November 16, 2012
This year, I’m continuing my quest to maintain Delta Platinum status without flying. Here’s my approach and how I’m doing so far…
Delta has four levels of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Each has increasingly better benefits. In order to earn elite status, you need to earn “Medallion Qualifying Miles” (MQMs). MQMs are different from the redeemable miles that can be traded in for award flights. MQMs are a way of measuring how much you have flown Delta within a calendar year. The more you have flown, the higher the elite status you can earn. Silver requires 25K MQMs in a calendar year; Gold requires 50K MQMS; Platinum requires 75K MQMs; and Diamond requires 125K MQMs. While it would be cool to earn Diamond status, Platinum gives you most of the same benefits for far fewer MQMs.
Unlike other airlines, Delta allows MQMs earned above each status threshold to roll-over to the next year. Last year I ended the year with almost 100,000 MQMs. As a result, I rolled over almost 25,000. Also, unlike other airlines, Delta allows you to earn a huge number of MQMs through high credit card spend.
Mileage Running from home
As I’ve described before (see “Mileage running, from home“), my approach to earning Delta MQMs is to run up spend on my Delta Reserve and Delta Platinum credit cards. The Reserve card delivers 15K MQMs after $30K of spend (within a calendar year) and then another 15K MQMs after $60K of spend. Similarly, the Delta Platinum card delivers 10K of MQMs after $25K of spend (within a calendar year) and then another 10K MQMs after $50K of spend. Altogether, by holding each of these cards (one personal, one business), I can earn 50,000 MQMs per year without flying. My trick is simply to use those cards to make approximately $5K in Kiva loans per month. Over time, the money is paid back to me without interest. Personally, I have so far lost only $13 through a single defaulted loan (approximately .07% of completed loans: far less than 1%).
I’ve already earned 25K MQMs from my two Delta cards this year and I’m very close to earning the final 25K. Combined with a small amount of flying on paid flights, I’ll easily re-up my Platinum status for all of 2013.
Next year and beyond
Next year will be a bit trickier since I won’t have 25K of MQMs to roll-over. This is a problem because I can only earn 50K MQMs from my two Delta cards. But, I’ll still have a number of options. One easy one is to get my wife a Delta Reserve card. The MQMs earned on that card can be transferred to others. So, I can help her run up spend on her card, but then assign the MQMs to me. In fact, it should be possible for my wife and I to setup a system where we alternate who receives the MQMs such that we each maintain Platinum status most of the time. It’s complicated, but the trick is to earn Platinum status as early in the calendar year as possible. That way, you then keep that status for the rest of the current year, all of the next year, and the first two months of the third year. By alternating who earns Platinum status early in each calendar year, we should both be able to enjoy Platinum status most of the time.
Why I care
Platinum status comes with several perks, but the ones I care most about are free award changes and free same day confirmed changes (which are available to Delta Gold elites as well). The combination of these two benefits make my Delta miles much more valuable than they would be otherwise. Delta miles are infamously difficult to use at low award levels. That is, it’s easy to use Delta miles if you’re willing to pay the medium or high number of miles required for an award, but they offer up very few awards for the lowest number of miles. For example, round trip domestic awards cost either 25,000 miles (low level), 40,000 miles (medium level), or 60,000 miles (high level). Medium and high level awards are plentiful. Low level awards are rare. However, the combination of free award changes and free same day confirmed changes make it possible for me to find low level awards on the flights I want.
Free Award Changes
Delta allows Platinum and Diamond elites to cancel or change awards up to 72 hours prior to you flight. Let me give you a real example of how valuable this can be. My family is flying to London this weekend, non-stop, on Delta’s lie-flat business class seats. The flights were booked for 100,000 miles each (low level). When I first looked into award availability, there were only two seats available at the low level. Because I knew I could cancel without penalty, I went ahead and booked those seats. A few days later a third seat became available for 100K, so I booked that too. At the time of booking, we weren’t yet sure of our plans, but I went ahead and booked anyway because I knew I could cancel or make changes for free. If I hadn’t had the ability to cancel for free, I would have waited until our plans were firm and until I could find 3 seats at once. In other words, it is very unlikely that I would have been able to book all three of us at the low level.
Another reason I value free award changes is that it makes it possible for me to leverage tricks other bloggers have written about in which you can get a free one-way award with each round trip award. For example, see this MileValue post. I’ve done this trick several times now and I find that it really helps to be able to make free changes after the initial booking.
Free Same Day Confirmed Changes
Another trick I’ve begun using is taking advantage of free same day changes. Let’s say I can find a low level award for the day I want to travel, but it has bad times and/or awkward routings. That’s OK. I now know that I can book that flight. After booking, I can continue to look for better options (you never know if a good one will pop up) and I can change for free up until 72 hours before the flight. If no better options appear, that’s OK too. On the day of the flight, I can switch to a better flight by calling no more than 3 hours before departure of the more desirable flight. As long as the better flight isn’t full, I can make that change. Once when I did this, it almost backfired. The more desirable flight was full, so they couldn’t confirm the change. However, they did put me on standby for the flight and I got on it without trouble.
I live near a Delta hub, so I’m a Delta loyalist out of convenience. I wouldn’t recommend going to the lengths I do to become a high level Delta elite unless you’re in a similar circumstance. Other airlines offer better value for the miles earned. That being said, I’m happy with the approach I’ve taken. By making $110K in Kiva loans per year I’m helping out people who need the money, I’m earning high level elite status, and I’m earning 150,000 redeemable Delta miles per year. Not bad!