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Delta becomes the first US airline to extend elite status

April 05, 2020
8 min read
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Here at TPG, one of the questions readers have posed to us most during the coronavirus pandemic is what airlines and hotels plan to do about elite status. We’ve seen some big moves from hotel chains, but today, Delta Air Lines announced some major, customer-friendly moves regarding elite status, upgrade certificates, Sky Club membership, Delta co-branded card perks and more.

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On April 5, Delta became the first U.S. airline to announce that it would extend elite status for all members amid the coronavirus pandemic. There are a lot of details to walk through, so here’s what you need to know.

Elite status

The airline says whatever Delta Medallion status travelers earned for 2020 -- including those gifted -- will be automatically extended for the 2021 Medallion year, which ends January 31, 2022. Additionally, all Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) from 2020 will be rolled over to 2021 to qualify for 2022 Medallion Status.

That means all MQMs earned -- either through flying or through co-branded credit cards -- will count toward 2022 elite status, a Delta official confirmed. Note that Medallion members based in the U.S. will still need to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) even if they have the required MQMs. For instance, to earn the second-highest Platinum Medallion status, a flyer would need 75,000 MQMs and earn $9,000 worth of MQDs by spending $9,000, before taxes and fees, on tickets. (The spending requirements are waived if you have certain Delta American Express credit cards and spend $25,000 during the calendar year; of $250,000 for top-tier Diamond Medallion.)

Delta says the extended Medallion Status will be automatically added to SkyMiles accounts on February 1, 2021, with no need to call on your end.

Here is our full guide to the value of Delta’s elite status.

The extended status will be automatically added to SkyMiles accounts on February 1, 2021. All other updates will happen automatically. Delta says most systems should be updated by the end of April 2020. Even if your voucher, certificate or membership card is temporarily displaying incorrectly, the Atlanta-based airline says: “rest assured that extensions will be honored and there is no need to call.”

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Delta 360 — an invite-only top-tier elite status for high spenders — is not subject to this elite status extension. In an email to TPG, the airline stated that "Those selected to the program for 2021 will be contacted by Delta in February 2021."

Upgrade Certificates

One of the best perks of the top elite tiers are Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates.

Platinum and Diamond Medallion members get to pick several “Choice Benefits” as a thank you for hitting those tiers.

Our favorite ones are the upgrade certificates. That means buying a coach ticket to Paris, and hope there is availability to upgrade at the time of booking to Delta One.

As part of its coronavirus response, Delta is giving extensions on Global and Regional Upgrade Certificates as well as $200 Delta travel vouchers selected as Choice Benefits.

Those with an original expiration date between March 1 and June 30, 2020, can now be booked and flown by December 31, 2020. And members with ones that expire after June 30, 2020, will receive an additional six months beyond the current expiration date.

Probably even more important: Delta will be giving members a second set of these valuable Choice Benefits for that extended year of status. There’s one set for the 2020 status that needs to be selected by January 31, 2021, and then a second set for the extended year of status that must be selected by January 31, 2022.

Companion certificates and other credit card perks

Delta is extending some of the perks attained through its co-branded credit cards, which can make your on the ground and inflight experience much smoother. Here’s what you need to know.

  • Members who hold the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card who have earned a $100 Delta flight credit will get a six-month extension beyond their current expiration date. Cardmembers who spend $10,000 in a calendar year are eligible for the credit. Terms apply.
  • Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card members with Companion Certificates with an original expiration date between March 1 and June 30, 2020, can use them to book and fly by December 31, 2020. Certificates that expire between July 1, 2020, and April 1, 2021, will receive an additional six months after the current expiration date. Terms apply.
  • Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card members will also get a six-month extension to use their Delta Sky Club one-time guest passes beyond their current expiration date. Terms apply.

Sky Club access

Delta also announced that individual and executive Sky Club memberships with an expiration of March 1, 2020, or later will receive six additional months of Delta Sky Club access. The airline previously announced that it would close the majority of its Sky Clubs until demand recovers.

Delta Sky Club Guest Passes selected through Choice Benefits will also be extended six months beyond the expiration date.

Those with one-time guest passes through the Delta Reserve Card will also get a six-month extension of those passes.

Drink vouchers

All unused drink vouchers will be extended six months from their expiration date.

SkyMiles Select

If you bought Delta’s $59 travel benefits program, SkyMiles Select, you will receive a six-month extension to the Priority Boarding benefit and any unused drink vouchers. The program gives members Main Cabin 1 boarding, eight drink vouchers (worth up to $9 each) and what the airline’s calling a “limited-edition bag tag.” Note that if you hadn’t already bought into the program, it’s too late as Delta stopped selling SkyMiles Select earlier this month.

Medallion status challenges

One of the most popular ways to earn airline status is through status challenges or promotions. Typically, that means you complete a number of elite-qualifying miles, and sometimes elite-qualifying dollars, in a given time frame to achieve a specific elite tier. Delta allows you to enjoy temporary status during the challenge period.

If you missed out on getting or keeping status because of travel restrictions, Delta says SkyMiles members currently enrolled in a challenge or promotion, like Status Match Challenge, Reclaim My Status, or promotions offered through your employer, can start a new promotion when ready to start traveling again.

Any temporary complimentary status that a SkyMiles member currently has will remain valid until the current promotion or challenge period ends.

Will other airlines follow suit?

Already we’ve seen some programs like Qantas and Hilton announce sweeping changes. And last week, the World of Hyatt loyalty program announced that it would extend all elite status and expiration of rewards.

However, this is the first status extension announcement we’ve seen from an airline in the U.S. United Airlines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines have not publicly said what they will do about elite status extensions, making Delta an industry leader during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Complete guide to airline elite status during the coronavirus outbreak

“While our focus is on keeping customers and employees safe and healthy today and always, you are a part of the Delta family and we know how important these benefits are to you,” said Sandeep Dube, Delta’s Senior Vice President of Customer Engagement and Loyalty.

“That’s why as coronavirus continues to dramatically impact travel across the globe, you don’t have to worry about your benefits – they’ll be extended so you can enjoy them when you are ready to travel again.”

For the latest on elite status extension, check out:

Featured image by Getty Images for Delta Air Lines
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.