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Delta Increases Spending Threshold for Diamond MQD Waiver

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There have been rumors going around the travel blogosphere for some time that Delta would be making negative changes to the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) waiver offered by Amex cobranded credit cards. Many feared that Delta would completely eliminate the MQD waiver for top tier Diamond status. If that occurred then travelers would have been required to spending $15,000 directly on Delta flights in order to qualify for Diamond status.

However, we finally received clarity on this issue from Delta. They sent out emails to frequent fliers with an official announcement that the MQD waiver spending threshold would be increasing to $250,000 from a current level of $25,000 in order to earn Diamond status. This new requirement applies to 2019 qualification (based on 2018 spending and flying).

While most people will immediately react to this as a negative change, it could actually benefit certain people depending on how you earn status. Consider the following three cases:

1. People who earn Diamond status without a credit card MQD waiver

For those that spend $15,000 a year on Delta and Delta partner flights, this change is clearly a positive. These people don’t need the credit card spending MQD waiver, so the change won’t affect their ability to qualify for top tier status. However, this change is definitely going to thin the ranks of Diamond Medallions. Therefore, the remaining Diamonds will have less competition for complimentary upgrades and possibly slightly less crowded SkyClubs. Many would consider people who fall into this category to be the “truest” form of elite, i.e. one who earns status entirely by flying without any assists from credit card bonuses and waivers.

Delta has increased the Diamond MQD waiver requirement to $250,000

2. People who earn enough MQMs or MQSs for Diamond, but need the MDQ waiver to qualify

This category of people is the polar opposite of the first in terms of the impact of this change. Diamond qualification requires either 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) or 140 Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs) in addition to the $15,000 MQDs or MQD waiver. People who fall into this category do a ton of flying, but do so on routes that cost relatively little on a per mile or per segment basis. As a result, they come up short of the MQD requirement.

Before the change, they could spend $25,000 across all of their cobranded Delta Amex cards in order to earn the MQD waiver and qualify for Diamond status. Beginning next year, they will have to spend $250,000 which is a sum that is way out of reach for most people. Many people may be stuck at Platinum status because they come up short of the MQD threshold even though they consistently earn enough MQMs or MQSs to qualify for Diamond. This is a very disappointing change for these folks, though the writing has been on the wall for a while as the airlines have instituted MQD requirements to ensure that those earning top tier status have spent a requisite amount of money with the airline.

To flesh this out a bit more, let’s consider the spending to flight distance ratio that would cause someone to hit 125,000 MQMs but fall short of the $15,000 MQD threshold. $15,000 divided by 125,000 miles is 12 cents per mile. As an example, we searched for mid-October Monday to Friday roundtrip flights from Delta hubs Atlanta and Minneapolis. The cost came out to a little over 18 cents per mile. On the other hand, transcontinental and international flights can be purchased for less than 10 cents per mile. So those that fall into this category likely tend to fly longer routes where the cost per mile is not sufficient to reach the MQD requirement, and the MQM threshold is hit faster due to the length of the flights.

3. People who earn Diamond status predominantly through credit card spend.

Delta is unique among airlines in that they allow a person to obtain top tier elite status purely through credit card spending bonuses. It’s possible to become Delta Diamond elite without taking a single flight. An abbreviated summary of this method is as follows:

If you opened these cards for the first time and therefore had the sign up bonuses available to you, the additional MQMs would be enough to get you to Diamond status. Alternatively, on an ongoing basis you can obtain the additional MQMs necessary by reaching the spending bonuses on the Reserve card from a family member or friend, and have the MQMs gifted to your SkyMiles account.

Hitting the annual spending threshold on all four Delta cards requires a total of $220,000 in spending. Therefore, the change to a $250,000 MQD waiver only requires an additional $30,000 of spending for people pursuing status in this manner. Unfortunately, that spend will only earn one SkyMile per dollar and no other bonuses, unlike the first $220,000 of spending. The same $30,000 in spend could be used to earn $600 if it were allocated to a 2% cashback card. People in this category will have to decide for themselves if the incremental benefits of Diamond status over Platinum status are worth the opportunity cost of the extra spend, but it is only a slight devaluation for people willing and able to commit this much spend to Delta credit cards in the first place.

Putting the Change in Context

While the increase in the Diamond MQD waiver requirement may seem onerous, Delta still has the most generous waiver policy of the three legacy carriers. United offers a waiver up to their second highest status (Premier Platinum) by spending $25,000 on a co-branded card, but offers no way to waive the requirement for top tier status. American is even worse, with spending $25,000 on two separate cards required to waive the requirement up to their third highest status level (Platinum), but no way of achieving a waiver for Platinum Pro or Executive Platinum.

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