Is Earning Delta SkyMiles Elite Status With Credit Cards Worth It?

Is Earning Delta SkyMiles Elite Status With Credit Cards Worth It?

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American Express and Delta have a portfolio of co-branded credit cards. One of the useful features of the premium versions of these cards is that they can help you earn Medallion elite status in the Delta SkyMiles program.

Delta lets you spend your way toward status, and in theory, you could even earn top-tier status with Delta exclusively through credit card spending. Delta used to be the only one of the “big three” US carriers to allow this, though with American AAdvantage introducing Loyalty Points, you can also earn AAdvantage elite status with 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 toward status with Delta. That’s something I’m considering less now, as I generally find elite status to be less valuable than it used to be, and also because the opportunity cost of spending on airline co-branded credit cards is big.

In this post, I wanted to take a close look at the current state of earning Delta Medallion elite status through credit card spending, especially in light of the current elevated bonuses we’re seeing on Delta credit cards.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion status requirements

Delta SkyMiles has four Medallion elite tiers, with the following annual qualification requirements:

  • Delta Silver Medallion requires 25,000 MQMs OR 30 MQSs AND 3,000 MQDs
  • Delta Gold Medallion requires 50,000 MQMs OR 60 MQSs AND 6,000 MQDs
  • Delta Platinum Medallion requires 75,000 MQMs OR 100 MQSs AND 9,000 MQDs
  • Delta 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 Boeing 737 & Boeing 757

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 toward the waiver
Delta Airbus A350 business class

Earning Delta MQMs with credit card spending

There are opportunities to earn MQMs for spending on an ongoing basis with Delta’s premium Amex cards. Let’s look at how that differs across the Platinum and Reserve cards, as you earn MQMs at different rates.

Delta Platinum Amex MQMs for spending

The Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card (review) and Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card (review) 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, or if you spent $50,000 on both of these cards you’d earn 40,000 MQMs.

Delta Reserve Amex MQMs for spending

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (review) and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card (review) 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 a bonus of 60,000 MQMs, and if you spent $240,000 on both of the cards you’d earn a total of 120,000 MQMs.

Delta Airbus A320 first class

Crunching numbers on Delta credit card spending

Ignoring any 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 Delta Silver, Gold, or Platinum status

I’d say earning Delta SkyMiles Medallion Silver, Gold, or Platinum status 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 simple 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
Delta Boeing 737 first class

Using credit cards to earn Delta Diamond status

Earning Delta SkyMiles Medallion 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 annually 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 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 Delta Medallion 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 Medallion 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.

For example, 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 on spending if you’re trying to earn Delta SkyMiles Medallion elite status is with the Delta Reserve Card. Let’s say you spend $120,000 on the card in a year, and earn 60,000 MQMs.

Spending $120,000 would earn you a total of 120,000 redeemable SkyMiles and 60,000 MQMs. I value SkyMiles at ~1.1 cents each, so to me that’s ~$1,320 of “concrete” value in miles, plus the value of the MQMs.

Then you have to consider the alternatives, which would probably 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 1.1 cents and consider the opportunity cost of spending to be 2.55-3.4%, you’re essentially paying 2.9-4.6 cents per MQM. At that rate that’s the equivalent of “paying” ~$3,625-5,750 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 makes it fairly attainable to earn SkyMiles Medallion elite 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.

If you want to earn Delta SkyMiles Medallion status, then the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card are the cards you should be considering.

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

Conversations (18)
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  1. Christopher Tipper Guest

    Ben, based on reading several of your blog posts (thank you), it looks like I'm going to stay with Delta as they're the only one that let you charge your way to the top tier. Have I read that right? I own my own business and am now Diamond. Doesn't look like charging my way to 1K with United is an option.

  2. Cory Guest

    Ben-
    Somewhat related to this post, as it deals with Delta and credit cards, is a question I have and I can't seem to find a clear answer on the google machine or bing box.

    If you booked a trip with Delta Vacations with an American Express Platinum, it would not qualify for the 5X points for flights, would it? I assume it is 'no' because I assume Delta Vacations is a different...

    Ben-
    Somewhat related to this post, as it deals with Delta and credit cards, is a question I have and I can't seem to find a clear answer on the google machine or bing box.

    If you booked a trip with Delta Vacations with an American Express Platinum, it would not qualify for the 5X points for flights, would it? I assume it is 'no' because I assume Delta Vacations is a different legal entity than Delta Airlines and "Delta Vacations", for Amex Platinum purposes, is basically no different than Expedia. Is that a correct read?

  3. iamhere Guest

    Actually here's where you are incorrect. You assume that the $120,000 spent is an "all other purchases" but what if it is travel, dining, or direct airline purchase, etc. I am trying to say that the opportunity cost could be much greater than you summarize. Further, articles like this make you look greedy. If you really do not receive as much value from being an elite airline member and if you really think the opportunity...

