Everything You Need To Know About Delta MQDs [2019]

Filed Under: Advice, Delta
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Back in early 2013, Delta SkyMiles announced that they would be adding revenue requirements for earning status, starting with the 2014 program year. This began a long and ongoing trend of airline frequent flyer programs moving toward revenue-based requirements.

While I still remember the (generally misguided) rage that I felt when I read the email, revenue-based status requirements are just about as common these days as delays at LaGuardia.

That being said, a lot has changed since 2013, so I figured it was high time we do an overall update on how Delta’s MQD requirements work. A quick note – if you’ve been earning and burning on Delta for years, you probably won’t need to read the rest of this post (although you may still want to check out the section on earning MQDs on partner flights, since that seems to trip people up).

But for those of you who don’t know the difference between MQD and MCO, here’s a handy guide that can hopefully help you get the lingo straight.

Wait, what’s an MQD?

First and foremost, if you’re looking to earn Delta elite status, there are two ways to do it – by flying a certain number of miles, or a minimum number of segments. Those distances are known as Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs). I’ve found that more people seem to earn status through MQMs than MQSs, but if you’re one of those rare characters who earns Diamond Medallion status on segments – bless your soul.

In addition to MQMs, Delta announced the infamous requirement in early 2013 that required flyers to spend a minimum amount of money on Delta-branded flights in order to maintain their level of elite status. That money spent translates to Medallion Qualifying Dollars – or MQDs.

(Oh, and MCO is Orlando’s airport code, for those of you who don’t speak IATA 😉 )

2019 Medallion Requirements 

For flyers traveling in 2019, and earning status for the 2020 year, the requirements for each tier are as follows:

  • Silver Medallion – 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and 3,000 MQDs
  • Gold Medallion – 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and 6,000 MQDs
  • Platinum Medallion – 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and 9,000 MQDs
  • Diamond Medallion – 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and 15,000 MQDs

If you’re curious, MQM and MQS requirements haven’t budged since the dawn of time, while MQD requirements have gone up anywhere from $500 to $2500, depending on the status tier, since their introduction five years ago.

It’s also worth noting that unlike MQMs, Delta MQDs do not rollover — you’ll have to meet the spending requirements every qualifying year.

That said, non-U.S.-based SkyMiles accounts are exempt from the MQD requirement.

Earning MQDs

To make matters more difficult, MQDs are a pretty elusive currency that can only be earned on Delta flights (for the most part). According to Delta’s SkyMiles terms and conditions:

Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) are the sum total of the SkyMiles Member’s spend on Delta-marketed flights (flight numbers that include the “DL” airline code), inclusive of the base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges, but exclusive of government-imposed taxes and fees.

(You can read the full terms and conditions of the SkyMiles program here, but good luck finding that quote. It’s at the bottom of the page.)

What that means, in plain English, is that dollars spent on the flight, as well as the Delta-imposed surcharges, will count toward your MQD spend. Taxes and fees will not.

MQDs on Delta flights

Let’s look at an example, so that there are no surprises when you are booking. I bought a flight from Washington’s DCA airport to Hartford’s BDL airport last month (connecting through Detroit – don’t judge). Here is what the summary of my receipt looked like:

And here is what my MQD qualifying activity looked like:

In other words, my base fare of $112.56 (rounded up to $113) qualified for MQD spend, but none of the other taxes and fees did.

Not terribly rewarding, but not necessarily that hard to track, if you know what you’re looking for.

MQDs on partner flights

Here is where things get potentially interesting. While Delta-marketed flights earn MQDs via the above method, Delta partner flights earn MQDs based on a percentage of the distance flown. This is calculated based on a combination of the fare class and distance of the flight.

Confused yet?

Here’s another way to look at it. If I book a flight on AeroMexico from JFK to MEX in any of their business class fare buckets (J, C, D, or I), MQDs are calculated based on 40% of the distance flown.

So, in the above example, I would be flying 2,090 miles. 40% of 2,090 is 846, so I would be earning 846 MQDs, regardless of how much I actually spent on the ticket.

Not the worst way to rack up MQDs

As you can imagine, this presents some great opportunities if you’re looking to maximize MQDs with discounted business class fares to Asia – as well as some not-so-great opportunities if you’re flying discounted economy on a partner airline. Premium economy can be a sweet-spot compromise as well.

So, where’s Delta’s partner MQD chart? 

Sadly, this doesn’t exist, and Delta buries their partner earning rates pretty deep.

