Airline elite status is great to have if you can get it easily. With elite status you can get free checked bags, free premium seat selection, reduced change fees, chances for first class upgrades, and much more. The higher your level of elite status, the more perks you get.
Delta knows that their SkyMiles members love elite status and so they send end of year offers to members who are short of reaching the next level of status. These offers are always terrible deals. In almost every case, Delta will charge you far more to reach the next level of status than the value you’ll get.
Rather than pay Delta to reach the next level of status, some people mileage run. A mileage run is where you book a flight just to reach your elite status goals. This can be much cheaper than paying for Delta’s status boost, but you do have to actually fly the route in order to earn the elite qualifying dollars and miles. Not everyone enjoys or has the time to fly just for status. And if you’re doing this near the end of the year, you’re likely to find higher ticket prices and maybe bad flying weather. For Delta fans, there’s a better alternative, but first some background…
Delta Elite Status Requirements
- MQMs: Medallion Qualifying Miles can be roughly thought of as the actual miles flown. 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 the number of segments flown. Unless you fly a very large number of short flights, you are unlikely to earn elite status through MQSs.
- MQDs: Medallion Qualifying Dollars are the sum total of your spend on Delta-marketed flights.
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 for Platinum status and below: Simply spend $25,000 or more with Delta credit cards and the MQD requirement goes away (Starting Jan 30 2020, you must be a Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve cardholder, but the spend can be across any Delta cards). Even better, several Delta branded credit cards offer bonus MQMs for high spend, so it is possible to tackle both requirements (MQMs and MQDs) through spend without setting foot on a plane. Unfortunately, Delta requires $250,000 in credit card spend (across all Delta cards you have) to get a MQD waiver for top tier Diamond status.
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 elite status 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 and meet Gold MQD requirements, 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.
Delta’s chart of elite benefits can be found here. Here’s a summarized chart I created:
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 drinks, better snacks).
- 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. Use these to upgrade from coach to business class on any international flight when upgrade space is available. In many cases the upgrade space won’t be available at the time of booking, but you can then waitlist for the upgrade. My wife and I have had nearly 100% success in upgrading this way, but we’ve been very lucky: most of our upgraded flights have been between the US and Europe where upgrades are much easier to score than with longer distance flights (such as to Asia, South Africa, or Australia). This is a choice benefit for Diamond status only.
Delta credit card status boosts
Delta is the only major carrier in the US that lets you earn elite status entirely from credit cards. There are two ways to earn status boosts from Delta credit cards: welcome bonus offers and big-spend bonuses. There are four Delta branded credit cards from American Express that offer the ability to earn status boosts: personal and business Delta Platinum cards, and personal and business Delta Reserve cards.
Welcome bonus offers
At the time of this writing, each of the Platinum and Reserve cards offer 5K or 10K bonus MQMs as part of their welcome bonus. Note that having one of these cards doesn’t stop you from getting a different one. It’s theoretically possible to get all four. Here are the current best public offers:
Big spend bonuses
Each of the Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve cards offer the ability to earn MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) as well as a MQD (Medallion Qualifying Dollars) waiver with high spend within the calendar year:
- Delta Platinum and Delta Platinum Business:
- Spend $25K, get 10K MQMs
- Spend $50K, get another 10K MQMs
- Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve Business:
- Spend $30K, get 15K MQMs
- Spend $60K, get another 15K MQMs
- Spend $90K, get another 15K MQMs (this boost begins Jan 30 2020)
- Spend $120K, get another 15K MQMs (this boost begins Jan 30 2020)
- Earn MQD Waiver (e.g. waive the Delta spend requirement to reach elite status):
- MQD Waiver for Silver through Platinum Elite Status: Spend $25K across one or more Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve cards
- MQD Waiver for Diamond Elite Status: Spend $250K across one or more Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve cards
Recently I posted “5 easy ways to increase credit card spend without going broke.” Please see that post for details, but here’s a short version:
- Pay federal taxes. Use your credit card for only 1.87% in fees. If you over pay, this is a way of increasing credit card spend while giving the government a loan. You’ll get back the excess after filing end of year taxes. See our guide to paying taxes by credit card.
- Pay bills with Plastiq for 2.5% in fees. See our complete guide to Plastiq credit card payments.
- Save for college or pay student loans with Gift of College gift cards. You can buy these in-store for as little as 1.19% in fees. For complete details see: Miles for College and Best options for buying Gift of College gift cards.
- Fund microloans with Kiva. See: Increase Credit Card Spend (and do good) with Kiva and Kivalens.
- Organize events with friends. Pay for group activities and have your friends pay you back for their share.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you decide to give the government a loan by overpaying taxes at 1.87% in fees. In that case, here’s the cost to hit the various spend thresholds described above:
- $3K (spend requirement to earn welcome bonus on some cards) at 1.87% in fees: $59.10
- $5K (spend requirement to earn welcome bonus on some cards) at 1.87% in fees: $93.50
- $25K (Earn MQD waiver and 10K MQMs with Delta Platinum card): $467.50
- $30K (Earn MQD waiver and 15K MQMs with Delta Reserve card): $561
The above “prices” are far cheaper than the amount Delta would charge you to buy and end of year status boost. And, in most cases, the “prices” are cheaper or at least as good as most mileage run prices but without having to actually fly to earn status. On the other hand, if you give the IRS a loan by over paying taxes with your credit card, then you have to have the money available to pay your credit card bill while you wait for your end of year tax refund. It’s also worth considering the “cost of money”: While the government has your money, you won’t be earning interest on it.
Easy Delta elite status boost
As shown above, Delta credit cards can make it easy to earn a status boost to reach the level of status you want. Let’s look at a few example scenarios:
Scenario: You don’t have a Delta Platinum or Reserve card and you’re short 5,000 MQMs from the next level of status
Solution: Sign up for a card that offers 5,000 MQMs as part of the welcome offer. If necessary, use one of the techniques described above to meet the minimum spend requirements before the end of the year.
Scenario: You have a Delta Platinum card and you’re short 10,000 MQMs from the next level of status
Solution: Use one of the techniques described above to reach $25,000 in calendar year spend (or to reach $50,000 in spend if you’ve already spend $25K).
Scenario: You have a Delta Platinum card and you’re short 15,000 MQMs from the next level of status
Solution: Either sign up new for the Delta Reserve card or upgrade your Delta Platinum card to the Delta Reserve card and then spend $30,000 before the end of the year.
It’s incredibly common to reach the end of the year and realize that you haven’t quite reached the level of elite status you want. Sure, you could fork over huge amounts of cash to Delta to pay your way to the difference, but there are better ways. Mileage running can be a fun option if you can bake in a little vacation with the trip, but I think that credit card spend and/or welcome bonus options are easier.