Through October 30, 2019, we’re seeing some best-ever bonuses on the Delta American Express cards, including on the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card (review), Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card (review), and Delta Reserve® Credit Card (review).
One of the things that make Delta credit cards unique is how they can be used to earn status. Delta lets you spend your way towards status, and in theory, you could even earn top tier status with Delta exclusively through credit card spending.
There’s no US airline I’d rather fly consistently than Delta, and I’ve often considered trying to spend my way towards status with Delta.
In this post, I wanted to look at how using credit cards to earn status works, and if it’s worth it. The other thing to note is that changes have been announced to Delta Amex cards for 2020, and these include changes to earning status with the cards. So I’ll also review those changes in this post.
Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status Requirements
Delta has four elite tiers, with the following requirements:
- Silver Medallion requires 25,000 MQMs OR 30 MQSs AND 3,000 MQDs
- Gold Medallion requires 50,000 MQMs OR 60 MQSs AND 6,000 MQDs
- Platinum Medallion requires 75,000 MQMs OR 100 MQSs AND 9,000 MQDs
- Diamond Medallion requires 125,000 MQMs OR 140 MQSs AND 15,000 MQDs
For those not familiar with MQMs, MQSs, or MQDs:
- MQMs are Medallion Qualifying Miles, which refer to the number of elite miles you earn (this can vary based on the type of ticket you’re booking, so you don’t always earn one MQM per mile flown)
- MQSs are Medallion Qualifying Segments, which refer to the number of elite segments you earn (again, you don’t always earn one MQS per segment flown, as it varies based on the type of fare)
- MQDs are Medallion Qualifying Dollars, which refer to how much you have to spend on your ticket to earn status; taxes and many fees are excluded from this total
Delta Amex Medallion Qualifying Dollar Waiver
You can get a waiver on the MQD requirement with credit cards. For the remainder of 2019:
- You can get the MQD requirement waived for Silver, Gold, and Platinum status, if you spend at least $25,000 on a Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta Amex during the calendar year
- You can get the MQD requirement waived for Diamond status if you spend at least $250,000 on a Gold, Platinum, or Reserve Delta Amex during the calendar year
- If you have multiple cards, spend across the cards counts towards the waiver
Starting in 2020, spending on the Gold Delta Amex will no longer count towards an MQD waiver, so you’d need to spend on the Platinum or Reserve for that to qualify towards an MQD waiver.
Earning Delta MQMs With Welcome Bonuses
At the moment Delta has increased welcome bonuses on their Gold, Platinum, and Reserve cards, with the Platinum and Reserve Cards offering MQMs as part of the welcome bonuses:
- The Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card is offering 75,000 bonus miles plus 5,000 MQMs after spending $3,000 within three months, plus a $100 statement credit after making a Delta purchase within the first three months
- The Delta Reserve® Credit Card is offering 75,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 MQMs after spending $5,000 within three months
Delta A350 business class
Earning Delta MQMs With Credit Card Spending
Not only can you earn 5,000 MQMs with the welcome bonus on Delta’s Platinum card and 10,000 MQMs on Delta’s Reserve card, but there are also opportunities to earn MQMs through your everyday spending. Let’s look at how that differs across the Platinum and Reserve cards:
Delta Platinum Amex MQMs For Spending
For the remainder of 2019, the Platinum Delta Amex Card offers the following for ongoing spending:
- Earn 10,000 bonus MQMs plus 10,000 bonus redeemable miles after spending $25,000
- Earn an additional 10,000 bonus MQMs plus 10,000 additional bonus redeemable miles after spending $50,000
So in the end, if you spent $50,000 on this card you’d earn an additional 20,000 bonus MQMs and 20,000 bonus redeemable miles.
Starting in 2020, the card will continue to award MQMs at the same rate, though the additional bonus redeemable miles will not be awarded. So this decreases the value proposition of spending on these cards for earning status.
Delta Reserve Amex MQMs For Spending
For the remainder of 2019, the Reserve Delta Amex Card offers the following for ongoing spending:
- Earn 15,000 bonus MQMs plus 15,000 bonus redeemable miles after spending $30,000
- Earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs plus 15,000 additional bonus redeemable miles after spending $60,000
So in the end, if you spent $60,000 on this card you’d earn an additional 30,000 bonus MQMs and 30,000 bonus redeemable miles.
This is changing in 2020, though. As of then, the card will be cutting the redeemable miles bonus for spending, however, they will be offering more thresholds for earning MQMs. As of 2020 you’ll:
- Earn 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $30,000
- Earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000
- Earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $90,000
- Earn an additional 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $120,000
As of 2020, spending $120,000 on the card would earn you a total of 60,000 bonus MQMs.
