Upgrading to Reserve [Expired], striving for Diamond

Last Friday, I upgraded one of my wife’s two Delta cards to a $450 Delta Reserve card.  Am I insane?  Probably, but that’s besides the point.  Let me explain…

American Express offers three different Delta branded cards.  The links below will take you to my analysis of each card:

 

The Gold card is nice for its first year signup bonus, but then has little to offer in future years, especially for those with elite status (since the benefits given by the card overlap with benefits given by elite status).

The Platinum card is good for its annual companion pass (domestic economy only) and the ability to earn up to 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) with high spend. 

The Reserve card is good for its annual companion pass (domestic economy or first class), Sky Club access for the account holder, priority upgrades (upgrade ahead of others with the same elite status and booked fare class), and the ability to earn and gift up to 30,000 MQMs with high spend.

You are only allowed to have one personal Delta card, but you can also have one business Delta card.  Currently, thanks to the recent upgrade, both my wife and I have one of each: a business Reserve card and a personal Platinum card. 

Elite Tiers

Delta offers the following elite tiers:

  • Silver. Requires 25,000 MQMs per calendar year and $2,500 MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars).  Primary benefits: free checked bags, small chance of complementary domestic upgrades.
  • Gold. Requires 50,000 MQMs per calendar year and $5,000 MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars).  Primary benefits: All Silver benefits, waived same day confirmed change fees, Sky Priority boarding, Expedited checked bags, free domestic economy comfort seating, and better chance of complimentary upgrades.
  • Platinum. Requires 75,000 MQMs per calendar year and $7,500 MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars).  Primary benefits: All Gold benefits, free international economy comfort seating, better chance of complimentary upgrades, free award ticket changes and redeposits, and choice of 4 regional upgrade certificates.
  • Diamond. Requires 125,000 MQMs per calendar year and $12,500 MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars).  Primary benefits: All Platinum benefits, better chance of complimentary upgrades, choice of 2 benefits including: 4 global upgrade certificates or 8 regional upgrade certificates.

Each of the above elite tiers have Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirements that are met only by paid Delta flights.  In all cases, though, the MQD requirement is waived if you make $25,000 or more in purchases in a calendar year on a Delta branded American Express card.

Valuing Platinum

As I’ve written many times before, Delta Platinum status makes my Delta miles more valuable.  With Platinum status, all awards are automatically fully refundable, up to 72 hours prior to your flight.  That alone is valuable, but also note many other tricks that become possible:

  • Book an award trip when the award is available, just in case you might decide to take the trip.
  • Book part of a planned trip now, and wait for award availability to open up later for other needed parts of the trip.
  • Book an award for one person and wait for additional award space to open up for others you will be traveling with (see “Booking Delta awards when you love your spouse”).
  • Tack on a one-way flight to take place months after a round-trip award without adding to the award price.  And, make changes to that extra leg later when your plans firm up.  For a related discussion about this trick, please see: Delta: two one-way awards for 12,500 miles.

Regional upgrade certificates are another nice perk of Platinum status.  When you book a paid domestic flight (with the exception of certain transcon flights) in almost any fare class, these certificates can be used to either upgrade you instantly (if upgrade space is available) or put you on a waiting list for an upgrade.  It’s a very nice way to ensure upgrades when they are most important to you.

Valuing Diamond

Until recently, I never saw a point in seeking the additional 50,000 MQMs necessary to get to Diamond status.  All of the benefits I valued most were available to Platinum elites.  Then, Delta introduced upgrade certificates.  In particular, global upgrade certificates are available only to Diamond elites (see “Why Delta’s great new Choice Benefits irk me”).  Without these certificates, there was no reasonable way to ensure upgrades on international flights.  Sure, you could redeem miles or the old system-wide upgrade certificates, but only for flights booked in very expensive economy fare classes.  Often the prices for those flights are just as high as business class fares to begin with.  With the new global upgrade certificates it is finally possible to book an international Delta flight in economy (in any fare class except E) and upgrade to business class at the time of booking if upgrade space is available. That’s huge.  The difference in comfort between international economy and international business class is huge.  Almost all of Delta’s international flights feature: seats in business class that recline to fully flat beds, direct aisle access for every passenger, and very nice catering. Thanks to this one new Diamond benefit, I’m suddenly interesting in pursuing top tier status.

Ladies first

My goal this year is to get my wife to Diamond status as soon as possible.  She has a least two international trips to take in the Fall.  In her case, her flights will be reimbursed as long as she books economy class.  And, if we can earn global upgrade certificates for her in time, she’ll hopefully be able to fly up front.

The great thing about the Delta Reserve card is that MQMs earned from the card can be gifted to other people.  So, this year, I will gift all of the MQMs earned from my cards to my wife.  And, she’ll keep the MQMs earned on her own card.  Next year, we might flip it around and gift all of the earned MQMs to me.  For a full explanation of how this might work, please see: Mileage Running from Home II (now with an exciting 2 player option!).

Is it really worth it?

