This year, undoubtedly due to the pandemic, Delta has made it easier than ever to earn elite status. This post is a round-up of shortcuts, and how they can be used to secure high level elite status for the rest of 2021, all of 2022, and through January of 2023.
Delta Elite Status offers many perks while flying Delta. Some of my favorite perks include: Free upgrades, free preferred seat selection, waived bag fees, waived same day confirmed changes (Gold and higher), Regional Upgrade Certificates (Platinum and higher), and Global Upgrade Certificates (Diamond). If you’re interested in earning Delta elite status and you’re ready to get back in the air, this is the year to go for it.
- 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.
Class of Service Bonuses (MQMs)
Class of service bonuses haven’t been enhanced in 2021, but it’s important to understand what’s available. On paid flights (and in 2021, on award flights too), you’ll earn 1 base MQM per mile flown. With premium cabin bookings, though, you’ll earn either 1.5 or 2 MQMs per mile flown (these are known as “class of service bonuses). Here are the details:
- Comfort+, Economy, Basic Economy: Earn 1 MQM per mile flown (100%)
Fare Codes: M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X, V, E
- Discounted First, Discounted Business, Premium Select, and full-fare economy: Earn 1.5 MQMs per mile flown (150%)
Fare Codes: P, A, G, C, D, I, Z, Y, B
- Full-fare First & Business: Earn 2 MQMs per mile flown (200%)
Fare Codes: F, J
In 2021 (April through December), class of service bonuses apply to award tickets too! Here are the relevant bullet points from their Status Accelerator FAQ (details about class of service bonuses are bolded):
- Special for only the remainder of this year, SkyMiles Members can earn MQMs, MQSs and MQDs for Award Travel on flights that are both marketed and operated by Delta and flown April 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021.
- MQMS: You will earn MQMs on Award Travel tickets based on the distance flown and cabin bonus (if applicable) – a 50% or 75% bonus will be applied to this value, depending on your cabin purchased.
- The base MQMs for Award Travel tickets in Basic Economy, Main Cabin and Delta Comfort+ will be the distance flown
- The base MQMs for Award Travel tickets in First Class, Delta Premium Select and Delta One will be 50% of the distance flown plus the distance flown (or 150% of the distance flown)
- Just like purchased tickets, the minimum amount of MQMs you will earn on a flight (prior to the application of bonus MQMs) is 500.
- For example, if the distance of your flight booked in Delta Comfort+ is 700 miles, you would earn 700 MQMs, plus 75% of that total: 1,225 MQMs
- If the distance of your flight booked in First Class is 700 miles, you would earn 1,050 MQMs (50% of the distance flown + the distance flown), plus 75% of that total: 1,838 MQMs
2021 Status Accelerators (including award tickets!)
Between April 1 and December 31 2021, Delta fliers will earn 50% to 75% more towards elite status. Even better, award flights earn Medallion qualifying miles, segments, and dollars too. You can read Delta’s announcement here.
- Main cabin bookings (including basic economy) earn 50% more MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs
- Premium cabin bookings (Comfort+, First Class, Premium Select, and Delta One) earn 75% more MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs
- Award tickets earn MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs! MQMs and MQSs are calculated the same way as paid tickets. MQDs are calculated as (number of miles redeemed) / 100 and then the 50% or 75% bonus is added on top. For example, if you redeem 50,000 miles for Comfort+, you’ll earn (50K / 100) x 1.75 = 875 MQDs. Another way to think of it is that you’ll earn MQDs as if each mile was a penny of Delta spend.
- Miles + Cash tickets: MQDs will be calculated based on the original all-miles price of the ticket.
For more details, see: Delta Elite status via award tickets, plus 50% to 75% elite bonus on all tickets!
Status Accelerators + Class of Service Bonuses (MQMs)
Flying premium cabins (discounted first and above) in 2021 will result in an amazing number of MQMs per mile flown. 75% Status Accelerators apply to Comfort+ and higher premium cabins. Class of Service bonuses apply to discounted First Class and higher premium cabins. So, if you book discounted First Class, Premium Economy, or Delta One, you will get both bonuses at once. Remember that Class of Service bonuses apply only to MQMs earned, so this combination is only useful for those seeking additional MQMs.
