How to manufacture Delta elite status

Most airlines offer extra benefits to their most valuable customers. This is usually handled through elite status.  If you fly enough with an airline, you can become “elite”.  Of course, not all elites are equal.  Most airlines have multiple elite tiers to differentiate their valuable customers from their really valuable customers.  And, of course, airlines offer the best perks to their highest tier elites.

Delta is no different.  They offer elite tiers ranging from Silver status (25,000 miles per year flown) to Diamond status (125,000 miles flown).  Silver status perks are only marginally better than those you get from holding a Delta branded credit card.  Diamond perks, though, are very nice.

Delta_747_BusinessElite

Delta’s top level Diamond Elites can choose global upgrade certificates as a choice benefit. These can be used to upgrade from coach to lie-flat business seats on international flights.

Where Delta differs from all other airlines is that they offer a path to top tier elite status that does not require flying.  Via certain Delta branded American Express credit cards, it’s possible to spend your way to high level elite status.

You might wonder why bother earning elite status without flying?  After all, the only way to enjoy those benefits is to fly, right?  True, but here are a few reasons:

  • For those with lots of Delta SkyMiles, elite status makes those miles more valuable.  Elites have access to better saver level award space (no longer true).  Plus, Platinum and Diamond elites can make award changes and re-deposits for free.  And, once you reach elite status, you can qualify for free domestic upgrades from coach to first class, even on award flights.
  • Spending your way to status can jump you to a higher level of status than you would have achieved otherwise.

Delta Elite Requirements

Delta published the following chart to show the requirements for achieving each tier of elite status as of 2015 (towards earning 2016 elite status):

Delta_2016_elite_requirements

Definitions:

  • MQMs: Medallion Qualifying Miles can be roughly thought of as the actual miles flown on Delta and select partner flights (although elites earn MQM bonuses and there are a few other ways to earn MQMs as I’ll explain later).  It’s important to understand that these are different from redeemable miles which can be used to book award flights.  MQMs are only used for earning elite status.
  • MQSs: Medallion Qualifying Segments are a count of the number of Delta and select partner segments flown.  Unless you fly a very large number of short flights, your are unlikely to earn elite status through MQSs.
  • MQDs: Medallion Qualifying Dollars are the sum total of your spend on Delta-marketed flights.

Explanation:

In general, to reach each elite tier, Delta SkyMiles members must earn the stated number of MQMs or MQSs and spend the targeted amount of MQDs.  In other words, its not enough to just fly far or often, you also need to spend a lot of money with Delta.

Fortunately, there’s an easy exception to the MQD requirement: spend $25,000 or more with Delta branded credit cards and the MQD requirement goes away.  Even better, several Delta branded credit cards offer MQMs for high spend, so it is possible to tackle both requirements (MQMs and MQDs) through spend without setting foot on a plane.

Rollovers

Most airlines require that you fully re-earn status every calendar year.  Delta is mostly that way too, but with one exception: if you earn more than 25,000 MQMs in a calendar year, any MQMs not used to reach status are rolled over to the next year.  For example, if you earn 70,000 MQMs, you’ll earn Gold status (at 50,000 MQMs) and 20,000 MQMs will be rolled over to the next year to give you a jump start towards re-qualifying.

Elite Benefits

Delta’s complete chart of elite benefits can be found here.  I’ve pulled out a few excerpts showing some of the best benefits:

Delta_elite_benefitsDelta_elite_benefitsDelta_elite_benefitsDelta_elite_benefits

The elite benefits I’ve personally found to be most valuable are:

  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades (when available, upgrade from coach to first class on domestic flights). Higher status leads to better chance of upgrades.
  • Waived same-day confirmed fees and waived same-day standby fees (switch to different flight on same day as ticketed flight). Requires Gold or higher.
  • Complementary Comfort+ seats (more leg room!).
  • Free award changes and cancellations.  This is huge because it lets me book awards when I see availability even if I’m not sure I’ll take that particular flight.  Requires Platinum or higher.
  • Regional upgrade certificates.  Puts you to the front of the line for regional upgrades.  This is great to use for flights where upgrades are most important to you.  For example, I use these for flights of about 4 hours or longer.  This is a choice benefit for Platinum and Diamond status.
  • Global upgrade certificates. These are fantastic.  Use these to upgrade from coach to business class on any international flight when upgrade space is available.  My wife is 4 for 4 this year in applying her certificates and getting the upgrade.  This is a choice benefit for Diamond status only.

