Why I'm continuing to spend and fly with Delta even though I have Diamond Medallion status through 2023
Recently, Delta Air Lines surprised some frequent travelers with a major announcement about elite status. Without notice, Delta extended elite status for all elite members until Jan. 31, 2023. And, it wasn't just elite status Delta prolonged, either. They also stretched rollover Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) into 2022 and put off the expiration of other benefits such as companion certificates from its cobranded credit cards, Delta credit card vouchers and Global and Regional Upgrade certificates.
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Fellow Delta elite member and TPG reporter Chris Dong reacted strongly to the announcement, declaring that he didn't plan on spending another dollar on his Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, which would normally help him earn additional Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) and a Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) waiver, the rest of the year. After all, he reasoned, what was the point with his status already extended? Chris really knows his stuff, and I'm a bit jealous of the fact that he's visited a whole host of countries I haven't yet. But, I'm charting a different path than him after Delta's announcement.
My Delta SkyMiles status
I've been a top-tier United Premier 1K member for pretty much the last decade and an American Airlines Executive Platinum member for over 10 years dating back to 2006. Delta Diamond Medallion status was my goal this year, but in a roundabout way. In fact, I've already completed all the requirements to qualify for Diamond status. However, I'm still waiting for the MQMs from one irregular-operations flight to post before I officially cross that finish line.
Normally, it would be unusual for travelers holding top-tier elite status to stray to another airline. This is especially true for travelers like me, who live near an airport with one dominant carrier — my home airport is Washington-Dulles (IAD), a United hub. I also have the United Explorer Card, though I only use it for United purchases such as airfare, wifi and United Club access (two, one-time annual passes).
However, the pandemic changed the loyalty landscape pretty significantly for frequent flyers. The elimination (for now) of change fees lowered the value of top-tier elite status. Reduced or waived change fees — what was once only a popular benefit of elite status — is now gifted freely by airlines. With more emphasis on leisure travel than before, I was also less able to rely on United's shifting timetable and route network to get me everywhere I needed to travel efficiently.
There were plenty of generous spending offers on credit cards while we were all grounded to consider, too. Delta, in particular, made it easy for me to reach toward Diamond status with aggressive offers to earn MQMs through flying and spending. In the end, I will earn Diamond status having flown only 15 segments (two segments left to post from a delayed flight last week). Plus, since those are pretty much all connecting flights, that's the equivalent of roughly four round-trip itineraries to earn Diamond status. The rest was from credit card spend.
That might seem surprising, but I'm fortunate to have quite a bit of business spending that I put on credit cards. Earlier in the year, I outlined how I planned to earn at least $10,000 in value from my Business Platinum Card® from American Express. Around that same time, I decided I wanted to make a run at Delta Diamond status. With some pretty lucrative MQM earning targets and a hefty intro offer, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card seemed a perfect fit for my attempt at Diamond Medallion. As I sit here in August, I've met both the spending and mileage requirements for Delta Diamond status. You'd think I was done. However, I intend to continue spending on that card and flying Delta this year.
My Reasons to fly and spend more with Delta in 2021
I'm doubling down on my Delta loyalty strategy in 2021 for a few key reasons, most of which revolve around hitting elite status both in the near term and on a lifetime basis. Here's my reasoning.
1. Earning 1.5 SkyMiles per dollar on everyday spending
As a small business owner, most of my spending is for items that don't normally earn category bonuses. For instance, I haven't found a plumber or an electrician with a merchant account that codes as office supplies (though that would be pretty nifty).
That means I typically earn one mile or point per dollar on a large portion of my spending, no matter which card I'm using. One exception is the American Express Business Platinum, which earns 1.5 Membership Rewards points per dollar on transactions of $5,000 or more, up to 1 million additional points per calendar year.
One of the less frequently touted benefits of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Amex, however, is that all spending on the card earns 1.5 SkyMiles per dollar once you spend $150,000 on the card in a calendar year (except for eligible Delta purchases, which earn 3 miles per dollar, regardless). Since I put a ton of spending on the card this year to earn MQMs and Diamond status, 1.5 SkyMiles per dollar on everyday purchases is appealing to me. Whether it's a plumber or a shipment of restaurant equipment, 1.5 SkyMiles per dollar takes the cake compared to other cards in my wallet. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).
Because I spend so much on my Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Amex, I also rake in MQMs. The card earns 15,000 MQMs after you spend $30,000 on purchases in a calendar year, up to four times per year for a total of $120,000 in spending and 60,000 MQMs. For 2021, however, cardmembers can enjoy a 25% bonus on MQMs earned this way -- so 18,750 MQMs for spending $30,000, up to a total of 75,000 MQMs in 2021. That's enough for Delta Platinum Medallion status without even setting foot on a plane!
2. Banking more rollover MQMs
I love that Delta has decided to "roll over" MQMs into next year again. People who have gotten part of the way to elite status will be happy to know that even if business travel doesn't continue at its current pace through the rest of 2021, they'll have something tangible they can put towards status qualification next year.
Now that I've qualified for Diamond status, I can earn rollover MQMs to help me get a leg up on next year. Since I have no idea what next year will bring for business travel, I'm happy to bulk up on MQMs ahead of time. Continuing to fly on Delta this year will put me in a great position heading into 2022.
3. Securing higher priority for complimentary upgrades
If you think you can achieve elite status with Delta through your flight and spending this year (2021), that could put you in a position to enjoy more complimentary upgrades on domestic flights in 2022. Along with its status expiration announcement, Delta clarified that as of February 2022, SkyMiles members who earned status through the normal qualification paths in 2021 would be ranked higher for upgrades than elites of the same level who had their status extended due to the pandemic.
Depending on how much you fly the airline and how the upgrade situation on flights you tend to take plays out, that can be an excellent reason to stretch for another status level this year. With more elites likely returning to the skies next year, qualifying the old-fashioned way may be your secret weapon on the battlefield that is the upgrade standby list.
4. Getting closer to lifetime status progress
If you're chasing lifetime status in the Delta SkyMiles program, continuing to spend on your Delta SkyMiles credit card this year may help you achieve that goal. You'll need to spend a lot of money for a very long time on those cards to earn top-tier Diamond status, it's true. But Delta has now made it possible to achieve lifetime Diamond status, which could set you up nicely with perks galore for the rest of your life. Otherwise, mere mortal road warriors can earn lower levels of elite status based on their lifetime MQMs. If you haven't maxed out MQM earning on your Delta cobranded credit card, continuing to spend in 2021 can help you achieve that goal.
Using my Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business Amex to pay for Delta flights is an easy decision to earn 3 SkyMiles per dollar. On top of that, I plan to keep earning 50% more SkyMiles on everyday purchases since I've already spent $150,000 on the card this year. When you couple that with rollover MQMs and earning a higher priority for upgrades, I see good reasons to continue spending on Delta cobranded credit cards in 2021. Chris may be taking his card out of his wallet for the rest of the year, but mine will get plenty of mileage!
Find rates and fees for the Delta Business Reserve Amex here.