How To Maximize MQMs On Delta

Filed Under: Delta
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Reader Pablo asked and/or humblebragged the following over in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

I’ve been a Delta Diamond Medallion since that level was introduced. Traveling solely internationally out of TPA, I average around 150K+ MQM per year – so hitting the required limits for Diamond every year is not hard. Besides getting the AMEX Delta cards to get additional MQMs, are there any other ways to maximize the amount of MQMs I get for each flight (TPA – LON, TPA – AMS, TPA – SIN, TPA-DXB), or just any other ways to get MQMs? Lifetime MQM at this point is around 2.5M.

Now in Pablo’s particular case, I’m not sure why he’s looking for ways to get more MQMs, since he has acknowledged it isn’t hard for him to accrue 150,000 MQMs or more in any given year.

Of course, with Delta, there is some real value in overshooting your MQMs beyond any given threshold, since those MQMs will “roll over” into your following year’s account. So if you ended 2015 with 123,000 MQMs, for instance, you’d be Platinum Medallion (2,000 MQMs short of Diamond), but on the flip side, in January of 2016 you’d have a huge head start with 48,000 MQMs already in your account.

However, again, in Pablo’s case, unless he has reason to believe he might not otherwise qualify for Diamond next year and therefore wants to pad his rollover account as much as possible, I’m not sure there’s added value in maximizing his MQMs.

But for the average Delta flyer with elite status, MQMs are living, breathing, currency. If you’re like me or other Medallion friends of mine, you probably have a spreadsheet with future travel planned out by the MQM.

In short, as Pablo pointed out, there are two ways to get MQMs on Delta:

  1. The Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, which gives you the opportunity to spend on your credit card to earn MQMs. This is huge, and by far the most generous non-butt-in-seat way to get elite qualifying miles on any domestic airline.
  2. Fly.

Point #2, of course, is obvious, but the key here is maximizing your MQMs based on routing, fare class and fare price, which I think was Pablo’s key point.

Here are some key points to consider when choosing a flight — either to a destination you were going to go to anyway, or for the purposes of a mileage run.

Buy a premium class fare, if the value is good.

The vast majority of first class or business class fares on Delta and its partners earn 150% MQMs based on mileage flown. If you see a “fare war” business class fare on a SkyTeam carrier — we saw plenty of those types of fares last fall — jump on it. LAX to Europe in business class is a solid way of getting ~20,000 MQMs in your account for, in some cases, around $1,500.

Keep in mind some fares qualify for 200% MQM earning. These fares are likely to be prohibitively expensive on Delta, but, for instance:

  • Notwithstanding the passive aggressive nitpicking between Delta and Alaska, many Alaska Airlines domestic first class fares (the ones in the “F” bucket) earn MQMs on Delta at a rate of 200%.  Those refundable first class fares can be had for around $840 each way from LAX to Washington, D.C., for instance. So you can rack up nearly 10,000 MQMs on a ~$1,650 transcon.
  • Aeromexico, as well, offers reasonably priced fully-refundable fares from time to time. For instance, the latest fare sale to Buenos Aires had such fares from LAX in the ~$1,500 range: those would earn you 24,548 MQMs, which is enormous.

At the same time, too, keep in mind that while flying paid business class on Air France or KLM can be lovely experiences, you get the same rate of MQM earning — 150% — on paid premium economy tickets, which can be far less expensive.

Look at FlyerTalk, and the map function of Google Flights.

FlyerTalk has very up-to-date forums about mileage running deals, and a separate forum for premium fare deals, also. These can be invaluable. If you’re a Diamond Medallion and have global upgrade certificates to burn, the economy-class mileage runs can be great, too.

Let’s look at some ones recently featured on FlyerTalk (be warned, these are likely not available, but I’m using these by way of example):

Another tool I use frequently is Google Flights’ map feature. You can specify departure city, fare class (business or economy) and alliance, put in some dummy dates and zoom out to see where the low fares are. As a general rule, the lowest fare that’s furthest away is obviously likely to earn you the most MQM bang for buck. When you click on that fare, you can then click into the calendar function to see a calendar listing of lowest fares for that city pairing in any given month. Plus, Google Flights may suggest different days or nearby airports to get an even lower fare.

For example, I plugged in a week in September for premium cabin fares from LAX and the following map popped up.

Business class fares from LAX in September
Business class fares from LAX in September

If you look down at the bottom of the screen, Quito popped up at $1,420.  Panama’s at $1,096 and Bogotá is at $1,334. Let’s explore those further.

With Quito, for instance, you can click on the calendar function and see that $1,420 is about as low as that fare is going to get.

Calendar of fares to Quito
Calendar of premium fares to Quito

So let’s click on the original dates and check out the routing.


Over on, we can figure out how many MQMs we’ll get by typing in the routing and multiplying that by 1.5.


