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It’s that time of year again. As the clock winds down on 2015, many flyers’ attention turns to qualifying or requalifying for elite status. This week, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen covers the elite-status programs of the three major legacy carriers in the US, and shows you how to rack up those last-minute miles before we hit 2016.
Once you earn elite status and start enjoying all those attendant benefits that make the travel experience just a little bit easier (or a lot nicer in some cases), it’s hard to give it up. That’s why flyers start to scramble toward the end of the year in order to make sure that they hit those mileage or segment requirements while there is still time.
In order to help you strategize your year-end travel and spending, all this week I’ll be covering the elite-status programs of the three US legacy carriers — American, Delta and United — discussing each airline’s qualification requirements and benefits; proposing some last-minute earning ideas; and picking out a few choice routes to help you make a successful dash to the finish line.
Before we get going, be sure to check out some of these posts for helpful hints and reminders about what you should be doing around this time of year.
- What Is Delta Medallion Status Worth?
- Targeted Offer: Earn Delta Platinum Medallion Status
- Earn Delta Status Without Flying
- Buy Delta MQMs and MQDs for 2015 Elite Status
- Do Delta Medallion Qualifying Dollars Rollover?
- Tips for Delta MQD and United PQD Requirements
- Tips to Qualify for Delta and United Elite Status
- Delta Raising Medallion Qualifying Dollar Requirements in 2015
- How Can I Keep Delta Medallion Status if I’m Short on MQDs?
- Comparison of Elite Status: Which Program is Best?
- When Does Elite Status Reset and How Long Does it Last?
- Audit Your Mileage and Points Accounts
- When Will Elite Credits Post?
- Which Low-Tier Airline Elite Status is Best?
- How to Get Last Minute Elite Qualifying Miles Without Flying
Also check out our Delta Elite Status Series from last year detailing the benefits of each tier as well as other unique program features:
- Silver Medallion
- Gold Medallion
- Platinum Medallion
- Diamond Medallion
- Delta Medallion Unique Program Benefits
If you have expiring elite perks you’re not going to be able to use yourself, consider posting them in our Expiring Elite Perk Exchange.
Delta SkyMiles Medallion
Among other changes to its SkyMiles program back in 2014, Delta instituted a spending element to its qualification requirements called Medallion Qualifying Dollars, which you need to hit for each of its four tiers. And then it raised them in 2015! Here are the current requirements.
In addition to overhauling its Medallion qualification requirements, Delta also changed the way flyers earn regular frequent-flyer miles. Now, depending on your status and whether you have a Delta credit card, you earn between 5-13 miles per dollar that you spend on airfare.
Previously, Delta flyers simply earned one mile for each mile traveled, plus bonuses for class of service (or fare class) and Medallion status. Now, however, miles are earned based on the dollars spent, with bonuses still offered based on elite status. General members get 5 miles per dollar, Silver gets 7, Gold 8, Platinum 9 and Diamond 11.
However, in terms of elite qualification, you still earn miles based on the distance you fly … which just makes it more confusing. Here’s what you need to do to earn each level of status.
Silver Medallion: Earn 25,000 MQMs or fly 30 Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs), and spend $3,000 on Delta flights. You can waive that spending requirement by making $25,000 in purchases on a Delta card from American Express.
Gold Medallion: Earn 50,000 MQMs or fly 60 MQSs, and spend $6,000 on Delta flights. The same spending waivers apply as for Silver Medallion status.
Platinum Medallion: Earn 75,000 MQMs or fly 100 MQSs, and spend $9,000 on Delta flights, with the same credit-card spending waiver.
Diamond Medallion: Earn 125,000 MQMs or fly 140 MQSs, and spend $15,000 on Delta flights, with the same credit-card spending waiver as above.
For full details on the Medallion program, check this page. Meanwhile, here is a basic breakdown of the benefits by tier. I’ve just noted additional benefits for each tier.
