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 does the same. They offer elite tiers ranging from Silver status to Diamond status. Silver status perks are only slightly better than those you get from holding a Delta branded credit card. Diamond perks, though, are very nice.

Delta Elite Status

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 high 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 there’s a difference between earning elite status through flying and enjoying elite status while flying.  Most who earn elite status through flying, hate to book award flights for themselves because it means flying without earning more elite qualifying miles.  Those who earn elite status through credit card spend don’t mind using miles to fly.  You still get elite perks and you don’t have to worry about losing out on status earning.

Now lets take a look at Delta’s requirements for each elite tier…

Delta Elite Status Requirements

Delta Elite Status

Definitions:

  • 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.

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 for Platinum status and below: Simply spend $25,000 or more with Delta branded credit cards and the MQD requirement goes away. 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.

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 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.

Elite Benefits

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 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.

Manufacture Delta elite status via credit cards

Thanks to a few Delta branded credit cards, its possible to earn elite status entirely through spend. The following cards make it possible to earn Delta MQMs (and MQD waivers):

Delta Reserve Business Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Earning rate: 2X Delta

Big spend bonus: Earn bonus miles and MQMs with high spend

Noteworthy perks: Miles Boost®: Earn 15K bonus miles and MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend and another 15K bonus miles and MQMs after $60K spend per calendar year. Terms apply. ⚬
Free domestic economy or first class companion certificate after first year ⚬ SkyClub access ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ free checked bags. Terms and limitations apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: An Analysis of the Delta Reserve Credit Card

Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $450

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Earning rate: 2X Delta

Big spend bonus: Earn 15K bonus miles and MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend and another 15K bonus miles and MQMs after $60K spend per calendar year. Terms apply.

Noteworthy perks: Free domestic economy or first class companion certificate after first year. SkyClub access. Priority boarding and free checked bags. Terms and Restrictions Apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: An Analysis of the Delta Reserve Credit Card

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $195

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Earning rate: 2X Delta

Big spend bonus: Earn bonus miles and MQMs with high spend

Noteworthy perks: Miles Boost®: Earn 15K bonus miles and MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend and another 15K bonus miles and MQMs after $60K spend per calendar year. Terms apply. ⚬ Free domestic economy companion certificate after first year. Priority boarding and free checked bags. Terms and Limitations Apply. See Rates & Fees

See also: An Analysis of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card

Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $195

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Earning rate: 2X Delta

Big spend bonus: Earn 10K bonus miles and MQMs (towards elite status) after $25K spend and another 10K bonus miles and MQMs after $50K spend per calendar year. Terms apply.

Noteworthy perks: Free domestic economy companion certificate after first year ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ Free checked bags See Rates & Fees

See also: An Analysis of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card

It’s theoretically possible to own all four Delta credit cards, so it’s possible for one person to manufacture up to 100,000 MQMs each calendar year:

  • Delta Platinum: Spend $50K, Get 20K MQMs
  • Delta Platinum Business: Spend $50K, Get 20K MQMs
  • Delta Reserve: Spend $60K, Get 30K MQMs
  • Delta Reserve Business: Spend $60K, Get 30K MQMs

Giftable MQMs

When you earn MQMs from the Delta Reserve card (business or consumer), you can keep those MQMs for yourself or gift them to someone else.  The ability to gift MQMs makes a number of scenarios possible for achieving elite status…

Scenarios

Here are a number of options for earning status through spend with Delta credit cards:

Silver status (requires 25K MQMs)

This can be accomplished with a single card.  Spend $60K per year on the Delta Reserve card and you’ll earn 30K MQMs each year, plus a MQD waiver.  Even without flying any paid Delta flights, you’ll roll-over 5K MQMs each year and will eventually earn Gold status!

Another option is to spend $50K on a Delta Platinum card.  This will generate 20K MQMs.  You’ll still need to earn 5K MQMs through flying (or through roll-over from a previous year).

Gold status (requires 50K MQMs)

This requires two cards.  Spend $60K on the Delta Reserve card plus $50K on the Delta Platinum card.  Together you’ll earn 50K MQMs.