While there’s no easy way to access the information in one place, here is a list of airlines that currently offer Delta’s MQD earning at the 40% rate on business class fares:

  • AeroMexico (J, C, D, I fares)
  • AirFrance (J, C, D, I, and Z fares – First Class fares earn MQDs at 60% of distance flown)
  • Alitalia (J, C, D, I, and E fares)
  • China Eastern ( First class U, F, and P fares earn MQDs at 60%, J, C, D, Q, I, and domestic P fares earn MQDs at 40%)
  • KLM (J, C, D, I, and Z fares)
  • Korean Air (First Class P and F fares earn MQDs at 60% of distance flown, J, C, D, I and R earn at 40%)
  • Jet Airways (F and A fares earn at 60%, C, J, and Z earn at 40%)
  • Virgin Atlantic (J, C, D, I, and Z fares)
  • Virgin Australia (First Class F and A fares earn at 60%, J, C, D, and I fares earn at 40%)

For all other fares and all other airline partners, you’ll want to check Delta’s partner earning page, locate your airline, and select the option that looks like this (the date varies by airline):

Just be forewarned that MQD earnings rates not listed above range from 30% of distance flown for premium economy tickets, to 5% of distance flown for deeply discounted economy tickets. And any Delta partner not listed above will likely offer a weaker MQD earning rate.

In other words, if you’re flying paid business class on China Airlines, make sure that you do it for the awesome product and not for the mediocre MQDs.

Delta MQD waiver 

Naturally, Delta has presented an alternate option for those of us who can’t meet the MQD requirements and like to spend money on a co-branded credit card. If you’re able to spend $25,000 dollars in a calendar year on the Delta Gold, Platinum, or Reserve credit cards, the MQD requirement is waived for Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion status. (Was that enough precious metals for one sentence?) You’ll also get a slew of other benefits, including bonus miles and MQMs, companion certificates, and lounge access, depending on which card you choose.

Delta Credit Cards

Likewise, in the highly unlikely event that you spend $250,000 in a calendar year on one of the above cards, the MQD requirement for Diamond Medallion is waived. (But please don’t do this – there are so many better options if you’re spending the equivalent of a small mortgage in a calendar year!)

Given that Delta’s $25,000 credit card waiver used to be eligible up through Diamond Medallion status, I imagine that the value proposition of spending 25k in a calendar year on one of their cards offers diminishing returns. For me, the thought of not having to hit $9,000 in MQDs for Platinum Medallion status, combined with the bonus MQMs that roll over to the next year, still makes the card worthwhile. But I imagine that mileage will vary for some of you.

Bottom line

Look, it’s no secret that Delta Medallion status – and airline status in general – is harder to earn than it used to be. But with a little bit of strategic planning, hopefully you can at least eliminate some of the smoke and mirrors into how this is all calculated.

MQD earning on partner airlines, in particular, can help close the gap, and if you’re gunning for anything other than Diamond Medallion status, credit card waivers can still prove worthwhile.

And if all of this reads still reads like a calculus equation and you’re ready to eschew airline status for free agency – I certainly don’t blame you 😉

What’s your strategy for earning MQDs? Is it still worth going for top-tier status given the latest requirements?

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Comments
  1. This is such a tough one for me. I had 49,000 miles roll-over from last year (with just $7,800 in spend). I’ll probably spend $52,000 total on work travel related expenses this year, but just can’t sort out if the opportunity cost is worth it rather than putting that travel spend on the CSR + Marriott spend on hotels. On top of that, possibility I may not be traveling as extensively for work after this year so platinum status would not be as valuable if I only use it 4-5 times next year. Have been kicking myself on this predicament for the last few months, because it is achievable, but I am not sure if the opportunity cost is worth it -__-

  2. In March I am flying Virgin Atlantic for the first time. The ticket was purchased as a Delta-marketed, but VS operated, flight. Working on a DL Skymiles Platinum Medallion status challenge..

    Any thoughts on MQD’s earned?

    Hello, ADAM
    SkyMiles ® #*******751 >

    Your Trip Confirmation #:
    Manage My Trip

    You’re all set. If you need to adjust your itinerary, you can make standard changes to your flight on delta.com including time, date and destination. Explore all of your options here.

    Fri, 08MAR DEPART ARRIVE
    DELTA 4412*
    Economy Light (E)
    NYC-KENNEDY
    9:00pm
    LONDON-HEATHROW
    9:00am
    **Sat 09MAR
    Sun, 10MAR DEPART ARRIVE
    DELTA 4408*
    Economy Light (E)
    LONDON-GATWICK
    1:00pm
    ORLANDO INTL, FL
    6:35pm
    **Arrival date is different than departure date.