Manufacture Delta elite status

Thanks to a few Delta branded credit cards, its possible to earn elite status entirely through spend.  Each individual can have a maximum of two Delta branded credit cards: one personal and one business.  The following cards are available in both personal and business versions:

Platinum Delta SkyMiles(R) Credit Card from American Express ($195 annual fee): (Update: This offer has temporarily expired.)

  • Major perks: Free checked bags, priority boarding, free coach companion pass after first year.
  • Earn 5K MQMs first year via the usual signup bonus.
  • Earn up to 20,000 MQMs every year:
    • With $25K calendar year spend: earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles
    • With $50K calendar year spend: earn another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles

Read more about this card here: An Analysis of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card.

Delta Reserve Credit Card ($450 annual fee)

Update: This offer has expired and/or is not currently available through Frequent Miler

  • Major perks: Free coach or first class companion pass after first year; free Sky Club access; priority upgrades over those with same booking class and same elite level; free checked bags; etc.
  • Earn 10K MQMs first year via the usual signup bonus.
  • Earn up to 30,000 MQMs every year:
    • With $30K calendar year spend: earn 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles
    • With $60K calendar year spend: earn another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles
    • Unlike the Delta Platinum card, MQMs earned with the Reserve card are giftable.  This means that you can apply the MQMs to a different person’s account (or they can apply their earned MQMs to your account)

Read more about this card here: An analysis of the Delta Reserve credit card.

Charts of MQM possibilities

The fact that there are two different types of cards that earn MQMs, and that each person can have up to two of these cards, and that Delta Reserve MQMs are giftable leads to endless possibilities for manufacturing elite status.  The following charts should help:

Delta Platinum Card (Update: This offer has temporarily expired.)

The Platinum card is fairly straightforward.  MQMs earned with this card go to the primary cardholder’s Delta account. Period.  If you sign up new, and maximize spend on two cards in one calendar year, you can earn up to 50,000 MQMs (enough for Gold status):


  Personal card Business card
Signup bonus 5K 5K
1st $25K spend 10K 10K
2nd $25K spend 10K 10K

Delta Reserve Card

Update: This offer has expired and/or is not currently available through Frequent Miler

The fact that Delta Reserve MQMs are giftable adds many possibilities.  A common approach, for example, is for a married couple to each get one or more Reserve cards and gift the earned MQMs to one person or the other depending upon their elite goals.  While its possible to get more than two people involved in a game like that, the following chart assumes just one person besides you is added to the mix.  As you can see, with two people involved, it’s possible to earn up to 140,000 MQMs in one year!


  Personal card Business card Friend personal card Friend business card
Signup bonus 10K 10K Not giftable Not giftable
1st $30K spend 15K 15K 15K 15K
2nd $30K spend 15K 15K 15K 15K

 

Diamond Couple Unbalanced Strategy

Each person (or couple) should develop their own strategy based on their goals, expected MQMs earned through actual flying, etc.  Here, though, is a sample strategy for a couple in which one person wants to earn top tier Diamond status and the other is happy with Gold status:

  • Person 1 signs up for both the Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve card (one personal, one business) early in the calendar year.  Through signup bonuses, Person 1 earns 15,000 MQMs. Update: This offer has expired and/or is not currently available through Frequent Miler
  • Person 2 signs up for the Reserve card and adds an authorized user card for Person 1.
  • Person 1 then uses manufactured spend techniques to max out the MQM bonuses on each of the three cards.  Person 1 would earn 20,000 MQMs with their Platinum card plus 30,000 MQMs with their Reserve card.  And, Person 2 would gift 30,000 MQMs to Person 1.
  • In total, Person 1 would earn 95,000 MQMs through spend and signup bonuses.  Assuming Person 1 earns an additional 30,000 MQMs the old fashioned way (through flying and/or rollovers from the previous year), they would reach Diamond status.  Then, they can use one of their Diamond Choice Benefits to grant Gold status to Person 1.

One reason I like this strategy is that it avoids the duplication of benefits that happens when one person gets two Reserve cards.  In the scenario presented above, both people have Reserve cards and therefore get the associated benefits (SkyClub access, improved upgrade chances, etc.).

