Elite Status Series: Delta SkyMiles Medallion Unique Program Elements

Dec 11, 2013

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TPG contributor Nick Ewen has taken us through the basics of Delta Medallion status – how you can qualify for it and maximize the benefits once you earn it in each tier. Today he discusses other unique elements of the program.

Make sure you are aware of the Delta Skymiles Medallion Program’s unique elements.

In my earlier posts, I covered the ins and outs of Delta’s four elite levels (Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion), including how to qualify and the types of benefits to expect for newly minted medallions. However, simply flying the miles/segments (and, for next year, spending the money) on Delta is just the tip of the iceberg. The SkyMiles program offers numerous additional ways to earn, maintain, and maximize the benefits provided to medallions. This final post will go through many of these, including rollover miles, credit cards, and choice benefits.

Rollover Miles

For starters, one of the easiest ways to maintain status in future years comes with a unique benefit of the SkyMiles program: Medallion members can rollover any MQMs they earn above their status level threshold. This was implemented several years ago to serve as an incentive for loyal travelers to continue flying beyond the qualification threshold for their elite tier.

Here’s how this works. Let’s say you qualify for Silver by hitting 25,000 MQMs. If you continue flying and finish the year at 35,000 MQMs, you would rollover 10,000 MQMs to give you a jump start on qualifying for next year. Then that following year, if you only flew 15,000 MQMs, you would still qualify for Silver Medallion thanks to those 10,000 rollover miles. Unfortunately, this only applies to MQMs and not Medallion Qualification Segments, which has long been a thorn in the side of segment qualifiers (such as myself).

In addition, as of now, it’s important to note that Medallion® Qualification Dollars will not rollover. This is key for anyone planning on taking advantage of rollover miles for next year. Let’s say that next year, you qualify for Gold Medallion with 60,000 MQMs and $6,000 MQDs. On January 1, 2015 (or shortly thereafter), your MQMs will show as 10,000 but your MQD counter will reset to zero (even though you were $1,000 over the MQD threshold for Gold). If you then fly 15,000 MQMs but only rack up $1,500 MQDs, you will have NO status for the following year. Something to keep in mind going forward.

Credit Cards

If you are a frequent Delta flyer, having one of Delta’s co-branded American Express cards can be an easy way not only to rack up more miles, but some also help cardholders requalify for status either by spending $25,000 dollars in a calendar year (that waives the MQD requirement) or by earning MQM bonuses based on welcome bonuses and calendar-year spending.

Here are the current cards that Medallion members can add to their wallets:

1) Gold Delta Amex: Cardholders earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Delta purchases and 1 mile per dollar spent everywhere else. You can also check your first bag for free, and this benefit applies to up to 9 flyers on the same reservation. It also offers Zone 1 boarding (same as Silver Medallions), a 20% discount on in-flight purchases, discounted SkyClub day passes ($25), and the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. The current public bonus offer is 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months, plus a $50 statement credit if one of those purchases is with Delta.

2) Platinum Delta Amex: Many basic benefits with the Platinum Amex are the same as those offered with the Gold card: 2 miles per dollar spent with Delta and 1 mile per dollar everywhere else, free checked bags, and discounts on in-flight purchases and SkyClub day passes. However, this one provides a bunch of ways to pad your MQM accrual. The current bonus offer is 10,000 bonus miles with the first purchase, but 5,000 of those count as MQMs. Then, if you spend $25,000 in a calendar year, you will earn 10,000 miles and an additional 10,000 MQMs. If you reach $50,000 in annual spend, you will earn another 10,000 miles and another 10,000 MQM’s. This means that by opening this card and spending at least $50,000, you will earn 25,000 MQMs, enough to qualify as Silver Medallion without ever setting foot on a Delta plane. The card does come with a $150 annual fee.

3) Reserve Delta Amex: Again, many benefits are consistent with the Gold and Platinum cards (double miles on Delta, free checked bags, etc.). However, this card also provides cardholders with SkyClub access for them and up to two guests, and it also can act as a tiebreaker when the cardholder is vying for a complimentary upgrade. The general upgrade hierarchy is status, fare class, then time of ticketing. However, if two Medallions from the same level are booked into the same fare class and one holds the Reserve card, they will jump ahead of the non-cardholder, even if the cardholder bought the ticket after the non-cardholder. On some of the longer, elite-heavy domestic flights, this can be in invaluable benefit!

In addition, like the Platinum Amex, it helps cardholders qualify (or maintain) their elite status. It currently offers 10,000 MQMs with the first purchase. If you then spend $30,000 in a calendar year, you’ll earn 15,000 bonus miles plus 15,000 MQMs. If you then reach $60,000 in eligible spend, you’ll earn another 15,000 bonus miles and another 15,000 MQMs. That’s 40,000 MQMs without any actual flying! The card does carry a hefty $450 annual fee, but given the prices for SkyClub membership, it may be worth it!

