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With a new year comes a fresh slate for working toward airline elite status, and if you’re just getting started, you may be wondering which program will get you the most value. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen analyzes the various elite levels of the Delta Medallion program, assigning a dollar amount to each tier.
Here at TPG we’re constantly asked questions about airline and hotel elite status, including if and when it’s worth it to meet requirements for a given tier. There’s no easy answer to this question, but crunching the numbers and try to put a value on the elite status levels of each loyalty program can be helpful in making a determination. I recently kicked off a revision of last year’s series that considers the various benefits of each tier of the major programs and quantified the American AAdvantage program. Our next subject is the much-maligned Delta SkyMiles program.
Before we get to the analysis, a couple of disclaimers. First, it’s important to note that these mathematical analyses represent just one way of calculating the value you’d get out of a given elite status level. Everyone has his or her own way of valuing the various benefits of loyalty programs; some may always pay for first and business class and thus have no need for complimentary upgrades, while others may travel exclusively in the US and don’t care about free lounge access on international itineraries. As a result, feel free to adjust the numbers I use to make it more relevant to your own personal valuation.
Second, these numbers are all based on the benefits you’d enjoy after achieving the given status level and continuing to qualify each year thereafter. If you’re starting from scratch or if you suddenly have a drop-off in your travel, the calculations become significantly more complicated.
This brings me to the third and final critical part of this analysis: the underlying assumptions I’m making. To really hit a value for benefits, I have to assume a certain amount of flying and a corresponding amount of spending. For the sake of the airline portion of the series, I’m making the following assumptions:
- You earn 20% more Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) than the minimum required for the given status level.
- You spend an average of 15 cents per MQM.
- Your travel is evenly spaced across the year.
As always, be sure to adjust these numbers based on your given travel patterns. Those who travel exclusively in the US may spend less than 15 cents per mile, while those who travel in paid first or business class internationally likely spend significantly more. You also may qualify on segments rather than miles, and you may have heavier travel in certain parts of the year.
Two final bits of information: For the sake of this analysis, I’m valuing any bonus miles earned on TPG’s most recent valuations, which peg Delta miles at 1.2 cents apiece. In addition, I’m rounding all of the individual benefit valuations to the nearest $5 to make the math a bit simpler.
So, all that being said, where do the four elite levels of the SkyMiles program land? Here’s my analysis:
SkyMiles Silver Medallion ($790)
The lowest tier in Delta’s program is Silver Medallion status, which normally requires 25,000 MQMs or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments plus $3,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 30,000 MQMs at a cost of 15 cents per mile (so a total spend of $4,500).
- Unlimited complimentary first class upgrades ($200): One of the best perks of elite status (in my opinion) is the complimentary upgrade privileges. All Medallion members will enjoy free upgrades to first class on flights within the US (excluding flights to Hawaii from East Coast and Midwestern destinations) and between the US and Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Unfortunately, Silver Medallion members can’t use this benefit on award tickets, and you’ll fall near the bottom of the upgrade priority list, though still above all companions and partner elite flyers (like SPG Platinum members). These upgrades will begin clearing one calendar day in advance. I pegged this at a conservative $200, since you’ll likely only grab a few of these a year when business travel isn’t in high demand (e.g.,Saturdays and holidays).
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seat upgrades in the US and Canada ($100): Back in 2014, Delta announced some cabin changes that included the introduction of Comfort+. Unfortunately, getting access to these seats as a Medallion member will get significantly more complicated later this year. For flights within the US and between the US and Canada departing on or after May 16, you now must request an upgrade to Comfort+, and as a Silver Medallion, you’re only eligible to clear into these seats 24 hours prior to departure. Still, getting up to 4″ of additional legroom and complimentary drinks on flights of 250 miles or more can be a nice perk. What remains to be seen is how frequently a Silver Medallion will actually score one of these seats. While the retail price of these upgrades varies, I’m going to assume a conservative value of $100.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seats internationally ($100): Fortunately, the arrival of May 16, 2016 will not change the way Comfort+ seats are distributed on international flights. Silver Medallions can still access these for free within 24 hours of departure on both paid and award tickets. If you frequently travel outside the US, this perk could be worth significantly more, while a domestic-only flyer obviously won’t get much value out of it.
- Medallion mileage bonus ($110): Since Delta’s switch to a revenue-based model for accruing redeemable miles back in 2015, Silver Medallion members have earned 2 additional SkyMiles per dollar spent on the base fare of their tickets. Assuming that you spend $4,500 in a year to earn your 30,000 MQMs, that’ll net you an additional 9,000 SkyMiles when compared to members with no status, worth $108.
