How to manufacture Delta elite status

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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 SkyMiles® Platinum Business Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $250

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Brand
Other

Earning rate: 3X Delta ⚬ 3X purchases made directly with hotels ⚬ 1.5X on purchases of $5K or more (max 50K extra miles per year)

Big spend bonus: Spend $25,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year and earn 10,000 Medallion(R) Qualification Miles (MQMs); spend a total of $50,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in a calendar year and earn an additional 10,000 MQMs ⚬ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ Terms and limitations apply.

Noteworthy perks: Domestic economy companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) each year upon card renewal ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free ⚬ Terms and Limitations Apply. (Rates & Fees)

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $250

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Travel
Dine
Grocery
Brand

Earning rate: 3X Delta ⚬ 3X purchases made directly with hotels ⚬ 2X restaurants ⚬ 2X US Supermarkets

Big spend bonus: Earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year ⚬ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K
spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ Terms apply.

Noteworthy perks: Domestic economy companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) each year upon card renewal ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free ⚬ Terms and Limitations Apply. (Rates & Fees)

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Brand

Earning rate: 3X Delta

Big spend bonus: Earn 15,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $30,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to four times per year ⚬ Complimentary upgrades ⚬  $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ⚬ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K
spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ Terms apply.

Noteworthy perks: Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ⚬ SkyClub access ⚬ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ⚬ Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta ⚬ Complimentary upgrades ⚬  $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Delta Reserve complete guide

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve for Business Credit Card

Annual Fee: $550

Card Type: Amex Credit Card

Base
Brand
Other

Earning rate: 3X Delta ⚬ 1.5X on all spend per calendar year after spending $150K

Big spend bonus: Earn 15K MQMs (towards elite status) after $30K spend up to four times per year ⚬ Medallion Qualifying Dollar waiver (up to Platinum status) with $25K spend across one or more Delta cards (or $250K spend for Diamond status) ⚬ After you spend $150K in a calendar year, earn 1.5X miles per dollar on eligible purchases for the rest of the year (excludes Delta purchases after you meet the $150K requirement) ⚬ Terms and limitations apply.

Noteworthy perks: Domestic economy or first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) after card renewal ⚬ SkyClub access ⚬ 2 Delta SkyClub one-time guest passes ⚬ Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta ⚬ Complimentary upgrades ⚬ $100 Global Entry fee credit every 4 years (or 4.5 years for TSA Precheck) ⚬ Priority boarding ⚬ First checked bag free. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)

See also: Delta Reserve complete guide

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.

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