With a base mileage of 8,602 miles, you can yield 12,903 MQMs from a $1,420 fare. It’s decent, though not spectacular. However, it’s still probably the best bang-for-your buck premium fare at the moment from LAX (by way of example), since the added distance to Quito as opposed to, say, Bogota and Panama, evens out when compared to the relatively small price differential.

But again, if you have Global Upgrade certificates as a Diamond Medallion, or if you don’t mind flying coach longhaul, there may be better deals to be had.

Let’s check out economy fares from LAX over that same time period.

Here is the map for the Western Hemisphere:

Map of economy class fares from LAX (in the Americas and Europe)
Map of economy class fares from LAX (in the Americas and Europe)

And here’s a map showing Asian destinations:

Map showing economy fares from LAX to Asia
Map showing economy fares from LAX to Asia

The fares that jump out to me are São Paulo for $566, Bangkok for $601 and New Delhi for $763.

Let’s start with São Paulo. The calendar shows $566 is within about $10 of the lowest possible fare, which is fine for our purposes.


The routing is via Detroit outbound and Atlanta inbound.

GRU routing

How many MQMs is this routing? Well, since it’s an economy fare, it’s the amount of flown miles:


13,672 MQMs for $566 is pretty damn good (it works out to about 4.1 cents per MQM). Plus, since this flight is on Delta metal, it’s fully upgradable (pending availability) using global certificates.

As for Bangkok, looks like the $601 fare is on China Airlines via Taipei (which is not upgradable).


Turns out this routing is at most 16,691 MQMs, which is a haul for $601 — 3.6 cents per MQM, in fact, a great value. However, you’ll have to ask yourself if you want to travel 16 hours each way on China Airlines in economy to get there.

Updated to say: I say at most because as commenter Ben pointed out below, certain economy fares on some of Delta’s partner airlines do not earn 100% MQMs. Absolutely check Delta’s partner earning chart before you book an MQM mileage run, or you may be very disappointed!

Finally, let’s look at New Delhi. Looks like it’s a bit cheaper to leave a day later, so thanks, Google Flights!


The $712 routing ends up being on China Eastern, which isn’t exactly ideal.

del routing

However, as expected, the LAX-PVG-DEL-PVG-LAX routing yields us the highest absolute number of MQMs, at 18,311. At $712, it’s slightly less of a “value” than the Bangkok flights, since you’re essentially paying 3.9 cents per MQM.

You get the idea. In this case, if I had 4 Global Upgrade Certificates to burn and I didn’t mind paying for a Brazilian Visa, I wouldn’t hesitate to do two LAX-GRU mileage runs in Delta One for a total haul of 27,344 MQMs and an out of pocket cost of $1,132.

(Of course, that begs the question of whether we should use GUCs simply as a way of requalifying again for Diamond Medallion the following year and getting on a hamster wheel, or if we should use them for pleasure/vacation, as we probably intended them to be used when we first drooled at Diamond Medallion status to begin with.)

If you really care about it, you can Same-Day Confirm onto a more MQM-heavy routing.

This is more the territory of hardcore mileage runners / “Hobbyists” than the typical flyer who wants to get from Point A to Point B relatively efficiently, but Delta’s Same Day Confirm benefit for Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallions allows you to change your routing, up to 24 hours in advance (and subject to fare class availability), at no extra cost. So you could, in theory, change your LAX-JFK flight (2,475 MQMs one-way in economy) to a LAX-MSP-ATL-JFK routing (3,202 MQMs) for an extra “free” gain of 727 MQMs.

Personally, I’d change a routing to avoid bad weather or other operational delays, or to confirm an upgrade, but to me a nonstop is far more valuable than the 727 extra MQMs gained from flying several more hours and dealing with two layovers.

Bottom Line

Congratulations! You’re chasing MQMs. It’s indeed a hamster wheel and once you’ve got on, it’s very hard to get off.

Assuming, however, you decide to double down and maximize your MQMs, the best way to accrue them — other than through Delta Reserve credit card spend — is to search FlyerTalk and Google Flights (and stay tuned to OMAAT) for low fares with some combination of creative routing, premium cabin fare buckets, distance, value and (if it matters to you) upgradability.

Good luck!

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  1. Doesn’t the Amex Delta platinum also offer MQMs for certain spending thresholds? You could get that and the Reserve.

  2. @Neil S.: Yup, you certainly could! Was just trying to address Pablo’s question as to maximizing ways of generating MQMs in the air, but yes, the Platinum gives you (some) MQMs, too.

  3. Great and useful article! However, I want to point out that China Airlines operates new 777s LAX/TPE and JFK/TPE. It’s an Asian airlines (which means it’s already better than US3) with nice and pretty FAs. And lounge food is 200% better than any SkyClubs, including the ones in NRT. However, flying CI metal in coach would only earn you 50% or 75% MQMs, depending on fare class.

