How flying from NYC to Madrid (via Dallas and Mexico City) earned me Delta Diamond status
There once was a time when I shrugged off airline elite status. I had been chasing United elite status for years when I lived in Chicago, but ended up finding it more stressful than it worthwhile for me at the time. I had started to mostly travel on points and miles — largely in first and business class — so the elite benefits began to not mean so much.
Fast forward to 2020, when I started full-time at TPG. I knew I’d be traveling more for work, so I started focusing on earning Delta elite status. I had moved to New York City a little over a year earlier and found Delta to consistently have the best service of all the major carriers that serve NYC. Plus, it flies nonstop to pretty much everywhere I need or want to go.
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As it turned out, I started at TPG the week before the coronavirus pandemic locked New York down and brought travel to a near standstill.
While I had opened a Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card the week I started, with spending on that card and minimal personal travel in 2020 I only amassed 44,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) and the Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) waiver, giving me lowly Delta Medallion Silver status. (Funny enough, that status actually gave me a few upgrades in 2020.)
Then all 2020 MQMs rolled over to this year, and my work and personal travel picked up, too.
Delta had announced a couple of interesting promotions for this year — Status Accelerator and the ability to earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars, Miles and Segments on award tickets. Because of this — along with my spending on my Delta Reserve card — I had already made my way to Delta Platinum Medallion by the beginning of July.
Initially, I was happy to have Platinum — but I quickly realized that Diamond was in reach.
I determined I would have enough MQM for Diamond by the end of the year, but would be a little over $5,000 short on MQD. I knew that partner flights earned MQD based on miles flown instead of on dollars spent, so I set my focus on these flights. After all, I could use this to earn the MQD I needed for Diamond status without actually spending the more than $5,000 still required if I flew on Delta-operated flights.
I was eyeing an end-of-the-year solo adventure already, so it made sense to seek out a flight that would both let me get to Europe and allow me to earn Diamond at the same time. Let's take a closer look at what I booked and why I did it.
Finding a Delta MQD run on partner airlines
I focused on Delta Core Global Partner flights, as these tend to have the best earning rates. Some of these carriers include Air France, Aeromexico, LATAM and Virgin Atlantic. These are typically the airlines that Delta has joint ventures or other financial interests in. For example, Delta owns a portion of Aeromexico, LATAM and Virgin Atlantic.
Here's the full list of Delta's Core Global Partners:
- Air France.
- China Eastern.
- KLM Royal Dutch.
- Korean Air.
- LATAM Airlines.
- Virgin Atlantic.
- Virgin Australia (but this may change soon).
Core Global Partners often earn up to 40% MQD on business class fares, so I went on the hunt to find one. After running a handful of searches on Google Flights — and poking around on Flyer Talk’s Premium Fare Deals board — I eventually came across a solid deal: Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) to Madrid (MAD) via Mexico City (MEX) in Aeromexico business class for roughly $1,900
I could only get the itinerary to show on Cheapoair and I was eventually able to get it ticketed through that site. Of course, $1,900 isn’t cheap by any means, but given the total length of the itinerary is 13,155 miles, I’d earn a whopping $5,262 MQD and 22,558 MQM from the ticket. Combined with my other end-of-the-year travel, it will push me over the hump for Delta Diamond.
It didn't hurt that this ticket also earned a healthy amount of redeemable Delta SkyMiles at 150% miles flown, plus an 80% bonus on the base mileage thanks to my existing Delta Platinum Medallion elite status. Because of this, I walked away with 36,836 redeemable SkyMiles worth over $500 by current TPG value numbers — not too bad if you ask me. These will come in handy next year since Delta ticketed and operated award travel will continue to earn MQM, MQD and MQS through 2022.
Of course, since I live in New York City, I had to book flights to/from Dallas (DFW) to position for this fare. I ended up booking a cheap round-trip ticket on Delta for around $150. I later upgraded both the outbound and inbound tickets with a buy-up upgrade so I’d earn the 75% MQD bonus on the upgrade. The upgrade was $320 round-trip, but I had a $100 off $300 Delta Amex Offer, bringing my cost to $220 for the round-trip upgrade.
This resulted in another 7,300 MQM and $722 MQD earned, meaning the trip earned a total of 29,858 MQM and $5,984 MQD.
As it stands, I have just over 148,000 MQM and $12,750 MQD in my Delta account. I plan to finish the year with trips to Chicago and London in premium cabins, which will help me earn the final bit of MQM and MQD needed for Diamond status.
Related: Closing the gap: My plan to qualify for Delta Diamond status this year
Was it worth it?
Don’t get me wrong: this was a pretty monster itinerary, with an overnight in Dallas on the way out and Mexico City on the way back. Thankfully, I was able to use points in Dallas at the Grand Hyatt DFW and found a cheap overnight at the Courtyard Mexico City.
In full disclosure, this was a work-sponsored trip, so I wasn’t actually paying out of pocket for the flights and some other expenses. Also, I want to mention that there were a few mishaps on the Aeromexico legs of the flights — a mechanical diversion and a downgrade — that I’ll address in a future article. Thankfully, it didn’t affect how the flights were credited to my Delta account.
Even if I had been paying out of pocket, the trip gave me a few days on the ground in Europe, so I was able to spend some time exploring Madrid for the first time. I had a great time there and would have made a trip to the city regardless of needing some more MQD's for status.
In any case, the benefits of Diamond Medallion are absolutely worth it to me.
For starters, I plan on selecting four Global Upgrade Certificates (GUCs), a Sky Club guest pass that lets me bring two guests with me to the Sky Club every time I visit and 25,000 bonus SkyMiles as my three Choice Benefits. Despite GUCs being devalued in Feb. 2022, there’s still a lot of value to be had.
Related: Which 2021 Delta Choice Benefit should you pick for a pandemic travel year?
In addition, I’ll have a higher upgrade priority than some Diamond members since I earned Diamond status this year. That's because when Delta announced it would extend status through 2022, it assured customers who earned status outright that they would have higher upgrade priority than elites with extended status.
My bonus points earning will help me rack up redeemable SkyMiles even faster. I currently earn nine SkyMiles per dollar spent as a Platinum Medallion, but will earn 11 as a Diamond Medallion. On partner fares, I will earn a 100% bonus with Diamond versus an 80% bonus with Platinum. I can use those extra SkyMiles to fuel my personal domestic travel next year.
Given that business and personal travel will likely continue to increase for me next year, I’ll have plenty of opportunities to use Diamond status in the new year. Frankly, I’m super excited to experience travel as a top-tier elite for the very first time.
Related: How to earn Delta Medallion elite status without flying
Last week I flew from New York City to Madrid via Dallas and Mexico City in a quest to earn Diamond Medallion status.
In the end, I spent just roughly $2,400 to earn 29,858 MQM and $5,984 MQD, which put me over the threshold for top-tier Delta status when combined with my other end-of-the-year travel. Plus, it let me see another new European city that's been on my bucket list for years.
So if you’re just short of another Delta Medallion elite status tier, you may consider booking a partner mileage run of your own. When you book premium cabins, it’s often possible to earn more MQD than you actually paid for your flight. Plus, you’ll earn a nice haul of redeemable SkyMiles at the same time.
Interested in learning more about partner MQD runs? Check out our full guide to leveraging partner flights to earn MQD's on the cheap.
Feature photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.