- Earn 7 miles per dollar spent (instead of the basic 5)
- Waived checked baggage fees for member and up to 8 companions on the same reservation
- Priority check-in
- Priority boarding
- Unlimited complimentary first-class upgrades at booking from full-fare economy tickets
- The possibility of first-class upgrades from most discounted fares at one day before departure
- Unlimited complimentary companion upgrades
- Complimentary preferred seats
- Complimentary Comfort+ seats up to 24 hours before departure
- The ability to earn both SkyMiles and Starpoints when staying at Starwood hotels thanks to the Crossover Rewards program
- Priority telephone customer service
- Earn 8 miles per dollar spent
- The possibility of first-class upgrades from most discounted fares up to 72 hours before departure
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades on award tickets and tickets that include Pay With Miles
- Complimentary Comfort+ seats available at 72 hours before departure
- Two free checked bags for member and up to 8 companions on the same reservation
- Waived same-day confirmed fees
- Waived same-day standby fees
- Waived direct ticketing charges
- Discounted Sky Club Executive Membership
- Priority security line access
- Expedited baggage service
- SkyTeam Elite Plus status, which offers priority baggage handling with partners and SkyTeam Lounge Access on international itineraries
- Earn 9 miles per dollar spent
- Complimentary Comfort+ seats available at booking
- Two free checked bags for member and up to 8 companions on the same reservation
- Waived award redeposit/reissue fees
- Choice benefits including a choice of one from the following: 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.
- Discounted Sky Club Executive Membership
- Earn 11 miles per dollar spent
- The highest priority for upgrades
- Complimentary Sky Club Executive Membership
- Three free checked bags for member and up to 8 companions on the same reservation
- Upgraded Choice benefits. Choose two from the following: 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.
Last-Minute Earning Ideas
Though time is short, if you find that you’re not quite going to make the earning threshold of your elite status tier, there are still some great options out there to put you over the top.
Same-Day Flight Changes To Maximize Routing
Though a bit of a gamble, and certainly more time-consuming than your average point-to-point travel, if you’re willing to make the effort, you can try to make changes to upcoming travel plans in order to extend your routing and thus earn more miles and/or segments by flying through connecting cities instead of directly between your origin and destination.
For example, instead of just flying from Atlanta to Seattle and earning 2,182 MQMs, you could try rerouting through other Delta hubs like Salt Lake City and Los Angeles to earn 2,521 MQMs instead.
Now, Delta changed its same-day flight-change policies and fees in 2013 so that you have to find space not only in your same cabin of service, but also in your same ticket fare code. You must also put in your request on the day of your flight. So this option is a bit trickier now, but it’s still something to consider.
To review Delta’s policies on same-day flight changes, check out this page. Silver Medallion members, general SkyMiles members and non-members must pay a $50 same-day confirmed fee. For standby tickets, there is also a $50 change fee if it comes through, but no change fees. Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members get the $50 fee on confirmed same-day changes waived. The standby fee is also waived.
Regardless of Medallion status, basic Economy (E) fares are not eligible to make same-day confirmed or same-day standby travel changes.
For more tips and tricks, check out TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen’s post on How to Use Same-Day Changes to Your Advantage.
Buy MQMs on Delta
For the last four years, Delta has offered the option to purchase MQMs as the end of the year approaches. Last year, it was up to 10,000 MQMs. The carrier typically announces the details at the end of November, and they usually stay on sale just up till the end of the year.
The prices have increased across the years, and you actually had to pay more as you moved up the status chain. So Diamond and Platinum Medallions paid almost double what general members or Silver Medallions paid for the same number of MQMs. Given the outrageousness of the expense, I’d try to stay away from this option if at all possible.
Credit Card Spending
Delta fields two co-branded American Express cards that allow cardholders to earn MQMs via spending.
Cardholders of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express earn 10,000 MQMs (along with 70,000 regular SkyMiles) after spending $3,000 in the first three 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.
The Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express offers new cardholders a bonus of 10,000 MQMs (along with 40,000 regular SkyMiles) after spending $3,000 within the first three months. Then, they can 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, so if you’re nowhere near status qualification but someone you know is, this is an option.
That’s a lot of spending to complete, but if you already have these cards, now’s a good time to audit your overall spending from the year and see if you’re near one of those thresholds. Or if you just need the little bonus boosts to qualify for status, it might be worth applying for them.
Just note, and this is important, these bonus miles must post in 2015 to count toward this year’s elite status qualification. So the clock is ticking, and you should try to hit those spend thresholds as soon as possible just to be safe.
Hilton Promo: 250 MQMs on 2-Night Stays
Delta also partnered with Hilton earlier this year to offer SkyMiles members 250 MQMs (and double award miles) for each stay of two nights or more at any Hilton property now through December 31, 2015. You must register here for the bonus, though.
Status Matching or Challenging
A status match or challenge can also be a great shortcut to bypass the normal requirements. You can read more about how these work here, but here’s the gist of it: With a match, you can provide an airline with proof of your current status with a competitor and hope they’ll match you to their equivalent status. With a challenge, you have to fly (and usually spend) a certain amount within 90 days and you get status for the rest of the elite-status year.
As I mentioned in the section about elite benefits, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members receive Choice Benefits. Platinum members can gift Silver status, while Diamond members can gift Gold status. So time to butter up your favorite Medallion member and see if he or she is willing to boost you into the club.
Delta’s SkyBonus business program is completely separate from the SkyMiles program for individuals. The program is a bit complex, so check out the airline’s SkyBonus University for full details, but basically, companies earn between 1-10 points per dollar spent on employee airfare.
Those points can then be redeemed for things like award tickets, but also for Silver Medallion status at a rate of 120,000 per status awarded. Just note that, unlike regular Silver Medallion status, this one is valid for only 12 months from the date of issue.
Mileage Run Scenarios
There are plenty of options to rack up last-minute miles, points and outright status, but your best option might still be to fly. Airfares do tend to skyrocket at this time of year thanks to the busy holiday travel season. However, there are still some deals out there, and if you can travel in the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are some downright bargains.
If this is of interest to you, don’t forget to check The Flight Deal and the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk for cheap fare news and ideas. In the meantime, here are a couple options I recently found that should give you an idea of what to look for.
Note that I’m finding options where you can complete the mileage in one trip, since time is of the essence at this point, but you can find more options if you’re willing to travel on multiple dates.
1,000 miles short: It might seem a bit strange, but some people do indeed miss out on elite status by as little as a 1,000 miles. The good news is that it’s easy to avoid. Especially if you already have elite status, because Delta guarantees elites at least 500 miles per flight (on Delta-marketed flights), even if the distance is under 500 miles.
West Coasters can consider Delta’s shuttle route from LAX-SFO. It’s going for as little as $118 round-trip in December with a same-day turnaround.
5,000 miles short: It might seem like the typical transcon routes from New York to LA and San Francisco were made for this mileage necessity, but look beyond them to find even better deals. For instance, this round-trip in December from Washington DC to Portland (via Salt Lake on the outbound and Atlanta on the return) would cost just $225 and would earn 5,200 MQMs.
10,000 miles short: Your best bet here might be taking advantage of Delta’s new hubs and routes from the west coast. The best options I found right now were flights from Portland, Oregon, to Shanghai via either Seattle or Los Angeles.
This one via Seattle would cost just $683 and net you 12,444 MQMs.
Pay $6 more to route through Los Angeles and you’d end up with 13,541 MQMs though!
That said, if you’re looking to fly east, I also found some interesting fares from the west coast, though you might be able to fly from a shorter distance from one of Delta’s eastern hubs. This one from San Francisco to Tel Aviv via JFK would earn a whopping 16,526 MQMs and cost just $627.
And if you already have your Brazil visa, you could opt for this itinerary from New York JFK-São Paulo for $710 and earn 9,490 MQMs.
So if you’re willing to sit on a plane, there are definitely options out there for you.
Just a quick section on flight segments in case that’s your preferred method of qualification. I find that the Mileage Run Forum on FlyerTalk is the best place to get ideas, even if the entries are a bit of a jumble.
From there, I go to Google Flights to the Multi City booking link and manually enter a few cities and dates and see how the itinerary comes together. Google Flights dynamically prices things out, so you’ll often see the airfare rise or fall slightly.
Here’s a sample trip I put together with Atlanta as a starting/end point going to:
- Atlanta to Reno via Dallas and Salt Lake City
- Los Angeles via Salt Lake City
- Anchorage via Seattle
- Back to LA via Minneapolis
- From LA to Atlanta via Dallas
It priced out to $690 and would earn a total of 11 Medallion Qualifying Segments. Not the most amazing value, but certainly nothing to ignore if you don’t mind flying all weekend. If you’re interested, it also worked out to 11,603 MQMs. Just note that I did not include any flights on Delta partner Alaska because not all fare codes earn 100% MQMs since Delta changed them in April.
The one thing I’ve noticed with Delta is that if you price it out on Google Flights, it almost always tells you to call a travel agent to book, so you might end up having to call into the airline to reserve your flights.
Any other tips or strategies to share? Leave a comment below!