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Here's how to earn more Medallion Qualification Dollars by booking Delta partner tickets

May 06, 2022
12 min read
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It's no secret that Delta elite status doesn't come cheap. After all, in addition to 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles or 140 Medallion Qualification Segments, top-tier Diamond Medallion status requires earning 15,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars.

That means you need to spend $15,000 ($1 equals 1 MQD, minus taxes) annually on Delta Air Lines to qualify and retain your Diamond Medallion status. However, by maximizing your MQD earnings on Delta's partners, you can earn 15,000 MQDs with spending under $7,500 — and it isn't as hard as you might think.

SkyMiles members can earn MQDs with any SkyTeam member, and they're accrued based on fare class and flight distance. So this means a $1,000 long-haul business-class ticket booked directly with KLM could accrue 2,000 MQDs or more, depending on how long the fight is.

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Let's look at earning MQDs on partner flights and how it could make earning Delta's Medallion elite status a lot cheaper.

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Some background on earning MQDs with partners

(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

As with most carriers nowadays, Delta largely awards elite status to members with high annual spending — at least when you earn status on Delta's own flights. While Medallion Qualification Miles are earned based on the distance you fly, you'll also need Medallion Qualification Dollars to qualify for status on Delta-ticketed flights, unless you are eligible for the MQD waiver through credit card spending.

You earn roughly 1 MQD for each dollar spent on Delta's own flights, excluding taxes. For example, on a Delta flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for $378.60, you would earn 339 MQDs. This information is available during the booking process on delta.com.

Related: What is Delta Air Lines elite status worth in 2022?

The basics of earning Delta elite status with partners

China Eastern Airlines business class is one of the sweet spots for earning Delta partner MQDs. (Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

With Delta's SkyTeam partners, you earn MQDs based on four factors: whether or not you booked your ticket with Delta directly, the length of your flight, the fare class and the airline that operates your flight.

1. Should you book your ticket with Delta directly?

When you book a ticket with Delta directly, you earn MQDs based on your ticket price regardless of the operating carrier. This means if you book an Air France ticket on Delta.com, you'll still earn MQDs based on the cost of the ticket.

However, when you book a ticket directly with a partner airline, you will earn MQDs based on the distance you fly and the partner rate set by Delta.

Let's look at a round-trip business-class Air France flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). When booking with Delta and Air France, the flight is the same price at $3,536.07.

The Delta earnings are indicated during the booking process on delta.com. As you can see, by booking this ticket directly with Delta, you would earn 3,350 MQDs.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

The Delta earnings will require some digging and math when booking the ticket with Air France. According to the Air France SkyMiles partner chart, Air France flights in the D fare class (like this one) earn MQDs on a 40% basis.

(Screenshot from delta.com)

We have to multiply the total flight distance by 40% (0.4) to calculate how many MQDs you would earn.

According to Great Circle Mapper, this itinerary clocks in at a total of 10,033 miles — 10,033 times 0.4 equals 4,013.20. So by booking with Air France, you would earn 4,013 MQDs.

(Screenshot from gcmap.com)

In this case, but not all, you would earn more MQDs by booking your ticket with Air France instead of with Delta.

2. Which are the best partner airlines for earning MQDs?

On the partner airline earning page, Delta provides the earning rates for all of its airline partners. There are Core Global Airline Partners and (non-core) Global Airline Partners. Core airlines earn more MQDs, MQMs and redeemable miles across the board.

Delta's Core Global Airline Partners are:

  • Aeromexico.
  • Air France.
  • China Eastern Airlines.
  • KLM.
  • Korean Airlines.
  • LATAM.
  • Virgin Atlantic.
  • Virgin Australia.

Delta's (non-core) Global Airline Partners that earn MQDs are:

  • Aerolineas Argentinas.
  • Air Europa.
  • Cape Air.
  • China Airlines.
  • China Southern Airlines.
  • CZA (Czech Airlines).
  • Guarda Indonesia.
  • ITA Airways.
  • Kenya Airways.
  • MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines).
  • Saudia.
  • TAROM.
  • Vietnam Airlines.
  • WestJet.
  • Xiamen Airlines.

3. How do you see what fare class you're booked in?

Sometimes, there's no easy way to tell what fare class you're booking. In the last example, I had to call Air France to determine what fare class the flight is being sold in.

That said, some airlines will show you your booking class online. For example, Virgin Atlantic will show your fare class on the checkout screen next to your class of service.

(Screenshot from virgintlantic.com)

Expedia also shows what fare class you're booking on the checkout screen. For example, on this round-trip Korean Airlines business-class flight from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) to Incheon International Airport (ICN), I was able to select "Show details" on the Expedia review page. That said, you should still confirm the ticketing airline with Expedia if you're booking an itinerary operated by multiple airlines.

(Screenshot from expedia.com)

Example Delta partner bookings

A KLM Airbus A330-300 at the gate in Dulles International Airport (IAD). (Photo by Kyle Olsen/The Points Guy)

Now that you know how to calculate the number of MQDs you'll earn on a partner award ticket, here are some examples of earning MQDs with Delta's partners. These were found when writing this story and may no longer be available, but they're here to serve as inspiration for finding your own partner itineraries to maximize MQD-earning.

