Please see an updated version of this post, here: 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.
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 indirectly makes those miles more valuable. 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):
- 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.
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: 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. Unfortunately, starting in 2018, Delta has increased the spend requirement to $250,000 (across all Delta cards you have) to get a MQD waiver for 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 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.
Delta’s complete chart of elite benefits can be found here. I’ve pulled out a few excerpts showing some of the best 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. The following cards make it possible to earn Delta MQMs (and MQD waivers):
Charts of MQM possibilities
The fact that there are multiple 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 (consumer or business version)
The Platinum card is fairly straightforward. MQMs earned with this card go to the primary cardholder’s Delta account. Period. Not counting MQMs that are part of a welcome bonus, you can earn up to 20K MQMs per card, or 40K MQMs if you have both the business and consumer version of the card, and you spend $50K on each card within the calendar year
Delta Reserve Card
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. One person, with two Delta Reserve cards (consumer and business) can earn up to 60K MQMs in a year. With two people involved, it’s possible to earn up to 120,000 MQMs in one year!
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). Person 2 signs up for the Delta Reserve card and adds Person 1 as an authorized user.
- 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, plus any MQMs that come with the welcome bonus when signing up for those cards. And, Person 2 would gift 30,000 MQMs to Person 1.
- In total, Person 1 would earn 80,000 MQMs through spend and signup bonuses. That’s more than enough for Platinum status, which is granted at 75K MQMs. The extra MQMs would roll-over to the next year.
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.).
Platinum 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 Platinum status by alternating who gets the MQMs. Here’s how:
- Follow the steps in the previous example for year 1. Now Person 1 has Platinum 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.
- Just as above, person 2 should be able to achieve Platinum status during year 2. In the meantime, person 1 only earns enough MQMs to reach Silver 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 Platinum status until enough MQMs are earned again.
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 have been manufacturing elite status well beyond the amounts described above. And, yes, we’re enjoying the associated perks!