Delta Platinum elite status without flying

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Delta Medallion Platinum Elite Status offers far better chances than Silver or Gold status of free domestic upgrades to first class. And, when you’re really lucky (as I was in this photo), you’ll find yourself on an internationally configured plane with lie-flat seats in first class (AKA Delta One).

Amex and Delta are offering fantastic welcome bonuses for their ultra-premium Delta Reserve cards.  In the past it has frequently been possible to get 10,000 MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) when signing up for the Delta Reserve card.  As they did around this time last year, though, the Delta Reserve welcome bonuses currently (through 4/28/21) include 80,000 Skymiles plus 20,000 MQMs.  MQMs are the primary currency you need to achieve Delta Medallion elite status.  With the welcome bonus offers available at the time of this writing, getting meaningful Delta elite status is easy… if you don’t mind spending some cash.

The idea here is that you can earn near-top tier status without flying so that when you do fly, you’ll be able to enjoy the perks.  Here’s what you need to know..

About Delta’s Platinum elite status

The image above shows the requirements for reaching each level of Delta elite status.  Every level of status offers basic perks like free domestic upgrades (when available), premium seat selection, a free checked bag, etc.  Higher levels of status make upgrades more and more likely.  Also note the following details:

  • $25,000 spend on any Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve cards within a calendar year will get you a MQD waiver which means that you don’t need to earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars (spend on Delta flights) to reach elite status up to Platinum status.
  • Diamond Status requires $250,000 spend across one or more Delta cards in order to get a MQD Waiver.  Due to that very high requirement, the rest of this post focuses on earning Platinum status instead.

Platinum status has several advantages over Gold status, including:

  • Better chance of complementary first class upgrades.  Free upgrades begin processing 5 days before departure (vs. 3 days prior for Gold members and 1 day for Silver).
  • Upgrade to Comfort Plus immediately after booking.
  • Choice Benefits: Pick one benefit each year such as 4 regional upgrade certificates (which are now more valuable than ever before) or 20,000 redeemable SkyMiles.
  • Free award changes and redeposits.  This last benefit is no longer as exciting as it used to be because Delta now allows free award changes and redeposits for all members on itineraries originating in North America.  With Platinum status or higher, you continue to get that benefit for flights that originate outside of North America.
  • Hertz President’s Circle elite status

Gold and Platinum elites also get waived same day change and standby fees.

Delta Reserve perks and status boosts

Delta Sky Club at Washington National Airport (DCA)

Delta Reserve credit cards come with several valuable perks such as Delta Sky Club and Amex Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta, 2 Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes per year, upgrade priority over those with the same status and fare class, and annual domestic 1st class companion tickets.

Delta Reserve cards also offer Status Boosts: Earn 15,000 MQM bonuses when you complete $30K, $60K, $90K, and $120K spend within a calendar year.  With one card, you can earn up to 60,000 MQMs through spend alone.  With two cards (consumer and business), you can earn up to 120,000 MQMs through spend alone.

In 2021, you’ll earn even more. For 2021 only, Delta and Amex are offering 25% more MQMs from Status Boosts.  That means that you’ll earn 18,750 MQMs from each Delta Reserve status boost in 2021.

Read our in-depth analysis of the Delta Reserve cards here: Delta Reserve Complete Guide.

Plan Overview

The idea here is that it’s possible to earn near top level Delta elite status with a combination of MQMs from the welcome bonus plus big spend on the Delta Reserve card:

  1. Sign up for Delta Reserve card in order to earn 20,000 MQMs and 80,000 bonus miles
  2. Spend a huge amount in order to earn additional MQMs through Delta Reserve Status Boosts.  Pay federal taxes at 2% in fees. If you overpay, you’ll later receive a refund as a check or direct deposit.
  3. Earn Platinum elite status for almost 2 years: If you earn Platinum elite status early this year, you’ll have that status for all of the rest of this year (2021), all of 2022, and through January of 2023.

In this post, I’ll cover two versions of this plan.  One version, the one-card solution, requires signing up for only one Delta Reserve card.  The two-card solution requires signing up for two Delta Reserve cards: one business card and one consumer card.