Economy: Madrid with Air France-KLM — 2.39 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

This round-trip Air France and KLM ticket in the E fare class (10% MQD accrual basis) costs $537, so it would earn the following:

  • Los Angeles to Paris: 5,670 base miles, 567 MQDs.
  • Paris to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD): 660 miles, 66 MQDs.
  • Madrid to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS): 907 base miles, 91 MQDs.
  • Amsterdam to Los Angeles: 5,578 base miles, 558 MQDs.
  • Total: 12,814 miles flown, 1,281 MQDs.

Related: Watch us fly KLM 2 different ways: Business class vs. economy

Economy: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Saudia — 3.32 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

Even though Saudia isn't a core partner, its long-haul and discounted flights can make it appealing for earning MQDs. This itinerary is in the L fare class and earns MQDs on a 10% basis.

  • New York to King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED): 6,365 miles, 637 MQDs.
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL): 4,394 miles, 439 MQDs.
  • Kuala Lumpur International Airport to King Abdulaziz International Airport: 4,394 miles, 439 MQDs.
  • King Abdulaziz International Airport to New York: 6,365 miles, 637 MQDs.
  • Total: 21,517 miles flown, 2,152 MQDs.

Related: JFK to Dubai without the bling: Saudia’s disappointing business class via Riyadh

Economy: London with Virgin Atlantic — 1.42 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

Although Virgin Atlantic isn't officially part of SkyTeam, Delta owns 49% of Virgin Atlantic. SkyMiles members can earn and redeem miles on Virgin Atlantic. This itinerary is operated in the E fare class, so it earns MQDs on a 10% basis.

  • JFK to Heathrow Airport (LHR): 3,451 miles, 345 MQDs.
  • Heathrow to JFK: 3,451 miles, 345 MQDs.
  • Total: 6,903 miles flown, 690 MQDs.

Economy: Lima, Peru, with Aeromexico — 1.64 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

Aeromexico is another Delta core partner. This round-trip itinerary, which is ticketed in the R fare class (10% MQD accrual basis), costs $477 and would earn the following:

  • Miami International Airport (MIA) to Mexico City International Airport (MEX): 1,276 miles, 128 MQDs.
  • Mexico City to Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM): 2,629 miles, 263 MQDs.
  • Lima to Mexico City: 2,629 miles, 263 MQDs.
  • Mexico City to Miami: 1,276 miles, 128 MQDs.
  • Total: 7,810 base miles and 781 MQDs.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Aeromexico Club Premier

Premium economy: Budapest, Hungary, with Air France — 2.96 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

Air France is a core partner of Delta. This premium economy round-trip ticket costs $1,279 and is booked in the W/Y fare classes (30%/25% accrual basis). It would earn the following:

  • Los Angeles to Paris: 5,670 miles, 1,701 MQDs.
  • Paris to Budapest Airport (BUD): 777 miles, 194 MQDs.
  • Budapest to Paris: 777 miles, 194 MQDs.
  • Paris to Los Angeles: 5,670 miles, 1,701 MQDs.
  • Total: 12,894 miles flown and 3,780 MQDs.

Related: Nothing premium here: Review of Air France premium economy on the A380

Premium economy: Bangalore, India, with Air France — 3.02 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

On this itinerary, Air France operates premium economy in the W fare (30% accrual basis) on all flights. It would earn the following:

  • O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Paris: 4,153 miles, 1,246 MQDs.
  • Paris to Kempegowda International Airport Bengaluru (BLR): 4,866 miles, 1,460 MQDs.
  • Bengaluru to Paris: 4,866 miles, 1,460 MQDs.
  • Paris to Chicago: 4,153 miles, 1,246 MQDs.
  • Total: 18,037 miles flown, 5,411 MQDs.

Related: Stick to economy: Air France (777-300ER) premium economy from New York to Paris

Business: Mumbai, India, with Virgin Atlantic — 2.48 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

This round trip costs $3,002 and is ticketed in the Z fare class (40% accrual basis). It would earn:

  • Seattle to London: 4,800 miles, 1920 MQDs.
  • London to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM): 4,487 miles, 1795 MQDs.
  • Mumbai to London: 4,487 miles, 1795 MQDs.
  • London to Seattle: 4,800 miles, 1920 MQDs.
  • Total: 18,574 miles flown, 7,430 MQDs.

Related: Lofty heights: A review of Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Suite on the A350 from London to New York

Business: Lima with Aeromexico — 3.56 MQDs per dollar

(Screenshot from google.com/flights)

Aeromexico is another core partner of Delta. This round-trip business-class ticket costs $1,142 and is ticketed in the D fare class (40% accrual basis). It earns:

  • Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to Mexico City: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
  • Mexico City to Lima: 2,629 miles 1,052 MQDs.
  • Lima to Mexico City: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
  • Mexico City to Vancouver: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
  • Total: 10,156 miles flown, 4,062 MQDs.

Related: Viva Mexico! A review of Aeromexico’s business class on the 787-9 from Mexico City to Buenos Aires

Bottom line

No matter which cabin you travel in, each of these examples lets you earn significantly more than the 1 MQD per dollar you would earn on Delta-operated flights. Even if you're starting from scratch, you can earn a healthy stock of both MQDs and SkyMiles miles on partner flights.

As you can see, you can sometimes earn north of 3.5 MQDs per dollar spent, so you might be able to earn 15,000 MQDs with spending just over $4,000 if you do it strategically. That's a far cry from the $15,000 you would need to spend on Delta-operated flights to earn 15,000 MQDs.

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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