Delta announces elite enhancements and tougher eligibility criteria

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Delta has announced changes to their elite program, both positive and negative.  On the plus side, elites with upgrade certificates will be able to request those upgrades online.  Additionally, there will be valuable new Platinum and Diamond Choice Benefits.  On the other hand, the Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) required to earn Gold status or higher will increase.  Fortunately credit card spend waivers will remain the same.

Greg enjoying Delta One Suites thanks to the successful use of Global Upgrade Certificates available to Diamond elites who pick this Choice Benefit.

Delta Elite Status Overview

Delta’s descriptions of elite benefits can be found here. Here's a summarized chart:
SILVER GOLD PLATINUM DIAMOND
Miles per dollar earned on paid flights 7 8 9 11
Free domestic upgrades to 1st Class Begins 24 hours before departure Begins 72 hours before departure Begins 120 hours before departure Begins 120 hours before departure
Free domestic upgrades to Comfort+ 24 hours before departure 72 hours before departure Shortly after ticketing Shortly after ticketing
CLEAR membership discount price $109 $109 $109 Free
Dedicated phone line Priority High Priority Higher Priority VIP Line
Free companion upgrades
Free preferred seat selection
Waived bag fees
Waived same day confirmed or standby change fees
Sky Priority boarding
Sky Priority expedited checked bags
Sky Team lounge access on international flights
Hertz elite status Five Star President's Circle President's Circle
Waived change & cancellation fees regardless of route
Choice Benefits: Choose 1: Choose 3:
Bonus miles 20K 25K
Gift medallion status Silver Gold
Gift card
Sky Club access
Upgrade certificates 4 Regional 4 Global (or 8 Regional or 2 Global & 4 Regional)
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.  Info about getting value from same day changes can be found here: Leveraging Delta’s Same Day Flight Changes.
  • Complementary Preferred seat selection (choose exit row seats with lots of legroom)
  • Complementary Comfort+ Seats (more leg room, free drinks, better snacks).
  • 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 3 hours or longer. This is a choice benefit for Platinum and Diamond status.  Upgrade certificates can be applied to both paid and award tickets.
  • Global upgrade certificates. Use these to upgrade from coach to business class on any international flight when upgrade space is available. Delta will no longer confirm an upgrade in advance from cheap economy to Delta One business class. Instead, Delta will immediately upgrade you to Premium Economy and then put you on the upgrade list to business class 24 hours before your flight. This is a choice benefit for Diamond status only.  Upgrade certificates can be applied to both paid and award tickets.
  • Free award changes and cancellations. This used to be huge, but now all awards originating in North America are free to change or cancel.  Requires Platinum or higher for free changes on awards originating outside of North America.

New Medallion Elite Requirements

Beginning January 1, 2023—the earn year to qualify for 2024 Medallion Status—Delta SkyMiles will increase Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) thresholds for Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion Members. There are no changes to Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs).  MQD increases are as follows:

Medallion Tier Current Threshold for 2023 Status Qualification Threshold for 2024 Status
Silver Medallion $3,000 No Change
Gold Medallion $6,000 $8,000
Platinum Medallion $9,000 $12,000
Diamond Medallion $15,000 $20,000
Delta Elite Status Beginning in 2023, for the 2024 elite year and beyond, Gold will require $8K MQDs; Platinum will require $12K MQDs; and Diamond will require $20K MQDs
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.
  • MQMs are earned on both paid flights with Delta or Delta partners where the flight is credited to your Delta account, and award flights booked through (and flying) Delta.
  • 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 base-fare spend (e.g. doesn't include taxes) 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.
Additional Details:
  • Award Tickets: Flights booked with Delta SkyMiles for Delta's own flights earn MQMs, MQSs, and MQDs.  Award tickets earn MQDs at a rate of 1 MQD per 100 SkyMiles redeemed (e.g. 1 cent per SkyMile).
  • Partner Flights: Paid flights booked on Delta partners earn MQMs, MQSs, and MQDs as long as the member's Delta SkyMiles number is attached to the ticket.  MQDs are calculated as a percentage of miles flown rather than the amount paid.  Details, by partner, can be found here.
  • Rollovers: Most airlines require that you fully re-earn status every calendar year. Delta is mostly that way too, but with one exception: as long as you earn Silver status or higher, 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.
  • MQD Waiver: 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.  This feature requires having a Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve card, but the spend can be on other cards (such as Delta Blue or Delta Gold) or mixed across Delta cards.  Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve 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.