Gold status (with a little help from a friend)

Another option is for a couple to each get their own Delta Reserve card and to spend $60K on each.  30K MQMs can be gifted from one person to the other so that one person ends up with all 60K MQMs.  One advantage of this approach over the one above is that each person will get Delta Reserve perks such as SkyClub access when flying Delta, and an annual first class companion certificate.  The obvious downside is that it requires paying the Delta Reserve’s hefty annual fee twice.

Platinum status (requires 75K MQMs)

This requires three cards.  Spend $60K on both the Delta Reserve consumer and Delta Reserve business card, plus spend $50K on the Delta Platinum card.  altogether you’ll earn 80K MQMs.  A big downside to this is paying for a second Delta Reserve card.

Platinum status (with a little help from a friend)

Another option is for a couple to each get their own Delta Reserve card and to spend $60K on each.  30K MQMs can be gifted from one person to the other so that one person ends up with all 60K MQMs.  And that personal also has a Platinum card with which they spend $50K and earn 20K MQMs.  In total, one person would end up with 80K MQMs.

Platinum status (two player mode: two for the price of one)

This 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 Platinum status by alternating who gets the MQMs. Here’s how:

  • Year 1: Person A spends $60K on Delta Reserve & $50K on Delta Platinum. Person B spends $60K on Delta Reserve and gifts 30K MQMs to Person A.  Now Person A has 80K MQMs which gives them Platinum status for the rest of year 1, and all of year 2, and through the end of January of year 3.
  • Year 2: Person B spends $60K on Delta Reserve & $50K on Delta Platinum. Person A spends $60K on Delta Reserve and gifts 30K MQMs to Person B.  Now Person B has 80K MQMs which gives them Platinum status for the rest of year 2, and all of year 3, and through the end of January of year 4.
  • Year 3: Person A’s Platinum status runs out Feb 1, so as quickly as possible, Person A spends $60K on Delta Reserve & $50K on Delta Platinum. Person B spends $60K on Delta Reserve and gifts 30K MQMs to Person A.  Now Person A has 80K MQMs which gives them Platinum status for the rest of year 3, and all of year 4, and through the end of January of year 5.
  • etc.

Diamond Status (125K MQMs + $250K spend for the MQD waiver)

It’s possible to earn Diamond status through spend alone, but it’s pretty difficult.  Through spend alone, one person can earn at most 100K MQMs.  Options for additional MQMs include: gifted MQMs from another Delta Reserve cardholder; MQMs from flying paid flights; MQMs from previous year rollover; etc.

The Delta MQD requirement is much harder to achieve.  To get a Diamond status MQD waiver, you need to complete $250,000 in Delta credit card spend within the calendar year.  If you have all four Delta cards that earn bonus MQMs, and you max out their MQM earnings, you’ll have reached $220K of spend.  You’ll need $30K more to get your MQD waiver.

This year, via manufactured spend techniques, Ive already completed the required $250K spend for Diamond status.  And, I’ve already applied my 2019 global upgrade certificates for an upcoming round-trip flight to Europe with my wife.  Surprisingly, all four upgrades cleared instantly (e.g. I didn’t have to be put on the waitlist for the upgrades).

Is it worth it?  For most people, probably not.  Platinum status is pretty darn good and far, far easier to achieve.  That said, I do enjoy the extra perks for being Diamond!

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 fly Delta often. As a result, it is worth it to us.

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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Sam
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Sam

@Greg- Does Delta waive the award cancellation fee only for 3 days in advance for Platinum/Diamond members? Or will they cancel day of also? Thanks!

Sam
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Sam

@Greg- Kinda of a shame that Delta has been granting waivers to exempt from the $250,000 spend requirement. It was pretty aggressive to start with. Hopefully in the near future they drop the dollar amount to a more reasonable amount.

Owen
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Owen

How do you gift MQMs? Nice article; thanks for writing it.

