There are a lot of things to detest about the Delta Airlines SkyMiles program and the way it is run.  For example, Delta does not publish award charts and it devalues the benefits of its program often without advance notice and sometimes even without telling its members.  On the other hand, one of the nicer features of the SkyMiles program is rollover Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) because they can help keep my top-tier status without flying a lot on Delta.  Rollover MQMs, however, are useless without also meeting the minimum spend requirements Delta attaches to each elite level.

Medallion Qualification Miles, Rollover Miles and Medallion Qualification Dollars

Frequent flyer programs are complicated.  Airlines make them more complex every year.  It used to be that all one needed was to fly a given number of miles to earn status.  Now airlines use a mixture of miles, segments, dollars and credit card spend to determine status.

MQMs are equal to the distance flown plus any applicable class of service bonus.  The MQM thresholds for Delta Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond status are 25,000, 50,000, 75,000, and 125,000, respectively.  MQMs above the amount required to qualify for the applicable medallion status for the following year remain in the account and apply to the MQM requirements for the subsequent year’s status.  Those MQMs are called rollover MQMs.

Even though I now primarily fly American Airlines and enjoy top-tier status in its program, thanks to rollover MQMs from prior years, I  started 2018 with Delta Diamond status and over 300,000 rollover MQMs.  That is enough MQMs to qualify for Diamond status for several years to come.

But Delta also imposes a spend requirement for all elite levels.  To keep Diamond status for 2019 requires not only 125,000 MQMs but spending $15,000 in Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) on Delta.  MQDs are the price of a ticket minus taxes and government imposed fees.  Obtaining 15,000 MQDs requires actually shelling out somewhere around $18,000 to $19,000 out of pocket.  That is a lot of money for people like me who don’t fly on the company dime.

How I Will Meet the MQD Requirement and Keep My Diamond Status for 2019

Delta waives the MQD requirement for members who spend a certain amount on Delta credit cards.  I have used this method in past years.  The amount of spend on a Delta credit card to receive a MQD waiver had always been $25,000 per year.  Starting in 2018, Delta raised the spend requirement for a Diamond MQD waiver to an absurd $250,000 per year!

Some are prepared to use “manufactured spending” to reach that goal, or run a business that can rack up that much in real spending on a Delta card, or have enough wealth that spending $250,000 won’t break the bank.  For me, putting that much in real spend on a credit card is out of the question.  Furthermore, I won’t manufacture that much spend because (a) I don’t want to incur the time, effort and risk of manufacturing $250,000 of spend, (b) if I did, I would put that spend on one of many cards that offer points that are much more valuable than Delta SkyMiles, and (c) I refuse to reward Delta.

The silver lining to this dark MQD cloud is that when flying Delta partners and crediting the flights to a Delta account, Delta calculates MQDs as a percentage of the distance flown.  The cost of the ticket is irrelevant.  Business class tickets on AeroMexico, China Eastern, Air France/KLM, Alitalia, and Jet Airways earn 40% of the distance flown as MQDs.  Booking cheap business-class tickets for long distance flights on these carriers earns a huge amount of Delta MQDs for a much smaller out-of-pocket cost.

AeroMexico Business Class ORD-MEX-LIM

With that in mind, I purchased two back-to-back round-trip, business-class tickets for $536 each on AeroMexico from Chicago, IL to Lima, Peru via Mexico City, Mexico.

Volcanoes near Mexico City

Each roundtrip covered 8,632 miles and earned $3,452 Delta MQDs.  So by paying only $1,072 to AeroMexico I earned $6,904 MQDs or nearly one half of the total Diamond MQD requirement!  In addition, Delta credited me with 27,616 SkyMiles and 17,260 MQMs for each trip.

Details of these flight are in posts on the AeroMexico 737-800 seats and AeroMexico 737-800 service as well as reports on the AeroMexico Salon Premier lounge and American Express Centurion lounge at MEX Terminal 2.

Jorge Chavez International Airport, Lima, Peru

In Sum

Together with two additional business class trips on China Eastern Airlines, I will easily exceed Delta’s $15,000 MQD threshold by spending a little over $3,000 out of pocket instead of $18,000-$19,000.  The $25,000 to $30,000 that I had been putting on Delta credit cards will now be directed to other cards offering more valuable and versatile points.  Ironically, I can retain Delta Diamond status and receive Choice Benefits like Global Upgrade Certificates without spending any money on Delta.

Over the years, Delta has repeatedly aggravated loyal frequent flyers with numerous devaluations (Delta calls them “enhancements”) in the benefits it promised in exchange for our purchases.  It is nice to turn the tables on Delta for a change.