Delta A320 first class
Crunching The Numbers
Forgetting the welcome bonuses (since those are “once in a lifetime”), on an annual basis you can earn:
- 20,000 bonus MQMs for spending $50,000 on the Delta Platinum Card
- 30,000 bonus MQMs for spending $60,000 on the Delta Reserve Card (as of 2020 you can earn 60,000 bonus MQMs for spending $120,000 on the card)
If you want to earn MQMs as efficiently as possible starting in 2020, the Reserve is the way to go. $120,000 of spending earns you 60,000 MQMs, and if you had both the personal and business version, you’d be looking at 120,000 MQMs for $240,000 of spending.
These are obviously huge amounts to spend and it won’t be possible for everyone, but I know plenty of people who spend a lot on credit cards through reimbursable business expenses, etc., so something like this could make a lot of sense.
Using Credit Cards To Earn Silver, Gold, Or Platinum Status
I’d say earning Silver, Gold, or Platinum status with Delta is extremely attainable with the help of credit cards. For one, you can knock out the MQD requirement (which is a major roadblock for people) by spending $25,000 on the Platinum or Reserve card
Even taking a basic strategy, if you spent $60,000 on a Delta Reserve Card you’d be earning 30,000 MQMs:
- That’s more than enough for Silver status
- That puts you 20,000 MQMs from Gold status
- That puts you 45,000 MQMs from Platinum status
Using Credit Cards To Earn Diamond Status
Earning Diamond status through credit cards takes a bit more commitment.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Diamond status requires either 15,000 MQDs (meaning you have to spend $15,000 on Delta ticket purchases in a year, before taxes and fees), or you need to spend $250,000 on credit cards to get that waived.
In many ways, if you want to earn Diamond status with the help of credit cards, you should go “all-in” (though there’s a huge opportunity cost to that). The best strategy for going “all-in here is to:
- Spend $240,000 across the personal and business Reserve cards as of 2020, so you’d be looking at earning 120,000 MQMs
- You’d then want to spend an extra $10,000 to get the MQD waiver, so that you don’t have to spend $15,000 on Delta flights to earn Diamond status
You’d then be just 5,000 MQMs short of earning Diamond status, which should be easy. Of course, there are some huge catches here:
- There’s big opportunity cost to spending that much on a Delta card, since you can earn more valuable rewards with other cards
- You have to decide how much value you’d actually get out of Diamond status; if you take just a few flights per year with them, it’s probably not worth it
If you earn Delta MQMs through credit card spending, you can actually share those with others. That’s to say that you can choose for what account you want to redeem those MQMs. So you can have your spouse, parent, sibling, friend, etc., open up a card, and then they could give you MQMs.
Delta Offers Rollover MQMs
Delta offers rollover MQMs, so if you over qualify for a status level over the course of a year, whatever miles you earn above a particular status level roll over to the following miles.
So if you end the year with 45,000 MQMs you’d earn Silver status, but that only requires 25,000 MQMs. So 20,000 MQMs would roll over to the next year.
That can play into this strategy as well.
Opportunity Cost Of Credit Card Spending
The best return for elite status on spending is offered by the Delta Reserve Card. Let’s say that in 2020 you spend $120,000 and earn 60,000 MQMs.
Spending $120,000 would earn you a total of 120,000 redeemable miles and 60,000 MQMs. I value SkyMiles at ~1.2 cents each, so to me that’s ~$1,440 of “concrete” value in miles, plus the value of the MQMs.
Then you have to consider the alternatives, which would maybe be one of the best credit cards for everyday spending:
- The Chase Freedom Unlimited® can offer 1.5x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent. On $120,000 of spending I would value that at $3,060 (to me Ultimate Rewards points are worth 1.7 cents each). That means with the Reserve you’d be giving up about $1,620 of “value,” but you’d be getting 60,000 MQMs.
- The Citi® Double Cash Card can offer 2x ThankYou points per dollar spent. On $120,000 of spending I would value that at $4,080 (to me ThankYou points are worth 1.7 cents each). That means with the Reserve you’d be giving up about $2,640 of “value,” but you’d be getting 60,000 MQMs.
To simplify it even further, at certain thresholds of spending you’re earning one SkyMile and 0.5 MQMs per dollar spent.
If you value SkyMiles at 1.2 cents and consider the opportunity cost of spending to be 2.55-3.4%, you’re essentially paying 2.7-4.4 cents per MQM. At that rate that’s the equivalent of “paying” ~$3,375-5,500 for Diamond status.
Delta is unique in making it fairly attainable to earn status exclusively through credit card spending, or through a combination of credit card spending and flying.
At a minimum, having a co-branded credit card with MQM earning potential can greatly help you earn Silver, Gold, or Platinum Medallion status.
However, for the really hardcore credit card spender, having enough Delta co-branded credit cards could earn you Diamond status. You’d want to spend at least $250,000 so you could get the MQD waiver, but that would make the status quite attainable beyond that.
Like I said, this most definitely isn’t for everyone, but it is something that makes Delta unique. American and United both have really lackluster options for earning status through credit cards, by comparison.
To Delta loyalists, to what extent do you use Delta Amex cards to earn Medallion status?