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[…] Please see an updated version of this post, here: How to manufacture Delta elite status. […]

MikeO
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MikeO

I’ve been a Diamond for several years now primarily through this method. However, I recently decided to give it up. Searching for award tickets this year has convinced me that Delta has devalued skymiles to an absurd level. Two quick examples: I was looking for one way ticket PHX-EZE in early Dec. Cheapest First Class w/ DL was 280k miles. AA was 57.5k and UA 60k. Then I searched domestic one way MOT-PHX: DL 52k, UA 12k. There are other searches I’ve performed throughout the past couple of years (PHX-JNB) that confirm these results. How can one of the three major airlines be so much higher than their competition? It breaks my heart to leave (I became a million miler this year) and I love the GU certs, but the opportunity cost of buying 250k skymiles vs UA, AA or any hotel chain is just too much.

David
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David

My wife and I have been flying Delta even when the price is higher. We fly domestically about 3 times a year, always first class. And we fly business class to southeast Asia twice a year.

But thinking about it, First Class and Business class get us most of the benefit of status so if we do occasionally use Delta, it won’t matter much if we lose our status.

So I plan to choose my carrier mostly on cost, reviews, and personal experience.

Kevin
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Kevin

This might be a little off topic. I recently (about 1 week ago) closed a Delta Gold Business card to avoid the annual fee. Yesterday, I tried applying for Delta Platinum (tried both personal and business), and the popup showed up indicating I wouldn’t be getting the signup bonus because of account open/close history, etc. I assume this ineligibility is due to the fact that I just closed the Gold account. Looking back, maybe I should have opened the Platinum first. Just thought to share …

Also, any idea how long I will need to wait to become eligible again? Thanks.

Roger
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Roger

I was considering the same method to get platinum status. How much do you actually spend in order to get the status (ms fees – miles value)?

adfsdfsd
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adfsdfsd

how do you justify the DTW prices for DL given that DL charges 1.5x – 3x as much for flights as other airlines, and often penalizes DTW flyers through married segment logic, and has tossed the award chart making searching for awards a waste of time except when there’s flash sales?

Do you really think it’s worth manufacturing status just to get an upgrade maybe once in a while?

Peter
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Peter

Thanks for the write up. You always have the most roundabout, fascinating analyses.

My gut already knows that this isn’t gonna be worth it for me, but I am still curious how much it’d cost me to do this if I were ever interested. Let’s say we aim to achieve diamond via pure MS:

– $1,640 in credit card annual fees: all four Delta cards plus a Reserve for a friend
– $310,000 in spend on these cards… $250,000 for self and $60,000 for friend
– Assuming we value Delta miles as highly as MR points (a stretch) and have a Blue Business Plus, the opportunity cost is at least 310,000 MR points. It’s possible that the opportunity cost was higher if some of the spend qualify for better bonus. That’s a minimum of $6,200
– Optionally, for those who don’t have gigantic organic spend, let’s assume a 1% cost to MS. That’s $3,100

So, the 1-year Diamond status would come with a minimum cost of $7,840 for those with large organic spend, and $10,940 for MS purists. You will offset a bit with the other perks of the credit cards, but probably not much.

I’m guessing that nobody can possibly get this much value out of the Diamond status by taking only one or two trips. So, in order for this to be worthwhile, one must travel with Delta at a certain frequency, which in turn reduces the MS burden.

Well, at the end of the day, at least those who hold both Diamond status and four Delta Amex cards are for sure at the top of any upgrade list 🙂

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[…] I’ve done some mileage running with same day turns in the past.  When doing them with friends, it can be a lot of fun.  When doing it alone — not so much.  It’s been a couple of years now since I’ve done anything like that.  I now earn my status almost entirely through credit card spend.  For details about how that works, please see my recent post: How to manufacture Delta elite status. […]

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[…] chasing Delta status, this would be a key tool to have in your wallet. For more on that, see: How to manufacture Delta Elite Status, recently […]

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[…] On the other hand, you might want to consider whether it makes more sense to fly or spend. See: Delta mileage running: flying vs. spending for […]