My first steps towards divorcing Delta’s elite program

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On Sunday, I signed up for the Alaska status match designed for disgruntled Delta elites.  That should give me Alaska MVP Gold 75K status for 90 days and then once I sign up for an Alaska credit card (before the end of the year!) I should get bumped up to top-tier MVP Gold 100K through 2024.  No, I don’t fly Alaska often, but this status can be handy when flying other OneWorld carriers like American Airlines and British Airways.  And maybe I’ll use the new status to fly Alaska more often.  It’s past time I’ve visited Tim in Seattle.  And maybe we can organize an FM to Go

a group of people walking down a street

The first major rift in my relationship with Delta came in early 2022 when Delta devalued Global Upgrade certificates.  And it wasn’t even really the new rules that irked as much as the strikingly awful implementation of those new rules.  In 2022, each time I tried to use Global Upgrade certificates I found myself unable to check into flights and literally spent many hours on the phone with Delta just to get checked in… every single time.  The result was sometimes I got upgraded to Delta One and sometimes not (even when there were many Delta One seats available when I first tried to check in).  It was infuriating.  Global Upgrade certificates are supposed to be a thank-you gift for reach topping tier status, but instead they became a curse.

As a result of the Global Upgrade fiasco I decided to give up on chasing Diamond status. But, thanks to Delta rolling over MQMs each year of the pandemic, I had built up enough MQMs to keep near-top-tier Platinum status for many many years simply by earning an MQD waiver with $25K annual spend on Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve credit cards.  Good enough!

Then Delta announced their 2024 changes (see: Delta’s 2024 elite program — it ain’t pretty).  My plan for keeping Platinum elite status long-term was kaput.  All of my hundreds of thousands of rolled over MQMs would at best give me one more year of Platinum status.  Yowch!

With the new program, the requirements for achieving high level elite status are just too high.  I’m not going to play that game anymore.  And you know what?  It’s a good feeling!  No more spending $25K per year on Delta cards!  The opportunity cost of spending on Delta credit cards is just too high.  I can be earning 2x transferable points for all my spend (with my Double Cash card, for example), or I can earn 2.62% cash back with my Bank of America Premium Rewards card with Platinum Honors BOA status (see this post for details).  Or, I can meet the spend requirements on new credit cards and earn much, much more!  Instead of earning 25K Delta SkyMiles and a no-longer-existing MQD Waiver with $25K spend, I’ll earn 50,000 transferable points, or over $650 cash back, or multiple welcome bonuses worth thousands of dollars.

In the new Delta-non-elite world, when I book flights where I care about being in comfortable seats, I’ll use the more lucrative rewards I’ll be earning to book premium cabin awards or to pay cash for premium seats.  And I’ll book with whichever airline has the right combination of schedule and price for my needs.  Yes, since I live by a Delta hub (Detroit), I’m sure I’ll still fly Delta often.  Compared to other domestic options, I still prefer flying Delta.  I just don’t need to be top-tier elite to do so.

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Nfd

How are you planning to get MVP 100K by signing up for Alaska credit card, are you planning to put extra spend on the card or you get the status just for getting approved for the card

Kevin Clark

Nothing to see here. I’m just finishing up my elite status flights in ’23 so I can ensure elite status in ’24. My objective in ’24 will NOT be to obtain ’25 Delta elite status. I will be investing elsewhere…

Jason Grew

Just an FYI that I think you will want to update/reflect in your article… the global upgrade certificate issues were resolved a few months ago, not sure why you wouldn’t mention that as of an article published Sept 2023

ffi

Biggie summed it all up. Continue maximizing in other ways.
Just don’t waste any spend on DL cards

Ben

Thanks for this. I don’t have elite with Delta (flying out of DCA), but seeing other people’s perspectives if interesting and informative.

Tejbir

Seattle is great! FM to go would be cool.

Ben

I think they achieved their desired result. You are the type of flyer they don’t want as an elite. They are looking for the high rollers that spend tons of $ on flights.

Brian Hodges

Enough with the whining. Get your premium seats the old-fashioned way – pay for them.

A guy named Mike

I think you are on the wrong website. Read the sub-title under the logo.

Gary

I am In the exact same boat as the author except not in a hub. Already matched to AA and stopped using my AMEX.

I have already been getting the best flight instead of DL for several years. My Lifetime Gold will serve what I need from them

Sputz

Nice advice Greg. I might have missed your other posts about DL devaluing earned miles. i have +1mil miles saved from years of east asia trips with NWA and DL (after many europe trips) . I already moved from flying DL. Should i hold on longer for DL to be more civil with award flight ? any other airline accepting the miles (haha) ? or should a use them now at 40 cent on a dollar ?

JohnB

Watch for award sales. There have been some very good ones.

Biggie F

Bunch of “ifs” here, but many if not all may apply for some of us:

  • If you are something of a hub captive (e.g., DTW = DL in Greg’s case); and
  • If you are still having luck with NLL on Amex Business Platinums and Golds; and
  • If you can make quarterly tax payments and/or otherwise hit the high required spends on these cards; and
  • If you agree with me that for most domestic flights, F is nothing that special and a MCE (or whatever your airline calls the better seats up front in Y with more leg room) on the aisle will suffice,

Then this is one’s ticket, literally and metaphorically. With your airline choice set to your captive hub airline, you can use MR points that you are generating for just under $0.005ai (consider boosting SUB yields with employee cards) to apply at just over $0.015 to Y tickets (assuming you have enough MR points to cover the price cost at MR=$0.01 before 35% rebate).

