I’ve previously written in depth about how it’s possible to earn high level Delta Elite status through credit card spend alone (see: Manufacturing Delta elite status in 2020 and beyond). The problem is that a huge amount of spend is required in order to earn high level status. Fortunately, there’s a way to cut that spend in half, per-person, by sharing the spend burden with a friend. With this technique, you’ll alternate each year which “player” earns high level status and there will likely be gaps in each person’s status, but overall it should be possible to get most benefits most of the time. This is especially true if the two players frequently fly together.
Please note that any technique for earning high level airline elite status is worth pursuing only if you fly that airline often. With Delta, for example, people who fly enough to earn bottom-tier Silver status the old fashioned way (through flying) may do very well with spending their way to Gold or Platinum status. Those who don’t come anywhere close to earning Silver status each year, probably don’t fly enough for it to be worth the cost and effort.
Delta Elite Status Overview
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 does the same. They offer elite tiers ranging from Silver status to Diamond status. Silver status perks are only slightly better than those you get from holding a Delta branded credit card. Gold status is better, and Platinum status is much better. Top tier Diamond status is really terrific, but it’s also extremely hard to achieve.
Delta Elite Status Requirements
- 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.
- 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.
Delta Elite Benefits
|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:|
|Gift medallion status||Silver||Gold|
|Sky Club access||✔|
|Upgrade certificates||4 Regional||4 Global (or 8 Regional or 2 Global & 4 Regional)|
- 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.
Mileage Running from Home
“Mileage Running” is where people fly to earn airline elite status and other rewards. A classic mileage run consists of cheap airfare for long distance flights, often with bizarre routings (just to make the distance longer). Meanwhile “mileage running from home” (a term I coined in 2012) is where people find ways to earn elite status without flying. Delta, for example, makes it possible to earn high level elite status through credit card spend alone.
There are four Delta branded credit cards that reward you with Elite Status Boosts (MQMs) for meeting high spend thresholds: The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, the Delta Platinum Business card, the Delta Reserve card, and the Delta Reserve Business card. With each Platinum card, you get an Elite Status Boost of 10,000 MQMs after $25K in spend (within a calendar year), and another 10,000 MQMs after $50K in spend. Similarly, with each Reserve card, you get 15,000 MQMs after $30K in spend, and another 15,000 MQMs after $60K, $90K, and $120K in spend.
For this post, I’ll focus only on the Delta Reserve cards. These cards have unique Elite Status Boosts: MQMs from spend are giftable. This is the key to making a 2-player strategy successful.
Justifying the Delta Reserve price-tag
Delta Reserve cards cost $550 per year. That’s not exactly cheap. But the cards are loaded with benefits that could justify that fee. For a full description of benefits, please see this post: Delta Reserve complete guide. Here I’ll focus only on a few key benefits:
- Delta SkyClub and Amex Centurion Lounge access when flying Delta: At the time of this writing, Delta charges $545 per year for individual SkyClub access. Access via the Delta Reserve card is better (because it includes Centurion Lounges) but the card costs only $5 more per year. If you fly Delta often enough to care about elite status, then I expect that SkyClub & Centurion Lounge access will be extremely valuable to you. That said, if you also have an Amex Platinum card (not to be confused with the Delta Platinum card), you’ll get SkyClub and Centurion Lounge access from that card, so the Reserve doesn’t add much value in that area.
- Domestic first class companion certificate (subject to taxes & fees) each year upon card renewal. For details, see: Delta companion certificates quick guide. This can easily save you at least $300 per year, but there is a big catch: Companion certificates only work on the cheapest fare classes, and these always sell out first. As a result, it can be difficult to find availability unless you plan way in advance.
Two player mode
If you and a friend are both interested in Delta elite status, it’s possible to work together to make the most of your Delta credit card spend. The foundation of the two player version is the fact that MQMs earned with the Delta Reserve card are giftable. If you and a friend each have a Reserve card, you can alternate each year who gets the MQMs. Once elite status is earned, it is good for the rest of the current calendar year, all of the next calendar year, and through January of the year after that. As a result, a two-player team can alternate which player earns high level status each year while minimizing time with low status.
If the two of you travel together frequently, then having off-years with lower status shouldn’t be much of a problem. When two people fly together on Delta, upgrades are based on the highest level elite member.