    Actually here's where you are incorrect. You assume that the $120,000 spent is an "all other purchases" but what if it is travel, dining, or direct airline purchase, etc. I am trying to say that the opportunity cost could be much greater than you summarize. Further, articles like this make you look greedy. If you really do not receive as much value from being an elite airline member and if you really think the opportunity cost is too much to spend on the co-branded card which I agree with, then you would not promote it. It is like a double standard. You say credit card points are more flexible and you don't agree with this but you promote it anyway.

  4. Asim Guest

    I spend on the reserve to the $30K mark each year for the MQD waiver and 15K MQMs. Then the card remains unused for the rest of the year. The Companion pass justifies the card for me alone, retention offers are decent since the spend will be put on the card for MQD waiver anyways.

    MQM Bonus + 1 or 2 international trips a year + general domestic travel get me to platinum status...

    I spend on the reserve to the $30K mark each year for the MQD waiver and 15K MQMs. Then the card remains unused for the rest of the year. The Companion pass justifies the card for me alone, retention offers are decent since the spend will be put on the card for MQD waiver anyways.

    MQM Bonus + 1 or 2 international trips a year + general domestic travel get me to platinum status yearly. I find myself open to layovers as a result too if it adds considerable MQMs.

    I don't believe status is worth it for people that only fly 3-4 times a year, probably better off paying for upgrades at that point.

  5. Jan Guest

    Reserve is too expensive, too redundant, has bad earning. Putting $120k on the Reserve is a dumb idea; if you're chasing status, the MQM's will come to you anyway. Delta Platinum is a better card, with 2x dining/grocery to soften the blow vs using better earning cards; get up to $25k spending to get rid of the MQD requirements, then use generic travel cards for everything else.

    1. Sam Guest

      Reserve card also elevates you on the upgrade list vs anyone with your status & booking class.

  6. Harry Guest

    As a Atlanta area native raised flying Delta. As such I'm a million miler and silver for life. That's all I need. The rest is fluff. Upgrades, I still contend what you pay for a ticket is right up there with Diamond status for priority. I've received too many upgrades to prove my point. And oh, my MQMs annual start at 0 (not counting rollovers), not 25,000 at I think it should basis silver for...

    As a Atlanta area native raised flying Delta. As such I'm a million miler and silver for life. That's all I need. The rest is fluff. Upgrades, I still contend what you pay for a ticket is right up there with Diamond status for priority. I've received too many upgrades to prove my point. And oh, my MQMs annual start at 0 (not counting rollovers), not 25,000 at I think it should basis silver for life. Same with AA and loyalty points. Screw you million miler life timers. It's simple, what can you do for me today, yesterday is gone!

  7. Geoff Guest

    Spend $30K to get Med bonus(waiver too). Full stop. Use card benefits. No additional spend until Delta/AMEX add better reasons to spend on the card. This one point per dollar for pretty much everything is lame.

    1. Khatl Diamond

      Spend $25k to get MQD waiver, and that's it.

    2. Geoff Guest

      Yeah, I do $30K to get additional 15K MQM's(from Reserve) on top of waiver.

    3. relidtm Member

      this is what I do also get the additional 15k to get the mqm roll over this and the certificate makes it worth it to me.

  8. Anthony Diamond

    If you fly Delta a fair amount, you only need to spend 30K or 60K to really augment your MQM earned by flying. Unless you have a ton of business spend or tax payments, 250K or even 120K seems like a bit much.

    Reno, you missed the biggest benefit of Delta status - RUC and GUC.

    1. Khatl Diamond

      Except that RUC and GUC's have been hugely devalued... and GUC's weren't easy to use in the first place. I've seen DL domestic contintental US flights as soon as they are released prohibit use of a RUC, and only permit use of a GUC. As for GUC's they were hard to find availability on flights anyway, and the majority of the time you can only be waitlisted - who wants to be waitlisted for a...

      Except that RUC and GUC's have been hugely devalued... and GUC's weren't easy to use in the first place. I've seen DL domestic contintental US flights as soon as they are released prohibit use of a RUC, and only permit use of a GUC. As for GUC's they were hard to find availability on flights anyway, and the majority of the time you can only be waitlisted - who wants to be waitlisted for a 12 hr flight in the "hope" of an upgrade. Now with the deval of not being able to go from Coach to D1, to me, the benefits of Diamond are significantly diminished.

    2. Reno Joe Guest

      Anthony, I intentionally excluded RUCs and GUCs for the reasons that Khati state.

      Gary at VFTW had an article that argued that upgrades on Delta are too infrequent or reliable to assign any value.

    3. Anthony Diamond

      RUC have always worked for me, whether confirmed in advance or waitlist. I get thousands of dollars in value out of them.

      Gary doesn't understand Delta that well - he knows AA

  9. DLPTATL Diamond

    I have the personal Reserve and the Biz Gold. My annual strategy is to make my first estimated quarterly tax payment on the Reserve to hit $25k in spend. That gets me the MQD waiver for Silver-Platinum. By doing it early in the year that also gets me prioritized on the upgrade list. I also look to spend $10k on the biz gold to get the $100 DL credit. With AmEx Dell offers it's easy...