Delta’s page introducing Status Accelerators is clear that 75% accelerators are applied after the Class of Service Bonus is applied. For example, the page defines “base MQMs” as including class of service bonuses: “Base MQMs is how you earn today, which is determined by distance flown and fare class and/or cabin.” That means that we will earn a total of 2.62 MQMs per dollar flown on discounted First Class, Premium Economy, and Delta One, and a total of 3.5 MQMs per dollar flown on full fare first/business class tickets:
- Economy, Basic Economy: 1.5 MQMs per mile flown
No class of service bonus, 50% status accelerator
- Comfort+: 1.75 MQMs per mile flown
No class of service bonus, 75% status accelerator
- Discounted First, Discounted Business, Premium Select, full-fare economy: 2.62 MQMs per mile flown
150% class of service bonus, 75% status accelerator
Fare Codes: P, A, G, C, D, I, Z, Y, B
- Full-fare First & Business: 3.5 MQMs per mile flown
200% class of service bonus, 75% status accelerator
Fare Codes: F, J
Delta Vacations (An Interesting MQD Option)
It used to be possible to earn elite status by purchasing very cheap but very long-distance flights. And you can still earn MQMs that way. But that won’t help you earn MQDs, since MQDs are tied to the price of the ticket. One interesting alternative this year is through Delta Vacations. With Delta Vacations, you earn elite credits as follows:
- MQMs: based on distance flown and the fare class bonus
- MQSs: 1 MQS per segment of your trip
- MQDs are earned based on the distance and fare class bonus divided by 5, regardless of whether the ticket is paid in full or if miles are used towards a portion of the cost.
With Delta Vacations, MQDs are not tied to the price at all, but rather to the distance flown. If you fly 10,000 miles, your base MQD earnings would be 10,000 / 5 = $2,000. But you also earn 2021 Status Accelerators. If you fly Comfort+ (or a higher level cabin), you’ll get a 75% bonus. Then, if you fly 10,000 miles, you’ll earn a total of $3,500 MQDs. I’m not saying that it would be easy, but if you could find a very inexpensive Delta Vacation package that includes long-distance flights in Comfort+ and/or Premium Economy, you could earn more MQDs this way than by booking flights directly with Delta.
Flights booked through Delta’s partners work the same way: MQDs are not tied to the price of the flight, but rather to the distance flown. Unfortunately, partner flights do not earn Status Accelerators.
Credit Card Welcome Bonuses
At the time of this writing, Amex is offering welcome bonuses of 80,000 SkyMiles plus 20,000 MQMs on both the Delta Reserve consumer card and Delta Reserve business card. If you haven’t had either card before, it’s possible to sign up for both in order to get 40,000 MQMs after meeting minimum spend requirements.
Here are current details about the bonuses on each card. If the MQM bonuses are currently less than 20,000 MQMs per card at the time you read this, I’d recommend waiting to see if Amex and Delta bring back the 20K MQM bonus before applying…
|Card Offer and Details|
Credit Card Spend (Status Boosts)
Delta Platinum and Delta Reserve cards offer bonus MQMs with large spend. They refer to these as “Status Boosts.” In 2021, cardholders receive a 25% boost to their status boosts. The following bullets show the number of MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) earned with spend with each of the Delta Platinum & Reserve cards:
- Delta Platinum and Delta Platinum Business. For each $25K of calendar year spend (up to $50K), earn 12,500 MQMs in 2021 (usual: 10K MQMs).
- Delta Reserve and Delta Reserve Business. For each $30K of calendar year spend (up to $120K), earn 18,750 MQMs in 2021 (usual: 15K MQMs)
Normally, the most MQMs you could earn in a year with a Delta Platinum card is 20K MQMs with $50K spend, and the most you could earn with a Delta Reserve card is 60K MQMs with $120K spend. This year, those limits are boosted to 25K MQMs and 75K MQMS, respectively. If you had all four cards (consumer and business versions of each), it would be possible to earn 200,000 MQMs by spending $50K on each Platinum card and $120K on each Reserve card, for a total of $340K spend. That would be enough for a Diamond MQD waiver (which requires $250K spend) and more than enough MQMs for Diamond status. The extra MQMs above 125K would roll over into next year. Note: I’m not recommending this — I’m just pointing out what is possible.
Status Match Challenge
Delta offers a free status match challenge. If approved, they’ll give you elite status for three months. During that time, if you meet the challenge requirements, you’ll keep status longer. Important: It’s best to enroll in the challenge on or after July 1st. That way, if you meet the challenge requirements, your status will be good for the rest of that year, all of the next, and through January of the year after that. For example, if you start the status challenge on July 1 2021 and meet the challenge requirements, I believe that your status will last until January 31, 2023. However, if you start the challenge on June 30th 2021, I believe that your status will last only until January 31, 2022.
Status Match Requirements
To be eligible for a status match, you must:
- Not have received a Delta status match in the past 3 years
- Currently have status with a qualifying airline (the chart below is not necessarily a complete list of qualifying airlines so it’s worth applying even if your airline status is not listed)
- Be able to show your status with the competing airline and qualifying activity that got you there.