According to the T&C of both the Platinum and Reserve cards, the bonus miles (and MQMs) will post 2-4 weeks after the first purchase on the card, so it may be too late for these cards to help you out this year! If they post on January 1st, they will count towards next year’s qualification. In addition, anyone spending $25,000 or more on any Delta-branded American Express card in a calendar year is exempt from the new MQD requirement. Depending on your spend patterns, this could be an easy way to maintain your status if you are a “gamer” and tend to book inexpensive tickets or take mileage runs to maintain your status.

One final piece to the puzzle: these cards also offer an unpublished (but confirmed) benefit that is also available to Gold, Platinum, and Diamond Medallion flyers.

Access to Extended Domestic Coach Award Space

If you are a Delta Medallion and/or Amex cardholder have ever searched for award availability on Delta.com (while logged into your account), you have probably noticed the “I am traveling” checkbox.

If you are trying to book a domestic coach award ticket and hold a Delta American Express card (or are Gold Medallion or higher), be absolutely sure that you have this box checked, as Delta releases extra award availability to these travelers. TPG mentioned this in his post on why he opened the Delta Platinum American Express back in May, and the benefit is discussed at length in this FlyerTalk thread. I personally took advantage of this just a couple of weeks ago, as Delta opened up elite/credit card-only space on the direct Orlando to Raleigh-Durham flight I was eyeing (which didn’t show up without logging in and checking the “I am traveling” box). A quick search on another one of my favorite routes (Orlando to New York-LaGuardia) shows the exact same thing:

Make sure to check the "I am traveling" box.
Make sure to check the “I am traveling” box.

When I am not logged in, a one-way flight from MCO-LGA on Friday May 23rd only has one option available at the low level: Flight 2186, departing at 12:55pm.

However, when I log in and select the “I am traveling” checkbox, the exact same search now shows four flights at the low mileage level. Remember that this only applies to domestic coach award travel, but it is still a nice perk to elite travelers and Delta American Express cardholders.

Choice Benefits

In both my Platinum and Diamond Medallion posts, I briefly outlined the Choice Benefits program, which offers these highest tiers of elite flyers some interesting options to reward their loyalty. Before I get into a more detailed analysis of the options, I wanted to provide some additional logistical considerations to help new Platinum and Diamond Medallions understand the ins and outs of this somewhat confusing maze of choices.

Medallion Choice Benefits.
Medallion Choice Benefits.

When you first qualify for Platinum (and this is reflected in your profile), you will have the option to select your one Choice Benefit for the following year. That means if you recently became Platinum for the rest of 2013 and all of 2014, you should have a checkbox for “2014 Platinum (Select one choice)” when you visit the above link and click on “Continue.” Then, if you later qualify for Diamond, you will see another option added: “2014 Diamond (Select two choices).” You don’t have to select the Platinum and Diamond ones at the same time; just check whichever box with which you want to start. However, you do have to select both Diamond choices at the same time.

For the 2014 status year, you have until the very end of your status (February 28, 2015) to select those benefits. However, if you earned status last year and haven’t selected your 2013 choice benefits yet, make sure you do so by February 28, 2014.

Here’s a more detailed analysis (remember that Platinum members choose one of the following, while Diamond Medallions choose two):

Global and Regional Upgrades (Platinums get four Regional, Diamonds get four Global or eight Regional): Delta literally just revamped this benefit yesterday. Starting March 1, 2014 Diamond Medallions will have new Choice Benefits options: Regional and Global upgrade certificates; and Platinum Medallions will be able to select Regional Upgrades. The big news is that Global upgrades will be eligible on pretty much all paid fare classes for International and Domestic BusinessElite routes): Y, B, M, S, H, Q, K, L, U, T, X or V classes. They may be redeemed for the named Medallion member and up to one travel companion in the same reservation. The named member and the companion will each require a separate certificate.

New Delta Upgrade Chart
New Delta Upgrade Chart

Complimentary upgrades for the transcontinental BusinessElite routes (currently assigned at the gate based on availability) will no longer be a benefit. Instead, Diamond Medallions can select to upgrade those routes (and other international routes) using Global upgrades or miles. Also, upgrades to Hawaii from LAX/SEA/SFO and SLC are now eligible for complimentary Medallion upgrades, which is a nice change.

