Do You Earn Credit Toward Elite Status by Booking Flights With Gift Cards?

May 9, 2019

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

While some of the best bonus categories on travel rewards credit cards come for travel purchases (and even more specifically for airfare), from time to time you may find yourself using an airline gift card to pay for your flight. TPG reader Ricardo wants to know if he’ll still earn credit toward his elite status if he does this …

I just got an email from Delta offering a $25 bonus if I buy $250 in gift cards. If I go that route and then buy Delta flights, would I still earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs)?

TPG READER RICARDO

That pesky revenue requirement is often the hardest part about earning elite status for many deal-savvy travelers, and every dollar spent can help. It’s natural for Ricardo to be intrigued by this promotion from Delta, as it offers an immediate 10% bonus (if you purchase $250 in gift cards). Based on TPG’s valuations, that’s the same return you’d earn if you bought airfare directly with Delta and used The Platinum Card® from American Express to earn 5x Membership Rewards points on the purchase. It would also be better than buying Delta flights directly with other popular cards for airfare like the Chase Sapphire Reserve and its 3x points on all travel purchases (6% return).

Whether you bought gift cards through a sale like this, as part of your annual Amex airfare credit or as one of your Choice Benefits selections, they function the exact same way: They are a method of payment akin to using a credit card. As a result, if you use airline-branded gift cards to book a flight directly with an airline, you will earn elite and redeemable miles at the exact same rates as if you used a credit card. This means a general Delta SkyMiles member with no elite status will earn 5x redeemable miles per dollar spent, Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) based on the distance flown/type of ticket, and 1 MQD per dollar spent on base airfare.

While it seems like Ricardo will have at most one or two Delta gift cards from this sale (depending on whether or not the $25 bonus is issued as a separate card), it’s worth remembering that Delta limits you to using a max of three gift cards per transaction (American’s limit is 8). This is especially relevant for people who have multiple smaller denomination cards from their Amex Platinum credit, as it might affect your ability to redeem all your gift cards in one go.

Finally, keep in mind that buying airfare using gift cards exclusively will negate any trip cancellation protection or trip delay coverage that would’ve been provided with a card like the Sapphire Reserve. Snagging the 10% bonus may sound good, but be aware that if things go wrong, you won’t be covered.

Bottom Line

Once you book your flight, you’ll earn miles at the exact same rate whether you pay with a rewards credit card, a cash equivalent like a gift card, or even a debit card (though if you’re reading this article, hopefully you know better). The only factors that can affect your earning rate are the fare class you book, the airline you fly or whether you book a special bulk consolidator fare (which sometimes has different earning rates). If it’s just a regular, run-of-the-mill paid ticket, the payment method you use has no bearing on your redeemable or elite-qualifying earnings.

Thanks for the question, Ricardo, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo courtesy of Delta.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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