Here are the requirements that must be met within 3 months in order to keep your status longer:
- MQMs/MQSs/MQDs earned through other sources, including but not limited to SkyMiles Credit Cards, do not count towards the challenge.
- The MQD requirement will be waived if you earn a MQD Waiver. You must earn the MQD waiver by the end of the challenge period.
- 2021 Status Accelerators + Class of Service Bonuses do count towards the challenge. For example, if in 2021, you fly discounted first class (earning 2.62 MQMs per mile) during a status challenge, you’ll only have to fly 2,386 miles for Silver; 4,771 miles for Gold; or 7,157 miles for Platinum. You will still have to meet the MQD requirements, though. That can be done by spending $25K on a Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve card or by earning the required MQDs through flights. To earn via flights, if you fly only Comfort+ or higher (75% MQD bonus), you’ll need to spend this much on flights: $429 (or 42,900 SkyMiles) for Silver; $857 (or 85,700 SkyMiles) for Gold; or $1,286 (or 128,600 SkyMiles) for Platinum.
If you complete the challenge for Platinum, you will also earn a Choice Benefit (the best choice, in my opinion, is four Regional Upgrade Certificates). See: Best uses for Delta’s Regional Upgrade Certificates.
Here are a few examples of how you could put together some of the shortcuts presented above…
Earn Status with Premium Cabin Flights Alone
If you don’t have a Delta credit card, and if you don’t have any MQMs that rolled over from last year, here’s how much you would have to fly to earn each level of status in 2021:
Assuming all flights are discounted first class, premium economy or Delta One:
- Silver: Fly 9,542 miles; Spend $1,715 on Delta flights (or spend 171,500 SkyMiles on award flights)
- Gold: Fly 19,084 miles; Spend $3,429 on Delta flights (or spend 342,900 SkyMiles on award flights)
- Platinum: Fly 28,626 miles; Spend $5,143 on Delta flights (or spend 514,300 SkyMiles on award flights)
- Diamond: Fly 47,710 miles; Spend $8,571 on Delta flights (or spend 857,100 SkyMiles on award flights)
If you book economy or Comfort+, the spend requirements are the same, but you’ll need to fly more miles since you’ll earn the 50% (economy) or 75% (Comfort+) status accelerator but not the 150% class of service bonus.
Earn Platinum Elite Status w/ Credit Cards and Flights
Here’s a surprisingly easy path to high level Platinum status:
- Sign up for a Delta Reserve card (while the offer includes 20K MQMs) and meet minimum spend requirements. Earn 80K SkyMiles + 20K MQMs.
- Spend a total of $30,000 on the Delta Reserve card by the end of the year. Earn 30,000 SkyMiles + 18,750 MQMs + MQD Waiver for up to Platinum Elite status.
- Fly 13,836 miles in discounted first class, premium economy, or Delta One to earn 36,250 MQMs, or more. To give one example: Flying from Los Angeles to Rome via Atlanta round-trip is a total of 13,965 miles. So, if you could find a good premium economy deal on a flight like that, you could earn enough MQMs with a single flight!
In 2021, Delta Elite status is easier than ever before to earn, thanks to the following promotions and program features:
- Class of Service Bonuses: Earn 150% MQMs for discounted first class or business class flights
- 2021 Status Accelerators: Earn 50% or 75% more elite earnings (MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs)
- 2021 Status Earned on Award Flights: Earn MQMs, MQDs, and MQSs on award flights!
- Delta Vacations: Earn lots of MQDs and MQMs via long distance flights
- Credit Card Welcome Bonuses: Earn SkyMiles plus MQMs
- Credit Card Spend: Earn MQMs and MQD waivers through spend
- Status Match Challenge
If you have plans to fly Delta anyway and if you had planned to fly economy, I’d recommend checking to see if you can inexpensively upgrade to First Class on domestic flights or to Premium Economy on international flights. This would get you both the 150% class of service bonus and 75% status accelerator. If that’s too expensive, consider also upgrading to Comfort+. You won’t get a class of service bonus, but you will get the 75% status accelerator rather than 50% in regular economy.
Further, if you’re interested at all in Delta Elite status, I highly recommend picking up either a Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve card while the offers are at all-time highs. See this post for details: Awesome Delta offers for 70-90K miles, up to 20K MQMs, and more. Once you pick up a Delta Platinum or Reserve card (or if you already have one), make sure to spend enough to get a Status Boost ($25K for Platinum or $30K for Reserve) and to earn a MQD Waiver.
- What is Delta elite status worth (now that upgrade certs are worth more)?
- Manufacturing Delta elite status in 2020 and beyond
- Delta SkyMiles Complete Guide