Delta's new elite status system adds a credit card incentive
By Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com
Ask a question.
'Cashing In' archive
Dear Cashing In,
live in Memphis, a hub city for Delta Airlines, and fly a lot to Atlanta,
another major Delta hub. Delta isn't the only airline I fly, but I'd like the
perks of elite status and it seems to make sense to build loyalty there, if I
have to pick one. The SkyMiles program doesn't seem like the best deal out
there, but I like Delta's airport lounges and free Wi-Fi. Right now
I'm at Silver elite status on Delta, and I'd like to get higher. I'm considering
the Delta credit card. It seems like a big commitment, but maybe the best way to
climb the elite ladder. What do you think? -- Jose
you commit, you should know the game just changed significantly with Delta SkyMiles
and the Delta American Express card. The airline has announced that it's unveiling
new status requirements for customers who reside in the U.S. If you're planning
to get the card anyway and Delta is your first choice in airline loyalty, this
may not be all bad. But getting to that higher status via credit card may
require some serious spending.
in 2014, Delta is shifting to a revenue-based system for its SkyMiles Medallion program. That means that in
addition to the miles or flight segments you now need to fly to earn elite status, you will also need to spend a certain amount
of money on tickets to qualify for status in the 2015 Medallion program.
Earning Silver status -- the base level you're at now -- will require $2,500 in Medallion Qualification
Dollars (MQDs) as well as 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs). If you
want to get to Gold level, it's 5,000 MQDs plus your choice of 50,000 qualifying
miles or 60 qualifying flight segments. Platinum requires 7,500 MQDs with either 75,000 MQMs
or 100 qualifying segments. Diamond, the highest status, requires a whopping $12,500 spent on Delta and 125,000 MQMs or 140 segments.
Qualifying Dollars are accrued on base fare and surcharges but not taxes. Delta posted an FAQ page on the changes. Note
that while flights on any of Delta's partner airlines count toward the mileage
requirement, only flights on Delta or partner flights ticketed through a Delta channel
count toward the spending minimum.
where that credit card comes in. That new MQD requirement will be waived for
customers with a Delta SkyMiles American Express card -- if they make $25,000 in eligible purchases using their card that
year. That's a big commitment to a credit card. If you don't mind putting all
your spending effort into a co-branded credit card, then you could make this
work for you, but if you're already having doubts about the SkyMiles program
and doing a significant amount of flying on other airlines, you may want to
give it some thought.
Why is Delta making the change? "Adding
a revenue component to the SkyMiles Medallion program ensures that our most
valued customers receive the best program benefits and a more exclusive
experience," said Jeff Robertson, vice president
of SkyMiles in an official statement. This sounds like the airline is moving its
focus to the big spenders and premium fliers, possibly at the expense of everyone
I'm assuming that since you're at Silver
now, you're aiming at Gold or even Platinum. Until now, it's been relatively
easy to get elite-qualifying miles on Delta, compared to other airlines,
without flying. Delta gave away enough in AmEx sign-up bonuses to earn
base-level status in one fell swoop during certain promotions in 2012. Maybe
the airline overdid it, ending up with
too many infrequent flier elite members, and is trying to shift the balance --
food for thought.
See related: Airlines launch slew of elite-level perks for frequent fliers, Your credit card can make you elite , Want elite miles from your card? Be sure to shop around
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Vexed by a personal finance problem? CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers every weekday. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.