Of course, you could use this same strategy on F tickets at essentially 1/3rd of face value on any airline, and should when F is at not much of a premium relative to Y, but the other part of the one-airline captive hub strategy is to use the airline credits on these cards, plus the Aspire and Ritz-Carlton visa, to upgrade seats to MCE within Y. I write this as someone who does not fly UA that much hence does not want to overfund Travel Bank. I know it sounds radical to actually use these airline credits the way Amex and the airlines intended them, but I find that one I have bought a cheap Y ticket, it’s not a bad use of these monies, especially when Aspire and Ritz-Carlton are keeper cards for me. Would not keep Bus Plat or Golds for their airline credits.

Apologize in advance if this was covered in last week’s podcast – have not had a chance to listen to the Main Event yet.

Gary

There is a cost to paying quarterly taxes with the AMEX. If you were just doing that to reach 350K in spend it would cost over 6K in fees

Biggie F

You are right that there is a cost, but I have figured it in above.

Say you have a 150K offer and you get two employee cards paying out 20,000 points on 4K spend. (You could get three or even four, but to illustrate with what I have actually been doing …) Given the 1.5 MR points on $5K purchases, it’s not hard to get 150K (SUB) + 2x20K (employee SUBs) + 15K (required spend) + 0.5x10K (bonus for $5K charges) = 210K on a single card. You could get more with another $5K charge and/or another employee card,

At what cost? I mean, you could back out the $200 travel credit and the first $200 Dell credit and maybe throw in a gratuitous $189 Clear credit and two or three $10 monthly phone credits, so that you would only have to MS on $14,400 or less. And/or take out some organic spend. But all that would beg the issue of opportunity cost of any spending on the card, so let’s just say that all $15K goes to federal taxes. With a fee of 1.89% (or whatever, we are talking $285 or so to grease the MS. Add that to the $695 for the card, and you are at $980 (or less) to manufacture 210K MR points (or more). This is how I am getting less than $0.005 per MR point in cost.

Now it is also true that on average this would entail floating $7.5K per annum to the IRS as an interest-free loan if you did not actually owe any quarterly tax payments, and you could get 5% on that money these days, although I am going to say 4% since it will be taxable. So say a $300 opportunity cost in tax-free money. Which is not so different from even the highly discounted value of the travel credit, the Dell credits, etc., so let’s call all that a wash.

In which case, to get to your hypothetical 350K MR points, I see it as more like a $1,500 investment, not $6,000. This said, please check my math and assumptions.

I should also add here, in place of Nick, that another way of thinking of the cost of this is to remember that if I had a brokerage account at Schwab (I don’t) and if I had a Schwab Platinum card (I don’t) I would be spending on airfare MR points that I could otherwise cash out at $0.011 per point. For the moment, however, I am trying to solve the problem of how I can fly in relative comfort at a price i can afford, not “what are MR points worth?” (or “Is travel ‘free?'”)

P.S. – (Edit) Yikes. We may be talking past each other. My suggestion is not about how to spend 350K ($ [!!!]) on a credit card, Amex or otherwise. It is about how to use the overlap in MR points from SUBs and travel credits to pay for primarily domestic travel when one is a hub captive and can assume that the travel credits will be used by your captivating airline.

Last edited 8 months ago by Biggie F
skdelta

Greg, timely post since it preemptively addresses some of what I was going to be asking about pros/cons of the AK status match. Not sure if you or others can comment on the pros/cons of waiting till next year to do something with AK — in order to maximize the benefits of traveling with DL with the rolled-over PM/DM statuses. Since you’re good at predicting, odds of AK offering a decent status match that would actually go into 2025? Thx!

Gene

I hear LOTS of you (including Greg) saying that you will still fly DL because you are hub captive. I agree that makes sense, but I think we should all consider crediting our flights to another program. My quick review indicates AF/KL Flying Blue is the best choice, but Greg, perhaps you can provide an analysis? What would one sacrifice by crediting to another ST program? Just free C+ upgrades? If so, how much would it cost to just buy them? Could you still use any remaining GUCs/RUCs and then credit your flights to FB? Could you still use your AMEX lounge chits to enter SkyClubs when crediting to FB? What’s the best strategy for earning elite status in another program and how much might that be worth?

Bikeguy

Beaubo had KLM status, even though he lived in Cleveland. There is something there.

KC Queso

Remember if you credit flights to AF, then it’s harder to prevent Flying Blue points from expiring

Gene

@ KC Queso — That is the opposite of what I would expect. Can you explain how that works?

Ivan

Great idea, I’d be interested in seeing an analysis even though I don’t fly Delta or skyteam airlines much. I’ve been hesitant to credit to FB since miles expire quickly.

I usually credit my skyteam flights to delta and use the skymiles for premium drinks at delta lounges which I know isn’t the best use.

Anita Parsa

If you used your Delta status for Clear and will lose that favorable pricing, you may want to update / change before your next renewal of Clear.

Maurice

Switched my CLEAR payment over to Amex Platinum. For some reason that’s not “clear” to me (LOL), I was charged $219 for the Family Plan. I have my wife added only since our kids are under 18. Anyway, I was quickly credited (same day as the charge) the CLEAR Credit of $189 from Amex. Cool beans!

Jacque

Might be nice to see folks in buss class that bought the tix… unsteady of tech geeks whose company paid and maybe shower once a week! Just saying

Gary

Your comment is disgusting and not necessary. I pay for F and have found that most F Pax behaving badly are the self righteous paying ones who think they are better than those upgrades.