New Choice Benefits

Delta’s Platinum and Diamond elite status levels include “Choice Benefits” in addition to many automatic perks.  Platinum elites can choose one Choice Benefit each year they qualify, and Diamond elites can choose three.  Currently the most valuable selections are Regional Upgrade Certificates (Platinum); Global Upgrade Certificates (Diamond), 20K Bonus Miles (Platinum); 25K Bonus Miles (Diamond); Sky Club Access (Diamond); Gift Gold Status (Diamond).  Starting in 2023, when qualifying for 2024 status and beyond, there will be additional choices:

  • Diamond and Platinum Medallion Members with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card can choose a statement credit for their Card: $500 for Diamond; $200 for Platinum. Terms and conditions apply and will be provided when the American Express Statement Credit becomes available.
  • Diamond will receive two Gold Medallion Gift Statuses per selection (vs. one today); Platinum will receive two Silver Medallion Gift Statuses per selection (vs. one today)
  • A Delta Vacations Experience (flight and hotel): $500 for Diamond; $400 for Platinum
  • An MQD “head start” for the next Medallion year: $1,000 MQD boost for Diamond; $500 MQD boost for Platinum
  • Delta Travel Credit Voucher value will be increased to $250
  • A $250 sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) contribution to help in our collective goal toward decarbonizing aviation

I’m excited about the option for Diamond elites with Delta Platinum or Reserve cards to get $500 back.  The option to gift elite status to two people instead of just one is compelling as well.

Apply Upgrade Certificates Online

Platinum elites can choose Regional Upgrade Certificates as a Choice Benefit and Diamonds can additionally choose Global Upgrade Certificates.  Global Upgrade Certificates lost a lot of their value when Delta changed the rules on how they can be used (see: Delta Downgrades Upgrades).  The worst part about that change in my experience, though, has been that Delta has failed to apply the certificates correctly every time I’ve used them since the new rules took place.  The process of applying these certificates currently involves calling Delta to talk to an agent who thinks that they know what they’re doing and they’ll confidently tell you that it’s all set, but somehow it’s not.  Instead, every single time, I’ve been unable to check in for my flight due to the upgrades not being processed correctly.  I then spend hours listening to the same 3 tunes over and over while waiting for Delta to fix it.  It hasn’t been fun… at all.  This issue alone has made me turn from a Delta fan to someone looking actively towards the competition.

Now, there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon.  Delta says that upgrade certificates requests will be part of the check-out process on Delta.com early next year:

Early next year, Medallion Members with Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates will be able to request upgrades with their certificates themselves during check-out on Delta.com—a highly anticipated enhancement to upgrade certificate usability coming in 2023. Delta continues to invest in the SkyMiles Program, listening to member suggestions and evolving the experience to exceed member expectations and enable more seamless travel.

It’s possible, or even likely, that incorporating the upgrade request into the check-out process won’t actually change anything meaningful.  It’s possible that the request will still go to an agent who will fail to input the request correctly.  My hope, though, is that Delta will automate the process and eventually get it right.  Is that too much to hope for?  We’ll see.

Bottom Line

Starting in 2023, it will be harder to qualify for Gold and higher elite status through flying.  The MQD spend requirement will be higher.  That said, for people who satisfy the MQD requirement with a credit card spend waiver, it will be business as usual.  So, for me, this change doesn’t bother me at all.  On the other hand, I know many people who will be justifiably pissed off.

On the positive side, if they do it right, the ability to request the use of upgrade certificates online will be huge.  If they successfully take human error out of the equation and actually program the system correctly, upgrade certificates could become much more valuable because they’ll come with far less headache.

I’m also happy to see enhancements to Choice Benefits.  The ability to gift elite status to two people with one benefit choice is great.  Plus, Diamond Elites now have a few choices worth around $500.  As a Delta Reserve cardholder, I’ll very happily choose $500 back as one of my Diamond Choice Benefits!

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Aloha808

Will you go for diamond status then? $500 towards the Delta Reserve AF doesn’t really seem to be worth doing the spend waiver.