loans per month.  Over time, the money is paid back to me without interest. Personally, I have so far lost only $13 through a single defaulted loan (approximately .07% of completed loans: far less than 1%).


I’ve already earned 25K MQMs from my two Delta cards this year and I’m very close to earning the final 25K.  Combined with a small amount of flying on paid flights, I’ll easily re-up my Platinum status for all of 2013. 

Next year and beyond

Next year will be a bit trickier since I won’t have 25K of MQMs to roll-over.  This is a problem because I can only earn 50K MQMs from my two Delta cards.  But, I’ll still have a number of options.  One easy one is to get my wife a Delta Reserve card.  The MQMs earned on that card can be transferred to others.  So, I can help her run up spend on her card, but then assign the MQMs to me.  In fact, it should be possible for my wife and I to setup a system where we alternate who receives the MQMs such that we each maintain Platinum status most of the time.  It’s complicated, but the trick is to earn Platinum status as early in the calendar year as possible.  That way, you then keep that status for the rest of the current year, all of the next year, and the first two months of the third year.  By alternating who earns Platinum status early in each calendar year, we should both be able to enjoy Platinum status most of the time.

Why I care

Platinum status comes with several perks, but the ones I care most about are free award changes and free same day confirmed changes (which are available to Delta Gold elites as well).  The combination of these two benefits make my Delta miles much more valuable than they would be otherwise.  Delta miles are infamously difficult to use at low award levels.  That is, it’s easy to use Delta miles if you’re willing to pay the medium or high number of miles required for an award, but they offer up very few awards for the lowest number of miles.  For example, round trip domestic awards cost either 25,000 miles (low level), 40,000 miles (medium level), or 60,000 miles (high level).  Medium and high level awards are plentiful.  Low level awards are rare.  However, the combination of free award changes and free same day confirmed changes make it possible for me to find low level awards on the flights I want.

Free Award Changes

Delta allows Platinum and Diamond elites to cancel or change awards up to 72 hours prior to you flight.  Let me give you a real example of how valuable this can be.  My family is flying to London this weekend, non-stop, on Delta’s lie-flat business class seats.  The flights were booked for 100,000 miles each (low level).  When I first looked into award availability, there were only two seats available at the low level.  Because I knew I could cancel without penalty, I went ahead and booked those seats.  A few days later a third seat became available for 100K, so I booked that too.  At the time of booking, we weren’t yet sure of our plans, but I went ahead and booked anyway because I knew I could cancel or make changes for free.  If I hadn’t had the ability to cancel for free, I would have waited until our plans were firm and until I could find 3 seats at once.  In other words, it is very unlikely that I would have been able to book all three of us at the low level.

Another reason I value free award changes is that it makes it possible for me to leverage tricks other bloggers have written about in which you can get a free one-way award with each round trip award.  For example, see this MileValue post.  I’ve done this trick several times now and I find that it really helps to be able to make free changes after the initial booking. 

Free Same Day Confirmed Changes

Another trick I’ve begun using is taking advantage of free same day changes.  Let’s say I can find a low level award for the day I want to travel, but it has bad times and/or awkward routings.  That’s OK.  I now know that I can book that flight.  After booking, I can continue to look for better options (you never know if a good one will pop up) and I can change for free up until 72 hours before the flight.  If no better options appear, that’s OK too.  On the day of the flight, I can switch to a better flight by calling no more than 3 hours before departure of the more desirable flight.  As long as the better flight isn’t full, I can make that change.  Once when I did this, it almost backfired.  The more desirable flight was full, so they couldn’t confirm the change.  However, they did put me on standby for the flight and I got on it without trouble.

Wrap Up

I live near a Delta hub, so I’m a Delta loyalist out of convenience.  I wouldn’t recommend going to the lengths I do to become a high level Delta elite unless you’re in a similar circumstance.  Other airlines offer better value for the miles  earned.  That being said, I’m happy with the approach I’ve taken.  By making $110K in Kiva loans per year I’m helping out people who need the money, I’m earning high level elite status, and I’m earning 150,000 redeemable Delta miles per year.  Not bad!

Vacation Notice

Greg (Frequent Miler) is currently on vacation. Posts have been scheduled for most days, but emails, comments, and Tweets may go unanswered for a while.

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  1. Great point about the ability to make changes for free. That is very helpful with free oneways like you mentioned. I get so many emails from people who have booked an award without a free oneway, and they want to add one when they find out they are entitled to one. Normally to add the free oneway later, they would have to pay a $150 change fee since they are changing an origin/destination. But you can add and subtract free oneways at will with your status.