Diamond Couple Alternating Strategy

Another option takes advantage of the fact that once you reach a level of elite status, you keep that status for the rest of that calendar year, all of the next calendar year, and through January of the year after that.  If you have the ability to manufacture spend quickly, you can give two people Diamond status by alternating who gets the MQMs.  Here’s how:

  • Follow the steps in the previous example for year 1.  Now Person 1 has Diamond status for the rest of year 1, and all of year 2, and through the end of January of year 3.
  • At the beginning of year 2, person 2 signs up for the Delta Platinum card and adds an authorized user card for Person 1.
  • Now, with all four card accounts, the couple would use manufactured spend techniques to max out the earned MQMs.  All of the giftable MQMs this time would be assigned to Person 2.
  • With the addition of actual flying, person 2 should be able to achieve Diamond status during year 2.  In the meantime, person 1 only earns enough MQMs to reach Silver or maybe Gold status and to hopefully roll over as many MQMs as possible into year 3.
  • At the beginning of year 3, the two people would use manufactured spend techniques as quickly as possible to max out the earned MQMs.  All of the giftable MQMs this time would be assigned to Person 1.  On this 3rd year, and as of Feb 1, person 1 will lose Diamond status until enough MQMs are earned again.

Conclusion

I’ve presented here the tools needed to obtain Delta elite status through spend. Whether or not you should do so depends heavily upon your situation.  Do you fly enough with Delta to make it worth it?  If not, don’t do it.  In my case I live near a Delta hub, and both my wife and I do fly Delta often.  As a result we do a variation of the “Diamond Couple Alternating Strategy” shown above.  Currently my wife has Diamond status and I have Platinum.  Next year it may be the opposite.  And, yes, we’re enjoying the associated perks!

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.

More articles by Greg The Frequent Miler »

Pingbacks

  1. […] Therefore, it allows me access to the Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam. Not only that, if I am accumulating within an airline program, I’ll be able to redeem with their partners. Using Delta as the main point, it would allow me to fly on Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic with little fuel surcharges. Or if I were inclined to go to Tahiti, I now have the option of using Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. As Andy has researched, with Delta’s upgrades, it makes redeeming SkyMiles much easier. Frequent Miler has a great piece on buying status with manufactured spending techniques on Delta. […]

  2. […] Therefore, it allows me access to the Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam. Not only that, if I am accumulating within an airline program, I’ll be able to redeem with their partners. Using Delta as the main point, it would allow me to fly on Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic with little fuel surcharges. Or if I were inclined to go to Tahiti, I now have the option of using Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. As Andy has researched, with Delta’s upgrades, it makes redeeming SkyMiles much easier. Frequent Miler has a great piece on buying status with manufactured spending techniques on Delta. […]

  3. […] The Delta Platinum card offers 10,000 bonus Miles and MQMs after $25,000 in calendar year spend; and another 10,000 bonus Miles and MQMs after $50,000 spend.  Similarly, the Delta Reserve card offers 15,000 bonus Miles and MQMs after $30,000 in calendar year spend; and another 15,000 bonus Miles and MQMs after $60,000 spend.  Additionally, the MQMs earned through spend on the Reserve card are giftable to others.  This makes it possible for high spenders can earn high level Delta elite status through spend alone.  For more, see: How to manufacture Delta elite status. […]

Comments

  1. Hey! I think you may have a typo with regards to the Reserve’s bonus spending when you first mention it. You say:
    Delta Reserve Credit Card ($450 annual fee)

    Major perks: Free coach or first class companion pass after first year; free Sky Club access; priority upgrades over those with same booking class and same elite level; free checked bags; etc.
    Earn 10K MQMs first year via the usual signup bonus.
    Earn up to 30,000 MQMs every year:
    With $25K calendar year spend: earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles
    With $50K calendar year spend: earn another 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles

    But isn’t it 15K MQMs & Redeemable miles after each $30k in spend?

  2. I need 12,000 MQM to attain PM 2015~currently DM. Already earned 30,000 MQM per your suggestion getting Delta Platinum Skymiles and Premier Rewards Business and Gold Delta Skymiles Business.
    Company is currently using US/AA due to lower cost of flights and they book the flights. PITA!!

    Any suggestions other than a mileage run? buy the MQM?
    Thanks!

    • How quickly can you spend money on the Platinum card? If you can reach $25K spend this calendar year, you’ll get 10K MQMs. $50K spend will get you another 10K MQMs. Or, be OK with Gold status and roll over the extra into next year.

  3. So, for rollover, I’ve read somewhere that the MQM’s you get from spend and/or bonus doesn’t actually rollover. Is that true?
    Thanks!

  4. In my opinion, people who MS for status are the lowest of the low. I am hoping Delta will put an end to this practice.

