My Biggest Challenge With Qualifying For Delta Elite Status (It’s Not The Revenue Requirement)

Filed Under: Delta

As I switch some of my flying to Delta and complete my SkyMiles Platinum status challenge, I’m experiencing more of the differences between SkyMiles and AAdvantage firsthand. It’s not that I didn’t know these things before, but when you’re actually in a situation where you’re trying to qualify for status, you experience these things firsthand.

When it comes to the elite program, I knew there were some things I’d like less about SkyMiles than AAdvantage. For example, SkyMiles doesn’t let you redeem miles for international first class, and SkyTeam doesn’t give top tier members access to international first class lounges (unlike oneworld). But there are also other areas where they’re better than AAdvantage.

However, there’s one area that’s hitting me especially hard as I map out my possible path to Diamond for next year — let’s start with the less major implication, and then the more substantial one.

Delta awards fewer elite qualifying miles for travel

When it comes to earning elite qualifying miles, one major difference is that American awards 200% elite qualifying miles for all paid first & business class tickets, while Delta awards 150%, with the exception of full fare first & business class.

With premium cabins being more reasonably priced nowadays, I’m sometimes finding myself paying for first class when my upgrade chances aren’t good. One motivating factor is the additional elite qualifying miles I earn. 200% vs. 100% is a big difference, while 150% vs. 100% isn’t quite as compelling of a reason to spring for a paid premium cabin fare.

SkyMiles mileage earning rates for travel on Delta

For example, American Executive Platinum requires 100,000 elite qualifying miles per year, which translates to 50,000 flown miles in discounted first & business class. Meanwhile Delta Diamond Medallion requires 125,000 elite qualifying miles per year, which translates to ~83,300 flown miles in discounted first & business class.

But this is minor compared to my other “issue.”

Delta’s partner mileage earning rates are hugely inconsistent

There’s no denying that American AAdvantage is closer with some of their oneworld airline partners than others. They have joint ventures with some airlines, while there are other partner airlines that they’re even cutting any codeshare ties with, like Qatar Airways.

Nonetheless, American awards at least 150% elite qualifying miles for paid first or business class travel on all oneworld partner airlines, and also lets you earn elite qualifying dollars for travel on all oneworld partner airlines. The reason I appreciate this so much is because airlines like LATAM, Malaysia, SriLankan, etc., frequently have good value premium cabin fares, so flying them can really help towards earning status with American.

AAdvantage mileage earning rates for travel on Qatar Airways

While Delta is technically part of SkyTeam, in reality Delta’s main alliance is the “MeTeam,” which is Delta’s at-will alliance that maximizes their own good at every given point.

SkyMiles partner airlines are in four groups, depending on how much Delta likes them. The cool kids table is for their joint venture partners, which offers attractive mileage earning.

However, by the time you get down to groups three and four, you’re looking at severely reduced mileage earning. For example, the paid business class ticket I recently flew on Xiamen Air earned me just 75% elite qualifying miles, which is fewer elite qualifying miles than I would have earned for a cheap Delta economy ticket.

So in crediting miles to Delta I was looking forward to the opportunity to fly airlines like China Southern, Aerolineas Argentinas, Garuda Indonesia, Vietnam Airlines, etc., in business class, so I can experience some new and fun products. And while I can still do that, the mileage earning rates will be severely reduced.

Even more, there’s quite an opportunity cost to crediting those flights to SkyMiles, since other programs credit 150%+ miles for travel on many of those airlines.

Bottom line

I sort of knew all of this coming in, though it’s really only hitting me to this degree as I start to map out trips to earn Platinum or Diamond status for next year. Fortunately I’ll easily be able to earn Platinum thanks to how easy it is to earn MQMs through Delta’s credit cards, though it’s Diamond I’m considering. With a couple of strategic mileage runs, it shouldn’t be too tough to earn.

However, if you are considering SkyMiles, their weak partner earnings is something to consider. Qualifying for status with AAdvantage is easy, between earning 200% EQMs on discounted first & business class tickets on American, and the 150% earnings rates on all of their partners in discounted business class. Meanwhile with SkyMiles, we’re talking about 150% MQMs on discounted first & business class tickets on Delta, and in many cases just 75% earnings rates on some of their partners.

  1. One thing that hasn’t made sense to me is why Korean Air hasn’t been made a group 1 partner since they increased their codeshares and said they would increase their frequent flyer benefits. Hopefully that is coming soon, which should help.