  4. @Ben: Excellent point. Before you book a partner airline economy fare because you think it may be an MQM haul, check the earning ratio as some fares on some airlines earn you LESS than 100% MQMs.

  5. Worth noting that Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia also have premium economy cabins that earn 150% MQMs. (And KLM does not.)

    Also, the Platinum Amex earns MQM bonuses too — not quite as much, but for a lower annual fee and spend requirement.

  6. @ Ben — China Airlines better than Delta? You must be joking…generally speaking, Chinese airlines suck.

  7. China airlines is Taiwanese, despite the name. Not to be grouped with air China, China eastern or China southern which are actual Chinese airlines

  8. Lets also not forget that Hainan Airlines, a Chinese carrier, has a 5 star Skytrax rating

  9. @Gene, we all invite you to fly CI next time. And if you can afford the biz class or have miles to burn, definitely check out their newly designed biz class onboard the new B773. I don’t work for CI but I’ve had good experiences taking CI to Taipei and Bangkok. CI is MADE IN TAIWAN, which already means better quality.

  10. Can’t comment on the article as it was too long to read in limited time, but have to comment on a new term I’ve learned tonight…humblebragged. Love it! Thanks Nick 🙂

  11. Another subtle trick… I’m based in PDX, but travel frequently to SoCal.

    Combine this with the knowledge that a segment is *guaranteed* to generate 500 MQMs, and the routing PDX-SEA-LAX starts looking pretty nice. Usually pretty close in price to PDX-LAX direct, but generates at least another 600 MQMs (500 extra for the PDX-SEA leg which is in the air all of 20 minutes, and the rest from the extra miles difference). Better than a mileage run… it’s a *useful* mileage run. Also, SAN-LAX is minimum 500, but an hour flight instead of a 20 minute flight.

  12. @gene –

    In my experiences, Chinese airlines definitely have better service than United, AA or Delta, in both trans-pacific business class and economy class

  13. OMG Ben! Mr Celebrity! you were on Rollingstone!!!
    And I love the photo too! you are way too cool!
    And stuff those hater comments, as Tay Tay said, Shake it Off!

  14. Instead of flying FLL-ATL-TYO in coach on DL for 7455 MQM one way, I flew MIA-CDG-TYO in AF premium economy for 10625 x 1.5 = 15937 MQM each way, total 31.8K MQM. Cost was $500 or so over the cost of DL coach and seat quite a bit more comfortable. I even got upgraded to business on the CDG-TKO leg for free (just for asking).

  15. This is a very useful article for Delta hub hostages like me. Thank you for taking the time to post.

  16. I think it’s silly to use a GUC for a mileage run. I’m saving those for vacation. Mileage runs are great but the revenue-based MQD requirement basically means you need to average 12cpm or have the spend waiver via AmEx CC. That said, I’m doing LAX-MSP-ANC-MSP-LAX for $261.

  17. Nick, you mention SDC have to be in the same fare class as the original flight. If I don’t have Expert Flyer, how can I check fare classes?


  18. Couple of questions: If you change your routing to LAX-MSP-ATL-JFK, could you get upgraded to First as a Platinum?; second, one of your hacks is LAX-MSP-ANC for mileage runs — what are the chances of upgrade; and third, when is the best time to request status match for Delta?

  19. I am flying DTW to SNA next week, and was looking to maximize MQMs as I am currently Gold and going for Platinum. I usually fly through SLC on this route. As of now, Main Cabin goes for ~$624 roundtrip with a stop in MSP, ATL or SLC. Booking Main Cabin with a stop at one of the three aforementioned airports for this price would currently give me ~4,100 MQMs roundtrip.

    So, I looked at booking a premium ticket, and then also noticed that Delta offers a connection through SEA which happens to be the lowest price of any ticket in their respective classes, and of course gives more MQMs since it’s out of the way, especially compared to stopping in SLC.

    So, I just paid ~$865 roundtrip in First Class from DTW to SNA with a stop in SEA on both the outbound and returning flights, and will earn ~8800 MQMs. The same trip at the same price in First Class through SLC, instead of SEA, would’ve only earned me ~6600 MQMs (and actually would’ve cost more money). I paid about $200 more for First Class, rather than booking Main Cabin, but for significantly more MQMs and the comforts of First Class, I feel the extra cost is worth it.

    Just wanted to share in case it helps anyone in their quest for maximizing MQMs!

  20. Glad to know I am not the only one obsessing with MQMs. Thanks for all the tips – though I am likely to fly my usual route SFO-JFK and back.

  21. hi very helpful if i get 2 Amex reserved cards one under me and one under my business and i spend 60,000 on each one will i get 120000 mqms on my account

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