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As the year winds down and the scramble for elite status revs up, many frequent flyers are having to decide just how much they value elite benefits. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Jason Steele looks at Delta Medallion status, and sets out to quantify each benefit in order to make those decisions easier.
Last week, TPG looked at how much American Airlines AAdvantage Elite status is worth to help flyers determine whether it’s worth paying to retain status or reach the next level. While I have found ways to make due without elite status, I know my situation isn’t shared by everyone, especially those who fly regularly on tickets paid by their employers or clients. Furthermore, those who are “hub captive” and must depend on a single carrier to reach most destinations non-stop will value all the perks and benefits of elite status.
As a former Atlanta-based business traveler and Delta Medallion elite member, I appreciate the value of elite status and understand the thought process that’s necessary to determine its value. In looking at the value of American AAdvantage status, TPG considered future travel plans, affordability, and the incremental benefits of each status level over the next.
For Delta, another factor to consider is how much SkyMiles are worth to you, since their new revenue-based accrual scheme will soon dictate how many miles per dollar you’ll earn from flying. In addition, your travel patterns will dictate how often you’re able to use certain benefits. For example, hub captives who live close to the airport may have little need for lounge access, since they likely arrive just in time and rarely change planes. Also,those who travel very elite-heavy routes might find little value in Silver or even Gold Medallion status that puts them at the bottom of a very long upgrade list.
Knowing the value of the next level of Delta status is also important, since it’s easier to spend your way to elite status on Delta than on other airlines—thanks to the Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) you can earn from several Delta SkyMiles American Express cards. The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express (and the business version, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express) both offer 5,000 MQMs and 35,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 within your first three months of account opening. In addition, you earn 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $25,000 in a calendar year , and an additional 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles when you spend $50,000 in that same year, for a total of 20,000. There’s an annual fee of $195 for this card.
With the Delta Reserve credit card, you receive 10,000 MQMs and 10,000 bonus miles after your first purchase, another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles when you spend $30,000 in a calendar, and yet another 15,000 MQMs and 15,000 bonus miles when you spend spending $60,000, for a total of 40,000. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and keep in mind that these offers can be combined.
So with these factors in mind, let’s take a look at what Delta is offering to elites in 2015, and what each status level might be worth to a typical traveler.
How SkyMiles will be earned
Previously, Delta flyers simply earned one mile for each mile traveled, plus bonuses for class of service (or fare class) and Medallion status. In 2015, however, miles will be earned based on the dollars spent, with bonuses still offered based on elite status. General members get 5 miles/$, Silver gets 7, Gold 8, Platinum 9, and Diamond 11.
So your status level will continue to factor directly into how many miles you earn, and you can calculate those miles based on how much you plan to spend next year. Nevertheless, Medallion status will still be based on the miles you travel, so a mileage run can still be useful.
According to TPG’s latest point valuations, SkyMiles are worth 1.2 cents each, although that value should climb slightly in 2015 when one-way awards are finally permitted . Delta has also promised to make more awards available at “the lowest mileage levels” in its new five tier award chart, but don’t hold your breath for that promise to be fulfilled.
So I would look at my estimated 2015 Delta travel spending, and calculate the additional miles I might earn if I were to reach the next level of status. For example, if I’m spending about $7,500 each year, I might be a Gold Medallion, but be close to earning Platinum status. Reaching Platinum will allow me to earn just one single extra mile per dollar spent, for a total of 7,500 miles (worth about $90 using the current valuation). There are bigger, two mile/$ increases between the miles earned by general members and Silver, and between Platinum and Diamond.
As in TPG’s analysis of American AAdvantage status, I’ll assume that Delta elites will fly about 20% more than the number of base miles needed to maintain their present status, and I’ll also round my valuations of each level down to the nearest $50. Read on to see how I’d value Delta Medallion status moving forward into 2015.
Silver Medallion status requires earning 25,000 MQMs or completing 30 Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs), and spending $2,500 on Delta flights. You can waive that spending requirement by making $25,000 in purchases on a Delta SkyMiles credit card from American Express, or by having a foreign address. Silver Medallion status can also be gifted by someone who has Platinum status.
- Earn 7 miles per dollar spent ($72). If you fly on $3,000 worth of revenue tickets, you’ll earn an additional 6,000 miles, worth $72.
- Waived baggage fees ($100). Since there are so many Delta credit cards that offer this waiver, I’d say this is worth $100, which is equal to four checked bags on one-way segments, or about the same as the $95 annual fee of the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express.
- Priority check-in ($25) This benefit sounds great, but since many frequent flyers rarely check bags, and all travelers are being encouraged to use kiosks anyway, it has little real value.
- Priority boarding ($25). It’s hard to put a value on this, but it might occasionally mean the difference in getting to put your bag in an overhead bin on a crowded flight.
- Unlimited complimentary first class upgrades at booking from full fare economy tickets ($100). This is a tough benefit to value because it depends on your travel patterns. Those who fly often on full fare tickets can get great use out of it.
- The possibility of first class upgrades from most discounted fares at one day before departure ($200). I hear upgrades for Silver Medallion members are few and far between, but leisure travelers might get one occasionally if a flight isn’t very full.
- Unlimited complimentary companion upgrades ($100). You don’t have to choose between sitting together in coach versus getting upgraded, but your chances of receiving this as a Silver are pretty slim.
- Complimentary preferred seats ($50). You don’t have to pay seat selection fees to avoid a middle seat in the back of the plane, assuming you don’t receive an upgrade to Comfort+ or First.
- Complimentary Economy Comfort seats ($100). These are available at 24 hours before departure (assuming you don’t get an upgrade to First). This service will be rebranded as “Comfort+” in March 2015.
- The ability to earn both SkyMiles and Starpoints when staying at Starwood hotels ($25). Thanks to the Crossover Rewards program, you can earn 1 mile per dollar spent at Starwood properties. If you’re also a Starwood elite, this can be a nice bonus.
- Priority telephone line reps ($25).
Gold Medallion status requires earning 50,000 MQMs or completing 60 MQSs, and spending $5,000 on Delta flights. The same spending waivers apply as for Silver Medallion status.
Additional Benefits: $1,600 (total of $2,400)
- Earn 8 miles per dollar spent ($72). If you fly on $6,000 worth of revenue tickets, you will earn an additional 6,000 miles more than you would have if you were Silver, worth $72.
- The possibility of first class upgrades from most discounted fares, but at three days before departure ($400). Not only is this benefit worth double when you fly twice as much, but Gold Medallion members have a much higher chance of actually being upgraded.
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades on award tickets and tickets that include Pay With Miles ($300). This is a big benefit for award travel enthusiasts who value being upgraded whenever they fly, not just on revenue fares.
- Complimentary Economy Comfort seats available at 72 hours before departure ($300). This is worth more than double the value for Silver elites, since Gold elites will have a higher upgrade priority.
- Waived Same-Day Confirmed fees, normally $25 per ticket ($100).
- Waived Same-Day Standby fees, normally $50 per ticket ($100).
- Waived Direct Ticketing charges ($50). This includes ticket purchases by phone (normally $25) and with a reservations agent (normally $35). I don’t value this very highly, since this is only used by most people for itineraries that can’t be constructed online.
- Discounted Sky Club Executive Membership ($25). The discount on the $695 annual membership is $50, but I suspect they don’t sell too many. Clearly if you plan to buy a membership, then it’s worth $50; otherwise it’s worth nothing, so I’ll split the difference.
- Priority Security Line Access ($25). Travelers at this level have probably been invited into the Pre-Check program or enrolled on their own, but this could come in handy at smaller airports without Pre-Check.
- Expedited Baggage Service ($50). Sometimes this works and you save a few minutes, but often it doesn’t matter.
- SkyTeam Elite Plus status, which offers Priority Baggage Handling with partners and SkyTeam Lounge Access on international itineraries ($200). Priority baggage handling is worth maybe $25. Lounge access can mean a lot to those who fly internationally in economy class.
Platinum Medallion status requires earning 75,000 MQMs or completing 100 MQSs, and spending $7,500 on Delta flights, with the same waivers as above.
Additional Benefits: $1,150 (total $3,550)
- Earn 9 miles per dollar spent ($108). If you spent $9,000 on tickets, you will earn an extra 9,000 miles more than you would have as a Gold member, worth $108.
- Complimentary Economy Comfort seats available at booking ($300).
- Waived Award Redeposit/Reissue fees ($200). This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s great to be able to book available awards and change them later at no charge if something better opens up.
- Choice benefits ($300). You can choose between four regional upgrade certificates, a Global Entry voucher, 20,000 bonus miles, gifting Medallion Silver status, four Sky Club one-day passes, or a $200 gift card for Delta or Tiffany & Co. (choose one). TPG values the regional upgrades most highly, though gifting Silver status is the most valuable if you know someone who will get a lot of use out of it.
- Starwood Crossover Benefits ($200). In addition to earning SkyMiles, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members get benefits like SPG Elite check-in line, 4 pm late checkout, and room upgrades.
- Discounted Sky Club Executive Membership ($50). The discount on the $695 annual membership is $100, but I still find that to be a tough sell.
Diamond Medallion status requires earning 125,000 MQMs or completing 140 MQSs, and spending $12,500 on Delta flights, with the same waivers as above.
Additional Benefits: $2,550 (total $6,100)
- Earn 11 miles per dollar spent ($360). This is based on spending $15,000 and earning an additional 2 miles per dollar more than a Platinum member.
- The highest priority for upgrades ($1,000). In speaking with Delta elites, it seems that many Gold and even Platinum flyers find first class upgrades to be rather scarce. Only once you reach Diamond (and preferably have a Delta Reserve card), can you start expecting regular upgrades on most flights.
- Complimentary Sky Club Executive Membership ($600). Since Platinum members can purchase this for about $600, I’ll value it as such.
- Upgraded Choice benefits ($600). Choose between four global or eight regional upgrade certificates, two Global Entry vouchers, 25,000 bonus miles, gifting Gold Medallion status, six Sky Club one-day passes, Tiffany premium luggage tags, or a $200 gift card from Delta or Tiffany & Co. (choose two). TPG values the four global upgrades most highly, though gifting Gold status is again very valuable if you know someone who can maximize it.
Any analysis has to take into account travel patterns, as a person who flies entirely on business class tickets and awards might value status very little, while a revenue economy traveler is more likely to crave it. That said, my calculations (largely based on TPG’s assumptions for American status) show a fairly linear relationship between the value of status, and both the travel and spend required to earn it.
I would love to hear from other Delta elites about how you value your status. Please offer your thoughts in the comments below! If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and 20% off in-flight purchases.
If you are a Delta flyer who is looking to bank some extra miles this card is a great addition for your wallet. While you'll earn 2 miles per dollar on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else, you'll also have access to other perks like priority boarding, a first bag checked free and 20% off in-flight purchases.