  5. So for clarification, I have a plt card. I list my wife as an authorized user. Here are the situations:

    A) I spend 15k, she spends 10k. Do I earn the bonus MQMs?
    B) I spend 0, she spends 25k. Do I earn the MQMs, or does she earn the MQMs?

    Thanks!

  6. Thank you for the great post. I had a Delta Platinum Amex (opened in 2012) and then converted to a personal Delta Reserve in Nov 2012 (AmEx waived 2nd Annual fee so I kept it open for 2nd year and just canceled in Dec 2014). Can I open the Platinum AmEx and a Business Reserve and get both sign-up bonuses?

    • Amex used to have a rule for personal cards that you had to have cancelled the card more than 12 months ago in order to get the bonus again. Recently though they’ve made it so you can’t get a bonus for the same personal card again. So, I don’t know if you’ll get a bonus at all on the personal card. The business one should be fine.

  7. Is it possible to do this by getting business card as well? So, get 1 Reserve Personal, 1 business, and 1 platinum business and 1 Reserve business instead of asking the spouse to get a card?

  8. Suppose you throw 2 or 3 small children into the mix (who parents need to sit with); there seems no point to even contemplating any of the above strategies… then you would need to concentrate on straight up redeemable miles. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Yes, your best bang for your buck would be to work on getting Southwest points — ideally enough to get a companion pass. Best bet: get a companion pass for each adult so that 2 kids fly free. Best way to do that is for each adult to apply for two different 50K Southwest offers. You need 110K points earned in one calendar year to give you companion pass for rest of this year and all of the next year.

  9. Question about the “Diamond Couple Unbalanced Strategy”; how does Person 2 “Gift” the 30K MQM to Person #1 after making the $60K spend on their Reserve? Please explain. Thank you!

    • When you earn the 15K MQM spend bonuses, you are given two choices: keep the MQMs for yourself or gift them to someone else. There is a page on delta.com for choosing. If you select to gift them, you put in the recipient’s name and Delta SkyMiles number and they receive the MQMs pretty much immediately.

  10. Have you ever had an issue with AMX forfeiting points because the Business Card was used for personal expenses? From the terms and conditions that came with my Reserve Business Card, it looks like AMX reserves the right to forfeit points from purchases not used for business expenses.
    Thanks-

  11. My goal is to get economy comfort seating at a discount or complimentary for one international trip for the 5 of us.
    Is there any sense in getting higher than silver status?
    What is the discount typically offered for Silver or Gold on the economy comfort seats? Is it even worth the bother to go for it with 5 in my party?

    • Silver status gets you free Comfort+ 24 hours prior to departure. Gold: 72 hours prior. Platinum & Diamond: Free at time of booking. I believe (but I’m not 100% sure) that your companions on the same ticket are also free.

      • Hi, I’m Delta Gold, and in my experience if you are booked on the same reservation you can upgrade everyone on that reservation to the economy comfort seats. This year we booked an international trip with different credit card points so I had to call to upgrade my companion and they also allowed me to move my son to comfort for free. They did say they weren’t supposed to let me take both, so it depends on who you get on the phone….

  12. Do you receive MQMs per dollar spent on the Platinum or Reserve cards or just the bonus lump sum once you’ve spent $25,000/30,000/year?

    • Just the bonus lump sum. So, if you spend $25K on the Platinum card, you earn:
      1. 25K redeemable miles (1 mile per dollar)
      2. 10K bonus MQMs as a lump sum
      3. 10K bonus redeemable miles as a lump sum

  13. I’m new to this game, so please excuse if this sounds ignorant… If one person obtains Diamond with the max spend and gifting of max spend on another’s card, wouldn’t that person just be able to gift gold status to the other? And all in one year?

  14. Looks like I will be about 1800 MQMs away from Gold now that we have until Jan. 31, 2015. I plan to travel about 6 times within the US in 2016 so will not likely make MQMs to make Gold on that alone.
    Would it be best to remain Plt. and let the MQMs rollover and become Gold in 2017 by default, or find a way to get those last 1800 MQMs?

    • I don’t understand the question. You ask about remaining Plt (Platinum?) but Platinum requires 75K MQMs whereas Gold requires only 50K. Did you mean remain Silver? Or, are you Platinum and getting close to Diamond (125k)?

    • That’s a tough question and really depends on your circumstances and how valuable Gold would be for you. You could always signup for a Delta Platinum card to get the 5K MQMs to get you over to Gold, then you’ll have a year to see how valuable it is to you.

