Earning Delta Status With Credit Card Spending

Filed Under: American Express, Delta
In the interest of full disclosure, OMAAT earns a referral bonus for anyone that’s approved through some of the below links. These are the best publicly available offers (terms apply) that we have found for each card. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Please check out my advertiser policy for further details about our partners, and thanks for your support!

Update: These offers for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express and the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express have expired. Learn more about the current offers here.


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.  Here are some of the most popular Delta cards: Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card (review), Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card (review), and Delta Reserve® Credit Card (review).

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 welcome bonuses on their Platinum and Reserve Cards that offer MQMs as part of the 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

Share Your MQMs With Others

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 737Delta 737

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:

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.

Bottom Line

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.

For everything you need to know about Delta credit cards, see this post.

To Delta loyalists, to what extent do you use Delta Amex cards to earn Medallion status?

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Comments
  1. Another way to earn Delta Status is to spend few hundred thousand dollars on your Amex Platinum to receive invitation to Amex Centurion card. It comes with complimentary Delta Platinum status 🙂

  2. It’s a very unique subset that would be putting those insanely high levels of spend on a single card. I travel for work nearly every week and have the benefit of being able to put all of that spend on my personal cards, but I would never come close to those higher thresholds….nor would I want to do that. I earn far more points by being strategic with my spend across a variety of cards. Plus, it’s already super easy to earn status when you travel that much.

    I feel like the Reserve is geared towards business owner or ultra wealthy that might not travel a ton, but have a lot of spend in a year. For the average person that even has a modest amount of travel, I think the Platinum is the card of choice (if you don’t care about strategizing spend). More bonus categories to get those extra RDMs, but you still have the opportunity to get some MQMs if you’re going to be short.

  3. Without a doubt if you’re going to earn status on Delta with the help of credit card spend, platinum is the sweet spot. Most of the perks of diamond status with considerable less cost. Even if you have the annual spend to put a quarter of a million on delta Amex cards, as you wrote the opportunity cost is very high. I would think an ample amount of domestic first class flying on delta would get you the 15k MQD for diamond.

  4. Or, you know, join the Delta Private Jets. It costs at least $100,000 for 2 years, I think, and you recoup by flying private jets. Sounds tasty.

  5. Yes there are people out there who spend 250k just to get Diamond. And no, the ultra wealthy will not fall for it since they likely will fly first and money can compensate almost every perks of Diamond. It is the ones who normally fly coach but have huge expenses. Are they wise, no. But like other scams, there will always be someone who falls for it. From Windows technician in India to Prince in Nigeria, if everyone is wise these occupation will be long gone.

    For those who did fall for this AMEX scam, I’m pretty sure AMEX and DL will soon filter you out and hand you some extra ‘targeted’ carrot on a stick for you. Hmmm, 360. Hmmm, Centurion.
    You’ll be surprised that there are many MQM junkies out there who don’t care about opportunity cost. The secret keyword for junkies that @Lucky forgot is Million Miler and LIFETIME status. Hah, by the time DL have enough lifetime members they will do what they do best. Monetize and devalue. LOL

    Not just DL But UA too. There are probably enough lifetime UA loyalists out there who will say who cares, please take my money. I am willing to fly 2-4-2 as they seldom get inconvenienced by things like ‘2-4-2’ because they consider flying as primarily **transportation** that gets from point A to point B in relative comfort.

  6. Maybe a detailed comparison of Gold, Platinum, and Diamond status would be useful in helping people figure out if this is worth it?

  7. I’ve always been against buying status. I think it should only be earned by butt-in-seat miles. No wonder half the passengers on any given DL flight have status, and the waitlist for Diamond F-class upgrades goes on forever.

  8. I dont know… You posted that article already a couple of years back and I thought it was among the dumbest things I`ve ever read in my entire life.

  9. You guys need to take a screen shot of the offers you apply for because American Express will change them to suit their needs. They have now changed the offer I applied for TWICE so even if you think you may be getting a certain amount of bonus miles, MQM’s, etc., that could change.
    If this has not happened to you, you are lucky because it has now happened to me twice. American Express’s latest explanation is that the previous person was “confused” between all the offers. That is inexcusable when you are dealing with people’s finances and honoring commitments. Again you need to keep physical proof of the offer you “think” you are getting.

  10. I have two children in college without a credit card fee. We can pay on Delta Amex earn miles and status. (Then reimbursed 529 plan) I owned a company and was Diamond for a number of years. Now I use these cards to maintain Platinum status. We still travel on Delta as a family and enjoy the perks. International trips we can always upgrade a couple to comfort plus. It has worked great for us. I hope we haven’t missed out on other card spend but I feel like we make the most of it.

  11. Spending, wthout SkyMiles to match, even at half rate, the MQMs aren’t worth the loss in rewards value now. The current Reserve card setup is worth the spend; 2020 setup, nope.

  12. @jeni bogdan
    You did two of the best things a parent can do for their kids. Have 529 and build their credit history. Just a reminder but you probably know that, 529 can’t be used for flights.

    @TigerShark
    That isn’t entirely true. If you say the 2019 reward is worth the spend, then you are already paying for MQMs since there are much better cards out there to use for pure points/miles. The extra 30,000 miles you lost won’t get you that far to begin with, you are still better off using other cards. Think 60k in MR vs 60k in DL. No matter how you do the math, the DL Amex card is good only to buy MQMs. With the 2020 structure, you get to buy EVEN MORE MQMs.

  13. Do any of these cards help towards lifetime miles in ones account? I’m about 30K short of 1MM on Delta and fly Delta very rarely.

  14. Lucky,
    you are incorrect
    As of 2020, you cannot get or combine MQMs from 2 Delta Reserve cards
    You can only get 60 MQM from 1 Reserve card = 120k spend
    You can get 20 MQM from the Platinum card = 50k spend
    So you have to spend 80k extra = no bonus miles or MQMs = 1600$ lost cash back
    + you still have to fly Deta for the last 45k MQMs for Diamond

  15. @Lucky – Can you speak a little more about giving MQMs earned from card spend to others? If I have a Delta AmEx Platinum and my brother has a Delta AmEx Platinum on his own, separate account (he’s not an additional cardholder on my account), how do I “give” him MQMs to get him over a status bump?

  16. Perhaps I am the insane person who actually thinks buying status might be worth it…let me know if you disagree…my company spends several million per year on corporate cards…we currently have about 20 million points spread almost equally between AmEx and Chase…we have been redeeming these for gift cards at 0.50 to 0.70 cents per point. I am able to “purchase” these points from the company for the same rate using pre-tax dollars…net after tax costs is therefore roughly 0.40 cents per point…I make 4-8 one-way flights per month usually 1-2 hours in duration…my thinking is to “buy” diamond status with $250k annual spend on two delta amex reserve cards…this would then allow me to purchase main cabin tickets for 6k to 10k delta points each leg and get upgraded to first class most of the time…as I have access to so many AmEx MR points at low cost my thinking is I could get first class tickets on Delta for a net cost of around $25-40 using points purchased from my company and diamond status…is my thinking flawed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *