Manufacturing Delta status: spend big now or later?

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On January 30th 2020, Delta credit cards issued by Amex changed drastically.  As a result, we had a small window of time to make the most of our cards under the old rules.  If you have the  Delta SkyMiles Blue Amex, the Delta SkyMiles Gold consumer Amex, or the Gold Business Amex then you’ll find that most of the changes are positive.  For example, the Gold cards gain a $100 Delta Flight Credit after $10K/year spend.  On the other hand, the news is decidedly mixed for Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve cards.  On the positive side, the cards gain benefits and category bonuses.  On the negative side, the annual fees will go up and we’ll lose the ability to earn bonus miles when hitting spend targets.

This post is specifically for those who use the Delta Platinum and/or Delta Reserve card to earn Delta elite status through spend. Is there an ideal strategy?  Should we spend a lot now or wait until the new benefits kick in?

For the purpose of this discussion, the most relevant January 30th 2020 changes are:

  • Increased limits for MQM earnings
    • Old: Delta Reserve cards allowed earning up to 30K MQMs with $60K calendar year spend
    • New: Delta Reserve cards allow earning up to 60K MQMs with $120K calendar year spend
  • New category bonuses as of Jan 30th 2020:
    • The Delta Platinum consumer card will earn 2X miles at US Supermarkets and restaurants; and 3X miles at hotels and on Delta.
    • The Delta Platinum business card will earn 1.5X miles for eligible purchases of $5K or more (max 50K extra miles per calendar year), and 3X miles at hotels and on Delta.
    • The Delta Reserve consumer card will earn 3X miles on Delta.
    • The Delta Reserve business card will earn 1.5X miles on purchases after spending $150K in a calendar year, and 3X miles on Delta.
  • Decreased redeemable miles earned on big spend
    • Old: Each time you earned a Miles Boost through high spend, you would earn both MQMs and redeemable miles
    • New: Each time you earn a Status Boost through high spend, you will earn MQMs but no bonus redeemable miles.

Most of the basics regarding earning elite status through spend stay the same:

  • Delta Platinum cards earn 10K MQMs with each $25K of calendar year spend (capped at $50K spend)
  • Delta Reserve cards earn 15K MQMs with each $30K of calendar year spend (previously capped at $60K spend, but moving to $120K on Jan 30)
  • Earn an elite MQD waiver with $25K calendar year spend good for Silver, Gold, or Platinum elite status (Starting Jan 30 you need a Delta Platinum or Reserve card to earn this waiver).
  • Earn a Diamond Elite MQD waiver with $250K calendar year spend.
  • MQMs earned with Delta Reserve Status Boosts are giftable.  You can gift the 15K MQMs earned from each Status Boost to a family member or friend.

General spend strategy

With any of the Delta Platinum or Reserve cards, there is a short term opportunity to earn extra miles by reaching status boost thresholds by Jan 29th.  For example:

  • With either Delta Platinum card, spend $25K by January 29th and you’ll earn 10K MQMs and 10K bonus miles.  If you spend $50K by January 29th, you’ll earn another 10K MQMs and 10K bonus miles.
  • With either Delta Reserve card, spend $30K by January 29th and you’ll earn 15K MQMs and 15K bonus miles.  If you spend $60K by January 29th, you’ll earn another 15K MQMs and 15K bonus miles.

Assuming none of the above spend is on Delta (where each of the cards currently earn 2X miles), you’ll earn miles at the following rates if you exactly hit a spend threshold by January 29th:

  • Delta Platinum: 1.4 miles per dollar
  • Delta Reserve: 1.5 miles per dollar

With the Delta Reserve cards, you can’t do better than 1.5X on your first $30K or $60K of spend since the new category bonuses for the Reserve cards aren’t too interesting.  So, if you have either of those cards and you’re able to spend big quickly, I’d recommend doing so by January 29th.

With the Delta Platinum cards, the strategy is less clear.  Starting January 30th, you can do better than 1.4 miles per dollar, as follows:

  • Delta Platinum consumer card: Earn 2X miles at US Supermarkets and restaurants; and 3X miles at hotels and on Delta.
  • Delta Platinum business card: Earn 1.5X miles for eligible purchases of $5K or more (max 50K extra miles per calendar year), and 3X miles at hotels and on Delta.

If you tend to spend a lot at grocery stores and you have the Delta Platinum consumer card, then you’re better off waiting until January 30th to start spending.  Similarly, if you tend to spend a lot on very large purchases ($5K or more) and you have the Delta Platinum business card, then you’re better off waiting until January 30th to start spending.

Spend strategy summary: Spend big before January 30th on the Delta Reserve cards in order to earn bonus miles with each status boost.  Consider waiting until January 30th to spend big on the Delta Platinum cards in order to take advantage of new category bonuses.

See also:

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