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How Do I Choose the Best Routing to Maximize Elite Miles?

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TPG reader Andrew emailed me to ask about routing:

“I have the Gold Delta Amex Card, and I’ll be traveling from Los Angeles to London soon. It will likely be one of two big trips I take this year, and I want to maximize the trip in terms of MQMs/MQDs. Would you recommend flying through Detroit, Minneapolis or Atlanta?”

With 2016 already more than half over, it’s a good time to start figuring out your strategy for elite qualification (if you haven’t already). By looking at your upcoming travel plans and calculating how many elite credits you expect to earn, you can avoid scrambling for ways to qualify at the last minute.

Most airlines (including Delta) offer elite-qualifying miles based on how far you fly, with bonuses given for certain fare classes. That means you can maximize your Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) by either increasing the distance traveled or by purchasing a fare with a higher earning rate (or both). To estimate the rewards you’ll earn from different itineraries, check out the WebFlyer Mileage Calculator (one of my favorite online tools for award travelers). This shows you flight distances between airports across the globe, and allows you to factor in bonuses for fare class and elite status.

To answer Andrew’s question specifically, a stop in Atlanta would maximize elite miles between LAX and LHR. You’d earn 6,140 MQMs each way going through ATL, versus 5,720 for a stop in DTW, 5,530 for a stop in MSP and 5,440 for a nonstop flight. You could get creative and put together an itinerary like LAX-SEA-ATL-LHR, which would earn 7,334 MQMs each way (along with extra stops if you’re trying to qualify with elite segments).

All of those itineraries are roughly the same price; the question is whether it’s worth the extra time spent in the air and on the ground. Simply routing through Atlanta will add at least 4-5 hours to your trip in each direction. That doesn’t seem worthwhile for a measly 700 extra MQMs each way unless it definitively puts you over the threshold for elite qualification. Your time is valuable, and there are other ways to earn status that might not take you so far out of your way.

Delta bumped award prices on business class to Israel.
You can add stops to earn extra MQMs, but be sure to account for the time you’ll lose during layovers.

As for MQDs, you can always buy a more expensive fare, which might also help you earn MQMs if there’s a fare class bonus. But again, you have to consider whether the extra amount is justified. Depending on how much Medallion status is worth to you, it could make sense to pay a little more if it helps you reach a higher tier. Alternately, you could take advantage of the MQD waiver on the Gold Delta SkyMiles Credit Card and other co-branded Delta cards from Amex, though that option also carries an opportunity cost.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express

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  • Earn 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in purchases on your new Card within your first 3 months and a $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months.
  • Earn 2 Miles per dollar spent on purchases made directly with Delta. Earn 1 mile for every dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
  • Check your first bag free on every Delta flight - that's a savings of up to $200 per round trip for a family of four.
  • Settle in sooner with Priority Boarding.
  • Enjoy a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
None 15.49%-19.49% Variable $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 2.70% Excellent Credit