    • MileValue: One big caution: don’t ever try to make changes online, or at least make sure to double check your itinerary afterwards. I tried to change an award online, got an error saying to check back later, and I gave up on it. When I went to check in for the flight, the whole itinerary was gone. The system had canceled my award.

  2. How quickly are you getting paid back on your Kiva loans? I assume that’s a heavy initial investment, but once repayments come in, you can withdraw and recycle spending.

    I’m also heading for PM next year. Rollover is wonderful, I’m starting with 24975 on January 1 and should hit Gold again before my current Gold lapses.

    • AK/Tim: There is a lot of variation in how quickly loans pay back. Loan terms range from 4 months to much longer. Also, some loans require payments along the way, others only pay in full at the end of term. Kivalens automatically sorts loans from shortest term to longest, so I try to go with shorter term loans or those that pay out along the way. Also, ramp up slowly to $10K (or whatever) over time so that you have payouts to help fund new loans

  3. How do you pick Kiva loans that pay back quickily? I can’t imagine you have $110k in loans outstanding. Yet I made loans and it has been well over 6 months and little has been paid back. Hard to recycle that way.

  4. Had you put all that spending on the Cash+ card, you would have earned a little over 7K. That would be enough to cover the value of 100K Sky Miles and award change fees.

    I am not saying that Cash+ is always the best option but I have heard the saying “Cash is king” too many times and I thought it was worth noting.

    • Dee Tee: Great point! Of course, Cash+ didn’t even exist until this past summer, but its worth considering going forward. I don’t know how long they’ll keep Charity as a 5X category though if we start loaning huge amounts! Darn, you’ve made me re-think my strategy for next year. Blast you! :)

  5. Kiva is a pain to withdraw money from. The system has flagged my account so I have to wait 1-2 weeks for a kiva rep to manually send the Paypal payment. I wonder if they could do an ACH to my blue bird card…

  6. Dee tee – good point! I would rather have about 6k than have status. I think if you only travel two or three times a year on a plane then status is not worth pursuing. United change fees aren’t too bad, only 75 per ticket.

  7. Interesting. I just got my Kiva repayments today, so I was thinking about how to go about doing it more. I last used it with my FlexPerks card to get 3x, and it’s easy to redeem that at close to 2cpm after all is said and done, giving me close to a 6% return.

    $100K in loans would give you up to $6000 of FlexPerks travel credits (300,000 points). That’s too much for one card, but living in LA, transcons are just under $400 roundtrip, or 20K FlexPerks.

  8. FM – Have you tried liquidating Visa Prepaid cards on Kiva? 100K of loans with Visa Prepaids from Staples/OD would yield 500,000 points. I know the limit is 200k points, but if you have ink bold and plus thats 400k. So maybe do 80K in loans? I don’t have and can’t afford to float so much money around, and I still am paranoid about putting large amounts of $ in Kiva.

  9. When you make a kiva loan, how much do you put in each loan on average? It would seem that large loans to fewer lendees would add risk, but lots of small loans to many people would be a pain.

  10. I would caution people against Kiva loans. I have not done my due diligence on that company, but even if they are legit, they can just fold overnight due to real financial reasons. If that happens, your recourse on getting back your money is going to be limited, and probably a long drawn out lawsuit, assuming they are based in the US. Loaning $100k to Kiva? That’s nuts!!!

  11. That’s floating a lot of money. By the way, when I see you as a lender on a loan, I take it as a mark of trustworthiness. No pressure.

  12. Grant,

    Is delayed Paypal withdrawal the only thing you experience with a flagged account? If you are alreadying waiting months for repayment on the loans, I don’t see a problem with waiting an extra week or two on the withdrawal.

    • sam: No. When you make a loan, 100% of it is sent to a micro-finance organization that handles that particular loan. By making many separate loans you can reduce risk by sending your loans through different micro-finance orgs. Kiva does a lot of due dilligence to make sure these micro-finance orgs are legit and responsible.

  13. reply to Sam. No, kiva is not FDIC insured. Kiva itself is a nonprofit, charitable organization. It is not a financial institution, and thus is not FDIC insured. As a charity, donations to Kiva, to support Kiva itself, should be tax deductible. But loans to borrowers listed on Kiva, which is what FM is describing in his post, are not tax deductible, nor are they insured.

    But the loans help very poor people, in some of the poorest countries, succeed in their business. Loans can help a farmer buy seed, a seamstress buy or repair a sewing machine, a food stall operator in a market place add new produce, a barber buy tools, etc. And each loan is only US$25.

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