- Checked bag fee waiver ($125): As a Silver Medallion flyer, you’ll enjoy a free checked bag over the standard allowance on most Delta-operated flights, saving $50 per round-trip domestic flight and up to $200 on flights to Europe. In addition, the free checked bag within the US can weigh up to 70 pounds, and the benefit extends to 8 travel companions in the same reservation. Finally, if you carry a Delta American Express card (like the Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express), you can actually get a second free bag of up to 70 pounds when traveling within or between the US and Canada.
- Priority check-in and boarding ($50): Silver Medallion members can also utilize the priority check-in lanes and also get automatic Zone 1 boarding on Delta flights; however, this is after first/business class and all other Medallions, and Delta Amex cardholders board at the same time, so this benefit likely isn’t worth too much to the average flyer.
- Priority phone line ($50): This benefit may help out when you really need to make a change or are dealing with a significant weather event, but it’s likely not the most valuable perk out there.
- SkyTeam Elite status ($50): When traveling on a SkyTeam partner airline, Silver Medallions are recognized as SkyTeam Elite members, which includes extra baggage allowance, priority check-in and boarding, preferred seating and priority airport standby.
- Crossover Rewards ($5): Silver Medallion status also grants you access the the Crossover Rewards program, a partnership between Delta and Starwood Preferred Guest launched back in 2013. Unfortunately, this level will only get you one SkyMile per dollar spent on eligible room rates at SPG properties, so the added benefit isn’t too lucrative (unless you’re spending thousands of dollars at SPG hotels during the year).
SkyMiles Gold Medallion ($1,955)
The second tier in Delta’s program is Gold Medallion status, which normally requires 50,000 MQMs or 60 Medallion Qualification Segments plus $6,000 MQDs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 60,000 MQMs at a cost of 15 cents per mile (so a total spend of $9,000).
- Unlimited complimentary first class upgrades ($500): As a Gold Medallion member, you’ll also enjoy complimentary upgrades to first class on all short and medium-haul Delta-operated flights. However, you’re prioritized above Silver Medallion members and will start clearing approximately three calendar days ahead of your departure. Given the additional flying and likelihood of clearing into first class, I’m bumping the value up to $500.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seat upgrades in the US and Canada ($200): Gold Medallion members are also eligible for upgrades into Comfort+ seats, though they’ll start to clear 72 hours prior to departure, raising the likelihood of snagging one. Again, the big question mark is how these will be handled once May 16 arrives.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seats internationally ($200): When it comes to international Comfort+, Gold Medallions can select those seats for free but only within 72 hours of departure. As I mention above, this benefit could be significantly more (or less) valuable to you, depending on how much you travel outside of the US.
- Medallion mileage bonus ($325): Delta’s revenue-based program offers Gold Medallion members an additional 3 SkyMiles per dollar spent on the base fare of their tickets. Assuming that you spend $9,000 in a year to earn your 60,000 MQMs, that’ll net you an additional 27,000 SkyMiles when compared to members with no status, worth $324.
- Checked bag fee waiver ($150): Gold Medallion travelers enjoy a slightly more generous baggage fee policy than Silver Medallions, and they can check two free bags weighing up to 70 pounds apiece on domestic flights (Silvers get just one without a Delta Amex).
- Waived same-day confirmed/standby fees ($100): Even though Delta has significantly devalued its same-day confirmed policies over the last few years, it’s still nice to have the flexibility of changing to a different flight when your plans change at the last minute. Gold Medallion members won’t incur the $50 fee when they utilize the same-day confirmed or same-day standby options, though remember that you must find your same fare class available to avoid standing by. I’ll assume that you utilize this benefit twice during the year.
- Waived direct ticketing charge ($25): When you call to book an award ticket over the phone, you’ll typically get hit with a $25 direct ticketing charge, though this fee is waived for Gold Medallion members. However, given Delta’s less-than-reliable website, you may be able to convince an agent to waive it without status, especially if the itinerary you want isn’t bookable online. As a result, I’m pegging this benefit at face value for a once-a-year usage.
- SkyPriority ($200): Gold Medallion is the lowest elite level with access to Delta’s SkyPriority service, which includes priority check-in, security line access, boarding and baggage delivery. While it’s not as hassle-free as TSA Precheck, it can still be a timesaver when you’re running late and in danger of missing a flight.
