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Earn (Lots of) Delta MQDs by Flying with Partner Airlines

July 16, 2018
16 min read
Delta 757 SFO
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Ever since Delta added a revenue requirement for earning Medallion status back in 2014, members who want to earn or maintain elite status have needed to either earn a certain number of Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) or earn an MQD waiver by spending $25,000 on their Delta co-branded credit card each year. That means members who frequently fly on cheap fares have been faced with either losing their valuable Delta status or else needing to earn the waiver with card spend. However, with the MQD waiver spending requirement for Diamond Medallion status increasing to a whopping $250,000 this year, many members are facing the prospect of losing their top-tier Delta status.

Fortunately, spending large sums of money on Delta flights isn't the only way to earn MQDs. Certain flights marketed by Delta partner airlines also earn MQDs, and more importantly, those flights earn MQDs according to a percentage of the distance flown, rather than based on the fare price. While the percentage varies by partner airline and fare class, this distance-based earning equation means that certain cheap fares on long-distance flights can earn MQDs well in excess of the actual cost of the fare, and can be an excellent way to pick up the elite dollar credit you need to make elite status for the year.

Determining If a Delta Partner Flight Will Earn MQDs

When attempting to earn MQDs on a flight marketed by a Delta airline partner, the first question you need to ask is whether the flight is even eligible to earn MQDs. While some flights marketed by Delta partners can earn large sums of MQDs, others aren't eligible for earning MQDs at all.

Perhaps most notably, up until the recent beginning of Korean Air's joint venture with Delta, flights marketed by Korean Air did not earn MQDs — or even MQMs. Thankfully, with the joint venture signed, as of May 1, 2018, Korean Air has now joined the ranks of Delta partners on which MQDs can be earned.

Korean Air is now a full-fledged earning partner with Delta SkyMiles.

Now that Korean Air and Delta have buried the hatchet, all of Delta's current airline partners market at least some flights that are eligible to earn MQDs. Even so, some of these partners also market certain flights that are not eligible, so it's important to be able to spot the difference.

What Does "Marketed" Mean?

In today's era of codeshare flights, just because you bought your ticket from an airline like Air France or KLM doesn't mean "Air France" is going to be the name on the side of the plane. That's why it's important to differentiate between the "operating" carrier and the "marketing" carrier. The operating carrier is the airline who's going to actually get you from A to B, while the marketing carrier refers to the airline who published and marketed the specific fare you purchased. Often both the operating carrier and the marketing carrier are the same airline, but not always.

Thankfully, there's a pretty easy way to determine the marketing carrier — just look at your flight number. Flight numbers should either list the name of the marketing airline or its 2-character IATA code (e.g.: DL for Delta, KE for Korean Air, KL for KLM, AF for Air France, etc). So if your ticket shows you're booked on AM 5279, you know your ticket was marketed by Aeromexico, though that doesn't necessarily mean you'll actually be flying on Aeromexico.

Operated by the Marketing Carrier or a SkyTeam Airline?

To make things even more complicated, many SkyTeam airlines have partners outside the main SkyTeam alliance, and may even have codeshare agreements with those other airlines. However, a codeshare from a Delta partner on another airline will not be eligible for earning MQDs — or Delta mileage at all — unless the operating carrier is also a SkyTeam airline.

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The 20 current SkyTeam airlines.
The 20 current SkyTeam airlines.

For example, a flight marketed by Air France but operated by KLM will be eligible to earn both Delta miles and status credit because KLM is part of the SkyTeam alliance. However, a flight marketed by Air France but operated by Jet Airways will not be eligible for earning Delta miles or status credit, since Jet Airways is not part of the SkyTeam alliance. So in order to earn Delta MQDs on a partner flight, the flight must both be marketed by the Delta partner and operated either directly by that partner or another SkyTeam airline.

Is My Flight Part of a Partner-Specific Exclusion?

While most flights marketed by Delta partners are eligible to earn miles and status credit with Delta, there are some partner-specific exceptions. These exceptions are listed on each individual partner's section on the partner-earning page on Delta's website.

One of the largest exceptions currently in effect is, unsurprisingly, on Hawaiian Airlines. While Hawaiian-marketed flights became eligible to earn miles and status credit on Delta this year, currently only flights within the state of Hawaii are eligible.

Sorry, but you won't be getting MQDs for that Hawaiian Airlines flight from JFK to Hawaii.

This is a welcome improvement for those taking inter-island flights while visiting the islands, but you're still not going to get credit with Delta for Hawaiian Airlines' flights from the mainland to Hawaii or Hawaiian's other long-haul flights.

How Many MQDs Will My Partner Flight Earn?

