Earning Delta Elite Status With Credit Card Spending

Earning Delta Elite Status With Credit Card Spending

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One of the things that make Delta credit cards unique is how they can be used to earn elite 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 airline in the United States 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, between the pandemic and all the ways that airlines have devalued frequent flyer programs. Still, I think it’s interesting to consider the math.

In this post, I wanted to take a close look at the current state of earning Delta status through credit card spending. For those who are currently Delta SkyMiles elite members this might not be too necessary, given that Delta has extended Medallion status for 2021.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion Status Requirements

Delta SkyMiles 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 Delta Amex 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, spending across the cards counts towards the waiver

Earning Delta MQMs With Welcome Bonuses

At the moment, the co-branded Delta Amex cards are offering limited-time welcome bonuses, valid for applications through November 10, 2021. Four of the cards are currently offering welcome bonuses that include MQMs, as follows:

Delta A350 business class

Earning Delta MQMs With Credit Card Spending

Not only can you earn MQMs as part of the above four credit card bonuses, but there are also opportunities to earn MQMs through your everyday spending. Note that for 2021, Delta is even offering a 25% boost in terms of the MQMs earned through spending. Below I’ll talk both about how many MQMs you’d usually earn, and also about how many you earn after factoring in the 25% bonus.

Let’s look at how that differs across the Platinum and Reserve cards (note that this doesn’t factor in any MQMs earned as part of the welcome bonuses):

Delta Platinum Amex MQMs For Spending

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (review) 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
  • For 2021, earn an additional 2,500 MQMs at each of these thresholds

That means spending $50,000 on either of the cards would ordinarily earn you 20,000 MQMs, or 25,000 MQMs in 2021. Meanwhile, if you spent $50,000 on both of these cards you’d ordinarily earn 40,000 MQMs, or 50,000 MQMs in 2021.

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
  • For 2021, earn an additional 3,750 MQMs at each of these thresholds

That means spending $120,000 on either of these cards would earn you a bonus of 60,000 MQMs, or 75,000 MQMs in 2021. Meanwhile, if you spent $240,000 on both of the cards you’d ordinarily earn a total of 120,000 MQMs or 150,000 MQMs in 2021.

Delta A320 first class

Crunching The Numbers

Ignoring the welcome bonuses (since those are “once in a lifetime”), on an annual basis you can earn:

  • 20,000 bonus MQMs (25,000 in 2021) for spending $50,000 on each of the Delta Platinum cards
  • 60,000 bonus MQMs (75,000 in 2021) 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 (75,000 in 2021), and if you had both the personal and business version, you’d be looking at 120,000 MQMs (150,000 in 2021) 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 (37,500 MQMs in 2021):

  • That’s more than enough for Silver status
  • That puts you 20,000 MQMs (12,500 MQMs in 2021) from Gold status
  • That puts you 45,000 MQMs (37,500 MQMs in 2021) 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 (150,000 MQMs in 2021)
  • 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 (or 25,000 MQMs in excess for 2021), which should be easy. Of course, there are some huge catches here:

  • There’s a 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 Delta, 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 737
Delta 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 (75,000 MQMs in 2021).

Spending $120,000 would earn you a total of 120,000 redeemable miles and 60,000 MQMs (75,000 in 2021). 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 (0.625 MQMs in 2021) 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.

The current welcome bonuses on Delta Amex cards make it even easier to earn status. Like I said, this most definitely isn’t for everyone, but it is something that makes Delta unique. American and United both have 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? Has the coronavirus pandemic changed your approach?

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  1. Amol

    I’m based in Atlanta now so getting Delta status is almost a requirement. This year, I’m trying to maximize my spending on the Reserve card so that I can get the bonus MQMs (18750 per $30k instead of just 15000). I’m on track to put $90k on my card this year to get 56,250 MQMs (Gold) just from a credit card, plus the 20K MQMs for opening it (putting me above 75K for Platinum). Will...

    I’m based in Atlanta now so getting Delta status is almost a requirement. This year, I’m trying to maximize my spending on the Reserve card so that I can get the bonus MQMs (18750 per $30k instead of just 15000). I’m on track to put $90k on my card this year to get 56,250 MQMs (Gold) just from a credit card, plus the 20K MQMs for opening it (putting me above 75K for Platinum). Will see if they continue this next year, but I foresee only going for $30,000 spend to get the MQD waiver and get the first threshold of MQMs. I’ll probably end close to Diamond Medallion for MQMs this year, but not for MQD (waiver), so I’ll just continue to roll over MQMs and probably have Platinum until 2025 or so.

