Why Delta’s great new Choice Benefits irk me

Recently, Delta announced a few significant (and mostly positive) changes to their elite Medallion program.  For full coverage, please see these posts:

Here is a brief summary of changes beginning March 1, 2014:

Good changes

  • Regional Upgrade certificates: Platinum Medallions will have a new Choice Benefit of 4 Regional Upgrade certificates that can be applied on any paid flight that qualifies for free Medallion upgrades.  Certificates may be used only to upgrade the certificate owner and/or one companion on the same itinerary.  Unlike the old Systemwide Upgrade certificates, which are going away, these certificates are valid on any fare other than deeply discounted e-class fares.
  • Global Upgrade certificates:  Diamond Medallions will have a new Choice Benefit of 4 Global Upgrade certificates (or 8 Regional Certificates).  Global Upgrades can be used on almost any Delta run flight to anywhere in the world as long as upgrade space is available. Certificates may be used only to upgrade the certificate owner and/or one companion on the same itinerary.  Unlike the old Systemwide Upgrade certificates, which are going away, these certificates are valid on any fare other than deeply discounted e-class fares.
  • Upgradeable flights to Hawaii: Flights between the west coast and Hawaii will now qualify for free Medallion upgrades.  Flights between Atlanta and Hawaii are specifically excluded.

Bad changes

  • Transcons not upgradeable: Fights between JFK and the west coast (specifically Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle) will not be eligible for free Medallion upgrades, nor will they be upgradeable with Regional Upgrade certificates (but they will be upgradeable with Global Upgrade certificates).
  • One less month: Medallion elite status currently lasts for the rest of the year in which your status level is acquired, plus all of the next year, plus January and February of the year after that.  As of 2016, the end date of your elite status (assuming you did not re-qualify) will be end of January rather than end of February.

Platinum Benefits

I recently decided that my strategy for maintaining Delta elite status would be to alternate each year between my wife and I earning Platinum status [see “Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!)“].  The Platinum benefit that I find most valuable is the ability to make free changes to awards.  This way, I can book awards prospectively when award space is available and make changes for free as needed.  One example where this was helpful is when I wanted to book an award for my wife, son and I to Europe in business class.  At the time, I found two seats, but not three, at the 100K saver level (Note: the same saver award will cost 125K as of June 1 2014).  Because I knew that I could cancel that award for free if necessary, I went ahead and booked the award for my son and I.  I then checked back regularly to look for a single saver-level award seat for my wife.  Within a few days, the saver level award appeared and we were good to go.  If that seat hadn’t shown up, I could have cancelled the award and made other plans.

By alternating Platinum status between my wife and I, we can still maintain the ability to make free award changes as long as we’re careful about which account to use for booking awards.  And, if I can earn Platinum elite status (for myself or my wife) early each year, we will actually both have Platinum status most of the time.

The introduction of Regional Upgrade certificates makes this plan even better.  Regional Upgrade certificates are good for up to 1 year after they’re issued.  So, if I wait until my Platinum status year is almost over before requesting the certificates, I will be able to use those upgrades during the time that I am without status (well, I’ll probably have at least Silver status, but still…).  Only time will tell how widely available upgrades will be (best bet: not very), but even when the upgrades aren’t available, the certificates can be used to put you on a waitlist for upgrade space.  This way one would presumably get upgrade priority over elites hoping for complementary upgrades on the same flight.

If I expected to travel the excluded transcon routes, I would be pretty unhappy with the latest changes, but since I’m Detroit-based, I’m unlikely to fly the those routes in any case.  So, overall, I think that the Regional Upgrade Choice Benefit is a big win for Platinum elites like me (and my wife).  Of course, they’re not worth anything unless you actually use them, and they’re not transferable, so keep that in mind.

Diamond Benefits

As of March 1, 2014, Diamond Elites will have the option to get 4 Global Upgrade certificates as one of their Choice benefits.  These certificates are sweet in that you can use them to upgrade to business class from almost any coach fare on Delta operated flights (they are more restrictive on Air France and KLM operated flights). 

The new Global Upgrades are great for these situations:

  • For those pursuing renewal of elite status, Global Upgrades can be used to keep prices low for international trips while still earning MQMs, and still flying up-front.
  • For those travelling on business in coach, the certificates are a great option for improving your travel experience.
  • For those who want to travel international business class, but do not have enough miles to book straight-up awards, these certificates could be an excellent option.

Overall, I think that the option for Global Upgrades are a big win for Diamond Elites.  And, for the first time, I see a big benefit to achieving Diamond status over Platinum status.

Why the changes irk me

My wife flies to Europe for her work a few times each year, but she can only get reimbursed for flying coach.  This has made it nearly impossible for her to fly up-front.  Without Global Upgrade certificates, only insanely priced international coach tickets are upgradeable on Delta flights (via miles or with the old Systemwide Upgrade certificates).  American Airlines would be a great alternative since they allow upgrades to all fares, but since they have only a few regional flights out of Detroit, booking American Airlines means more layovers and worse travel times.

So, now we get to the dilemma.  I have a great plan for maintaining Platinum status, and the new Regional Upgrade certificates make the plan even better.  But now I want Diamond status!  My wife, especially, would benefit from Diamond status.  She could really use those Global Upgrade certificates!

Should I change my plans and try to work out a way to get my wife to Diamond status?  That’s a huge leap from Platinum as it requires an additional 50,000 MQMs per year.  My current plan is for my wife and I to each have a single Delta Reserve card and to run up $60K annual spend on each one.  I know that sounds like a huge amount of spend, but remember that Bluebird cards can be loaded up to $5000 per month, which conveniently works out to $60,000 per year.  With that much spend, we would earn 60,000 MQMs from those two credit cards, and each year we would alternate who gets all of those MQMs.  We can earn the extra 15K MQMs to achieve Platinum status by actual flying.

To get to Diamond status, the plan would have to change substantially.  One approach would be for my wife and I to each hold two Delta Reserve cards: one personal and one business.  If we then ran up $60,000 spend on all four cards, we would generate 120,000 MQMs, which is shy of the amount needed for Diamond status by just 5000 MQMs.  In theory that would work, but I don’t feel good about the idea of doubling our annual spend (and our credit card annual fees) just to get a few Global Upgrade certificates.

So, the reason the new Choice Benefits irk me is simply this: Delta has added a new carrot to entice me toward Diamond status.  I want it, but I’m simply not ready to go that far.  How about you?  If you’re a Delta flyer have the new benefits or upgrade rules changed your plans?

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I’m in the same boat. While I have always been fine with Platinum status and rolling over, Diamond seems to be the place to be beginning in 2014. I will likely make the effort to secure Diamond status for the Global Upgrade certificates.

  2. I have diamond status and chose my 2014 choice benefits prior to the delta announcement. Delta refuses to reverse my selection and allow me to choose the new benefits offered. This is completely unfair. Anyone in the same situation as me? What can we do to get delta to realize their decision to not reverse choice benefits already selected is wrong and not fair.

  3. Let’s put it this way. I am rolling over 49,991 miles and had no intention of going for DM. I am now. I am planning on the 5000 per BB to get me there so I hope there are no changes on that front.

  4. I see how this can make sense for Delta hub captives, but even with this change I still think it is too costly for the average non-captive flyer to use Amex Delta CC spend to get to Plat or Diamond status from scratch. (Of course a frequent Delta flyer will already be a lot of the way there from flying so using CC spend to get incremental MQMs to hit Plat/Diamond will likely make sense).