      • I do already have the Delta Platinum Amex. No problems meeting the $ requirements. Not quite there though to split $ to make the most out of that card and the Reserve though.

  15. Anyone run into issues with getting awarded points for MS via gift cards? Per terms on Amex Delta Platinum card:

    If in any calendar year Eligible Purchases on the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card is $25,000 or more, the Basic Card Member will be awarded 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (“MQMs” as defined in the Delta SkyMiles Membership Guide and Program Rules), and if in that same calendar year Eligible Purchases on the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card is $50,000 or more, the Basic Card Member will be awarded an additional 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs. Eligible Purchases means purchases for goods and services minus returns and other credits. Eligible Purchases do NOT include fees, interest charges, balance transfers, cash advances, purchases of travelers’ checks, purchases or reloading of prepaid cards, or purchases of other cash equivalents.

  16. It sure would be nice if bloggers didn’t assume everyone had a partner willing to play this game. I don’t know a single couple where both partners believe in all this. Usually, one is either totally opposed or at least thinks their partner is nuts and isn’t about to let him/her play around with the other’s credit!

  17. I am trying to get Silver status for just myself. I’m not sure if I understand the article correctly. With just the Platinum Amex card, if I spend $25,000 in the first year, will I get Silver status for myself? Or do I have to spend $50,000 on that card in the first year?

    And after the first year, will I maintain Silver status in year 2 by spending only $25,000 on that card? Or $50,000? Or neither, as I’ll only have 20,000 MQMs in year 2 after $50,000 spend and will need to actually fly another 5000 actual miles to requalify?

    Alternate to flying 5000 miles as mentioned in above paragraph, would I have 1 personal and 1 business so I’d have an extra 5000 MQMs from the other first year bonus, giving me enough for a 2nd year of 25,000 MQMs from spend? That plan, if I’m right, would then only work for maintaining for year 2. When year 3 rolls around, I’d need to spend $50,000 on one card and $25,000 on the other to get 30,000 MQMs for the 25,000 needed for Silver?

    Thank you!

    • You would have to spend $50K first year to get the required 25K MQMs:
      5K MQMs from signup bonus + 20K MQMs for spending $50K
      In future years, yes you would need to either fly for 5K MQMs or get a second card and earn MQMs on that one as well.

      • Understood, thanks. While I’ll likely be able to fly 5000 MQMs in year 2 to go along with my 20,000 MQMs through $50,000K spend, just to be safe I might as well just get both the personal and business to get an extra 5K MQMs to apply for year 2. Could I then just cancel the business and reapply for a new 5K bonus each year (making sure to apply 12 months + 1 day since last business card bonus) that way, to keep getting 25,000 MQMs through spend only?

        Also, a timing question: it’ll take me 5 months to spend 50K. With a 5 month timeframe from date of application to obtaining Silver status in mind, when would be the best time of year to apply (other than that 60K bonus promotion, obviously) so that I maximize the time of status (rest of year and following year)?

        • I guess you could apply for the business card each year, but then you would have to cancel it immediately each time in order to be able to get it again in the next calendar year (12 months after cancelling). I think you should think of that as an every other year thing instead.

          Apply for the Platinum card beginning of January to ensure that the signup bonus MQMs apply to that calendar year and to give you time to spend up to Silver status

  18. I need 18,000 MQM’s by the end of the year to reach Diamond status. I have a Platinum AMX and a Delta Reserve AMX. Can I get a Delta Reserve AMX for my wife and one for a business I own to get the required MQM’s for Diamond?

    • I don’t know if it would work (I’m doubtful), but you could try. One problem is that the signup bonus MQMs are not giftable. So you could try to get your wife a Delta Reserve, but put your Delta number in the application. I’m not at all sure that would work though. It should work to get a business card though unless you already have a business Delta card? If you do, you might not qualify for a bonus again even if its a different business. You might be better off trying to reach $30K or $60K of spend on your Reserve card if you haven’t already.

  19. Out of curiosity, How many visa /master gift cards do you need to buy using the Delta AMEX credit cards and have them loaded to prepaid AMEX card? Does Target or Walmart allow you to load with that many gift cards? Or do you buy money order?

    Amex RedCard can no longer be loaded with anything other than cash. Amex Serve or Bluebird may close the user’s accounts if they identify such a pattern (preload money with so many gift cards). It seems that MS does not guarantee success and is getting tougher and riskier than before. It is very likely the money may get stuck in the middle of the process.

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