In this example, let’s assume that you each fly enough to earn 25,000 MQMs per year (Silver status) and that you each have a Delta Reserve card. Here’s how you can both earn Platinum elite status through spend:
- 2022: Spend $60K on each Delta Reserve card. Each player earns a MQD Waiver (up to Platinum status) and 30K MQMs, but Player 2 gifts those MQMs to Player 1. Combined with 25K MQMs from flying, Player 1 now has 85K MQMs and Platinum status through Jan 2024. 10K MQMs will rollover to next year.
- 2023: Spend $60K on each Delta Reserve card. Each player earns a MQD Waiver (up to Platinum status) and 30K MQMs, but Player 1 gifts those MQMs to Player 2. Combined with 25K MQMs from flying, Player 2 now has 85K MQMs and Platinum status through Jan 2025. 10K MQMs will rollover to next year. Player 1 will also have 10K MQMs roll over to next year thanks to earning 35K MQMs (25K from flying and 10K roll-over).
- 2024: Spend $60K on one card and $30K on the other. Make sure that all of the resulting 45K MQMs go to Player 1. With 25K MQMs from flying plus 10K roll-over, Player 1 now has 80K MQMs and Platinum status through Jan 2026. 5K MQMs will rollover to next year. Player 2 will have 10K MQMs roll over to next year thanks to earning 35K MQMs (25K from flying and 10K roll-over).
- 2025: Spend $60K on one card and $30K on the other. Make sure that all of the resulting 45K MQMs go to Player 2. With 25K MQMs from flying plus 10K roll-over, Player 2 now has 80K MQMs and Platinum status through Jan 2027. 5K MQMs will rollover to next year. Player 1 will also have 5K MQMs roll over to next year thanks to earning 30K MQMs (25K from flying and 5K roll-over).
By following the above plan, each player would only be eligible for Platinum Choice Benefits every other year. Still, one player would have a selection each year. If each player always selected 4 Regional Upgrade Certificates, then it would be possible for the two to fly together once per year on a round-trip with upgrade certificates applied. You can even apply the upgrade certificates to a flight booked with the credit card’s annual companion certificate. For more details, see: Best uses for Delta’s Regional Upgrade Certificates.
If the above spend requirements are too high, you can instead go for Gold status each year with the same approach. In this case, each person spends $30K per year and alternates who gets the resulting MQMs.
If you’re only interested in spending your way to Silver status, then the alternating approach isn’t ideal. You have to earn Silver status for your extra MQMs to roll over and so if you alternated years in achieving Silver status, MQMs that don’t roll over would be wasted each year.
Fast spender approach
The plan described above assumes that each player is okay with having low level status for a period of time every other year. That should work well for couples who often travel together (since Player 2 will have high level status when Player 1’s is lower, and vice versa). But what if you don’t often travel together? If both players have the ability to generate a huge amount of spend very quickly, then it’s theoretically possible to keep the same high level status without a gap (or with a very small gap) with the same amount of spend as described above.
This “fast spender” approach requires completing all of the Delta Reserve spend as soon in the calendar year as possible. If the spend is completed before the end of January, then it is theoretically possible to keep your high level status without a gap. For example, let’s say that you followed the example described above to earn Platinum elite status for Player 1 in 2022. Player 1, then, would have Platinum status through January 2024. So, in January 2024, the team would quickly spend enough to get Player 1 to Platinum status again. If all of the necessary MQMs and the MQD waiver were earned by the end of January, then Player 1 would keep Platinum status (through January 2026) without a gap.
The main issue here is that sometimes Amex seems to take a while to report the spend to Delta for the MQD Waivers. That is, you’ll most likely get your MQMs right away, but you may have to wait longer for the required MQD Waiver to get the level of status that you should have based on your MQMs.
Is it worth it?
One problem with any plan that requires putting large spend on Delta credit cards is that Delta SkyMiles aren’t very valuable. Most Delta Reserve spend earns only 1 SkyMile per dollar. If it wasn’t for the ability to earn elite status, you’d almost always be better off spending with a card that earns better rewards. See this post for examples of cards that offer great value for unbonused spend: Best cards for everyday spend.
So then the question is whether elite status is worth it. If you could buy elite status in advance, how much would you pay? That’s the question I aimed to answer here: What is Delta elite status worth? Note that my numbers are just that… my numbers. You should use that post as a guide to help you figure out how much elite status is worth to you. If the answer is a big number then spending your way to Delta elite status may make sense.