  2. This is one annoying part of Delta, but the flip side is you can earn 100% MQMs even on super cheap economy tickets with China Eastern, Jet Airways, etc. I wish they’d play nicer with all SkyTeam members, though.

  3. well, if you think about it, the 150% EQM floor is kinda the offset against no credit card waiver for EQD.

    oh the plus side, i gotta give DL some credit for using a distance-based chart to compute MQD even for externally plated partner tickets (thanks to their whacky formula, they gave me like $1700 of MQD for my $660 VS ticket ….. not that it matters cuz i’m not trying to shoot for any DL status)

    as for the value proposition of a DL status, i’d take a wait-n-see approach with what happens to their Crossover Rewards partnership with Starwood.

  4. Lucky can you explain what you mean by “For example, SkyMiles doesn’t let you redeem miles for international first class”? I’ve redeemed skymiles for international first class on Delta and their partners.

  5. @ Lauren — You can redeem SkyMiles for international business class, but not for first class, unlike what their US counterparts in Star Alliance and oneworld allow.

  6. @Lauren : most likely you were redeeming for long-haul flat beds, which is still technically business class. Delta One, for example, is classified as business class.

    Lucky was referring to things like Garuda first, China Eastern first, Air France first, Korean Air first, etc.

  7. Remember.. Delta is completely getting rod of anything having to do with loyalty. They have slowly started ending Skymiles… period! You think American awards are offensive? How about 160,000 miles one way form JFK-SFO off season on a Saturday? 200,000 miles one way in Detla One Suites on any route with A350. 125,000 one way Business awards to Asia within 21 days. This airline is offensively pissing off elite members left and right. This same airline is not going to give you any easy ways to earn status. The only killer mileage runs are on China Eastern…who the H*** wants to fly that terrible airline? Why would you work hard to achieve status with an airline that has the following:
    Worst First/Business class meal service
    Tightest first class cabins
    Worst Earn/Burn in the USA
    Worst lounges of any airline worldwide for International Travel (exception might be Seattle/SFO/Atlanta B)

  8. Delta reminds me of trump. The narcissism and the fickleness.

    But I want to remind you, your primary duty is to the blog and to review multiple airlines for the benefit of your readers, and not to primarily qualify for elite status. That is just the icing on the cake if you get it.

  9. @Lucky /@HenryLAX I think that depends on what the airline offers. Several airlines including Delta and Virgin don’t really have “first class” on (long-haul) international flights. Delta has Delta One and Virgin has Premium/Business and Upper Class (all three of which I’ve redeemed miles for). Delta’s international “first class” is for shorter flights and is basically their domestic first class product with mimosas before takeoff. And you can certainly redeem miles for that “first class” if you’d like. If “first class” isn’t offered, I’m not sure that you can accurately say that you can’t redeem miles for it.

  10. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why you would try to get delta status. If you’re flying mostly international paid business class fares, you have lounge access overseas. You get delta lounge access from Amex. The Delta cards take care of any bag fees you’d otherwise pay on domestic coach, and you do carry-ons anyway. You mention that since the price of paid domestic “first” has become more reasonable, you simply buy it when upgrades might be iffy. Have you considered the value you’d actually get from delta status versus the lost miles from crediting elsewhere? Sure, you’ll get some upgrade certs, but if you’re flying revenue business to gain/retain status, there can’t be much value there. What am I missing?

  11. I have been saying this for at least a year, ever since I switched loyalty to AA. Also, business travelers: Keep in mind that full-fare business and first tickets on AA earn 300% (!!!) EQMs. I had a ton of last-minute, full-fare business trips to Brazil at the end of last year, and made AA Executive Platinum after flying about 20 segments. I think it’s a huge benefit for long-haul business travelers.

  12. @Debit – Lucky doesn’t really have a “duty” to the readers. The blog is free, remember? As in “you’re not paying anything to read it.”

  13. @Ryan, several of your points just aren’t true.

    Worst First/Business class meal service? Not domestically, at least. DL meals are better than AA.
    Worst lounges of any airline worldwide for International Travel (exception might be Seattle/SFO/Atlanta B). That’s quite a statement. BTW, I’ve seen some really ratty Admirals Clubs.

  14. @DCA – Personally, I’d say status matters a lot for:

    (1) earning redeemable miles (for legacies, generally 5x per dollar spent for a general member versus 11x per dollar spent for top-tier elite)

    (2) Waivers of various penalties/fees (including being able to cancel and redeposit an award booking for $0 up until departure)

    (3) Lounge access and partner lounge access when flying internationally, even in economy

    (4) Near-instant customer service access via phone, even during IRROPS

    These are probably the four that I value most, but I’m sure other people may value other perks more.