- Priority phone line ($50): Delta provides a higher priority phone line for Gold Medallion members, which too can be a lifesaver, especially when inclement weather strikes and you need to get a hold of a phone agent ASAP.
- SkyTeam Elite Plus status ($100): Gold Medallion members will enjoy SkyTeam Elite Plus benefits when traveling with any SkyTeam carrier. This includes the same benefits as SkyTeam Elite (see above) but also adds lounge access and priority baggage handling.
- Crossover Rewards ($5): Gold and Silver Medallion members get the same benefit in the Crossover Rewards program, which typically isn’t worth a ton, especially if you don’t regularly stay at SPG properties.
- Partner benefits ($100): In addition to perks with SkyTeam carriers and SPG, Gold Medallions also enjoy benefits with non-alliance partners. This includes preferred seats and upgrades on Alaska and waived baggage fees and lounge access on GOL and Virgin Australia. For a complete list, check out Delta’s partner airline elite benefits page.
SkyMiles Platinum Medallion ($3,650)
The third tier in Delta’s program is Platinum Medallion status, which normally requires 75,000 MQMs or 100 Medallion Qualification Segments plus $9,000 MQDs. For this analysis, I will base my numbers on earning 90,000 MQMs at a cost of 15 cents per mile (so a total spend of $13,500).
- Unlimited complimentary first class upgrades ($1,000): Platinum Medallion members enjoy a higher priority for upgrades and will clear up to five days in advance of the flight. As a former Platinum Medallion member myself, I found that my upgrade percentages were quite good, so I’m doubling the value of this perk for Gold Medallion travelers.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seat upgrades in the US and Canada ($300): If your upgrade into first class doesn’t clear, you should be able to snag a Comfort+ seat, especially since you can currently reserve these seats immediately. However, as of May 16, the process will become a bit more convoluted, as you’ll need to request an upgrade that may clear shortly after ticketing but could be waitlisted until much closer to your departure.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seats internationally ($300): Remember that the May 16 changes do not apply to international Comfort+ seats, so as long as one is available when you book as a Platinum Medallion traveler, you can reserve it immediately.
- Medallion mileage bonus ($650): Platinum Medallion members will earn 4 extra SkyMiles per dollar spent on base airfare (when compared to members with no status). Assuming that you spend $13,500 in a year, that’ll get you an additional 54,000 SkyMiles, worth $648.
- Checked bag fee waiver ($200): Platinum Medallion members can check in three free bags of up to 70 pounds apiece on domestic flights, a slightly more generous benefit than that offered to Gold Medallions.
- Waived same-day confirmed/standby fees ($150): Platinums enjoy the same fee waivers as Golds when making changes on the day of departure, saving $50 each time. I’ll assume a slightly higher utilization of three times per year (given the additional time spent traveling).
- Waived direct ticketing charge ($25): I doubt that Platinum members will take advantage of this benefit more frequently than Golds, so I’m going to keep my once-a-year valuation.
- Waived award redeposit/reissue fees ($150): I loved the flexibility of being able to change or cancel my award tickets without any fees as a Platinum Medallion member, saving $150 every time I did. I’ll assume you’d use this once, though it could be significantly more valuable if you frequently take advantage of it.
- SkyPriority ($300): Platinum Medallion members also enjoy SkyPriority services, though I’m increasing my valuation as a result of more frequent usage.
- Priority phone line ($100)
- Choice benefits ($200): In addition to the usual perks, Platinum Medallion members also get to select a Choice Benefit every year after qualifying. You can choose from 4 Regional Upgrade Certificates, a Global Entry voucher, 20,000 miles, gifted Silver Medallion status to a recipient of your choice, 4 SkyClub day passes or a $200 gift card. The lowest-value item is the Global Entry voucher ($100), while the upgrade certificates are generally viewed as the most valuable. I’m going to peg this benefit at $200, as that’s face value of the Delta or Tiffany & Co. gift cards.
- SkyTeam Elite Plus ($100)
- Crossover Rewards ($25): Platinum Medallion members also gain access to the Crossover Rewards program with SPG, though the benefits are significantly better at this level. In addition to earning an extra SkyMile for every dollar of eligible charges at SPG properties, you’ll also enjoy priority check-in, a 4pm late check-out and enhanced room upgrades. The true value of these benefits depends on how frequently you stay in SPG hotels, so I’ll assume a conservative estimate of $25.
- Partner benefits ($150): As a Platinum Medallion flyer, you’ll get essentially the same partner benefits as Golds (see above). However, one major difference is lounge access on Virgin Atlantic, as only Platinum and Diamond Medallions can access the carrier’s fantastic London-Heathrow Clubhouse.
SkyMiles Diamond Medallion ($6,820)
The top tier in Delta’s program is Diamond Medallion status, which normally requires 125,000 MQMs or 140 Medallion Qualification Segments plus $15,000 MQDs. For this analysis, I’ll base my numbers on earning 150,000 MQMs at a cost of 15 cents per mile (so a total spend of $22,500).
- Unlimited complimentary first class upgrades ($1,500): Diamond Medallions will enjoy the highest priority for first class upgrades, behind only Medallion members on full-fare Y tickets. Like Platinums, these will begin clearing five days ahead of the flight, though they are prioritized before Platinum Medallions.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seat upgrades in the US and Canada ($300): You’ll likely spend most of your time riding up front as a Diamond Medallion member, so I’m going to use the same valuation for this perk as I did for Platinums.
- Unlimited complimentary Comfort+ seats internationally ($300)
- Medallion mileage bonus ($1,620): Diamond Medallion members will earn 6 extra SkyMiles per dollar spent on base airfare (when compared to members with no status). Assuming that you spend $22,500 in a year, that’ll get you an additional 135,000 SkyMiles, worth $1,620.
- Checked bag fee waiver ($250): Diamond Medallion flyers enjoy the same checked bag fee waiver as Platinums, though they’ll likely use it more frequently as a result of the additional travel.
- Waived same-day confirmed/standby fees ($200): You can also avoid the $50 fees for same-day confirmed and same-day standby, so I’ll assume a utilization of four times per year as a Diamond Medallion.
- Waived direct ticketing charge ($25)
- Waived award redeposit/reissue fees ($300): Since you’ll earn significantly more miles as a Diamond Medallion member, you’ll have more opportunities to use them, so I’m assuming a twice yearly utilization of fee-free award ticket changes/cancellations.
- Individual SkyClub membership ($450): Diamond Medallion travelers will enjoy an individual membership to the Delta SkyClub, which can make for a much more pleasant pre-flight or layover airport experience. However, this doesn’t include guest privileges, though you can select an upgrade to an Executive Membership as a Choice Benefit and bring in two guests (see below). I’ll peg this at face value.
- SkyPriority ($500)
- Priority phone line ($100)
- Choice benefits ($1,000): Diamond Medallions actually get two Choice benefit selections, and some of the options are even more rewarding than those offered to Platinums. You can select 4 Global Upgrade Certificates, 8 Regional Upgrade Certificates, 2 Global Entry vouchers, 25,000 bonus miles, gifted Gold Medallion status to a recipient of your choice, an upgrade to SkyClub Executive Membership, 6 SkyClub day passes or a $200 gift card. You can get a ton of value from these, especially the upgrade certificates and gifted Gold Medallion status.
- SkyTeam Elite Plus ($100)
- Crossover Rewards ($25): The Crossover Rewards perks for Diamonds are identical to those offered to Platinums.
- Partner benefits ($150)
Is It Worth It?
So given these values, is it worth it for you to push for that next elite level? As with any analysis, there isn’t an easy answer to that question, as it entirely depends on your travel patterns. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help make this decision:
1. How much will you be traveling in the future? If you go out of your way to earn a given elite status level, it would be a shame to not utilize the benefits as much as you’d like.
2. What’s the incremental value of one level over another? If you’re close to qualifying for the next level, consider the additional (or enhanced) benefits you’d get. There’s no sense in taking a mileage run to earn a higher status when the additional perks you’d get don’t matter to you.
3. Would you sacrifice price or convenience for elite status? One of the hardest things to quantify in this hobby is whether or not it’s worth booking with your preferred carrier if it isn’t the most convenient or cheapest. As the father of a fourteen-month-old, I have come to love the nonstop flight both when traveling for work and for fun. As a result, I typically don’t go out of my way to fly a particular airline; if JetBlue is the best option, I’ll do it!
While the answers to these questions won’t give you an absolute answer, they can help bring out the key considerations to be made as you’re deciding whether you want to push for the next status level (or whether you want to earn status at all).
It’s hard to put a concrete number on any elite status level, since everyone has different ways of valuing each benefit and varying travel patterns. Still, it’s important to crunch the numbers to make sure that you’re making the most of your travel decisions, and hopefully this analysis has given you a framework to which you can apply your own logic to decide if Delta elite status is for you.
How do you value Delta elite status?