Plan Details

Sign up for 1 or 2 Delta Reserve cards

It’s possible to sign up for both the consumer version and the business version in order to pickup lots of redeemable SkyMiles and a total of 40,000 MQMs.  Here are the current welcome bonus offers:

Card Offer
Delta SkyMiles® Reserve for Business Credit Card
80K miles + 20K MQMs + $200 statement credit
80K miles + 20K MQMs + $200 statement credit after $5K spend in the first 3 months. Terms and limitations apply. (Rates & Fees)
(Offer Expires 4/28/2021)

$550 Annual Fee

Recent better offer: None

Unfortunately, the $550 annual fee is not waived the first year.  After the first year, you can, of course, downgrade to a cheaper Delta card or cancel altogether.  The business card version of the offer includes a $200 statement credit (at the time of this writing) and so that’s obviously the better option for the 1-card solution.

Applying for Business Credit Cards: You must have a business to apply, but even a simple sole proprietorship will work. It's likely that you have a business even if you don't realize it.
More:You must have a business (but you probably do): In order to sign up for a business credit card, you must have a business. That said, it's common for people to have businesses without realizing it. If you sell items at a yard sale or on eBay, for example, then you have a business. Similar examples include: consulting, writing (e.g. blog authorship, planning your first novel, etc.), handyman services, owning rental property, renting on airbnb, driving for Uber or Lyft, etc. In any of these cases, your business is considered a Sole Proprietorship unless you form a corporation of some sort.
When you apply for a business credit card as a sole proprietor, you can use your own name as your business name, use your own address and phone as the business' address and phone, and your social security number as the business' Tax ID / EIN. Alternatively, you can get a proper Tax ID / EIN from the IRS for free, in about a minute, through this website.
Is it OK to use business cards for personal expenses? Anecdotally, almost everyone I know uses business cards for personal expenses. That said, the terms in most business card applications state that you should use the card only for business use. Also, some consumer credit card protections do not apply to business cards. My advice: don't use the card for personal expenses if you're not comfortable doing so.

Here’s a summary comparison of the costs and benefits of the welcome offers:

1 Card (Business) 2 Cards
Card Annual Fees $550 $1100
Statement Credits $200 $200
Net Fees $350 $900
Bonus Miles Earned 80,000 160,000
MQMs Earned 20,000 40,000

Spend Big

In 2021 only, Delta Reserve cards offer 18,750 MQM bonuses (vs 15,000 MQMs in most years) when you complete $30K, $60K, $90K, and $120K spend within a calendar year.

In order to earn Delta Platinum status, assuming you have no other way of earning MQMs, this plan calls for spending a total of $90,000 in the one-card solution or $60,000 in the two-card solution.

An easy option at this time of year is to use the Delta Reserve card to pay federal income taxes. You can even overpay taxes now and get a refund once you file your annual tax return.  The IRS doesn’t mind getting a loan (but I can’t rule out the possibility that this would increase chances of getting audited)

At the time of this writing, each of the 3 primary tax payment processors charge just under 2% in fees for paying taxes.  Here are the scenarios, assuming 2% in fees:

1 Card 2 Cards
Amount Paid in Taxes $88,270 $58,850 ($29,425 per card)
Tax Payment Fees (2%) $1,765 $1,177
Total Spend >$90K >$60K ($30K per card)
Miles Earned from Spend 90,000 60,000
MQMs from Status Boosts 56,250 37,500

The 1-card solution requires much more spend, but it also earns more miles and MQMs than the 2-card solution.

For more about paying taxes by credit card, see: Complete guide to paying taxes via credit card, debit card, or gift card

Platinum Medallion Elite Status Complete!

Platinum status requires 75,000 MQMs.  If you follow the above suggestions you’ll earn slightly more than 75,000 MQMs.  And, fortunately, for anyone who earns elite status, Delta rolls over extra MQMs from one year to the next and so those extra MQMs won’t be wasted if you pursue elite status again next year.  If you complete either of the above plans early this year, you’ll have Platinum status for all of the rest of this year (2021), all of 2022, and through January of 2023.

Here’s a summary of the two solutions:

1 Card 2 Cards
Net Card Fees $350 $900
Fees from Spend (2%) $1,765 $1,177
Total Fees $2,115 $2,077
Miles Earned 170,000 220,000
MQMs Earned 76,250 77,500

Costs vs Miles

One way to help justify spending so much money towards elite status is to look at the value of the redeemable miles you’ll earn along the way.  It can be hard to justify spending a lot for hard-to-quantify elite benefits, but redeemable miles have tangible value towards flights.