Once you've confirmed that your flight is eligible to earn MQDs, naturally, your next question to answer is how many MQDs it will earn. In order to determine that magic number, you'll need three pieces of information:

  1. The marketing carrier
  2. The fare class code
  3. The flight distance

The marketing carrier and fare class should be displayed on the booking site or your ticket confirmation. However, you may need to find the distance from another source. Fortunately, there are several online tools which should help you quickly figure out the distance, such as the Great Circle Mapper or WebFlyer's mileage calculator. Whichever source you decide to use, just make sure that it's displaying the distance in statute miles, not kilometers or nautical miles.

Note that direct flights — flights which include a stop, but keep the same flight number — will normally only be counted according to the distance from the origin to the destination, ignoring intermediary stops. And for all flights, the direct distance between the airports is the number that counts, not the actual path your flight may take in going around storms or other detours.

For example, JFK-PVG-SIN is 9,749 miles. Image courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper.

Once you've figured out the marketing carrier, fare class code and distance, you'll need to refer to the appropriate partner earning page on Delta's website to determine the percentage of the miles flown that will be credited as MQDs.

In order to find the earning table for your partner airline, expand the section for that partner with the "carrot" on the right and then click the button for the earning chart that applies to the time period of your flight (most likely the current chart.) Any restrictions specific to this partner will be listed here.

Click these buttons to open the earning chart for Air France flights.

From these earning charts, you can determine the percentage of flown miles that will be credited as MQDs for each eligible fare class. Additionally, you can find the base mileage percentage, class bonus percentage, MQM percentage and whether Medallion tier mileage bonuses apply for each fare class (fare classes that aren't listed won't earn Delta miles or status credit). Then, to determine the number of MQDs your flight should earn, simply multiply the distance of your flight in miles by the percentage indicated in the "Medallion Qualification Dollars" column for your fare class.

For example, an Air France flight from Paris (CDG) to Athens, Greece (ATH) is 1,312 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper, so if you have an Air France marketed ticket in the "D" fare class, you would earn 1,312 x 40% = 525 MQDs.

The partner earning chart will tell you how many SkyMiles, MQMs, and MQDs you'll earn.

How Do I Credit My Partner Flight to Delta?

Now that you've confirmed your flight is eligible to earn MQDs and determined how many it will earn, there's one final step: make sure your flight is credited to your Delta SkyMiles account, not to your frequent flier account with the partner airline. Your flight will only earn mileage and status credit with one program or the other, not both.

Thankfully, crediting your flight to Delta instead of the marketing carrier is easy. On most airlines, this can be done online when booking your ticket and/or set from the reservation management page after you've booked your flight. For example, for an Air France ticket, you can select which program you want your flight credited to on the reservation management page under the 'Passengers' section. Just click the "select or modify" button, choose"Skymiles" from the drop-down menu and type in your Delta SkyMiles account number on the next screen.

Crediting your Air France flight to your Delta SkyMiles account is easy.

If the marketing airline doesn't allow you to enter your Delta account number online, you may need to call or have the check-in agent add it to your reservation. In any case, it's a good idea to double check at check-in that the correct frequent flyer account is attached to the reservation.

Which Partner Flights Are Best for Earning MQDs?

Since flights marketed by Delta partners earn MQDs according to the fare class and distance flown, cheap premium cabin tickets on long-haul flights will usually earn the most MQDs per actual dollar spent. Additionally, Delta's closer partners will often be your best bet, as they have the highest percentages of MQDs earned per mile flown.

Delta's closest partner airlines generally use the following MQD earning structure:

Fare Class TypeMedallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) Percentage
Premium Economy30%
Full Economy25%
Discount Economy10%
Deep Discount Economy5%

And here are the partner airlines currently following this MQD earning structure:

  • Aeromexico
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Eastern (exception: domestic first earns 40%)
  • GOL
  • KLM
  • Korean Air
  • Jet Airways (exception: I and P business fares earn 30%)
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin Australia

Of these, Aeromexico and China Eastern tend to be the most likely to have cheap premium cabin fares, though great MQD-earning opportunities can happen on any of them.

So, when you find a $1,137 business-class round-trip from Los Angeles (LAX) to Beijing (PEK) on China Eastern or a $1,090 business-class round-trip from New York (JFK) to Santiago, Chile (SCL) on Aeromexico, it can be a great chance to earn the MQDs you need for Medallion status. And needless to say, if you happen across a $1,514 round-trip mistake fare from LAX to London (LHR) via Paris in Air France La Première, that can earn you a large sum of MQDs, too, so long as the ticket is honored.

Examples of High Earning MQD Partner Tickets

Under Delta's normal revenue-based earning system, you'd earn 1 Medallion Qualification Dollar per actual dollar spent on the base fare. With partner flights, that earning rate can easily be tripled or more. Here are some examples.

