Why I’m chasing Delta elite status during the pandemic

Jul 31, 2020

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I’ve been a United elite member for years, bouncing between Gold and Platinum status since I started traveling regularly. However, after moving from Chicago to New York City, I started reconsidering my loyalty — Newark (EWR) is far from my apartment in Queens, making Delta’s dual-hubs at New York-JFK and New York-LaGuardia (LGA) more appealing than ever.

I gave Delta a shot during my first year in NYC with a status match. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to finish my match, making me ineligible for another status match for three years.

That said, I recently started working on Delta status from the ground-up — right in the middle of a pandemic. While this may seem crazy to some, I think now could be the perfect time to chase Delta status through credit card spend and — if you need to travel — minimal travel.

This is in large part due to Delta’s top-notch response to the coronavirus, which didn’t lower qualification requirements but instead rolled over all MQMs to next year. In short, this means  MQM earned this year count towards two status years.

Does that sound like something you’re interested in? You’re in the right place. I’ll give you a look at why I’m chasing Delta elite status during the coronavirus pandemic and how I’m doing it.

Before we start, don’t take this as encouragement to travel now — instead, use this article to think through why you may want to rethink your own elite status goals this year.

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In This Post

Delta’s best-in-class response to coronavirus

(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy)

Delta was the first U.S. carrier to address elite status during the coronavirus pandemic. The airline extended elite status for all current members by a year. Expiring certificates were also extended and — most importantly for me — Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) earned in 2020 will roll over to 2021.

So, what exactly does that last part mean? In short, the airline is rolling over all MQMs earned (with an American Express cobranded credit card or by flying) to next year. This means that if you earn 50,000 MQM in 2020 you’ll start the 2021 elite status year with 50,000 MQM in your Delta SkyMiles account.

Better yet, you can still earn Delta status and make use of its benefits in 2020. This means that someone earning 50,000 MQMs (and required MQDs) would earn Delta Gold Medallion status for use in 2020 and through the entirety of 2021.

This is an excellent deal for new elites and those looking to upgrade their existing Delta Medallion elite status. You can earn or upgrade your status this year and get a headstart on elite status requirements for next year.

Rolling over is better than lower requirements for many

Delta A330-900neo in Seattle to depart for Seoul
(Photo by Brian Kim / The Points Guy)

One thing Delta isn’t doing in 2020 is lowering elite status qualification requirements like American and United have elected to do. In the case of United, the Chicago-based carrier has sliced requirements in half, making it significantly easier to earn elite status.

This has the potential to be a good deal if you’re still flying or spending enough on a cobranded credit card to meet your status goals. That said, you still have to fly enough in 2021 to requalify for your 2022 status and you won’t have a head start. Given the virus’s current spread in the U.S., this may or may not be possible.

On the other hand, being able to earn some MQMs this year and next is a much more sustainable option. It allows new elites and those wanting to upgrade their status tier extra time to earn the required MQMs.

Say you want to earn Delta Diamond Medallion status in 2021. You’ll need to earn 125,000 MQMs next year, which could be difficult if you’re not able to travel again until March or April. If you earn 50,000 MQMs in 2020 — through credit card spending and minimal travel — you’d only have to earn 75,000 MQMs next year to hit Diamond Medallion. Plus, you’d start 2021 with Gold Medallion.

For me, this is much more appealing than discounted elite status requirements. As a new elite, Delta is effectively letting me collect MQMs with my credit card in 2021 to earn mid-tier status and have a fast-track to elite status next year.

How I’m earning Delta Gold Medallion status this year

SkyPriority boarding area
(Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

My plan for earning Delta status this year is heavily focused on credit card spending. I applied for a Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card earlier in the year when it offered a heightened welcome bonus of 20,000 MQM, putting me close to the 25,000 MQM required for Delta Silver Medallion status (offer is no longer available).

Further, the card earns 15,000 MQM for every $30,000 you spend, up to four times per year. Theoretically, this means you could earn Delta Gold Medallion from credit card spend alone.

I have already met the first $30,000 tier by paying my rent, quarterly taxes and other fixed expenses on my Delta Business Reserve Card. Combined with the welcome bonus, this means I’ve already earned 35,000 MQMs and met the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver (for Silver, Gold and Platinum Medallion levels).