It’s important to note that Global upgrades can also be used on Air France and KLM, though you’ll need to purchase pricey economy tickets (Y, B, or M). One popular avenue to take, however, is to book Air France’s Premium Voyageur class. This is their premium economy product, though it actually is a separate class of service (unlike Delta’s Economy Comfort, which is just regular coach with additional legroom/recline). If you book a flight in S or W class, you can use Global upgrades to upgrade to business class, and Air France (as of now) still displays upgrade space (O class) on ExpertFlyer. If your flight doesn’t currently show availability, remember that you can set alerts so that you’ll receive an e-mail when a seat (or a chosen number of seats) open up. Unfortunately, partners do not allow Global upgrades to be added to the airport standby list, so you better hope that space opens up in advance!

Delta SkyClub one-day passes (Platinums get four, Diamonds get six): At first glance, this may seem like a poor choice, given that Diamonds get free SkyClub access, and any Delta Reserve American Express cardholder can also get in the club for free. However, these can make a great gift for a casual traveler with an upcoming flight on Delta (or another partner). I have never selected this option, but I did grab two online as gifts for my in-laws when they were flying Virgin Atlantic from Orlando to London-Gatwick. Unfortunately, the one-day pass doesn’t allow guest access, so you’d need one for every traveler over the age of two.

Bonus Miles (Platinums get 20,000 miles, Diamonds get 25,000 miles): These are relatively straight-forward, as Platinum and Diamond Medallions can pad their mileage accounts. These will not count as MQM’s, so they won’t help with requalification, but they can be put towards future award travel. Alternatively, along the lines of Brian’s recent generous donation, you could also put them towards one of Delta’s partner charities, including Habitat for Humanity, Make-a-Wish, or St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. A complete list and additional details are available here.

A Tiffany's gift card worth $200.
A Tiffany’s gift card worth $200.

Travel/Retail Gift Card: Both Platinum and Delta Medallions can choose either a $200 Delta travel voucher or a $200 Tiffany gift card. It’s important to note that the Delta voucher is only valid for 12 months from the date of your selection, so you’ll want to wait as long as you can before making the selection and starting the clock. Also, in the past, these travel vouchers have not followed the new voucher rules that went into effect in December 2011. I have never had any problem transferring them to another traveler or combining them with another $200 Choice Benefit voucher. Of course, take all of this with a grain of salt, as it’s been well over a year since I last selected this option, and Delta is known for making sudden (and unexpected) changes to their program!

Gift of Medallion Status (Platinums can gift Silver, Diamonds can gift Gold): This can, depending on the recipient, be a very valuable benefit, as it allows your chosen individual the full benefits of Silver or Gold Medallion without any of the qualification requirements. I personally have gifted Gold status to my wife the last three years, and it’s been a great way to have us both upgraded (rather than just me) as well as helping to bump her SkyMiles balance (given the 100% mileage bonus to which Golds are entitled to). However, it is absolutely essential to pay close attention to which year’s Choice Benefit you use to gift status, as you may inadvertently give your recipient just a few months to enjoy Silver or Gold!

Here’s an example to help clear this up. Right now, I am Diamond, but I will be dropping to Platinum for 2014. In my account, I currently have two options for Choice Benefits: my Platinum selection for 2013 (I made my Diamond selection for 2013 a while back) and my Platinum selection for 2014. I have to choose my 2013 benefit by February 28, 2014, but I have another full year to select my 2014 benefit. However, the status you gift will expire on the deadline. This means that if I gifted Silver using my 2013 benefit, that unlucky soul would only enjoy status until February 28, 2014, just over two months! However, if I used my 2014 Platinum selection to gift Silver status, it would last until February 28, 2015.

Confused? I was too when I first hit Platinum! Please share any questions below and I will be happy to answer them.

Buy MQMs

Buy MQMs to obtain or maintain Medallion status.
Buy MQMs to obtain or maintain Medallion status.

Delta has just recently announced one more way (albeit an expensive one) to maintain status: by purchasing MQMs. This has (undoubtedly) become a very profitable revenue stream for Delta, as they have now offered this for the last few years. The prices this year are off the charts, especially for higher Medallion tiers. As a Diamond Medallion, I could purchase 10,000 MQMs for a whopping $1,995, or almost 20 cents per mile!!! Most true mileage runs have a “value” of 3 or 4 cents per mile, so this is at least 5 times more expensive! However, if you don’t have time for a last-minute mileage run, this is one of the easiest ways to grab those last few MQMs. Just be aware that next year, if Delta offers this again, you’ll need to make sure that you hit not only the MQM thresholds but also the MQD thresholds. I would hope that purchased MQMs would count towards the MQD requirement, but there really isn’t any way to know that ahead of time.

There’s no doubt that the SkyMiles Medallion program is quite a complicated one, but hopefully this series has provided some enlightenment into how to earn, retain, and then maximize the different levels of status. Please feel free to ask questions or share your own personal experience below!

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