New York to Singapore on China Eastern

Trip Cost: $2,183
MQDs Earned: 7,802
MQDs Per Dollar Spent: 3.57

Back in April, I flew China Eastern from JFK to Singapore (SIN) in business class (and thankfully smelled no smoke) for a trip to Singapore, Thailand and Cambodia. Thanks to an Amex Offer that was running at the time for a $200 statement credit for a China Eastern purchase of $1,000 or more, I only ended up paying $2,183 of the $2,383 total ticket price.

China Eastern can be a cheap way to get to Asia in 1-2-1 business class.

Using Delta's partner earning charts, I found that China Eastern business-class tickets earn 40% of the distance flown as MQDs. Furthermore, most of the airline's business fare classes earn 200% of miles flown as SkyMiles, plus 150% of miles flown as MQMs.

Delta Partner Earning Chart for China Eastern.

Using the Great Circle Mapper, I found that the New York to Singapore round-trip via Shanghai (PVG) would entail approximately 19,498 miles flown. So using the percentages from the chart, this means I earned approximately 7,800 MQDs, 29,250 MQMs and 46,800 redeemable SkyMiles, including the elite bonus. Additionally, I earned 10,915 Membership Rewards points since I purchased the flight on my Platinum Card® from American Express, which earns 5x points on airfare purchased directly with an airline.

Delta Earnings for JFK-PVG-SIN round-trip on China Eastern. Half of the MQDs for Diamond in one trip.

At 7,800 MQDs, this single round-trip earned more than 85% of the $9,000 MQDs needed for Platinum Medallion status, or more than half of the required $15,000 MQDs for top-tier Diamond status. Additionally, based on TPG's current point valuations, those 46,800 SkyMiles are worth $562, and the Membership Rewards points are worth another $207.

New York to Santiago, Chile on Aeromexico

Trip Cost: $980
MQDs Earned: 4,940
MQDs Per Dollar Spent: 5.04

TPG Reviews Editor Nick Ellis recently flew Aeromexico's business class from JFK to Santiago, Chile via Mexico City (MEX) for $980 using a deal found back in December. While this trip unfortunately didn't earn as many MQMs as it would have prior to April 1, the earnings are still impressive, especially for those looking for MQDs.

Delta partner earning chart for Aeromexico. Hello 40% MQDs!

With a round-trip from JFK to SCL via MEX clocking in at 12,349 miles flown according to the Great Circle Mapper, Nick was able to earn 4,940 MQDs, 18,522 MQMs and 34,574 SkyMiles. Since he also booked his flight on the Amex Platinum, he earned 5x Membership Rewards points too, for a total of 4,900. At TPG's current valuations, his SkyMiles haul is worth $415, while the Membership Rewards points are worth another $93. While this trip didn't earn quite as many MQDs in one trip as the China Eastern trip to Singapore, the incredible ratio of over 5:1 of MQDs to actual dollars spent is hard to beat.

New York to Bali, Indonesia on KLM

Trip Cost: $2,365
MQDs Earned: Approximately 8,960
MQDs Per Dollar Spent: 3.79

A few weeks ago, I assisted a member of the TPG Lounge in figuring out what she would earn for a flight to Bali. She found a $2,365 business-class round-trip from JFK to Denpasar, Bali (DPS) via Amsterdam (AMS) and Singapore (SIN) on KLM.

Delta partner earning chart for KLM. Hello again, 40% MQDs.

For this itinerary, the AMS-SIN-DPS portion of the trip was marketed with a single flight number, so unfortunately the few extra miles for the stop in SIN wouldn't count. However, this still remains an incredible itinerary for earning Delta miles and status credit. According to the Great Circle Mapper, ignoring the stop in SIN, this itinerary results in 22,392 flown miles. With Delta's generous partner earning chart for KLM, that means the Lounge member would earn approximately 8,960 MQDs, 33,590 MQMs and 44,790 SkyMiles, plus elite bonuses. That's just 40 MQDs short of the requirement for Platinum Medallion status or 60% of the way to Diamond Medallion in a single trip. Oh, and it also comes with a trip to Bali in business class.

To make this itinerary even more amazing, as was the case with my China Eastern trip back in April, Amex is currently running an offer for 20,000 Membership Rewards points for KLM flights of $1,000 or more originating in the United States. While the TPG Lounge member in this case wasn't targeted for that offer, if you were targeted and charged this flight to a personal Amex Platinum card after activating that offer, you'd earn a total of 31,825 Membership Rewards points. Based on current TPG valuations, that would be $605 worth of Membership Rewards points in addition to the $537 worth of SkyMiles. Even without the 20,000 point Amex offer, purchasing this flight with the Platinum card would still earn 11,825 Membership Rewards points, worth $225.

Bottom Line

If you're coming up short on MQDs and aren't wanting to put $25,000 or $250,000 on your Delta co-branded credit card, don't despair. Making use of the distance-based nature of Delta's partner earning charts might be just the way to get the MQDs you need to earn your 2019 Medallion status. And you might get a trip to Bali out of it, too.

Featured image by Alberto Riva