Delta Enlists American Express to Poach Continental and United Elites

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Several TPG readers emailed me an interesting mailing they received as American Express Platinum Cardmembers. The mailing from American Express (picture below) is a clear attempt to lure Continental and United elites to Delta. While elite status matches are nothing new, this is the first time I’ve seen a credit card company acting as an intermediary on behalf of another airline. I personally think it’s a brilliant, proactive move, but I also feel they should have advertised the 50% transfer bonus and 25,000 MQM promo (which, by the way ends May 31, 2011 so hop on it soon!).

If you are thinking about doing this, there are a couple things you should know:
1) Technically this offer is only for people who received the communication, but Delta has accepted status matches for a long time, as described in my post on the topic.

2) This offer is only good until June 30, 2011 and the status will only be good until February 2012 – less than a year.

3) If you wait until July 1 or later to process your status match, your status will be good until February 2013 – or at least that’s the way it has worked in the past with almost all airline match programs.

For those who are unfamiliar with Delta’s SkyMiles/ Medallion program, it’s unique in a couple ways:
1) Elite rollover. Any MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) you earn past an elite level (25,000, 50,000, 75,000, 125,000 miles), will be rolled over to the next year. For example, if you earn 60,000 miles in 2011, 10,000 of them will rollover to the next year, so you start January 1 with a nice jump start on status

2) Choice benefits for Platinum and Diamond Medallion. If you get comped to Platinum status, you can choose a gift – such as a $200 Delta voucher, 20,000 miles, Silver Medallion status for a friend or System Wide Upgrades

3) Miles never expire

4) No last minute award booking fees

5) Free Same Day Confirmed flight changes for Gold Medallions and higher – for domestic flights, you can switch to another flight to your destination as long as there is space available in your cabin. For coach tickets, the ticket bucket is Y, so as long as there is a single seat for sale, you can confirm onto that flight within 3 hours of departure.  Unpublished rule: Diamonds can Same Day Confirm to co-terminals, for example switch from Detroit to JFK to Detroit to LaGuardia

6) Upgrades on award tickets at your Medallion upgrade window (3 for Gold and 5 for Platinum). Not applicable to Silver medallions.

7) Skyteam Elite Plus status for Gold and higher – free lounge access when traveling internationally, even when in coach.

8 ) There are tons of ways to get Medallion Qualifying Miles including credit card (Amex Delta Reserve and Amex Delta Platinum), partner promotions (like Hilton or last December’s Charity promo) and American Express transfer bonuses.

9) I’m a big fan of Delta’s domestic hard product. Most planes have decent-sized first class cabins (as I Silver I got upgraded 50% of the time when I chose my flights correctly), most planes have wifi and I find the flight attendants to be top notch.

10) Skymiles are pretty easy to come by, so while Delta awards are generally more expensive than other airlines, their miles are easier to accrue (like the Spafinder promo).

I’m a Delta Diamond and generally like the program, but take the following into consideration before signing up:

1) Delta has three tiers of awards and the award engine prices erratically. For example, all partner awards are low level, but if you mix a medium level in, it will usually price a la carte, which means awards can become very expensive, very quickly.

2) Systemwide upgrades are only available for use on expensive fare classes. Y, B and M for international flights and Y, B, M, H, Q, K for domestic/Hawaii. The cheapest and most common fare classes are not eligible (L, U, T)

3) So many MQM promotions means a lot of Medallions. If you are flying through Atlanta, don’t be shocked to see 60+ person long upgrade lists. I often sit in coach on routes like Los Angeles to JFK. Then again, Delta allows upgrades on that route for all elites on all fares.

4) Delta does not allow the redemption of international first class on Skyteam partners like Korean and Air France.

5) Silver and Golds have to pay for international premium economy (they respectively get 25% and 50% discounts)

Overall, the best program for you is the one that most meets your needs. I encourage you to research a program in-depth before asking for a status match/challenge, because airlines only grant them once. Feel free to share your thoughts on the Delta Medallion program or whether you received this offer and are considering it.

Tip of the hat to TPG reader Steven for sending me his copy of the offer!

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