Is the end near for manufacturing Delta Diamond status?

Delta One Suite

For a number of years now, I’ve been using Delta credit cards to manufacture elite status for my wife and me.  I used to manufacture enough spend to get my wife to top tier Diamond status while I was satisfied with near-top-tier Platinum status. In recent years, though, Delta has added valuable benefits to their Diamond tier and so I stepped up my ms game to get both of us to Diamond.  For background, please see: Pushing the envelope on earning Delta elite status through spend.

Sadly, if a new rumor is true, our Diamond days may be numbered…

Renés Points says that Delta plans to change their credit card MQD waiver for Medallion year 2019 (MQD’s earned in 2018).  Currently, a cardholder can avoid Delta’s Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) requirement by spending $25,000 in a calendar year across one or more Delta branded credit cards  René says that Delta is planning to cap the waiver at Platinum status.  That is, the waiver will let you earn Silver, Gold, or Platinum status without meeting Delta’s spend requirements, but it won’t help at all towards achieving Diamond status.  Ouch!

Let’s review Delta’s elite status requirements:

  • To reach SILVER, you will need 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQD.
  • To reach GOLD, you will need 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs.
  • To reach PLATINUM, you will need 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs.
  • To reach DIAMOND, you will need 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs.

The MQM (Medallion Qualification Miles) requirement can be met entirely through credit card spend, all the way up to Diamond status.  I’ve been doing exactly that for years now.  The MQD requirement currently can be met by spending $25K on Delta credit cards.  That’s been a piece of cake.

If René is right about the upcoming changes, though, it will be impossible to manufacture Diamond status.  Even if a person earns 125,000 MQMs, or more, they won’t get Diamond status unless they spend $15K that year with Delta.  That’s a huge hurdle.

Back to Platinum

Status earned this year for 2018 is safe, but next year it is unlikely I’ll be able to get my wife or me to Diamond status if the MQD waiver is capped.  It is extremely unlikely that either of us will spend $15,000 with Delta.  That means that we’ll lose the following benefits as of Feb 1 2019:

  • 3 Choice Benefits: Particularly painful will be the loss of Global Upgrade Certificates.  We’ll also miss the ability to bring guests into SkyClubs, but we’ll continue to have access ourselves through Delta Reserve or Amex Platinum cards.
  • Free CLEAR: Clear membership lets you skip the first part of the airport security line.  In other words, with CLEAR (where available) you don’t have to line up to show your ID and boarding pass.  As Diamond Elites my wife and I signed up for CLEAR for free.  The standard price for lower level elites is $79 per year.  Will we pay it?  Probably not.
  • Higher priority complementary upgrades: We will still get 4 regional upgrade certificates each year as a Platinum Choice Benefit and can use those to skip to the front of the line for regional upgrades.  But, when we don’t use upgrade certificates our chance of upgrades will be much lower.
  • Non-promised Benefits: At hub airports, Delta watches out for their Diamond members to help make sure that they’ll make their connections. Sometimes they’ll even drive a Diamond member across the tarmac, in a Porsche, to their next flight.  That hasn’t happened yet to either of us, but it has been nice to know that someone’s watching out for us.  Similarly, Delta seems more likely to bend the rules for Diamond elites.  At times, this can be huge.

All of that said, Platinum status is still pretty darn useful.  Here are some of my favorite perks:

  • Free Award Changes: You can change or cancel an award for free up to 72 hours prior to departure.  I use this benefit all the time.  When I see a hard to get saver level award I’ll book it just in case it works for me.  A great example is how I booked Delta One Suites for the 3 of us (my son included) for next May.  I hope that we’ll be able to take that flight, but I’m not 100% sure.  The ability to change or cancel these awards without penalty is huge.
  • Complementary upgrades 5 days before departure: Sure, it will be far less likely to happen, but it’s great when it does.
  • Comfort+ upgrade at ticketing: Immediately after booking an economy flight, Delta “upgrades” Platinum and Diamond elites to Comfort+.  This way it is sometimes possible for a couple (or family) to sit together in Comfort+.

