What is Delta elite status worth (now that upgrade certs are worth more)?

46

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 status tiers ranging from Silver status to Diamond status. Silver status perks are slightly better than those you get from holding a Delta branded credit card. Diamond perks, though, are very nice.

Since this post was last published, upgrade certificates (available to Platinum and Diamond elites) became much more valuable.  Now, it’s possible to find upgrade space yourself online and you can apply upgrades to award tickets! I previously said that if regional upgrade certificates were available for purchase I’d pay up to $200 for four Platinum regional upgrade certificates and up to $1,000 for four Diamond global upgrade certificates. In this post, I’ve increased my valuations. Note that I did NOT reduce value estimates based on current pandemic travel conditions. This post is intended to estimate the value of elite status during normal times…

Delta Elite Status
Delta’s top level Diamond Elites can choose global upgrade certificates as a choice benefit. These can be used to upgrade from coach to lie-flat business seats on international flights.

Lets take a look at Delta’s requirements for each elite tier…

Delta Elite Status Requirements

Delta Elite Status

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.
  • 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 spend 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.

Fortunately, 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. Even better, several Delta branded 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, for top tier Diamond status, Delta requires $250,000 in credit card spend (across all Delta cards you have) to get a MQD waiver.

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.

Elite Benefits

Delta’s chart of elite benefits can be found here. Here’s a summarized chart I created:

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.
  • 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.
  • Global upgrade certificates. Use these to upgrade from coach to business class on any international flight when upgrade space is available. In many cases the upgrade space won’t be available at the time of booking, but you can then waitlist for the upgrade.  If you don’t get upgraded in advance from the waitlist, you’ll get on the upgrade queue at the airport.  My wife and I have had nearly 100% success in upgrading this way, but we’ve been very lucky: most of our upgraded flights have been between the US and Europe where upgrades are much easier to score than with longer distance flights (such as to Asia, South Africa, or Australia).  This is a choice benefit for Diamond status only.
  • Note: I used to include free award changes and cancellations as one of the most valuable benefits, but now free award changes and cancellations are now available to everyone for itineraries originating in North America.  Platinum or Diamond elite status adds the ability to freely cancel and change awards with itineraries originating outside of North America.  That’s nice, but for many of us this feature would rarely be needed.

What is Delta elite status worth?

Subjective Value

The value you get from elite status is extremely subjective.  If you get more legroom, what is that worth?  To a very tall person, it’s probably worth a lot, but to a shorter frequent flyer, not as much.  Elite status value is also extremely dependent upon how often you fly.  The more you fly, the more you’ll benefit from elite perks.

My approach to estimating the value of each level of Delta elite status is to start with a subjective valuation for bottom tier Silver status, and then add estimates for the incremental benefit that each higher level adds.  In a previous post, I estimated that someone who flies enough to earn Silver status may value that status at $260.  Most readers thought that I had drastically undervalued aspects of Silver status.  My approach, though, is not to estimate the total value received, but rather, how much would you reasonably pay for these benefits if they were available through subscription.  For example, you may get $400 in value from flights in which you were upgraded to first class, but you probably wouldn’t pay $400 per year just for the chance of being upgraded that often.

Delta Silver Status Value: $200

  • Free Upgrades to First Class: $75
    Rationale: While Silver status first class upgrades aren’t common, they’re great when they come through.
  • Free Upgrades to Comfort+: $50
    Rationale: For some, the free alcoholic drinks in Comfort+ can be valuable.  If you’re not a drinker, it’s probably worth less than $50.
  • Complementary Preferred Seats: $25
    Rationale: I punted on this and simply estimated half the Comfort+ value.  Note that a number of readers in my previous post on this topic thought that I had far undervalued this benefit.
  • Waived bag fees: $50
    Rationale: This is the hardest one to estimate. If you already have a Delta Gold, Platinum, or Reserve credit card, then you already get a free checked bag.  How much is a 2nd bag worth?  Probably not much to most frequent flyers.  But the value isn’t zero.  Having Silver status means that you could optionally drop the Delta credit card and still get free checked bags.  That’s worth something. On the other hand, this feature could be quite valuable for those who don’t have a Delta credit card.  You could save a lot of money, especially when traveling with a group (everyone on the itinerary with you, up to 8 guests, gets a free bag).  But it would be wrong to value it more than the $95 annual fee on the Delta Gold credit card since that’s an alternative way to get the same benefit.  So I picked half of $95 and rounded up.
  • Earn 7 miles per dollar on paid flights (2X more than no-status): $30
    Rationale: If you spend $1,500 per year on Delta flights (half the amount required for Silver status MQDs), then this benefit is worth an extra 3,000 SkyMiles.  If we conservatively value each mile at 1 cent, then this works out to a $30 benefit.
  • Total: $230