    Amex Delta cards only earn 1 DL/$ (which I value at 1c) so putting spend on those vs a Barclay Arrival (my value 2.2c) or SPG (my value 2.5c) you are losing 1.2-1.5c/$ spent.
    For Plat status you apply for 1 new Amex Delta Plat CC and 1 new Delta Reserve CC and put $50/$60k spend resp for 30k+40k MQMs or 70k total. You pay $600 in annual fees, have opp cost of $1320-1650 on $110k of spend, so effectively paying $1920-2250 for Plat status (and its even worse once already have the CCs and can’t get the CC sign up bonus MQMs I included here).
    For Diamond status you need a second Reserve CC for 40k MQM potential with another $450 fee and $60k spend with an opp cost of $720-900 so incremental cost over Plat of $1170-1350, or all in cost of $3090-3900.
    Although I’d love to conclude otherwise, unless I am missing something in this analysis, I still find it tough to see buying Delta Plat or Diamond as worthwhile.

    • Yes, no question that this only makes sense for frequent Delta flyers. There are a couple of things you missed in your analysis though:
      1. The Delta Reserve and Platinum cards earn bonus redeemable miles at high spend, not just MQMs. So, if you end the year spending exactly to a threshold, the Reserve earns 1.5 miles per dollar and the Platinum earns 1.4 miles per dollar thanks to the high spend bonuses.
      2. After the first year, the cards give you a domestic companion pass. These work really well. I’ve used them frequently during holidays to drastically reduce the cost of two people flying. And, the pass that comes with the Reserve card works for first class too. In one real life example of mine, during holiday travel, the incremental cost of first class over coach was very small, so using the companion pass for that flight was a no brainer, especially since the primary passanger earns bonus miles and MQMs for the premium ticket.
      3. For people at Delta hubs (or who travel Delta frequently for any reason), the value of redeemable miles increases with Platinum status: 1) saver awards become more readily available when you’re flying; and 2) all award tickets become fully refundable up to 72 hours before the flight.
      4. Some people will highly value the Delta Skyclub access granted by the Reserve card

  5. There are certainly features of the new program that I don’t like and getting upgrades at any level have become more difficult. My thought as a Hub captive is that it is worth the extra 50K MQMS to try to get DM early in 2014. That gets me status thru 1/31/16. I believe the global upgrades can be chosen as late as Jan 2016 and would be good for 12 months from date of issue. That is a tremendous window of opportunity. Only time will tell whether availability will reward those who get DM status

  6. @FM- thanks for the add’l values I missed in the cost/benefit analysis.
    1) Adding in the add’l RDM bonuses of 50k/80k off $110k/$170k of spend drops the cost of Plat $500 and Diamond $800.
    2) I’ll say that each comp pass is worth $250 since pd ticket cannot be in the low fare classes. That gives $500 drop in the cost of Plat (with 2 CCs) and $750 in cost of Diamond (3 CCs)
    3) I look at this as being part of the value of the elite status rather than offsetting part of the cost of getting it via CC spend
    4)same as 3

    So my adjusted cost of getting status through Amex DL CC spend becomes $920-1250 for Plat and $1540-2350.
    Now it is getting much more interesting to buy status. Higher RDM bonuses on rev flights, free award changes, more Saver availability, Delta SkyClub membership, Choice benefits (incl the new RU/GUs).
    What would you est the value of Plat and Diamond status is to you?

    • Putting a value on Platinum status or Diamond status is tough, but I do plan to attempt to estimate the value of the regional and global upgrade certs in upcoming posts. Off the top of my head, though, I’d say that the Global certs would be worth around $500 each (meaning one would pay that much for them, not the value that they can be redeemed for which would be substantially higher). So, the Choice Benefits for Diamond, alone, would make up the opportunity cost if and only if you successfully use the 4 global upgrade certs for valuable trips. Keep in mind that the Diamond member gets a second choice benefit (such as gifting Gold status to someone), plus they get Platinum Choice benefits (such as 4 Regional upgrade certs). So, yeah, Diamond status is extremely appealing now.

  7. Re post 6- Correcting error in post 4 where all in cost of Diamond should have said $3090-3600 (not $3090-3900) the adj all in cost of Diamond is $1540-2050 (not $1540-2350)

  8. (@Mike, comment #3) – maybe I am brain-dead this am, or maybe just don’t know; but please explain “5000 on BB” comment to me.

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