In order to get my wife to Diamond status, I have to generate a huge amount of spend on Delta credit cards.  Thanks to the many tricks I write about in this blog, I don’t find that particularly difficult.  However, if one considers the opportunity cost of running up spend on this card vs. a 5% cash back card, it might not seem very wise.  I’m okay with that.  We do some things in life just because we can (see “Rationality is overrated”).  And, truthfully, as long as I can earn 3X or 4X buying American Express gift cards, running up spend on just about any card is quite profitable!

So yeah, that’s what I’m doing Smile

 

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. One small type…under valuing Platinum you wrote:

    “(with the exception of certain transatlantic flights)”

    I think you mean TRANSCON instead of TRANSATLANTIC (which would be int’l and NOT eligible for an upgrade….)

    Also there is ANOTHER Delta Amex card…I believe it is called the Delta Amex OPTIONS (or something like that) which has no annual fee…but only 1 mile per $2 spend or something like that….

  2. @ Greg — There is nothing irrational about what you are doing. In fact, I personally value this strategy as one of the best returns on MS. If you spend exactly $240,000 on your four Reserve cards, you will earn 360,000 SM plus 120,000 MQM. I conservatively value the SM at 1.2 cpm and the MQM at 4.8 cpm (think mile running from home). That works out to a return of $10,080, or 4.2%, on your $240,000 of spend. That’s close enough to 5% for me! Some may argue that the $1,800 of Reserve annual fees is too much, especially if you already have SkyClub access, but I like buying discounted F tickets and will get more than $1,800 back from the four free first class tickets each year.

    • One part of that argument open for nitpicking (besides the cost of MS, as Geoff points out) is the value assigned to the MQMs / elite status. Depending upon how much you fly, it may be the case that getting cash back and buying first class flights in the first place would be overall a better value than getting elite status and hoping for upgrades and other perks. Regardless, if you do value MQMs that highly, then yes it is a rational approach.

  3. Not to nitpick, but spending $240,000 on the four cards is rarely done organically. Adding the cost of MS would increase the CPM to an extent. In my opinion $1800 plus MS$ for Diamond is a great trade-off IF one frequents Delta and can visit Walmart on all too frequent basis:)

    • I’m still in denial about WM, as I am still unloading the VRs I hoarded before CVS died. Maybe after a little WM torture, I will lower my MS goals. 🙂

  4. I have reserve card and business DL plat cards. Spend on both met for 2014. Currently at 85,000 MQMs this year. If we upgrade my wife’s DL Plat card to Reserve card and meet $60,000 spend on that card I know we can transfer her 30,000 bonus MQMs to me where I can attain DM for first time with an extra flight or two. Question one, can we also transfer her 5,000 MQM sign up bonus to me as well? Question two, don’t I then get to pick two choice benefits? I’m thinking gift gold M to my wife and also pick the four global upgrade certs as well?

    • Jeff:
      1) No. My understanding is that the 5K MQM upgrade bonus is not giftable.
      2) Yes, once you achieve Diamond status, you can select two choice benefits as you suggested.

  5. Hi Greg: Hopefully a simple question, when you update from the Platinum to Reserve CC, does your existing spend from this year carry forward? For example, I’ve already put just over $30k on my Platinum card this year (and have received 10k miles when I got $25k). If I were to upgrade now, would that last 5k miles be available?

    None of the new card holder perks carry forward either, right?

    • Dave, my understanding is that existing spend does not carry forward (but I’m not 100% sure about that though). So, I waited until we had exactly maxed out my wife’s $50K Platinum spend and she received the full 20K MQMs before upgrading her to the Reserve card. My assumption is that we now start from zero on the new Reserve card and can earn another 30K MQMs

  6. I would say rationality is underrated. You really should calculate the opportunity cost, not duck it. It might not be that high if you stick with efficient techniques like AMEX GCs where you are only giving up 2% opportunity cost per dollar spent. Best case I estimate it would cost around 1.5 cents to manufacture MQMs this way, or $2K in opportunity cost to manufacture Diamond. If you are using less efficient techniques such as foregoing 5x capacity then it would be very expensive, roughly 7.5 cents to manufacture MQMs, or about $10K in opportunity cost to manufacture Diamond. Even if you are willing to pay that cost, you should still do the calculation. Similarly you could just calculate the additional cost to go from Platinum to Diamond.

  7. @Dave – In 2013 when I upgraded from Gold to the Plat card my spending on the Gold counted towards the spending on my 25k threshold and I received my 10 MQMs so you might want to SM Amex to find out.

  8. What if you have two businesses with separate EIN’s– is it possible to tie them both to the same delta account and get both bonuses from the two cards?

  9. FM – My SO is Diamond, but she only flies DL for work in Biz Class and rarely gets much value out of Diamond. Is it possible for her to apply her Global Upgrade certs on her paid biz class flights and get into F, space available?

    So far, she’s been taking miles and gifting Gold status and trading for some miles in exchange.

    • Paul, no, the global upgrade certs can only be used for business class. Upgrades are only available on Delta flights and since Delta doesn’t have three cabin first class, there’s no option for a further upgrade.

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