    That said, I’ve been getting close to 1.4 to 1.5 cents per point value on my Delta miles using them for domestic flights, and I’ve been happy to use them mainly because this year and next year, mileage tickets also earn MQMs. I only paid for 1 ticket so far which was a JFK-LAX Delta 1 ticket which is getting 2.62 MQMs per mile flown.

  2. iamhere

    Delta is an airline. Airlines and hotels do not have flexible loyalty as much as credit card points. So, this post contradicts this advice of yours. You seem to be encouraging spending here. Rather because of the promotion or advertisement which you are paid for.

  3. ffi

    250k at 3c lost cash is 7500$; 2500 DL miles are worth at most 2500
    Add 1000$ for the cards - cost 6000$ for DL DM for 2 years - about 750$ for 15k MQM or about 5c / MQM
    or for every 15k MQM - 30k spend = 900$+150$ card fees= 1050 cost less 30k miles = 300$ cash back on flights = 750$ /15k MQM = 5c
    Unless you fly DL a LOT, do not spend on a DL Amex card!

  4. asdfasdfsa

    after the year of the signup bonuses (totally worth it), i think 2% cap1 venture best deal because money > miles these days for me.... if someone flies DL a lot, then fine, but to me it's all greyhound

  5. AndyPBNYC

    I do not understand why anyone would want to accumulate miles with Delta because they are not redeemable for any international first class travel on any of their partner airlines that even offer it. I would love to hear someone correct me if I'm wrong. I'm stuck with them as they are the only airline with a "first class" cabin on the LGA-PBI route, which I need to use about once a month.

    1. Eskimo

      In the US, Delta miles is probably the worst to earn and redeem.
      I'm stuck with them because their competition isn't really trying hard enough. :(

      You are not wrong but have a difference in opinion. Most people don't redeem miles for international first class, part of it is the rarity and complexity of redeeming one. Beside redeeming miles to try out the product for one time, the rest of them isn't worth my...

      In the US, Delta miles is probably the worst to earn and redeem.
      I'm stuck with them because their competition isn't really trying hard enough. :(

      You are not wrong but have a difference in opinion. Most people don't redeem miles for international first class, part of it is the rarity and complexity of redeeming one. Beside redeeming miles to try out the product for one time, the rest of them isn't worth my time, effort, and flexibility trying to get First. Most of the time I settled for Business with more options. While it would have been better to have the option to redeem F, I'm not going to say it affects me that much. Even back when KE was a CHASE partner, I don't really see any Skyteam F (except AF) that is worth transferring the extra 33%. The only thing I regret is wanting more of the A380 bag tag.

    2. AndyPBNYC

      Eskimo- Good to hear your opinion. Thanks.

    3. Joe1293

      Why not EWR
      You can fly United first class

  6. khatl

    My understanding is that many folks who haven't been flying will be rolling over MQMs, but that Delta is not waiving the spend requirement for 2022 status. In other words, you could have 55k MQM's rollover but because you haven't spent $6k you'll only get say the lowest status. That would be a great reason to get a DL credit card and spend $25k to avoid not missing out on 2022 status.

    Delta also...

    My understanding is that many folks who haven't been flying will be rolling over MQMs, but that Delta is not waiving the spend requirement for 2022 status. In other words, you could have 55k MQM's rollover but because you haven't spent $6k you'll only get say the lowest status. That would be a great reason to get a DL credit card and spend $25k to avoid not missing out on 2022 status.

    Delta also say that only people who earn status in 2022 will get choice benefits. Any insight how a Platinum rolling over into 2022 would get Platinum choice benefits in 2022. i.e. if you earn Platinum this year and all the 75k+ MQMs roll over into 2022, how can you earn Platinum again?

    1. Eskimo

      Why is this subject always confusing for so many people?
      As I have posted in the older topic. I will repost it here again because this won't be the last confusion.

      1.)Delta will rollover what ever MQM you have at December 31 2021, will rollover to January 1 2022.
      --------------------------
      2.)Any status you "have" in 2020 (MQM/MQS+MQD from 2019) will now expire 01/23 (extended from 01/22) **No choice benefits 02/22-01/23**
      --------------------------

      Why is this subject always confusing for so many people?
      As I have posted in the older topic. I will repost it here again because this won't be the last confusion.

