How to earn Delta elite status without flying in 2024

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Delta’s 2024 elite program is completely bonkers.  The justification Delta gave for making big changes was that they wanted to reduce the number of elite members so that they could offer better elite recognition.  But the new program makes elite status easier than ever before to achieve via Amex credit cards.  Previously you could earn high level status with a very high amount of credit card spend, but now you can earn up to Gold Medallion status just by having certain Amex credit cards.  Here’s what you need to know…

a man sitting in a chair with credit cards flying in the air

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 $149 $149 $149 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 Five Star President's Circle President's Circle
Waived change & cancellation fees regardless of route
2024 Choice Benefits: Choose 1: Choose 3:
Upgrade certificates 4 Regional 4 Global (or 8 Regional or 2 Global & 4 Regional)
Statement Credits (for Delta Platinum and Reserve Cardholders) $200 $500
Starbucks® Rewards Stars 4,000 Stars 4,000 Stars
Delta Sky Club Executive Membership N/A Requires all 3 Choices
MQD Boost 500 MQDs 1,000 MQDs
Gift medallion status 2 Silver 2 Gold
Bonus miles 20K 25K
Delta Vacations Flight + Hotel Cert $400 $500
Sustainable Aviation Fuel Contribution $250 $250
Delta Travel Voucher $250 $250
2025 Choice Benefits (to the best of our knowledge at this time) Choose 1: Choose 3:
Upgrade certificates 4 Regional 4 Global (or 8 Regional or 2 Global & 4 Regional)
Statement Credits (for Delta Platinum and Reserve Cardholders) $200 $500
Delta Sky Club Individual Membership N/A Requires 2 Choices
Delta Sky Club Executive Membership N/A Requires 3 Choices
MQD Boost $1,000 $2,000
Gift medallion status 2 Silver 2 Gold
Bonus miles 30K 35K
Delta Vacations Flight + Hotel Cert $400 $500
Sustainable Aviation Fuel Contribution $250? $250?
Delta Travel Voucher $300 $350
Wheels up flight credit ? ?
The elite benefits Greg has 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 premium select, or to business class on any 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 Select 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 for all members.  With Platinum and Diamond status, that benefit extends to flights originating elsewhere.  Requires Platinum or higher for free changes on awards originating outside of North America.

2024 Elite Requirements

a comparison of a chart

Starting in 2024 for the 2025 elite year, elite status will be based entirely on MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars).  MQDs are defined primarily as dollars spent on Delta flights and Delta Vacations (MQDs are earned once you actually travel, not when you purchase the travel), but they can also be earned through holding certain credit cards, spend on certain credit cards, and as Choice Benefits for Platinum and Diamond elite members.

In 2024, the following MQD amounts will be required to earn each level of elite status for the 2025 Medallion year.  Note that once the thresholds are met, you will get elite status at that time and it will last through the rest of 2024, all of 2025, and through January of 2026:

  • Silver Medallion: $5,000 MQDs
  • Gold Medallion: $10,000 MQDs
  • Platinum Medallion: $15,000 MQDs
  • Diamond Medallion: $28,000 MQDs

Shortcuts to Delta Medallion status

In addition to earning MQDs through spend on Delta (and partner) flights and vacations, the following options are available: MQD Headstarts, MQDs from spend, MQD Accelerator Choice Benefits, and MQM Rollovers (2024 only).  Each is described below…

MQD Headstarts

For each of the following cards you have in 2024, you will get $2,500 MQDs towards Medallion elite status:

It’s possible to have all four of the above cards and to therefore get $10,000 MQDs (enough for Gold status) automatically.  Note though that these are credit cards and Amex limits each person to 5 or 6 credit cards total (charge cards, or what Amex likes to call “Pay over Time” cards, like the Gold Card, Platinum Card, and Green Card do not count towards this total).  Due to the credit card limit, it can be difficult to get all four qualifying Delta cards.

MQDs from Spend

You can earn MQDs with spend as follows:

Obviously if you’re interested in earning MQDs from spend, the Delta Reserve cards are a much better option than the SkyMiles Platinum cards.  Plus, that spend will count towards the $75K needed to get unlimited Sky Club visits.

MQD Accelerator Choice Benefits

Each year, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members get to pick Choice Benefits.  Platinum members can select one Platinum Choice Benefit.  Diamond members can select one Platinum Choice Benefit and 3 Diamond Choice Benefits.

  • MQD Accelerator Platinum Choice Benefit: $1,000 MQDs
  • MQD Accelerator Diamond Choice Benefit: $2,000 MQDs

A Diamond member could select both the $1,000 MQDs for their Platinum Choice Benefit plus $2,000 MQDs for the Diamond Choice Benefit.  Additionally, they can presumably use all three of their Diamond Choice Benefits this way for a total of up to $7,000 MQDs

MQM Rollovers (2024 only)

Those who roll over MQMs into 2024 will have the following options (and they can mix and match):

  • Convert to miles at a 2 to 1 ratio.  For example, 50K rollover MQMs will become 25K redeemable miles.
  • Convert to MQDs at a 10 to 1 ratio.  For example, 50K rollover MQMs will become $5K MQDs.
  • Members with MQM Rollover balances over 100,000 can also choose to extend their 2024 Medallion Status for 1 year per every 100,000 Rollover MQMs.

Platinum and Diamond members with over 100K MQMs rolling over will most likely prefer to extend status.  However, those with fewer than 100,000 MQMs and those with leftover MQMs after using your 100K MQMs to extend status will have to choose between getting redeemable miles or MQDs.

An Easy Path to Status

Step 1: Get both Delta SkyMiles Platinum Cards

Make sure to get both of these $250 cards:

As long as you haven’t had the above cards or the consumer Delta Reserve card before, you should be able to qualify for the current welcome bonus for each card.  That should more than make up for the first year annual fee for each card.  Then, in subsequent years, perks like the annual companion ticket can make up for the annual fee.

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. For example, if you sell items at a yard sale or on eBay, 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 and you can apply for a business credit card using your own name as the business name, and your Social Security Number as your business Tax ID (also known as EIN).

If you have the two SkyMiles Platinum cards early in 2024, you will be given a $5,000 MQD “Headstart” within six to eight weeks after February 1, 2024.  Boom.  You’ll then have Silver Medallion status!

Step 2A: Sign up for each of the Delta Reserve cards

If you have enough credit card “slots” (i.e. you currently have no more than 3 Amex credit cards), then you can sign up for each of the $550 Delta Reserve cards:

As long as you haven’t had these cards before, you should be able to qualify for the welcome bonuses which will go a long way towards making up for the first year annual fees.  For subsequent years, the card perks like Sky Club access, companion tickets, etc. may make up for the annual fees.

Once you have both Delta Reserve cards, you will be credited with another $5,000 MQDs for a total of $10,000 MQDs. Boom.  You’ll then have Gold Medallion status!

Note: If you sign up in 2023 for the Delta Reserve cards, it can make sense to wait until January to spend towards the welcome bonus offers so that the spend will also count in 2024 towards both earning MQDs and towards the $75K required for unlimited Sky Club visits.

Step 2B: Upgrade to Delta Reserve cards

If you don’t have enough credit card slots to sign up for Delta Reserve cards, or you simply don’t like the idea of having so many Delta cards, another option may be to upgrade…

The terms and conditions of the MQD Headstart specifically say that you won’t earn an extra MQD Headstart if you downgrade from the Delta Reserve to the Delta Platinum card, but the terms do not spell out the opposite.  This makes me fairly confident (but not 100% sure) that upgrading from the Delta Platinum to the Reserve card will result in another MQD Headstart.

Additionally, I don’t know if Delta will let you upgrade if you’ve had your Platinum card for less than a year.  If you’re interested in this approach, I’d recommend getting the Platinum cards as soon as possible in 2023 so that you can upgrade to the Reserve cards before the end of 2024.

Important: I recommend waiting at least 60 days after getting your Delta Platinum MQD Headstart before upgrading to the Reserve card.  The MQD Headstart terms suggest that MQDs may be withdrawn if you downgrade within 60 days of the MQDs being deposited to your account.  This suggests to me the possibility that upgrading won’t result in double MQD Headstarts if done less than 60 days from when the Platinum card MQD Headstart was deposited to your Delta account.

Step 3: Spend towards higher level status

If you never set foot on a Delta flight, the above steps will get you to Gold Medallion status.  You can then put spend on one of your Delta Reserve cards to earn additional MQDs towards higher level status. This is true for the Delta Platinum cards too, but at half the MQD earning rate.

In fact, any spend you do in order to earn welcome bonuses in 2024 will add to your MQD count.  As a reminder, the Delta cards earn MQDs at the following rates:

Example: If you have $10,000 MQDs from the MQD Headstarts and you want to get to Platinum status (which requires 15,000 MQDs), you can get the extra 5,000 MQDs with $50,000 spend on Delta Reserve cards.

Additional Options for Current Elites

Those who have earned MQM rollovers into 2024 and those who have earned 2024 Platinum or Diamond status have additional options for accelerating their 2025 status in 2024:

  • Use rollover MQMs to extend status for multiple years with each 100K MQM rollover
  • Convert rollover MQMs to MQDs at a 10 to 1 ratio
  • Select MQD Accelerators as Choice Benefits

Conclusion

If you’re willing and able to sign up for a number of fairly pricey Amex cards, you can earn up to Delta Gold elite status without stepping foot on a plane and without even putting any spend on those cards.  If you want to earn a higher level of status that can be done through spend on your Delta Reserve cards.

Of course, earning elite status isn’t worth much if you don’t fly Delta often so I don’t recommend doing this if you’re not going to fly Delta.  If you do fly Delta a fair amount, you’ll earn additional MQDs from flying.  Even when redeeming SkyMiles you’ll earn MQDs (at a rate of $1 MQD per 100 Sky Miles spent).  So you’ll potentially reach an even higher level of status through the combination of credit card MQDs and flight MQDs.

Those who already have high level status and a large number of MQMs rolling over should find it exceptionally easy to keep their status, at least next year, via the 100K rollover MQM status extensions or by converting rollover MQMs to MQDs.

Overall, Delta’s new plan seems to take things completely in the wrong direction from the stated goal of reducing high level elite numbers.  Instead of making it harder to earn high level status for frequent flyers, the new program (at least for 2024) makes it easier than ever.

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