Gut Check: If I had no status, but was about to fly often on Delta, would I pay $230 per year for Silver status?  Truthfully, that feels just a bit too high, so I’m arbitrarily reducing the value to an amount I think I would pay in that situation: $200

Delta Silver Status Value: $200

Delta Gold Status Value: $200 (Silver) + $200 (incremental Gold benefits) = $400

Looking only at the incremental advantages of Gold over Silver:

  • Free Upgrades to First Class Beginning 72 Hours Before Departure: $30
    Rationale: This is my subjective incremental valuation given that Gold elites are more likely to get upgraded than Silver elites.
  • Free Upgrades to Comfort+ Beginning 72 Hours Before Departure: $30
    Rationale: Gold elites are more likely to find Comfort+ seats available than Silver members (thanks to clearing 72 hours in advance), so this feature is worth a bit more at the Gold level.
  • Waived Same Day Confirmed or Standby Change Fees: $50
    Rationale: I love this feature, especially when I’m already confirmed into first class.  First class same day changes have fewer restrictions and so it’s usually possible to pick your preferred flight of the day even if you paid for the cheapest flight of the day. All that said, Delta’s usual fee is $75, so I picked a value less than that for this valuation.  Note: A reader explains that it’s a bit more complicated than I described: “[What you wrote is] slightly incorrect as you can be confirmed in F through a complimentary upgrade and not receive the same SDC flexibility. Should probably clarify the flexibility is with paid F, awards in F, or if confirmed by a RUC or GUC, and only domestically with the exception being international tickets with only domestic segs remaining.”
  • SkyPriority Boarding: $25
    Rationale: If you have carry-on bags, this can be key to getting on the plane before luggage space fills up.  I didn’t value this higher, though, because most of Delta’s newer retrofits include large luggage bins that reduce the chance of running out of space.
  • SkyTeam Lounge Access on International Flights: $25
    Rationale: I valued this pretty low only because many readers may not fly internationally very often.  Additionally, there are many Delta fliers on international flights who would get access to the SkyTeam Lounge anyway: Business class (Delta One) fliers get automatic access. Delta Reserve (and Amex Platinum, but not Delta Platinum) cardholders get free access to the Delta SkyClub when flying Delta.  If the exceptions don’t fit you or your flying patterns, then you may want to value this much higher yourself.
  • Hertz 5 Star Elite Status: $10
    Rationale: Hertz doesn’t offer much in the way of guaranteed elite benefits.  I wouldn’t pay much for this mid tier status, but it can be very valuable if you book with Hertz often.
  • Earn 8 miles per dollar on paid flights (1X more than Silver): $30
    Rationale: I valued Silver at $30 based on Silver earning 2 miles per dollar more than non-elites, so that would argue for valuing this at only $15 (since the extra earnings are only 1X more).  However, we can also assume that Gold elites fly more often than Silver and so it seems reasonable to assign $30 here.
  • Total: $200

Gut Check: If I had Silver status, would I pay $200 to jump to Gold status?  Definitely.  If anything, the valuation should be higher, but I prefer to keep my valuations conservative.

Delta Gold Status Value: $200 (Silver) + $200 (incremental Gold benefits) = $400

Delta Platinum Status Value: $400 (Gold) + $600 (incremental Platinum benefits) = $1,000

Looking only at the incremental advantages of Platinum over Gold:

  • Free Upgrades to First Class Beginning 120 Hours Before Departure: $50
    Rationale: This is my subjective valuation of the incremental chance of getting upgraded as a Platinum elite rather than a Gold elite.
  • Free Upgrades to Comfort+ Shortly After Ticketing: $50
    Rationale: Getting the upgrade to Comfort+ immediately after ticketing is a big benefit since it’s then possible to pick your flight based on which one has the best Comfort+ seats available.  Additionally, Comfort+ often gets filled up, so you’ll have much better luck getting into Comfort+ as a Platinum elite than Gold.
  • Dedicated Higher Priority Phone Line: $20
    Rationale: I don’t have any way of knowing how much better the Platinum “higher priority” phone line is than the Gold “high priority”. But I guess I’d throw in at least $20 for the promise of better phone service.
  • Hertz President’s Circle Elite Status: $30
    Rationale: I’m not a big fan of Hertz’s elite program, but it’s much better than nothing to have top tier status and I have received nice upgrades in the few times I’ve rented from them.
  • Earn 9 miles per dollar on paid flights (1X more than Gold): $30
    Rationale: Same reasoning as Gold, above.
  • Waived award change/cancel fees: $20
    Delta offers free award changes and cancellations to everyone for flights from North America.  Platinum elites, though, get free award changes and cancellations for all awards regardless of the flight departure point. Those who often book award flights that originate outside of North America may see a lot of value in this benefit.  I wouldn’t be willing to pay much, in advance, for this extra capability, but I’d throw in $20.
  • Choice Benefits: $400
    Rationale: My favorite Platinum Choice Benefit is the 4 regional upgrade certificates. Now that it’s possible to find upgrades online and apply upgrades to award tickets, these certificates are worth more than ever before.  I’ve argued before that they’re worth $100 each, but later backed off that estimate.  With the latest enhancements, though, I’m back to my original estimate: $100 x 4 = $400.
  • Total: $600

