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Earning elite status with airlines can pay off handsomely (especially at the higher tiers), but it usually requires a lot of revenue flying. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen offers alternate strategies for gaining status with Delta even if you don’t plan to step on board.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express, Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Over the last few years, Delta has removed a lot of value from its SkyMiles program. Changes like switching to a revenue-based model, removing award charts from its website and restricting mixed-cabin awards have led many to ditch Delta as their primary airline (including TPG himself!).

However, SkyMiles are far from worthless, and the program does still have plenty of value to many flyers, especially those who live in major hub cities. Delta also provides many ways to accrue Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) toward elite status without setting foot on a plane. To coincide with the increased sign-up bonuses on several Amex Delta SkyMiles cards, in this post I want to explain how you can leverage these cards and other strategies for earning Medallion status without actually flying.

You can earn MQMs and qualify for elite status without ever setting foot on a Delta plane.

Credit Cards

At present there are four Delta co-branded credit cards that allow you to earn MQMs toward elite status (re)qualification:

  • The Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card and Platinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card currently offer a sign-up bonus of 60,000 SkyMiles plus 10,000 MQMs after spending $2,000 in the first three months. You can earn 10,000 bonus miles plus 10,000 MQMs by spending $25,000 on each card in a calendar year, plus another 10,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs by spending $50,000 in that same year.
  • The Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express and Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card currently offer a sign-up bonus of 10,000 SkyMiles plus 10,000 MQMs after your first purchase. You can earn 15,000 bonus miles plus 15,000 MQMs by spending $30,000 on each card in a calendar year, plus another 15,000 bonus miles and 15,000 MQMs by spending $60,000 in that same year. The MQMs you earn on the Reserve cards can also be gifted to a friend or family member.
Kicking back in a larger seat with a glass of wine and complimentary meal is a great way to start (or wrap up) your vacation!
You may find yourself riding up front more frequently if you take advantage of Delta’s American Express cards.

These bonuses make earning Medallion status much easier, especially in the first year. Let’s say that you open one of the Platinum cards, earn the sign-up bonus and spend $50,000 by the end of the year. You would bank the following bonuses:

  • 60,000 SkyMiles from the sign-up bonus
  • 20,000 SkyMiles from the two threshold bonuses
  • At least 50,000 SkyMiles earned by spending (more if some of the purchases are with Delta)
  • 30,000 MQMs

This spending behavior alone is enough for automatic Silver Medallion status, not to mention the 130,000 regular SkyMiles (worth $1,560 based on TPG’s most recent valuations). If you then spend the same amount the following year, you can actually enjoy Silver Medallion status as well (since the “extra” 5,000 MQMs from this year would roll over and count toward next year’s qualification).

Delta Reserve cards also include SkyClub access, where you can take advantage of improved food & drink options.
Delta Reserve cards also include SkyClub access.

The Reserve Cards won’t be quite as lucrative when it comes to redeemable miles, but will up your MQM earning potential significantly. If you open one of those cards, earn the sign-up bonus and spend $60,000 by the end of the year, you’ll take home 100,000 SkyMiles (worth $1,200) plus 40,000 MQMs, which is again good enough for Silver status. If you then repeat that spending behavior each year, you’ll earn Silver again next year, but will earn an upgrade to Gold the following year:

  • First year — 40,000 MQMs from the card
  • Second year — 30,000 MQMs from the card + 15,000 rollover MQMs = 45,000 MQMs
  • Third year — 30,000 MQMs from the card + 20,000 rollover MQMs = 50,000 MQMs

If you typically spend even more in a calendar year, you can leverage both a Reserve and Platinum card and boost your Medallion potential even higher. Assuming you open one of each right now and spend $50,000 on the Platinum card and $60,000 on the Reserve card, you’ll earn 70,000 MQMs in the first year and 50,000 MQMs every year thereafter. This will give you “automatic” Gold status. That’s a lot to spend, but it may be worthwhile depending on how much you value Medallion status.

Delta Platinum
If you play your cards right (pun intended), you can effectively earn “automatic” Platinum Medallion status.

If you combined those spending patterns with somewhat regular travel on Delta (25,000 MQMs per year), you’d enjoy “automatic” Platinum status:

  • First year — 70,000 MQMs from the cards + 25,000 MQMs from travel = 95,000 MQMs (Platinum)
  • Second year — 50,000 MQMs from the cards + 25,000 MQMs from travel + 20,000 rollover MQMs = 95,000 MQMs (Platinum)
  • Third year — 50,000 MQMs from the cards + 25,000 MQMs from travel + 20,000 rollover MQMs = 95,000 MQMs (Platinum)
  • And so on…

As a result, if you can spend $110,000 on these cards and fly enough to earn 25,000 MQMs every year, you’ll have Platinum Medallion status locked up for the near future.

Remember that the Medallion Qualification Dollar requirement doesn’t apply in any of these scenarios, since you will have earned a waiver by spending at least $25,000 on a Delta co-branded American Express card.

For the last couple of years, Hilton HHonors has offered bonus MQMs for stays during the last few months of the year.
For the last couple of years, Hilton HHonors has offered bonus MQMs for stays during the last few months of the year.

Other Shortcuts

Credit card spending is just one method to earn MQMs (and status) on Delta without actually flying. There are a few others that can pair nicely with these cards:

  • Status match or challenge — When you go the aforementioned credit card route to earning status with Delta, you must complete the spending in order to enjoy the perks of status. If you’re currently an elite member of another airline, you may be able to utilize a status match or status challenge offer and move up the timeline a bit. TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig used Alaska’s generous status match program to upgrade friends on flights to Hawaii, and while Delta tends to be stingier with recognizing status from other carriers, it can still be a nice shortcut.
  • Purchase MQMs — Since 2013, Delta has given members the chance to buy MQMs toward the end of each year, which is a decent option for those who are short of a given level of Medallion status. The prices tend to be quite high, but if you don’t have time to take a mileage run or open a Delta Amex, the opportunity is there.
  • Limited-time MQM offers — You’ll occasionally see Delta and its partners offer bonus MQMs for certain types of purchases. Delta has offered MQMs for SkyClub memberships, and last fall Hilton HHonors offered 250 MQMs per stay (up to a maximum of 10,000). The SkyMiles program even awarded members MQMs for Hertz rentals back in 2012! Keep an eye on our site for these limited-time offers.
Delta One on a transcontinental 757.
We can’t all travel in Delta One enough to earn status; these methods can help!

Bottom Line

Delta status isn’t what it used to be (I remember getting upgraded on Atlanta to Las Vegas flights as a Silver Medallion!), but Medallion status can still be quite valuable. Not everyone can rack up MQMs through butt-in-seat flying, but there are several ways to boost your Medallion Qualification Miles balance without actually setting foot on the plane. Hopefully this post has given you some strategies for earning status in alternate ways, especially all the hub captives out there!

How do you approach earning elite status with Delta?

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