The final part on my Delta overview centers on Medallion elite status and the extra benefits you get by being a frequent flyer. As a quick refresher, elite status:
- is based on the number of miles and dollars you spent in the previous year and is a separate tracking system from the miles you redeem for free flights (redeemable miles).
- It resets January 1 of each year and, while you generally get one elite status mile (on Delta they are known as Medallion Qualifying Miles, or MQMs) for each mile you fly.
- There are occasional exceptions such as bonus MQMs for high-fare tickets or penalties for certain partner travel (and you deserve a medal if you can figure out that chart).
If it’s easier, you can think of it as a points system. Delta’s elite program is not the best, but it’s the biggest (pending the American-US Airways integration), so its impact is the largest in the industry.
We’re going with the 80/20 rule again here, given the breadth of the Medallion program.
Earning Delta Elite Status
In the past, Delta passengers earned elite status by virtue of MQMs alone. Now, however, passengers need a combination of MQMs and dollars spent. The spend requirements are not particularly onerous, with the revenue generated per mile flown well below the Delta average, but it does take the mileage runners out of the game.
The Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) requirement was introduced for 2015 Medallion status. Originally, to earn Silver status, you needed to fly 25,000 MQMs (or 30 flown segments; a connecting flight is multiple segments) and spend $2,500 in the year. Higher statuses needed more spend, based on multiples of $2,500. For 2016 and beyond, however, Delta raised the minimum Silver spend to $3,000, with higher tiers a multiple of that number. Note that only airline charges count toward Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs). Those pesky government fees? Not so much.
If you have a Delta credit card and spend $25,000 on the card, Delta will waive the MQD requirements.
Traditionally, status has ended on February 28 of the following year (i.e., fly and spend in 2014 and your status will be good through 2/28/16). Having streamlined its system (or just because it could), Delta has now rolled back the end of your status until January 31 of the following year.
What You Get With Delta Elite Status
The Medallion Benefits chart is way too large to paste, so here’s a link,. I’m going to hit some of the highlights, but it’s worth taking a look at the whole chart so you can see what benefits you value most:
- The domestic upgrade opportunities are decent, although if you are flying somewhere that has a lot of Medallion members, you’ll probably need Platinum or Diamond status to get the free upgrade. You get upgraded if seats are available anywhere from one to five days out, depending on your status level. All Medallions get free companion upgrades, as well, and everyone but Silver is eligible to upgrade on an award or “pay with miles” ticket. Free upgrades do not extend to JFK routes to LAX, SFO or SEA, although some upper-level elites get airport upgrades on these routes, anyway. Still, this is a major restriction.
- Companion upgrades are only assigned 24 hours in advance of the flight. If you and your companion are on the same reservation, the upgrade will be based on the lower of the two. In other words, if you are a Diamond Medallion member with a non-Medallion partner, you will not clear until 24 hours in advance. Suggestion: You can split the reservation (get separate res numbers) and maintain your Diamond upgrade, with your companion clearing at the 24 hour (or less) mark.
- Economy Comfort seats give a little extra legroom, up to 3-4 inches. Domestically, they’re free at booking for everyone except Silver elites, who can get them for half-price at the time of booking or free if they’re still available at check-in. Internationally, they’re free only for Platinum and Diamond, with discounts for Gold and Silver.
- You’ll get bonus redeemable miles based on your status, ranging from 25% (Silver) to 125% (Diamond). You’ll also get bonus MQMs for paying a higher fare.
- You’ll be eligible for “rollover miles, a big Delta benefit. Rollover miles are the MQMs you earn above a threshold. For instance, if you earn 35,000 MQMs in a year, you’ll be at Silver (25,000 MQMs), with 10,000 MQMs left over. Those 10,000 will “roll over” to the next year, and you’ll start the following year with 10,000 MQMs to your credit.
Fee Waivers: This one actually is worth printing
Waived Baggage Fees (4)SilverGoldPlatinumDiamond Waived Same-Day Confirmed Fees Waived Same-Day Standby Fees Waived Direct Ticketing Charges Waived Award Redeposit/Reissue Fees (5)
- At the airport, you’ll get a host of benefits, ranging from priority security to priority boarding. Gold and above get expedited check-in, security, boarding and baggage service (although that last one can be unreliable), while Silver gets priority check-in and boarding. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it could make the difference in getting overhead on the plane.
- As Platinums and Diamonds, you’ll also get Choice Benefits. Platinum members get one and Diamond members get two choices from the chart in the link, with rewards ranging from upgrade certificates to Delta gift certificates to Tiffany luggage tags.
- Crossover: For many, Crossover Rewards with Starwood could be among the most valuable perk you get from elite status. CR allows you to earn Starwood SPG points in addition to Delta miles on Delta flights, earning at a rate of one SPG point per dollar spent. On a point-for-point basis, SPG points are the most valuable in the hotel space, with free weekend nights starting at 2,000 points. Platinum and Diamond Delta members also get most of the SPG Gold elite benefits, including late checkout, free internet and room upgrades.
Bottom Line: There are too many benefits to list them all here, but the higher you go, the more perks you’ll see.
Credit Cards for Elite Status
Delta partners with American Express for its credit card program. As is the case with many Amex cards, they do come with a fee, but if you’re a Delta frequent flyer, they may be worth it. Two cards in particular, the Platinum and the Reserve, are useful for achieving or renewing elite status. Both can be found on Delta’s website.
The first card, the Platinum, will set you back $195 per year as an annual fee, although they did offer to waive mine after a year when I was considering canceling. It has many of the traditional Delta perks, including a free first checked bag, two miles per dollar spent on Delta (versus the standard one) and no foreign transaction fee. It also has a couple of unique perks, including one domestic economy class companion certificate each year (which will easily cover the annual fee) and a $29 rate for a day pass to the Sky Club lounge. Make a purchase on Delta in the first three months and they’ll give you a $100 statement credit.
But it can also give you a boost toward elite status. Spend $1,000 in the first three months and you’ll get 5,000 MQMs and 35,000 redeemable miles. If you spend $25,000 in a year, they’ll throw 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles you way. Spend another $25,000 and get another 10K of each. So if you are a big spender and like Delta, $50,000 in annual spend will get you 105,000 redeemable miles (including the one mile per dollar spent) and 25,000 MQMs.
The second card, the Reserve card, is as good as it gets on Delta. It will set you back $450 as an annual fee, but it comes with a host of benefits that may make it worth the fee. For instance, it will get you into the Delta Sky Club lounge for free, so if you’re currently paying for access, you might as well get the card. You also get a free economy or first class companion ticket each year (which could end up covering the fee).
Elite status: After your first purchase, you’ll get 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 redeemable miles. $30,000 of spend in a calendar year gets you 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 redeemable miles. Same thing for your next $30,000 in spend. So in your first year, $60,000 in spend will get you 100,000 redeemable miles and most of the way to gold status (40,000 MQMs).
Overall, MQDs make Delta one of the more difficult programs on which to earn elite status. The benefits are decent, particularly at the upper levels, but if I were starting from scratch and had a choice, I would probably not choose Delta. It is, however, the largest program (although it will be surpassed by American/US Airways once the programs are fully merged) and is a fact of life for millions of travelers. For those who hit Diamond status, however, benefits such as the free lounge access and global upgrades can be extremely valuable.
Michael from FrequentFlyerMiles101.com now writes for The Miles Professor. His own site is a site for novice or intermediate mileage junkies that tends to focus on current mileage deals and sorting through the hotel and airline programs in plain English.