A bummer, but…

I’m still hoping that the rumor isn’t true or that Delta will back off this change, but I don’t think that’s likely.  MQD requirements were established from the get-go to make sure that Delta’s highest paying customers get rewarded the most.  They didn’t like the idea of people booking heavily discounted long distance flights in order to get status.  After all, why should a person who flies to Asia and back for $400 get more rewards than a person who spends $1200 to fly first class across the US?  They shouldn’t, but for many years they did.  The MQD requirement was designed to change that, but the credit card waiver made it easy to circumvent.  It makes perfect sense to me (even if I don’t like it!) that Delta has chosen to follow United’s lead and cap the MQD waiver so that top tier status is truly just for their highest paying customers.

For me, the waiver cap will mean much less required spend each year since I’ll then target Platinum status rather than Diamond status.  Diamond status requires 125,000 MQMs whereas Platinum status requires 75,000.  That’s a 50K MQM difference.  That’s $110,000 less credit card spend I’ll have to do ($60K spend on the Delta Reserve card generates 30K MQMs and $50K spend on the Delta Platinum card generates 20K MQMs).  If I were to generate the same amount of spend on a 2% cash back card, I’d get $2,200 cash back.  That would go a long way towards making up for the loss of upgrade certificates, CLEAR, etc.  On the other hand, I’d also earn 160,000 fewer Delta SkyMiles so it’s not as big of a win as it sounds.

For details about manufacturing Delta status please see: Pushing the envelope on earning Delta elite status through spend.

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. My wife and I are in exactly the same position. We easily fly (and pay for ourselves) ~80-90K miles/year and manage another 50K-60K/ea using the DL AMEX cards.

    Starting Jan 1st, we will divert $170K-$190K/yr of our spending to a combination of cards earning Ultimate Rewards, Thank You & Membership Rewards points, leaving $50K spend on two Platinum cards to waive the MQD requirement. We’ll hit Platinum Medallion just by flying.

    We have a few million DL miles in the bank, so I’m not worried about earning less of them. To be honest, I’d rather earn other currencies and fly Singapore Suites, Etihad Apartments, etc. even more often.

    While this change hurts, it’s mostly for nostalgic reasons, having maintained Delta’s top status for the past 25 years. In reality, it finally takes us off the hook of focusing so much on DL and will allow us to earn more/travel more on far superior airlines.

    The big loser will be Delta. Thinning the Diamond ranks isn’t going to make Joe Corporate flyer fly more or spend more $ with Delta – he/she is already going 50 weeks/year. Bumping folks like us to Platinum will probably reduce some of our discretionary travel purchases on DL, but not by much. The big effect, I believe, will be the drastic reduction in AMEX spend by us and all those like us, causing a correspondingly drastic reduction in AMEX purchases of DL miles – which must be a large profit center for DL.

    • no, joe corporate will be happy there are more premium seats for them.

      this is called rewarding frequent and/or high spending flyers.

      delta doesnt get a dime from you spending on amex cards, so no loss to delta.

      no dratic reduction in amex… you merely shift your spending to other amex card. not much of an impact.

      • No offense, but you clearly don’t understand Delta’s relationship with AMEX. Take a minute and read a DL 10-Q report. You’ll find that DL is being paid nearly $2 Billion/year for the miles they hand out to people like me in exchange for spending on DL AMEX cards….

        I spend 80% less using DL AMEX cards, AMEX buys fewer miles from DL, DL’s revenue from this (massively profitable) sale of miles to AMEX goes down.

        My point was that this DL revenue loss is not offset by increased spending from corporate-funded travel. It’s just a stand-alone revenue loss. The business travelers spending someone else’s money might be happier and more comfortable by having fewer DMs to compete with, but it isn’t going to make them need to travel more – that variable is governed by their company’s business, not Delta’s loyalty program changes.