Plus, I’ve taken two Delta flights in 2020, giving me a measly 2,000 MQMs. In total, I’m currently at 37,000 MQMs, which is 13,000 short of my 50,000 MQM goal for Delta Gold Medallion status.

So, how do I plan to make up those miles? I’ll continue to put fixed expenses on my Delta Business Reserve Card, which should end up giving me another 15,000 MQMs by the end of the year for 52,000 MQMs total.

I also have an Air France premium economy flight from New York-JFK to Prague (PRG) via Paris (CDG) scheduled for mid-November. This flight is booked for a family commitment and — barring any major changes to EU rules and another major virus outbreak — I plan on taking the trip and entering the EU with my Czech passport.

This ticket will earn 12,000 MQMs, which would put me close to Delta Gold Medallion status even if I didn’t earn more MQMs with my Delta cobranded credit card. The 1,000 MQM gap will be closed by some short domestic flights I have planned through the end of the year.

In the end, this means I can earn up to 65,000 MQMs this year alone, putting me well within Delta Gold Medallion status for 2020 and 2021, and just 10,000 MQM away from earning Delta Platinum Medallion status early next year when travel (hopefully) restarts.

My Delta Diamond Medallion elite status plan in 2021

Delta Sky Club entrance
(Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

Of course, I don’t plan on staying a Delta Gold Medallion for long. Delta Diamond Medallion has long been on my travel bucket list because of its extensive list of benefits. These include top upgrade priority, immediate Comfort+ upgrades and your choice of Choice benefits. These include confirmed global upgrades, the ability to gift Gold status to another member, a $200 travel voucher and other choices.

Starting next year with 65,000 MQM would mean that I would need just 60,00 MQM to earn Diamond Medallion status in 2021. On paper, this sounds easy: I could just spend on my co-branded credit card and take a few flights to make up the difference.

It isn’t that easy, though. Delta raised the Diamond Medallion MQD waiver to $250,000 in spend on cobranded cards, which is a number that I definitely won’t meet with my current spending habits.

Further, Diamond Medallion status requires steep $15,000 MQDs to earn in addition to the 125,000 MQD. This means spending $15,000 on Delta flights before tax or getting creative with partner flights, which is what I plan on doing next year.

Earning MQD and MQM with partner flights

SkyTeam and non-alliance flights earn MQDs based on the distance and fare class of a flight so long as they’re booked with said partner. For example, Virgin Atlantic flights booked in K fare premium economy earn 30% MQDs and 150% MQMs.

I found an early-2021 flight from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) in this fare class for $1,208. The flight clocks in at 6,903 miles round-trip and would earn 10,355 MQMs and $2,071 MQDs, which is more than the flight costs.

Virgin Atlantic Earning Chart for Delta SkyMiles
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

I’m also planning a trip to Moscow next year. Looking to next April, you can book New York-JFK to Moscow (SVO) in S fare premium economy for $1,209 round-trip on Aeroflot. This fare class earns 100% MQM and 20% MQD, equaling 9,332 MQM and $1,866 MQD.

Aeroflot Earning Chart Delta SkyMiles
(Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

As you can see, getting creative with partner flights makes it far easier to earn large amounts of MQDs without breaking the bank. Taking a handful of international flights next year in combination with my regular work and personal travel should make it easy to hit $15,000 MQDs without breaking the bank if travel returns and I’m creative with my flights.

Further, I plan on putting all of my rent payments and other bills on my Delta Business Reserve card, which should help me earn another 30,000 MQMs over the year.

Bottom line

In the end, I don’t think chasing Delta Medallion status during the pandemic is crazy — in fact, it could be a great idea for those switching loyalty.

The airline offers the best credit card elite status earning of the major carriers, so you can rack up MQMs from the comfort of your home. Earn these strategically and you’ll be set up for mid-tier status next year and have a fast-track to Platinum or Diamond Medallion status in 2021.

Of course, there are still risks to working toward status during the pandemic. One is that international travel may not resume in 2021, giving you less of a chance to use your status and making it hard to advance to the next status tier. Keep this in mind as you consider your elite status goals for next year.

In the end, you should run the numbers and see if it makes sense for you to work toward Delta status this year. I think it’s the perfect time to start earning with your credit card since you can double-dip MQMs for this status year and next year.

Feature photo by QualityHD/Shutterstock

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