    I have the personal Reserve and the Biz Gold. My annual strategy is to make my first estimated quarterly tax payment on the Reserve to hit $25k in spend. That gets me the MQD waiver for Silver-Platinum. By doing it early in the year that also gets me prioritized on the upgrade list. I also look to spend $10k on the biz gold to get the $100 DL credit. With AmEx Dell offers it's easy and lucrative to hit this spend. Strategy to hit Diamond involves taking inexpensive biz class flights on partners to earn additional MQDs.

  10. Reno Joe Guest

    What benefits does (any) elite status give a person? What does it cost to obtain those benefits? What is an alternative?

    Benefits: priority check-in, free bags, priority security (absent TSA Pre-Check), priority boarding, lounge access when traveling internationally, opportunity for upgrade, higher points earn rate, assistant during IRROPS.

    Cost: there's two factors to consider. First, the point-earning rate of an alternative card. Second, the value of the alternative points. Buying gas, how many Delta points...

    What benefits does (any) elite status give a person? What does it cost to obtain those benefits? What is an alternative?

    Benefits: priority check-in, free bags, priority security (absent TSA Pre-Check), priority boarding, lounge access when traveling internationally, opportunity for upgrade, higher points earn rate, assistant during IRROPS.

    Cost: there's two factors to consider. First, the point-earning rate of an alternative card. Second, the value of the alternative points. Buying gas, how many Delta points would one earn versus how many Citi Premier points would one earn? Etc., etc. I'd say the credit card opportunity cost could be $4000 or more for high spenders.

    Alternative: purchasing a domestic first class or international business class ticket will garner those benefits -- minus the higher points earn rate and IRROPS service. An upgrade becomes irrelevant. You would earn MQMs at a higher rate (1.5x). So, what if one takes the value of the credit card opportunity cost (say, $4000) and buys the premium cabin ticket?

    If someone truly can spend the level of dollars you're talking about, then simply use the best card and apply the opportunity cost to buy premium cabin seats seems to be the answer.

  11. Tom Guest

    For me, the spend waiver is the most valuable part of their value proposition - based in a Delta hub, I regularly blast past the Platinum/Diamond qualification on mileage, but get stymied by spend because my company only pays for economy travel. I spend $30k every year on my Reserve card in order to hit the spend waiver, then from there the marginal spend to get up to the first MQM bonus is relatively marginal....

    For me, the spend waiver is the most valuable part of their value proposition - based in a Delta hub, I regularly blast past the Platinum/Diamond qualification on mileage, but get stymied by spend because my company only pays for economy travel. I spend $30k every year on my Reserve card in order to hit the spend waiver, then from there the marginal spend to get up to the first MQM bonus is relatively marginal. Once I've hit my $30k spend for the year, I move onto more rewarding cards.

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Asim Guest

I spend on the reserve to the $30K mark each year for the MQD waiver and 15K MQMs. Then the card remains unused for the rest of the year. The Companion pass justifies the card for me alone, retention offers are decent since the spend will be put on the card for MQD waiver anyways. MQM Bonus + 1 or 2 international trips a year + general domestic travel get me to platinum status yearly. I find myself open to layovers as a result too if it adds considerable MQMs. I don't believe status is worth it for people that only fly 3-4 times a year, probably better off paying for upgrades at that point.

3
Reno Joe Guest

What benefits does (any) elite status give a person? What does it cost to obtain those benefits? What is an alternative? Benefits: priority check-in, free bags, priority security (absent TSA Pre-Check), priority boarding, lounge access when traveling internationally, opportunity for upgrade, higher points earn rate, assistant during IRROPS. Cost: there's two factors to consider. First, the point-earning rate of an alternative card. Second, the value of the alternative points. Buying gas, how many Delta points would one earn versus how many Citi Premier points would one earn? Etc., etc. I'd say the credit card opportunity cost could be $4000 or more for high spenders. Alternative: purchasing a domestic first class or international business class ticket will garner those benefits -- minus the higher points earn rate and IRROPS service. An upgrade becomes irrelevant. You would earn MQMs at a higher rate (1.5x). So, what if one takes the value of the credit card opportunity cost (say, $4000) and buys the premium cabin ticket? If someone truly can spend the level of dollars you're talking about, then simply use the best card and apply the opportunity cost to buy premium cabin seats seems to be the answer.

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Tom Guest

For me, the spend waiver is the most valuable part of their value proposition - based in a Delta hub, I regularly blast past the Platinum/Diamond qualification on mileage, but get stymied by spend because my company only pays for economy travel. I spend $30k every year on my Reserve card in order to hit the spend waiver, then from there the marginal spend to get up to the first MQM bonus is relatively marginal. Once I've hit my $30k spend for the year, I move onto more rewarding cards.

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