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:
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (review) is offering a bonus of 90,000 SkyMiles plus 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card is offering a bonus of 90,000 SkyMiles, plus 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), plus a $100 statement credit, after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (review) is offering a bonus of 80,000 SkyMiles plus 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) after spending $5,000 within the first three months
- The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card is offering a bonus of 80,000 SkyMiles, plus 20,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), plus a $200 statement credit, after spending $5,000 within the first three months
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.
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 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:
- The Chase Freedom Unlimited® (review) 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 (review) 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 (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.
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?