  15. I agree completely with @Andy 11235. I’ve looked at Diamond multiple times and can’t see the incremental benefit (for me, ymmv obviously) over platinum, because I rarely ever need a domestic upgrade and I have lounge access through Amex. As a matter of fact, for the flying I do on Delta, I am more inclined to manage my MQM’s so that I am rolling over for multiple years as a Platinum rather than going for Diamond and then having to keep flying at that level. I will probably have 110,000 MQM’s this year, and I am well past the minimum spend for Diamond – but rolling over 35,000 and having the option to fly minimally on Delta in 2018 while maintaining Platinum for 2019 is more valuable to me than going for Diamond and then having nothing to rollover into 2019. This also gives me the option to maximize my rollover going into 2019 when Diamond will arguably be more valuable because of the elimination of the spending waiver. If I am going to get Diamond once in the next couple years, I much rather that it be 2019 than 2018.

  16. @Ryan – You forgot to mention:
    the most limited IFE of an international airline;
    the most verbally abusive flight crews;
    the most unattractive color palette for business class interior finishes;
    the worst boarding process for any International airline;

    Honestly ever statement you made is arguable, easily arguable. The “Worst lounges of any airline worldwide for International Travel” – this isn’t even rational. I am not sure where you’ve been but I can point you to lounges of on every continent that will make you wish you were enjoying the relative luxury of the little San Diego SkyClub.

  17. I know you’ve become increasingly annoyed with AA but even with all the massively bad changes to AAdvantage it’s still got Delta’s program beat. The award charts for Delta Premium Cabin are infinitely worse than AA even with the scarcity issue factored in. And DL’s EQM for discounted premium cabin paid flights is shameful. I flew four paid RT discounted business class trips to the EU in the first half of 2017 and made AA EXP. Pursuing DL diamond, I would have to take ten similar trips (allowing for the extra 25,000 miles for diamond). Even with significant credit card spend it isn’t high enough to balance out the top elite status requirements between programs.

    As much as I hate BA I’d pursue their top elite status before going for DL.

  18. @ Barry — You can’t redeem Delta miles for international first class, but rather business class is the highest cabin you can redeem for.

  19. @ DCA — I don’t pay for first & business class all the time. My goal is to be in first & business class as much as possible when it’s economically feasible, and status helps me do that. The higher my status, the less I have to pay for premium cabins, since I have better upgrade odds.

  20. Your article states that you can’t redeem miles for 1st class international flights on Delta. Well Delta does not Have 1st class seats on their international flights,
    Only business class. So how did you come up with that part of your article? FdeK

  21. @ Frits de Knegt — While Delta doesn’t have an international first class cabin, many of their partner airlines do, including China Eastern, China Southern, Garuda Indonesia, and Saudia. With other alliances, members of virtually all programs can redeem for first class on partner airlines, regardless of whether the airline itself has a first class cabin. In the case of SkyTeam, these agreements are only reached on an airline-by-airline basis, and SkyMiles doesn’t let you redeem miles for international first class on partner airlines.

  22. Lucky – It does suck on reduced MQM, but at least for MQDs I always check the fare rules and some partner SkyTeam airlines can be ticketed in Delta stock allowing you to get full MQDs. I’ve seen KQ, KL, AF, AZ and a few others. You might want to see if any of the airlines you want to try can be ticketed on KL/AF stock with KL/AF marketed numbers allowing you to get more MQMs.

  23. Although I agree with the points raised in this article, it simply means if you DO make Diamond, it is that more elite and beneficial. You are correct, it is much easier to make AA Exec Platinum, but that’s why it’s common to be 20+ deep on the upgrade list as an EP. The fact is, making Diamond status qualification harder makes the status that much more beneficial to those that truly attain it. Ultimately, it means easier upgrades, less busy lounges, and potentially nicer mailed gifts (although as DM, I never got a mailed gift!!!)

  24. I left an “Ask Lucky” question about this issue.

    I’d love it if you could do the math on where to credit flights in the future,so that we can see how to maximize our points and value.