Gut Check: If I had Gold status, would I pay $600 to jump to Platinum status?  Yes, that seems reasonable to me.

Delta Platinum Status Value: $400 (Gold) + $600 (incremental Platinum benefits) = $1,000.

Delta Diamond Status Value: $1,000 (Platinum) + $2,000  (incremental Diamond benefits) = $3,000.

Looking only at the incremental advantages of Diamond over Platinum:

  • Free Upgrades to First Class Beginning 120 Hours Before Departure: $50
    Rationale: This is my subjective valuation of the incremental chance of getting upgraded as a Diamond elite rather than a Platinum elite.
  • Free CLEAR Membership: $50
    Rationale: I like having CLEAR since it speeds me through security even when TSA pre-check’s ID verification lines are very long.
  • Dedicated VIP Phone Line: $40
    Rationale: It’s great to have the phone answered right away when you call (note: this has not been the case during the pandemic, but hopefully it will become true again in the future).  Plus, they’re often willing to bend the rules for Diamond elites.
  • Earn 11 miles per dollar on paid flights (2X more than Platinum): $60
    Rationale: Since the difference between Platinum and Diamond is twice the difference between Gold and Platinum, I valued the incremental value at twice as much.
  • Choice Benefits: $2,250
    Rationale: When you reach Diamond status, you can choose three Choice Benefits.  In my opinion, the most valuable choice is the 4 global upgrade certificates that can be applied to any paid fare (when flying Delta or certain partners) or award ticket (when flying Delta marketed flights).  Other valuable choices include: Gift Gold status, Sky Club Individual Membership, Sky Club Guest Pass or Sky Club Executive Membership (the former requires that you have access from a credit card, the latter requires that you have an individual membership), and 25,000 SkyMiles.  I would pay up to $1,600 per year for the 4 global upgrade certificates ($400 each), up to $400 to gift Gold status, and up to $250 for 25,000 SkyMiles.  Those three add up to $2,250.
  • Total: $2,450

Gut Check: If I had Platinum status, would I pay $2,450 to jump to Diamond status?  That sounds very high.  Is it too much?  I think it all hinges on whether or not you can get great value from the global upgrade certificates.  If you can, then $2,450 is arguably too low.  Otherwise, it’s too high.  My gut tells me to moderate the value downward. Adjusted valuation: $2,000 even.

Delta Diamond Status Value: $1,000 (Platinum) + $2,000 (incremental Diamond benefits) = $3,000.

Delta Elite Status Summary

Via the above subjective (very subjective) estimates, I came up with the following valuation for what Delta elite status is worth (e.g. how much would I pay to reach each level?):

  • Delta Silver Status: $200
  • Delta Gold Status Value: $400
    $200 (Silver) + $200 (incremental Gold benefits)
  • Delta Platinum Status Value: $1,000
    $400 (Gold) + $600 (incremental Platinum benefits)
  • Delta Diamond Status Value: $3,000
    $1,000 (Platinum) + $2,000 (incremental Diamond benefits)

Keep in mind that these estimates are determined by imagining a reasonable price to pay up front for the status (if that were possible). The only reason to pay up front would be with the expectation of getting more value than you paid.  So, frequent Delta flyers with similar biases to my own should get considerably more value from their status than the dollar amounts shown here.

What is Delta elite status worth: Conclusion

High level Delta elite status can be extremely valuable, but any dollar estimate of the value is highly subjective.  The value you get will depend upon how much the perks are worth to you, how much you could have paid for the benefit outright, and how often you fly Delta.  The more you fly, the more valuable your status will be.

See also: Manufacturing Delta elite status in 2020 and beyond

Email:*
Please enter all required fields Click to hide
Correct invalid entries Click to hide
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

46 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments