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How to earn more Medallion Qualification Dollars with Delta partner flights

Aug. 18, 2021
11 min read
Virgin Atlantic 747 at LGW airport
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One of the biggest hurdles to getting top-tier Diamond Medallion elite status on Delta Air Lines is the spending requirement. To qualify, you have to earn 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or 140 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and $15,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs). To make matters worse, you have to spend $250,000 on a Delta cobranded credit card to qualify for a Diamond MQD waiver.

This means that the majority of would-be Delta Diamonds have to spend $15,000 on Delta flights in order to qualify for status. This is a lot of money, and isn't an easy feat unless you're flying around the world in business class or flying a lot for work. It's particularly unfortunate when you consider how easy it can be to earn the required 125,000 MQMs through credit card spend and promotions.

Related: Why I’m continuing to spend and fly with Delta even though I have Diamond Medallion status through 2023

But did you know there's a way to earn the $15,000 MQDs required for Diamond Medallion status without actually spending $15,000 on Delta flights? Delta's partner airlines earn MQDs based on distance flown, not how much you paid.

In this article, I'll give you a look at how you can leverage Delta's partners to quickly drum-up MQD's without breaking the bank.

I'll start with an overview of how partner flights earn MQDs and then discuss a few strategies to quickly earn MQDs.

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How to earn Delta MQDs on partner flights

You can use Delta's vast list of partners to earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) at a discount. (Photo by EQRoy/Getty Images)

You earn MQDs based on the length of a flight and your fare class when you book flights directly with a Delta partner. This means you earn a set number of MQDs, no matter how much your ticket costs. For example, if you earn 20% MQDs on a 3,635-mile Air France flight from New York-JFK to Paris (CDG), you'll earn $727 in MQDs — whether the ticket cost $250 or $1,000.

This is helpful for times when you find a low-cost, long-distance flight where you may earn more MQDs than the actual cost of a ticket. Plus, Delta doesn't differentiate MQDs earned on its own flights or earned with partners. You can earn the majority of your MQDs on partner airlines and still achieve status.

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How to calculate the number of MQDs you'll earn on a flight

That said, each partner awards a different number of MQDs per mile flown. You can view earning charts on Delta's airline partner page. Scroll through the page, find the partner you've booked and click on its logo. Then, click the "Mileage Earn" button that appears in the drop-down menu.

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To calculate the number of MQDs you'll earn, find your fare class on the earning chart and look under the "Medallion Qualifying Dollars" column. Then, use a tool like Great Circle Mapper to figure out your flight's distance. Multiply the distance by the percentage to find the number of MQDs you'll earn on this ticket.

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For example, say you book a Virgin Atlantic flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to London-Heathrow (LHR) to Tel Aviv (TLV) in the D fare class — which is a discounted business-class fare bucket. The total distance of this itinerary is 7,689 miles, and the Virgin Atlantic's mileage accrual chart indicates that the D fare class earns 40% MQDs, 150% MQMs and 200% redeemable SkyMiles.

If you do the math, you'd earn the following:

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This is a huge haul of miles and a major boost to your elite-qualifying prospects, so it's easy to see the power of crediting partner flights to Delta.

Now, let's discuss some tips for earning the most MQD on your Delta partner flights.

Try to stick with Core Partners

Delta has two tiers of airline partners: Core Global Airline Partners and Global Airline Partners.

Both tiers earn MQMs, MQDs, MQSs and redeemable miles when you add your Delta SkyMiles number to a ticket booked directly with the partner. In most cases, however, flights on Core partners are more lucrative. A flight on Air Europa — one of Delta's standard partners — only earns up to 20% MQDs, even in business class. On the other hand, flights on Core partners like China Eastern earn as much as 60% MQDs.

That's not to say you should never book with standard Global partners, though. If you're looking for a set number of MQDs and can find a good fare on a Global partner, it may be worthwhile to book it. That said, I'd focus your efforts on finding MQD runs on Core partners, as you'll generally get more MQD with less effort.

Global and Core Global partners are split into two sections on Delta's airline partner page. The list of Core partners mostly consists of airlines with which Delta has joint-venture agreements or carriers where Delta is a key investor — like Aeromexico, LATAM and Virgin Atlantic. Thankfully, the majority of Core Partners operate flights to/from the U.S.

Look for restrictions before you book

Another thing to keep an eye out for is restrictions on partner tickets. Not all airlines earn MQDs, MQMs or redeemable miles on all of the flights it operates. For example, you only earn miles and credit toward Medallion status on Hawaiian Airlines' flights within the state of Hawaii. You can view these restrictions on the partner's section of Delta's airline partner page.

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It's also worth noting that fare classes not listed on a partner's earning chart are not eligible for mileage or MQD accrual.

Always book directly with the airline partner

One last thing: If you plan to earn MQDs based on the distance of a flight, make sure you book directly with the operating carrier. Booking a partner flight on Delta's website results in earning MQDs based on the cost of the ticket — just like any other Delta flight. The best way to ensure you earn MQDs based on the distance you fly is by booking directly on a partner airline's website.

Related: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status without flying in 2021

Quickly earn MQDs wth these partner strategies

Leverage inexpensive premium cabin and long-haul tickets to earn MQD quickly. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy)

Flight prices are constantly changing, so it's impossible to tell you the best way to earn MQDs right now. However, I can give you some pointers on where to start your search for high-MQD partner tickets. Of course, the general rule of thumb is to book low-cost, long-distance, premium-cabin tickets — but that's easier said than done.

Here's a little inspiration.

U.S. to Europe via Mexico on Aeromexico

If you're planning a trip to Europe, consider flying there via Europe with Aeromexico. This isn't the most convenient routing, but it gives you the opportunity to fly further and leverage percentage-based MQD earning. Aeromexico operates nonstop service from its Mexico City (MEX) hub to most major U.S. cities along with Amsterdam (AMS), London-Heathrow (LHR), Madrid (MAD) and Paris (CDG).

These tickets aren't outrageously expensive either. This round-trip flight from Houston (IAH) to Madrid (MAD) via Mexico City (MEX) is $1,801 in I fare Aeromexico business class this fall. The itinerary clocks in at 12,810 miles in distance and earns 40% MQDs, 150% MQMs and 200% redeemable miles. This gives you a whopping $5,124 MQD, 19,215 MQM and 25,620 redeemable SkyMiles. Plus, you get to see Madrid — not bad if you ask me.

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You'll find the same price out of Los Angeles (LAX) too. This ticket earns a whopping $5,756 MQDs, 21,585 MQMs and 28,780 redeemable miles. This means you almost qualify for Silver Medallion status with one flight credited to Delta.

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Keep an eye out for reasonably priced Aeromexico tickets from the U.S. to Europe — it could help you close the gap for Diamond status this year.

Cross-border flights with Aeromexico and WestJet

Headed from the U.S. to Canada or Mexico? Consider flying there with Delta partners Aeromexico or WestJet instead if tickets are similarly priced. This will let you earn MQDs based on distance flown, which can be helpful if an otherwise cheap ticket would earn a nominal number of MQDs.

For example, you can fly from New York-JFK to Mexico City (MEX) in business class for $1,050 with Aeromexico or $1,584 with Delta. Both are operated by narrow-body aircraft with standard, recliner seats in business class. Even though the Aeromexico ticket is cheaper, it earns $2,058 MQDs — significantly more than the $1,428 MQDs earned on the Delta flight.

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That said, this may look a little different if you're booking by the end of 2021. Delta is currently offering 75% more MQMs and MQDs on Delta-operated flights flown by the end of the year during its Status Accelerator promotion. But even during this promotion, the Delta ticket still earns at a lower rate ($2,499 MQDs) — and the flight is 50% more expensive than the Aeromexico one.

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Fly to London with Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic flights to the U.K. are usually priced roughly the same as Delta-operated flights. In the case of this premium-economy ticket from JFK to LHR, you'll pay $1,378 with either carrier.

However, if you book the Virgin Atlantic ticket through its own website and credit the flight to your Delta SkyMiles account, you'll earn MQDs at a rate of 30% of the distance flown (6,902 miles for the round-trip) — giving you $2,071 MQDs.

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Premium economy may not be the the pinnacle of luxury, but you can use it to earn MQDs quickly when flying with Core Global Partners like Virgin Atlantic.

These tickets can be booked for relatively cheap too, and taking a longer routing doesn't necessarily increase the price — but can have massive implications for earning rates.

For example, New York-JFK to Tel Aviv (TLV) via LHR can be booked for under $1,090 round-trip next year in Virgin Atlantic premium economy. The round-trip itinerary clocks in at 11,368 miles flown, so you'd earn $3,410 MQDs.

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Related: The ultimate Virgin Atlantic Flying Club guide

Bottom line

As you can see, earning MQDs on Delta partner flights can help you earn status without breaking the bank. In short, the trick is to book long-haul flights in premium cabins at the lowest price possible directly with the partner airline. This helps you earn more MQDs than what you actually spent on the ticket and gets you closer to Delta Medallion elite status — but at a faster pace and a lower out-of-pocket cost.

Feature photo by Willy Barton /

Featured image by (Photo by Willy Barton /
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