Earning Delta Status With Credit Card Spending

Filed Under: American Express, Delta
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Update: This article contains mentions of Chase Freedom Unlimited®, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card and the Blue Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express whose terms have expired and are in the process of being updated. All other offers reflect accurate offer terms. 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.

There’s no US airline I’d rather fly consistently than Delta, and in the past I’ve often considered trying to spend my way towards status with Delta. That’s something I’m considering less now than in the past, as airlines continue to devalue frequent flyer programs, though I think it’s still interesting to look at the math.

Many changes were made to Delta Amex cards as of early 2020, and this includes changes made to earning status through credit card spending. In this post I wanted to take a close look at the current state of earning Delta status through credit card spending, especially as the cards are currently offering increased welcome bonuses.

These increased bonuses are available on all four “flavors” of Delta Amex cards, including the:

Only two of those cards help you to qualify for status, though.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status Requirements

Delta has four elite tiers, with the following annual 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, as follows:

  • You can get the MQD requirement waived for Silver, Gold, and Platinum status, if you spend at least $25,000 on a 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 Platinum or Reserve Delta Amex during the calendar year
  • If you have multiple cards, spend across the cards counts towards the waiver

In years past, spending on the Gold Delta Amex counted towards an MQD waiver, but that benefit went away in January 2020. Your current options are to spend on the Platinum or Reserve for an MQD waiver.

Earning Delta MQMs With Welcome Bonuses

At the moment Delta has excellent limited-time welcome bonuses on their Reserve Cards (through April 1, 2020), which even include MQMs as part of the bonus:

You could potentially apply for both of those cards, and earn a total of 40,000 MQMs for the two bonuses.

Delta A350 business class

Earning Delta MQMs With Credit Card Spending

Not only can you earn 40,000 MQMs on Delta’s Reserve card bonuses, 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

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card offer the following for ongoing spending:

  • Earn 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $25,000
  • Earn an additional 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $50,000

That means spending $50,000 on either of the cards would earn you 20,000 MQMs, and if you spent $50,000 on both of the cards you’d earn a total of 40,000 MQMs.

Delta Reserve Amex MQMs For Spending

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card offer the following for ongoing spending:

  • 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

That means spending $120,000 on either of these cards would earn you 60,000 MQMs, and if you spent $240,000 on both of the cards you’d earn a total of 120,000 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 each of the Delta Platinum Cards
  • 60,000 bonus MQMs for spending $120,000 on each of the Delta Reserve Cards

If you want to earn MQMs as efficiently as possible, the Reserve is the way to go, since you’re earning half an MQM per dollar spent, in the right increments.

$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 products.

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, 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 (you’d then be spending $250,000 per year on these cards), 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 massive 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. 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 year.

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 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.

That’s not accounting for the annual fee on the cards either, since everyone will account for those costs differently, based on how much value they get out of card perks.

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, putting enough spending on 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?

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Comments
  1. This is deja deja deja deja vu! LOL Imagine if DL copied AA and started firing elites for using loopholes! They’re probably waiting a few more years to sucker more people in.

  2. This analysis is always interesting, but it

    1) The vast majority of people spending on a Platinum or Reserve to help with status are already flying a good amount (at least 25,000 miles, maybe even closer to 50,000 miles) on Delta through business travel. So most individuals probably only need to spend $60,000 to reach that Platinum tier. Diamond is obviously more challenging
    2) To the extent people are spending hundreds of thousands on these cards, it is often families with at least one heavy traveler that also wants to be able to gift a spouse MQMs
    3) It doesn’t make sense to “spend your way to Diamond status” if you don’t have many paid flights on Delta. Paying $3,400 to $5,500 for Diamond Status when you presumably only have a few flights a year doesn’t really add up. However if you have 20+ segments on Delta, it can pencil out more because it makes your life easier, and you earn more redeemable points.

    Personally I plan to spend $60,000 for 30,000 MQM, which should get me over the hump towards Platinum

  3. Is it another warmup of the dumbest article on the whole wide internet? Like you just spend quarter a million Dollar per year in order to get some Delta freebies?

  4. @ John — If you run your own business and makes $700,000+ taxable, you can easily reach $240,000 spend just on taxes.

  5. Delta miles cannot be worth less than 1.0 cents for cardholders. It’s simply not possible.

    By contrast Hilton points are routinely worth less than 0.4 cents (10-20% less than their “value”). It’s weird how “Maldives currencies” get routinely upgraded in valuation but Delta miles — 1.1 cents on a bad day, 2.0 cents plus regularly for Delta One — are so undervalued.

    I use my miles all the time and find consistently I’m averaging 1.4-1.5 cents per mile redeemed.

  6. Article does nothing for me. Annual income (retired) is 60K. I take 1/trip per yr to Okinawa, Japan. 1per yr to west coast. Spend in amounts noted not possible. Would like to see more articles or info on low end spend / use of CC. Also have health issues (hip-knee) which mean cannot fly on most aircraft because of small seat sizes. Need more info for low income spenders.

  7. Could you clarify this statement (as I am not absolutely sure that it’s correct)?
    “…again, you don’t always earn one MQS per segment flown, as it varies based on the type of fare.”
    I do not believe that either fare class or amount paid is a determinant of MQS accrual.
    Thanks.

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