    *Flight 4412 Operated by VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS LIMITED As VS Flt 138
    *Flight 4408 Operated by VIRGIN ATLANTIC AIRWAYS LIMITED As VS Flt 27

    METHOD OF PAYMENT
    AX***********
    $534.13 USD

    CHARGES
    Air Transportation Charges
    Base Fare
    $224.00 USD
    Carrier-imposed International Surcharge (YR)
    $130.00 USD
    Taxes, Fees and Charges
    United States – September 11th Security Fee(Passenger Civil Aviation Security Service Fee) (AY)
    $5.60 USD
    United Kingdom – Air Passenger Duty (APD) (GB)
    $99.00 USD
    United Kingdom – Passenger Service Charge (UB)
    $17.70 USD
    United States – Transportation Tax (US)
    $36.60 USD
    United States – Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Fee (APHIS User Fee – Passengers (XA)
    $3.96 USD
    United States – Passenger Facility Charge (XF)
    $4.50 USD
    United States – Immigration and Naturalization Fee(Immigration User Fee) (XY)
    $7.00 USD
    United States – Custom User Fee (YC)
    $5.77 USD
    TICKET AMOUNT $534.13 USD

  3. I am finding it very difficult to justify my MQD spending on Delta flights this year. I have been DM for the last 3 years and just became Delta 360 for the first time (nothing really exciting to be honest). I fly very often to Europe on Delta One but after many flights at over $8k for a round trip I noticed that booking the same exact flights, same Delta planes, same everything but using Virgin flight codes lowers the price significantly. I have examples of saving over $3k on the same exact metal just by booking as VS vs DL. Thus, although I won’t get all MQDs and probably will never get invited to Delta 360 again I cannot justify spending that much money on Delta.

  4. Booking a not-discounted economy ticket will get you the most MQDs per dollar. A trip from NA to Asia booking through Korean Air can be around $1300-1500 for 17500 MQM and 3500 MQD, and also 17500 redeemable miles. (at least on some of the itineraries I’m looking at)

  5. “But please don’t do this – there are so many better options if you’re spending the equivalent of a small mortgage in a calendar year!”

    Please don’t tell me what to do. I do earn the waiver. It’s totally worth it to me to do so. Or I could spend 4-6 days a year on Aeromexico. Hmmm…

  6. @Adam A
    Good example of the differing earning rates for MQD.
    As a DL marketed flight, you’ll earn about 224 MQD
    Had you bought the ticket as a Virgin Atlantic flight, the same E fare would earn you 10% of base miles (3,000?)
    Or 300 MQD.

  7. @Adam
    Actually you will earn 354 MQDs ($224 base fare + $130 carrier surcharge). Only the government imposed taxes and fees are excluded.

  8. Thank you for this. I knew the difference between MQD and MCO but didn’t know how MQDs are calculated on partner flights. I fly Delta but tend to credit skyteam flights to AF/KL Flying Blue.

  9. Biggest issue here.
    Delta is much better among US3 but SkyMiles is the worst.

    Miles are pretty much useless these days. Asking for more than 200k to EU, that is extortion.

    Fares are also starting to get overpriced among the US3.

    The medallion benefits are the last straw.

    I hate to say this but because of Ed, Doug is now making money from me, now I understand the WN cattle call, and best of all to witness what seems to be a live episode of Jerry Springer on NK.

  10. Thanks, Steph. A very helpful overview of an insanely complex system.

    I have been AA EXP for several years and am increasingly unhappy. The most recent cut was AA’s increase of EQD for EXP qualification from 12K to 15K. I am considering switching all my flying to Delta, this year or in 2020, and qualifying for Diamond status. I know that only Diamond frequent flyers receive 4 Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs) that are equivalent to AA EXP systemwide upgrades.

    In your experience, is it easier to find instantly confirmable upgrades Delta GUCs than it is for AA systemwide upgrades. The latter are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and even waitlist seem to be clearing less often.

  11. @LarryH – Tough to call on confirmed upgrade availability, given that it varies greatly by route (and four upgrades per year is a pretty small sample size). Anecdotally, it sounds like the probability is about the same on Delta/American. You do have to call to apply RUCs or GUCs, and there’s no easy way to search online, but day-of-departure availability seems to be pretty good, at least based on other DMs that I’ve talked to. The flexibility of when you can use upgrade certificates (one year from date of SELECTION) is nice.

    Other factors that may be worth considering: DL probably has the better soft product in business class, but I find it hard to beat AA’s reverse herringbone seats on the 777.

    Domestic upgrades as a DM last year were about 75% for me (not sure how that would compare to similar routes on AA). Upgrades at lower tiers are probably slightly easier on AA if you don’t mind applying 500-mile upgrades.

    I’ve found DL’s overall domestic experience (including call centers) to be more pleasant overall (this includes meals, seats, plugs, happy FAs, hold times, etc.)

    AAdvantage miles probably hold higher value overall (no surprise there), but I’ve found SkyMiles to be easier to use IF you can find availability that’s not outrageously overpriced.

    Hope that helps…

  12. Hi Steph,
    Great article! However, I’m still puzzled by the comments and concern. I’ve been a DM for years and I’m still pretty loyal to DL. As reported, the MQDs for 2019 DM are 15,000 MQD and 125,000 MQMs correct? I already have all my MQMs in 2019 from my 2018 rollover. Wouldn’t a couple of Delta One International flights (~$8k ticket) on DL metal complete my MQD for this year? What am I missing?

  13. Do partner-marketed/operated flights ticketed by Delta earn MQD as if they were Delta flights? For example, would an itinerary with all KLM flight #s (Z class) operated by KLM but ticketed by Delta earn MQD based on fare paid or on mileage?

  14. I have a question for all of you who are experts with Delta and Delta credit cards.

    I am newer to taking advantage of these credit card and miles products from airlines. I have several trips planned this year including going over seas. (I have not booked the flights yet) I fly 1st class domestic and business class international so the miles and MQM’s would be higher, I think.

    I looked at the Delta credit cards and I could get the Delta Reserve for 75k and 5k MQM or Delta Reserve Business for 40k and 10k MQM.

    If I get the Delta business card with 10k MQM, I would get the Silver pretty quick with 2 round trip flights.

    Question is is it worth it to give up 35k points for 5k MQMs?

    Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

  15. I don’t think I’m going to make it to the MQM or MQS but am going to be close and wondered if there is a way to purchase miles or segments other than actually taking the flights? Next year I will be flying more and would like to benefits that come with the status.

  16. Next time you write about MQDs, you might mention that your MQMs only roll over if you reach at least a Silver status ($3000) each year. Now, being in Seattle and a retired leisure traveler, my long-distance MQMs far outrun the amounts I spend for them. Each year that I keep at least a Silver status, they debit the 25,000 from my 100,000 or so MQM total.

    I’ll probably never need to worry about re-qualifying on the MQM side, even if I lost them all, but someone else — central USA? shorter business trips? — might come up short if they come back to Delta after a year away and find their MQMs zeroed out.

    I just booked my final paid Delta flights for this year, to reach 3020 MQDs, and after that I can try to use my award miles on Delta or others. If anything goes wrong with the flights or my scoring on these, I’ll still have plenty of time for a few days to SFO to make my total MQDs.

    Paying up for first class is sometimes worth it, if it allows you to complete your MQDs and move on to other priorities, rather than needing an additional paid ticket later that only gets you part way to Gold, anything over 3000 MQDs likely being wasted.

  17. If I used miles to pay for my flight on a partner airline, does the 40% of distance flown still get added to my MQDs? (I have the Delta credit card if that helps.)
    Or do I get 0 MQDs since I technically am not paying for the flight?

    So let’s say I book that NYC to Mexico City flight on AeroMexico using miles for the entire flight on business class. What are my MQDs?

  18. If you book a flight in 2019 on Delta, so you technically pay for it in that same year, but the flight date is for 2020 will you still earn 2019 MQDs?

  19. Thanks for helping clarify MQDs. My wife travels frequently & will be close on making her Diamond MQDs—-if I book a flight to travel w/ her & pay using her AMEX, will the MQDs accrue to her?

  20. If you’ve earned the MQD waiver, is it ok to close/cancel/downgrade the associated credit card? Or does that revoke the waiver?

  21. So I’m very confused. I’m a former LPLT on AA and, like most, have moved to DL for better everything.

    Looking at my qualification – I’ve exceeded the $25K Card Spend but I’m still just a regular member. I thought the waiver meant if I spent $25K I’d get something…

    I also have only $982 MQDs – not sure if that matters

  22. Question about MQD. I think I know the answer….but I do not read it in Delta’s Sky Mile program. It says your MQD come from money you spend on Delta miles…….why don’t miles I spend on my spouse count too? It does not say money spent on me???

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