(Video) Sunday Reader Question: What is the Best Way to Maximize Earning Delta MQMs?

Oct 7, 2012

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This week I decided to answer a question from fellow New Yorker, Kirk, who asks about maximizing Delta MQMs:

“I fly JFK to SFO at least once a month and am looking for a way to maximize the MQM (Medallion Qualifying Miles) I earn. I will hit Gold Medallion status on the return leg of my current trip. I fly for business so I can spend a little more than I ordinarily would on personal travel, but not a huge amount more. My actual questions are these:
– What is the most cost-effective economy fare class per MQM earned? Is it worth booking an M+ class ticket on a dollar/mile basis?
– Is it true that you can earn more MQMs for taking a layover in certain cities? If so, which cities offer the best bonuses?”

Is an M+ Class Ticket Worth It?
When flying Delta, if you buy a business class or Y, B, M coach fare, you get a 50% bonus on Medallion Qualifying Miles. For JFK-SFO, the base earning is 5,172 miles roundtrip, so the 50% bonus results in additional 2,589 MQMs roundtrip – not so bad! However, M+ fares can be much more expensive than the cheapest coach fare, often costing two to three times as much as your cheapest coach fares. I personally don’t think receiving a 50% bonus is great when you have to pay 300% more for the same class of service. Also, if your employer makes you purchase the cheapest coach fare, you’ll have to pay an additional $150 change fee if you want to buy up to a class of service that gives you a 50% bonus.

Connecting in Different Cities
Connecting through other cities can make sense since you can Same Day Confirm for free as a Gold or higher Medallion. One option on a JFK to SFO flight would be to connect in LAX. If you originally book a cheap flight to SFO, adding the stop at LAX would bank you 500 more miles and for a difference of about $5 in taxes. However, adding connections means a greater travel time and thus chance of delays and disruptions.

I came up with a different strategy when I used to fly from JFK to LAX for business. I would book A fares, which are coach fares that immediately book into business class, for just about $1,000. If I was given the option of a $500 or $600 dollar last-minute coach fare, I would instead book the $1,000 A fare ticket through Salt Lake City. On the day of travel I would Same Day Confirm onto the nonstop business class flight. By taking this approach, I would get a relatively cheap $1,000 A fare, a 50% bonus on MQMs earned, and get to fly the BusinessElite product.

To price out how much a M+ fare will cost, go to delta.com -> Planning Tools -> Book a flight and then select the Fare Class button and choose M or higher.
Earning MQMs Through Credit Cards
While most airlines are very protective about awarding elite miles, Delta makes it easy to rack them up by simply using a credit card. The most lucrative is the Amex Delta Reserve, which awards 10,000 MQMs after the first purchase and 15,000 MQMs when you hit $30,000 within a calendar year and then an additional 15,000 when you hit $60,000. While the $450 annual fee is high, the card also grants Delta Sky Club access, companion tickets (even in discounted first class), a free checked bag on every Delta flight and 20% in-flight savings on food and entertainment. Also, when flying coach your upgrade status will be higher than someone who doesn’t have the Reserve card in your fare class, so it gives a much-needed edge since there are so many Medallions. Even if you just get the card for the MQMs, you’d be paying 4.5 cents per elite mile, which is pretty good. There is also a Business Reserve card as well that has the same earning structure: 10k MQMs on first purchase and then up to 30,000 more with spend. By maximizing the spend thresholds on both of these cards you could potentially net 80,000 MQMs – more than enough for Platinum Medallion status.

American Express also offers the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card, which awards  5,000 MQMs for the first purchase and then 10,000 MQMs at $25,000 in spend and 10,000 more MQMs at $50,000 in spend. The annual fee is $150, but the card also entitles you to Zone 2 priority boarding, an annual companion ticket and 20% in-flight savings on foo and entertainment on every Delta flight. There is also a Business Platinum card product that offers the same amount of MQMs. Note: Delta does send targeted offers that are more lucrative than the public ones, so search your inbox for any recent American Express or Delta emailed offers.

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