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Tips to Qualify for Delta and United Elite Status in 2014

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With the deadline for elite status qualification looming, this week TPG Contributor Nick Ewen discusses strategies to help you earn or maintain your status into the new year.

2015 is rapidly approaching, which means we’re also in the home stretch for elite status qualification. Once the calendar flips, the balances for all of your elite qualifying miles and segments (as well as dollars and points for certain airlines) will reset to zero. Fortunately, you still have time to (re)qualify, so this week I’ll discuss ways to get yourself over the elite status threshold for the domestic legacy carriers. Yesterday I offered tips to help you (re)qualify for elite status with American Airlines and/or US Airways. Today I’ll shift the conversation to Delta and United.

Thanks to the revenue-based qualification requirements introduced to the SkyMiles and MileagePlus programs this year, this analysis will be split into two parts. Today I’ll focus on the traditional mile- and segment-based qualification, while tomorrow I’ll delve into the new Medallion Qualifying Dollar and Premium Qualifying Dollar requirements. You’ll need to make sure you meet both mileage/segment and revenue thresholds if you want your elite status to continue beyond February 28, 2015.

Congrats to TPG reader Teddy L. on winning a $500 United Airlines gift card!
If you need a bump to qualify (or requalify) for status on United or Delta, keep reading!

As a quick review, both Delta and United have four levels of elite status, and both have similar mileage and segment qualification thresholds:

 

Miles

Segments

Silver

25,000

30

Gold

50,000

60

Platinum

75,000

90 for United,

100 for Delta

1K (United)

100,000

120

Diamond (Delta)

125,000

140

Each level of status includes a number of benefits, which TPG has covered in depth before:

There’s no question that the higher levels of status offer significantly better benefits, so if you’re close to a threshold, you should consider your options to bump your elite-qualifying mile/segment balance.

However, Delta flyers have an additional consideration, since (unlike other programs) you automatically roll over any MQMs above a given elite threshold. This can be a great jump start toward your next year’s qualification; in fact, I rolled over 21,253 MQMs from last year, and that played a large role in me being able to requalify for Platinum Medallion this year. See this Sunday Reader Question post from 2011 for a discussion of whether it makes sense to hold short of a given level.

Hopping on an actual flight is one way to bump up your elite-qualifying activity.
Hopping on an actual flight is one way to bump up your elite-qualifying activity.

Fly

As I wrote in yesterday’s post for American Airlines and US Airways, the first way to bump up your elite qualifying miles and segments is by actually flying. If you already have a trip planned, great! If not, consider checking out the Mileage Run thread on FlyerTalk for last minute deals in 2014. Here are some of the offers available at the time of writing:

  • United: ORD-DXB (via IAD) for $774.40 (15,314 elite-qualifying miles)
  • Delta: MCO-SEA (via SLC, ATL) for $267.60 (5,301 elite-qualifying miles)

Like American and US Airways, United only offers Premier members a 500-mile minimum on all flights; non-status flyers will only earn the actual distance flown (or 250 miles when the flight is less than 250 miles in length). On the other hand, Delta gives every SkyMiles member at least 500 elite qualifying miles per segment, regardless of status and distance flown.

united elite maximizer[1]
United’s Elite Maximizer lets you purchase additional redeemable and elite-qualifying miles for existing trips.
Another wrinkle involves United’s Elite Maximizer. This program lets you earn extra regular (redeemable) miles and elite qualifying miles when you purchase a flight. Unfortunately, the prices are high: generally 2-3 cents per regular mile and 10+ cents per PQMs. They also tend to get even more expensive as the end of the year approaches to take advantage of those who are desperate to requalify for elite status! Unfortunately, the prices also vary depending on the traveler and reservation, so your decision is entirely based on your own elite status situation.

To take advantage of one of these options, purchase a flight and then login to your MileagePlus account; you should see an option to purchase accelerator miles. One nice feature is that these miles post within 2-3 days regardless of when your flight is scheduled to depart, so you can use accelerator miles now for flights in 2015. Some posters in the aforementioned threads will even purchase a refundable ticket, add the accelerator options, and then cancel the actual ticket. You could also purchase a non-refundable ticket, add the accelerator, and then cancel the ticket within 24 hours for a full refund. Just beware that miles/PQMs purchased through this program are non-refundable.

If you’re confused, FlyerTalk fortunately has some great threads on this topic:

Finally, you definitely want to be careful with so-called “exception fares” on Delta. TPG wrote about these back in 2012, and unfortunately, there isn’t any way to know for sure whether your fare will earn full MQMs/MQSs. However, if you are purchasing your flights directly from Delta, they will earn full mileage.

Certain Delta credit cards allow you to earn MQMs through sign-up bonuses or by hitting annual spending thresholds.
Certain Delta cards let you earn MQMs through sign-up bonuses or by hitting annual spending thresholds.

Credit card spending

While Delta has recently implemented more devaluations than I care to count, there’s at least one arena where they still come out ahead with their co-branded American Express cards. TPG wrote a detailed analysis of these cards earlier in the year; several of them offer ways to earn Medallion Qualification Miles:

  1. Platinum Delta SkyMiles American Express: Earn 5,000 MQMs (along with 35,000 regular SkyMiles) after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. Earn an additional 10,000 MQMs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year, and an additional 10,000 MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year.
  2. Delta Reserve American Express: Earn 10,000 MQMs (along with 10,000 regular SkyMiles) after your first purchase. Earn an additional 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, and another 15,000 MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year. You can also gift each of these 15,000 MQM bonuses to a friend or family member.

However, as was the case in yesterday’s American/US Airways post, these bonus miles must post in 2014 to count toward this year’s elite status qualification. That means the clock is ticking to meet the spending requirements to earn the bonuses, especially since the T&C of the cards include the following verbiage:

“MQMs will be credited to your account 2-4 weeks after you reach the spend threshold.”

If you apply (and are approved) for one of these cards today, you could call American Express and ask for the card to be sent with expedited shipping, which would likely put it in your hand by the end of the week. That still gives you less than 6 weeks to hit the spending requirement and have the miles post to you account.

That being said, you may find that the MQMs show up faster than the published window. For example, I signed up for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles card back in September when it offered 15,000 bonus MQMs. I hit the spending threshold for the bonus on September 21, and my first statement closed on September 24. The bonus miles posted to my SkyMiles account on September 26, only two days after the statement closed and five days after the transaction that pushed me past the minimum spending threshold:

Delta Amex account activity
My MQM activity from the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Amex.

Your experiences may differ from mine, so the best bet is to hit these thresholds as soon as possible. I’d hate to have your bonus MQM’s show up on January 2, 2015 and cause you to miss out on a level of status!

Unfortunately, the only United credit card that allows you to earn PQMs (the MileagePlus Presidential Plus card) is no longer available to new applicants. However, if you’re an existing cardholder, you can earn 1,000 Flexible Preferred Qualifying Miles (Flex PQMs) for every $5,000 you spend. Those Flex PQMs can be converted to regular PQMs to help you qualify for status up to (and including) Premier Platinum. You must initiate this conversion online or by calling the MileagePlus Service Center. The nice thing is that these are valid for 39 months after the end of the calendar year in which they were earned, so you have up to 5 different membership years in which to convert them. Again, this only applies to existing cardholders, as this product is not open to new applicants.

757 Transcon EC seat
Gifted status includes all the perks of earned status, including upgrades, free checked bags, and discounted or complimentary Economy Comfort seats.

Gifting status

Another option to earn status within the last few weeks of the year is to find a Delta Platinum or Diamond Medallion member who is willing to gift you status. As part of the Choice Benefits program, Platinum members can gift Silver status, while Diamond members can gift Gold status. Just beware of the benefit year when making this choice. Status gifted through 2014 Choice Benefits (which are earned through MQMs/MQSs in 2013) will only be valid through February 2015, while status gifted from 2015 Choice Benefits (which are earned through MQMs/MQSs/MQDs in 2014) will be valid through February 2016. This disclaimer is included on the selection page:

Delta choice benefits
Delta Choice Benefits selection page

As you can see, I could gift someone Silver Medallion status through my 2014 Choice Benefit selection, but that would only give him/her a few months of status! I’d be much better off using my 2015 Choice Benefit selection in this fashion, as that would confer status for well over a year (though remember that Delta’s 2015 year will now end on January 31, 2016 rather than February 28, 2016).

Through December 20th, you can earn 250 MQMs on Hilton stays of two or more nights,
Through December 20, 2014, you can earn 250 MQMs on Hilton stays of two or more nights,

Hilton stays of 2+ nights

Another option to top off your elite-qualifying mile balance with Delta is to complete a stay of two nights or more with the Hilton HHonors program by December 20th. This will earn you double miles and 250 MQMs per stay (up to 10,000 total MQMs). In order to take advantage of this offer, you must register here before checking out, and you must make sure that Delta is selected as your preferred double-dip partner. This promotion by itself isn’t going to earn you elite status, but if you’re nearing the next level and just need a few hundred MQMs, this is a nice option, especially since you’ll still earn Hilton HHonors points on the stay as well!

Options from the past: will they be back?
In the past, both Delta and United have offered several ways to rack up elite qualifying miles. Here’s a quick run-down of offers (as well as my thoughts on whether they’re likely to return):

  1. United’s MileagePlus Choices: In the past, United MileagePlus Explorer and United Club cardholders could redeem the regular miles earned on the card for PQMs that helped with elite status (re)qualification. Though it was a terrible value proposition (10,000 miles = 1,000 PQMs, up to a yearly maximum of 5,000 PQMs), it was still a nice option to have if you were close to the next Premier status level. Unfortunately, this was quietly discontinued in 2013. I’d say the chance of this returning is small.
  2. Buy MQMs on Delta: For the last three years, Delta has offered the option to purchase MQMs as the end of the year approached. In 2011, they announced it at the end of November, and you could initially buy them through December 15 (though they eventually extended it through December 30). In 2012, the promo was announced in mid-November, but you had until December 31 to commit. Last year, it was announced at the beginning of December, again with an expiration of December 31. The prices have increased across the years, and last year you actually had to pay more as you moved up the status chain; in fact, Diamond and Platinum Medallions paid almost double what general members or Silver Medallions paid for the same number of MQMs! Given the relative consistency over the last few years, I’d say this promotion is likely to come back.
  3. Double Delta miles/MQMs from Seattle: Delta and Alaska Airlines have been battling for control of Seattle for a while now, and last year, Delta offered almost two months of double miles AND MQMs for select routes out of Seattle. Since then, Delta has expanded their Pacific Northwest service even more, and the battle continues, prompting Delta to extend a similar offer throughout most of 2014 to SkyMiles members whose registered address is in Washington state. This promo is still in full swing, so get in on it if you qualify, or look for mileage run opportunities otherwise.
  4. Bonus MQMs for Hertz rentals: Back in 2012, Hertz ran a promotion whereby you could earn 250 MQMs on rentals of three days or more at participating airport locations through November 30. Like the Hilton promo mentioned above, it wasn’t terribly lucrative in and of itself, but still a nice option to top off your account. Since we haven’t seen a promotion like this in some time, I’d say the chance of it returning is small.
  5. 1,500 MQMs for SkyClub membership: Also back in 2012, Delta was offering either 2 free months or 1,500 MQMs for new SkyClub memberships or renewals of existing memberships. Given that they recently upgraded their food options and have begun restricting guest access for credit card holders, I would say the chances of a similar promotion are very small.

Even if these exact promotions don’t show up, I’d say chances are fair that some other new ones will, so stay tuned and watch your inbox.

As I said before, time is running out to earn elite qualifying miles and segments on Delta and United, so if you haven’t planned out your end-of-the-year strategy, now is the time! Just remember that all of these options for bumping up your mile and segment balances must be considered in conjunction with your MQD/PQD balances. Check back tomorrow for a detailed overview of those new requirements and how to ensure that you meet them.

How do you plan to (re)qualify for Delta and/or United status this year?

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