Our Reasonable Redemption Values (RRVs) currently lists Delta SkyMiles at 1.3 cents.  That means that we believe that it is reasonable to expect to get 1.3 cents per mile or better value when redeeming miles for award flights.  Alternatively, you could more conservatively estimate the miles as being worth 1 cent each since that’s the value you get when using Delta’s “Pay with Miles” feature.

Let’s look at the two plans compared to the two valuations of Delta miles earned:

1 Card 2 Cards
Total Fees $2,115 $2,077
Miles Earned 170,000 220,000
Mile Value at 1.3 Cents Per Mile $2,210 $2,860
“Profit” $2,210-$2,115 = $95 $2,860-$2,077 = $783
Mile Value at 1 Cent Per Mile $1,700 $2,200
“Profit” $1,700-$2,115 = -$415 $2,200-$2,077 = $123

As you can see above, if you value miles at 1.3 cents each, then either solution results in a “profit” where the value of miles earned exceeds the costs involved in buying Platinum status.  If you value miles at only 1 cent per mile, though, you’ll have a net loss of just over $400 with the 1-card solution.  In my opinion, though, $400 is a bargain for nearly 2 years of Platinum elite status plus one year of lounge access (assuming you’ll make good use of both).

One Card or Two? Which Solution is Better?

Here again is a summary comparison of the two solutions:

1 Card 2 Cards
Net Card Fees $350 $900
Fees from Spend (2%) $1,765 $1,177
Total Fees $2,115 $2,077
Miles Earned 170,000 220,000
MQMs Earned 76,250 77,500

Total costs of the two solutions and MQMs earned are similar, but the 2-card solution offers 50,000 more miles.  That makes the two card solution appear to be better, but I think that the one card solution is better for the following reasons:

  • If Skymiles are important to you, you’d end up with more total Skymiles by going with the one-card solution and separately signing up for the Delta Platinum or Delta Gold card.
  • Amex generally doesn’t let you get a sign up bonus again for a card you’ve had before. If you get both Delta Reserve cards now, you won’t be able to get the bonuses on these cards again for a very long time.  With the one-card solution, though, you could get an MQM bonus again next year, or the year after, that by signing up for the other card.  Plus, this is a great way to extend the card’s perks (like Sky Club access): You could keep one Delta Reserve card for a year, cancel it and then sign up for the other Delta Reserve card.  This way you’ll get two years of benefits from the two cards instead of just one year of benefits as would happen with the two-card solution.

Consider cancelling after a year (or two)

If you go with the two card solution, it doesn’t make much sense to keep both cards more than a year unless you plan to manufacture Delta Diamond status (see: Manufacturing Delta elite status in 2020 and beyond).  Most of the perks, such as Sky Club access are duplicative.  For example, it doesn’t do you any good to have two reasons to have access to the Delta Sky Club.

You could cancel the card you don’t want or downgrade it to one of the cheaper Delta cards.  One downside of downgrading is that you then won’t be eligible for a welcome bonus for the card you downgrade to.  For example, if you decide you want a Delta Platinum card, you’re better off applying new for that card in order to get the welcome bonus rather than downgrading to it.

Whether or not to keep one Delta Reserve card long term is a tougher question.  Yes, this card has great perks, but you can find even more perks, including Delta Sky Club and Centurion Lounge access, on the identically priced Amex Platinum card (not to be confused with the Delta Platinum card).  And, unlike the Delta Reserve card, the Platinum card comes with airline fee credits and other credits to help offset the annual fee.

The biggest benefits that the Reserve card has over the Amex Platinum are the annual first class companion certificate, the ability to earn Delta elite status through spend, and the ability to get free upgrades if you don’t have Delta status.  In other words, the Delta Reserve card makes the most sense for those who are sure to use the companion certificate towards good value each year and/or who covet Delta elite benefits.  Others may do better with an Amex Platinum card or the lower priced Delta Platinum card.

One way to decide is to use our spreadsheet to compare similar cards.  See: Which Ultra Premium Cards are Keepers?

Conclusion

As shown above, there’s currently a short term opportunity to buy Platinum status for around $2,100.  In exchange, you’ll get Platinum status perks, redeemable Skymiles worth over $1,700, and several valuable Delta Reserve card perks.  In my opinion, if you can float the high spend required to get this done AND if you’re a frequent Delta flyer who’s eager to get a taste of Platinum elite status then this deal may be for you.  If you don’t check both of those boxes, I don’t recommend this approach.

See also:

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