      1.)Delta will rollover what ever MQM you have at December 31 2021, will rollover to January 1 2022.
      --------------------------
      2.)Any status you "have" in 2020 (MQM/MQS+MQD from 2019) will now expire 01/23 (extended from 01/22) **No choice benefits 02/22-01/23**
      --------------------------
      3.)Any status you "earn" (MQM/MQS+MQD) in 2020 will expire 01/22 but you will "have" it until 01/23 **No choice benefits 02/22-01/23**
      --------------------------
      4.)Any status you "earn" (MQM/MQS+MQD) in 2021 will expire 01/23 **Get choice benefits 02/22-01/23***
      --------------------------
      5.)Any status you will "earn" (MQM/MQS+MQD) in 2022 will expire 01/24 **Get choice benefits 02/23-01/24***
      --------------------------
      Each of the 5 statements above are not to be combined and does not overlap.
      As of date of this post, you can fall only into one statement from 2) or 3) or 4).
      As of date of this post, requirements for statement 5.) is TBD by Delta.

      And for those who have reading comprehension problems (specifically prepositions), earn "in" is not the same year as earn "for".

      @khatl
      Please read carefully. And help stop the fake news.
      "Delta also say that only people who earn status in 2022 will get choice benefits."
      - Delta never said anything about people who earn status in 2022 yet. (statement 5)
      "Any insight how a Platinum rolling over into 2022 would get Platinum choice benefits in 2022."
      - By "earning" Platinum in 2021 (read statement 4). If you didn't "earn" it in 2021, go read statement 2 or 3
      " i.e. if you earn Platinum this year and all the 75k+ MQMs roll over into 2022, how can you earn Platinum again?"
      - By reaching MQD requirements in 2022 (statement 5).
      - Your question and i.e. is referring to a different thing.

      I hope this helps, as this is as simple as it gets.

  7. Eskimo

    Buying Diamond might not be for everyone. But the math that @Lucky did checks out.

    I know a retired Wallstreet guy who is doing just that, using a similar calculation to justify it.
    With the new 4 threshold for Reserve card, buying Diamond is very easy if you can hit the spend.
    He has 2 Reserve cards and a Platinum card, he made Diamond from all spending on the card without any flying.

    1. Joe1293

      wow why would you want Delta Diamond if you don’t fly?

    2. Eskimo

      He still flies. I'm just saying he was able to earn Diamond without flying.

      Between all the benefits he gets from being Diamond and having lots of flexibility from retirement, he surely made this worth it.
      People often forget the opportunity cost of needing to requalify. With that out of the way, he can use miles for international business class at a value much better than 1.2 cents. He can pay cash whenever the...

      He still flies. I'm just saying he was able to earn Diamond without flying.

      Between all the benefits he gets from being Diamond and having lots of flexibility from retirement, he surely made this worth it.
      People often forget the opportunity cost of needing to requalify. With that out of the way, he can use miles for international business class at a value much better than 1.2 cents. He can pay cash whenever the cash price is cheap. Without needing to make mileage runs.

      While most people don't have the flexibility to redeem at a higher value, we ended up with the more common 1.2 cents and pay with cash when Delta charges 600k for flights to Europe.

      Like I said, it's not for everyone. Not even for me.

Featured Comments Load all 13 comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

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Joe1293

Why not EWR You can fly United first class

Eskimo

In the US, Delta miles is probably the worst to earn and redeem. I'm stuck with them because their competition isn't really trying hard enough. :( You are not wrong but have a difference in opinion. Most people don't redeem miles for international first class, part of it is the rarity and complexity of redeeming one. Beside redeeming miles to try out the product for one time, the rest of them isn't worth my time, effort, and flexibility trying to get First. Most of the time I settled for Business with more options. While it would have been better to have the option to redeem F, I'm not going to say it affects me that much. Even back when KE was a CHASE partner, I don't really see any Skyteam F (except AF) that is worth transferring the extra 33%. The only thing I regret is wanting more of the A380 bag tag.

Amol

I’m based in Atlanta now so getting Delta status is almost a requirement. This year, I’m trying to maximize my spending on the Reserve card so that I can get the bonus MQMs (18750 per $30k instead of just 15000). I’m on track to put $90k on my card this year to get 56,250 MQMs (Gold) just from a credit card, plus the 20K MQMs for opening it (putting me above 75K for Platinum). Will see if they continue this next year, but I foresee only going for $30,000 spend to get the MQD waiver and get the first threshold of MQMs. I’ll probably end close to Diamond Medallion for MQMs this year, but not for MQD (waiver), so I’ll just continue to roll over MQMs and probably have Platinum until 2025 or so. That said, I’ve been getting close to 1.4 to 1.5 cents per point value on my Delta miles using them for domestic flights, and I’ve been happy to use them mainly because this year and next year, mileage tickets also earn MQMs. I only paid for 1 ticket so far which was a JFK-LAX Delta 1 ticket which is getting 2.62 MQMs per mile flown.

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