    I’m taking a China Eastern flight in 2 weeks and cannot decide where to credit the flight (Flying Blue or Delta)

    I’d love seeing the math on where you chose to credit your flight with the intro to each trip report (sort of like how you discuss which credit card to use) so that I can see how you think…

  25. Totally agree that these two points make qualifying for Delta elite status significantly more difficult than the other two US alliances. I’d be OK with that if they offered commensurately more benefits but they don’t. OTOH, comparing DL vs AA vs UA, I feel that the OW alliance has the weakest network and *A has United which I avoid like the plague. Also Delta is arguably better operationally than the other two and that makes a difference when you just gotta be somewhere. I suppose their been counters factor all this into their programs.

  26. I always find it odd that you will get the same MQMs on an $6k Biz flight and on a $900 Premium Eco flight from NYC or MCO to London. You will get deals like that on Virgin. On the other hand the latter is a great way to make MQMs without spending a ton of money. In my mind Delta should either put Premium Eco at 125% or Biz to 175%.

  27. It seems money is no object when you are planning a trip. I suggest you also put the corresponding fare amount for each case in your article to let readers decide whether it makes sense. If you are happily paying for the first class fare for your trip, of cause the “revenue limit” is not a major issue. I can tell you, all my friends (the deal seekers you are trying to entertain for) are considering the revenue limit is the number one barrier. It is the one effective way to destroy the loyalty of the airlines’ customers.
    By the way, Delta allows you to carry over the MQMs you did not use to the next year. Unless you want to reach Diamond status every year, and willing to pay for it, think of the the MQM carry over benefit!

  28. I fly from Europe to USA on Delta and occasionally due to changes/bad weather in NYC I end up with United / AA.
    Seats and service/ food in Delta one is way better than on UA/AA.
    Diamond gets you 4 global upgrades, which I use on US to Europe overnight flights. Even on cheapest economy fares, these have cleared immediately.
    Booking business fares with AF/KL (and premium eco with AF) gives you lot more DL RDMs.
    AF and KL almost always have upgrade sales (about 275-450), much cheaper than buying business fares if one is willing to take a chance. On most trips even the big AF380 goes with full business class due to these mail / gate upgrades.

  29. Your response to DCA’s question about the need for delta status if you often purchase F & B tickets was puzzling: “I don’t pay for first & business class all the time. My goal is to be in first & business class as much as possible when it’s economically feasible, and status helps me do that. The higher my status, the less I have to pay for premium cabins, since I have better upgrade odds.”

    Being in F or B is nice; however that begs the question why you feel the need to be in F (domestic only) or B (international) on delta. Diamond status provides greater upgrade odds domestically but again on delta which offers many cheap domestic F fares and upgrades anyway. Diamond is no help in being upgraded on cheap fares on delta partners.

    Diamond global upgrades allow upgrading (potentially) cheap delta fares to B class internationally only on delta. If you can use Global Upgrades on the flights you desire, then you are truly worthy your nom de plume. If you want to use them for B class on the A350, you can forget about it.

    CLEAR membership is a very nice Diamond perk but it can be purchased for a lot less than the $20,000 in delta tickets it takes most people to meet the MQD requirement. And even the benefits of CLEAR are declining as more people have it.

    It is apparent from the comments on this post how many delta flyers have been duped by the delta spin. For example, call business class DeltaOne and some will think it is first class. Stick a door on a B class seat and you’ve got a “suite.” Many delta flyers just don’t know what they are missing.

    I second Joe C’s comment that it is a travesty that Korean Air, a delta JV partner, is a Group 4 partner for earning delta credits.

  30. @Lucky, it looks like Delta is updating their partner earning charts in Jan 2018 based on new charts that started showing up on their website this morning. From what I can tell, the changes look pretty positive. Most of the group 4 airlines have an increased MQM rate in the premium cabin (i.e. all Xiamen business fares will earn 100% MQM vs 75%) however, the class bonus for redeemable miles appears to be going away.

    One notable change from what I can tell is the earning rates on KLM for TATL flights on KL stock and metal will start earning MQDs based on a percentage of distance flown vs ticket price.

  31. @Ryan. Regarding your impression of China Eastern, I am one of those crazy people who did just that. I researched far and wide what I should expect and guess what? I had the best lamb chops I have ever eaten with them in their business class from JFK to PVG, and then connection to Singapore on a Shanghai Airlines metal flight, where the flight attendants not only spoke perfect English, but actually liked their jobs and bent over backwards trying to help you. I had such a pleasant overall experience, that if I get the Delta Mileage credit that I am expecting, I will have no problem flying them again. NONE WHATSOEVER!!

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