The clock has reset on frequent flyer elite status qualification in January so this is a good time to evaluate your loyalties to various programs and consider if you should jump ship to new programs. In a world full of devaluations, mergers, and new reciprocal status benefits, opportunities abound to maximize value in 2017 and beyond. This is the first in a series of posts evaluating the cost and benefits of obtaining elite status with various programs. Let’s start with Delta.
Delta is a great place to start when it comes to earning airline elite status because Delta’s co-branded credit cards make earning status achievable even for those who don’t fly nearly enough to earn status the traditional way. There are four co-branded Delta cards issued by American Express that earn Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs). These are the Delta Platinum card, the Delta Reserve card and the business version of each. Each of these cards come with annual spending bonuses that allow you to earn MQMs as well as bonus redeemable miles.
The two Platinum cards have around a $25K annual spending threshold to earn 10K MQMs and 10K redeemable miles, both of which are doubled by spending a required amount in a year. The Reserve cards earn bonuses of 15K miles for $30K in spend, which again are doubled by spending $60K. If you hit the max annual bonus on each of the four cards, you can earn 100K MQMs per year on an ongoing basis (meaning without factoring in sign-up bonuses). In addition, MQMs earned on the Reserve cards are giftable, meaning a spouse or friend can earn them and gift them to you, allowing you to achieve top-tier Diamond status without taking a single flight.
So, is dedicating all of that spend to Delta co-branded cards worth it? The answer largely depends on your home airport. Is it a Delta hub or at least Delta heavy? How many other Delta elites live in the area? If you live in a place like Atlanta, which is a big city overloaded with Delta elites, your chances of getting upgrades are slim. But if you live in a city like Cincinnati, a mid-size city that is dominated by Delta but doesn’t have enough elites to overwhelm the upgrade list, you can often score upgrades with only Silver or Gold status.
The chart below summarizes the cumulative cost of holding the co-branded cards mentioned above, as well as what level of status the MQMs are sufficient to earn (assuming you max out the annual spending bonuses). Delta allows you to rollover excess MQMs into the next calendar year, so we have noted how many you would have leftover if you stopped at each level. We have ordered the cards so that an incremental annual spending threshold results in an incremental level of status, wherever possible. For reference, the qualifying thresholds are:
- Silver: 25K MQMs
- Gold: 50K MQMs
- Platinum: 75K MQMs
- Diamond: 125K MQMs
Delta Elite Status Benefits
In this section, we will analyze the benefits offered by each level of elite status. Quantifying the benefits in terms of a concrete dollar value is impossible without knowing how much each individual flies per year, the city in which they live, etc. Therefore, we will give a qualitative perspective, and you decide based on your own situation if the benefits of earning status outweigh the costs.
The first two levels of status are weak in the area of guaranteed benefits, which makes the value much more location dependent. Silver status grants access to unlimited complimentary first class and Comfort+ upgrades 24 hours prior to departure. However, those with Silver status will be near the bottom of the pecking order. There are some concrete benefits: mileage earning increases from five miles per dollar for a non-elite to seven miles per dollar, and checked bag fees are waived. You also receive priority check-in and priority boarding. Delta Silver status corresponds to Elite SkyTeam status for international flights.
If you earn gold status, your odds of receiving a complimentary upgrade increase relative to Silver status. The upgrade window extends from 24 hours to 72 hours prior to departure. Mileage earning increases from seven miles per dollar to eight. Same-day confirmed fees and standby fees are waived. You also have access to the priority security line during peak times at selected airports (check Delta’s website for the list). Delta Gold status corresponds to Elite Plus SkyTeam status for international flights.
Platinum status is where the value of Delta elite status really begins to increase. First class upgrades are confirmed five days prior to departure. Comfort+ upgrades are available shortly after ticketing. Award redeposit and reissue fees are waived. These two benefits can be used in tandem: if you book an award ticket and fail to clear for an upgrade, you can cancel the ticket and have your miles redeposited free of charge. Mileage earning increases to nine miles per dollar. This also the first level that is eligible for Choice Benefits. There are five benefits from which Platinum elites can choose: four regional upgrade certificates, one Global Entry application voucher, 20K bonus miles, gift Silver stats or a $200 gift card. We highly recommend the regional upgrade certificates, which put you at the front of the line for upgrades.
Delta recently announced an increase (gasp!) in the value of Diamond status for 2018. Diamond elites will be allowed to choose three Choice benefits in 2018 as opposed to the two Choice benefits they currently receive. There are several benefit choices that are only available to Diamond elites which include Delta Sky Club memberships or upgrading an individual membership to an Executive membership which includes complimentary guest privileges. Diamond elites can also choose eight regional or four global upgrade certificates. If you travel internationally, the global upgrade certificates can result in huge value, upgrading a paid economy fare to a Delta One cabin on an international flight.