        Your “analysis” of the affect on AMEX is also off. Chase and Citibank will be the recipients of at least 80% of the 80% reduction in my AMEX spending starting next year.

      • I believe that Jon is correct. Amex pays Delta for the miles that are awarded to customers for credit card spend. That’s a huge source of revenue for Delta. That’s why Delta sees their credit card customers as valuable customers even if they don’t spend much directly with the airline.

        • Delta wouldn’t make this change if they had any expectation that their net profitabilty would decline. Diamond status offers higher miles bonuses, so lower spend thru Amex is likely more than offset by fewer bonus miles (and other Diamond perks) being required.

      • [Editor’s note: I’ve removed parts of this comment in an attempt to keep the conversation civil] … airlines make literally billions from the sale of their miles to credit card companies. […]

  2. Greg, I learned this method from you and have been grateful for the 2 years of DM it’s provided. I’ve been mulling the alternative the past 2 days and, to be honest, I’m half bummed out and half excited about how I can put that spend to use elsewhere and seeing if Alaska or JetBlue might make sense for my domestic needs. I’ll keep the reserve card for my wife and I, so we’ll maintain our SkyClub access. Clear is more of a luxury than a need if you have TSA and Global Entry. The GUCs are a bummer, as I have been able to put them to good use, but I think I can get close to the same using extra miles for upgrades on DL, AF or KLM. So to be honest, the part I’m most likely to miss, is the loss of “prestige” that comes flaunting your DM status. Lame, but nevertheless, the truth.

    But again, part of the fun of this hobby is that there’s always another way to “skin the cat” and I look forward to watching this space for further inspiration. Thanks for that.

  3. Oh, I forgot to add that, I probably won’t realize how much I’ll miss the Diamond line until next year 🙂 That one might hurt more than I anticipate.

  4. Okay, I can’t be the only one who decided diamond was not worth the extra effort, extra annual credit card fees, etc. To me, the big carrot at diamond are those global upgrade certificates, but we we are travel hackers! My point? We have so many miles in so many different programs, we will still find a way to fly biz and higher wherever we want anyway, since we can’t continually be on vacation. So, for me, because I can’t use all my miles the way it is, I put diamond aside long ago and am very happy as a platinum.

    Also, let’s remember this will thin the diamond ranks, so comp upgrades will probably get better for us at plat level as least to some degree. If not, I’ll enjoy my free cocktails in comfort +.

  5. This is good news. I do a ton of MS, but always thought it was nuts to allow mere CC spend to allow Diamond status. It’s going to thin the herd dramatically.

  6. the sky(miles) is falling!!…you are right this is the end. Now all the bloggers can stop, get real jobs, and stop blabbing about the limited deals left…we can all go back to digging through flyertalk for useful information and keep our hobby alive!!…oh and BTW skypesos have been worthless for years, something an overpriced credit card and spending thousands on it won’t change. If you don’t live near ATL availability is crap, with skyhigh redemption rates…I notice good availability is hard to find on any flight until 3 weeks out when they release a limited number of tickets that can be had with the addition of $75 close in booking fees…now why would they not release those 10 award seats 3 weeks to 11 months out?…because Delta is a greedy company run by scumbags who screw their elites with no warning and make anyone without elite status less than worthless….no big loss

  7. If Delta does cap auto status through the CC, it will be watched very carefully by all the airlines AND the hotel chains. I maintain my Diamond status at Hilton with their AmEx card, the perks are amazing, but I can see that corporate bottom-line-wise it makes sense to do away with the auto qualifying. I may just blow all this travel off and take up camping around the West Coast.

  8. Greg – What if you booked $15,000 worth of refundable fares a year out, then slowly started to cancel them? Do you think Delta would revoke your Diamond status once your net MQDs fell below $15k?

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