August 28, 2013
Last year, in the post “Mileage running, from home,” I described how I make use of Delta branded credit cards to maintain high level elite status with Delta. Instead of flying many thousands of miles per year to earn status, I spend many thousands of dollars per year on credit cards.
As background, Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) are Delta’s version of what most other airlines call Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs). MQMs are different from the regular kind of Delta SkyMiles that can be redeemed for travel. MQMs can’t be traded for anything at all. Instead, they are used to earn elite status. Delta requires 25000 MQMs per year to reach Silver status, 50,000 per year to reach Gold status, 75,000 per year to reach Platinum status, and 125,000 per year to reach top level Diamond status.
There are two Delta branded credit cards that reward you with MQMs for meeting high spend thresholds: The Platinum Delta SkyMiles card, and the Delta Reserve card. With the Platinum card, you get 10,000 MQMs after $25K in spend (within a calendar year), and another 10,000 MQMs after $50K in spend. Similarly, with the Reserve card, you get 15,000 MQMs after $30K in spend, and another 15,000 MQMs after $60K in spend.
In my prior post on this topic, I explained how it is possible to have two Delta credit cards: one personal and one business. I currently have both a Delta reserve card and a Platinum Delta card. Between the two, I can earn up to 50,000 MQMs per year by maxing out their high spend benefits. That’s a good way to maintain high level status, but it’s not an optimal way.
Within a calendar year, once you earn enough MQMs for a certain status level, you will be granted that level of status for the rest of that year, all of the next year, and through February of the year after that. Given that, if you have the ability to earn MQMs very quickly in the beginning of a year, it’s possible to get just as many MQMs for half the level of spend. Or, with two players, you can get twice as many MQMs for the same level of spend. Lets see how:
Single player mode
To keep this as simple as possible, let’s say your goal is to maintain Gold status with Delta. To achieve Gold status, you need to earn 50K MQMs within a calendar year (including those rolled over from a prior year, but that’s a separate discussion). So, you can get to Gold status without flying by owning both a Delta Reserve card and a Platinum Delta card and spending $110K on those cards within a calendar year.
If you have the ability to spend $110K very quickly at the beginning of a year, then you can alternate years with which you spend the money and still maintain Gold status year after year. Here’s an example of how it could work:
- 2013: Spend $110K and earn 50K MQMs. Gold status is valid through Feb 2015.
- 2014: Don’t spend any money on the cards. Your Gold status from the prior year is still intact.
- 2015: Spend $110K before the end of February and earn 50K MQMs. Gold status is valid through Feb 2017.
- 2016: Don’t spend any money on the cards. Your Gold status from the prior year is still intact.
- 2017: Spend $110K before the end of February and earn 50K MQMs. Gold status is valid through Feb 2019.
With the above approach, instead of spending $110K every year, you can spend $110K every other year to achieve the same level of status. Of course, it requires being able to generate a crazy amount of spend quickly, so its definitely not for everyone (or anyone?).
Still with me? On the years in which you do not spend money on the cards, you can downgrade to less expensive cards and later upgrade back to the original cards. Or, you can keep the cards as-is and spend enough on the cards to roll over as many MQMs as possible. That way you won’t necessarily have to spend the full $110K by February to keep Gold status. Depending upon your goals and the level of MQMs you earn anyway through flying, it should be possible to adjust this approach to meet your needs.
Two player mode
Things get more interesting when you enter two player mode. To play two player mode, you need a friend or relative with the same ability to generate ludicrous amounts of spend quickly. And, you need to trust them.
The foundation of the two player version is the fact that MQMs earned with the Delta Reserve card are giftable. Unlike the Platinum card’s MQMs, with the Reserve card the MQMs can be assigned to others. So, if you and a friend each have a Reserve card, you can alternate each year who gets the MQMs. This approach can be used to generate 60K MQMs per year if you each have one Reserve card or 120K MQMs per year if you each have two Reserve cards. Let’s look at the 60K MQM option:
- 2013: Each player spends $60K and earns 30K MQMs. Player A gifts MQMs to Player B. Player B keeps 30K MQMs for himself/herself. Player B earns 60K MQMs total. Player B’s Gold status is valid through Feb 2015.
- 2014: Each player spends $60K and earns 30K MQMs by the end of February. Player B gifts MQMs to Player A. Player A keeps 30K MQMs for himself/herself. Player A earns 60K MQMs total. Player A’s Gold status is valid through Feb 2016.
- 2015: Each player spends $60K and earns 30K MQMs by the end of February. Player A gifts MQMs to Player B. Player B keeps 30K MQMs for himself/herself. Player B earns 60K MQMs total. Player B’s Gold status is valid through Feb 2017.
- 2016: Each player spends $60K and earns 30K MQMs by the end of February. Player B gifts MQMs to Player A. Player A keeps 30K MQMs for himself/herself. Player A earns 60K MQMs total. Player A’s Gold status is valid through Feb 2018.
With the above approach, each player spends only $60K per year and earns 60K MQMs, which is more than enough for Gold status. With a moderate amount of actual flying added in, Platinum status (75K MQMs) should be readily obtainable. Or, double the scenario above by using two Reserve cards each and each person will be within 5K MQMs of Diamond status.
A dose of reality
The ideas presented above should work in theory, but many, many things can go wrong. First, you need the ability to spend an outrageous amount of money quickly on credit cards. Can you really do that? Do you have a high enough credit limit? Keep in mind that a sudden burst of high spend is likely to lead to an American Express financial review. Are you prepared for that? And, if you play the two player version, how much do you trust your partner? Is there any chance that they won’t be able to return the favor after you’ve gifted MQMs to them? Hint: yes, there’s a chance of that. What about Delta? Will they continue to gut their loyalty program to the point where you don’t get value from elite status? Hint: yes, there’s a strong chance of that. And, what about Amex? Will they change the benefits of the Delta cards so that this trick is no longer possible?
I’ve presented above a few ways in which it is theoretically possible to get twice as much bang from your buck (in terms of MQMs) from Delta credit card spend. The ideas presented here will be relevant to only a very few. And, even if you are one of those few, please keep in mind all of the things that can go wrong.
If you’re really interested in going forward with something like this (despite my cautions!), consider variations that might work for you. For example, if you don’t mind having a gap in elite status, you could take longer than through February to generate spend. Also, you might want to generate enough MQMs for yourself every year to make sure that any earned MQMs from flying roll over into the next year (if you earn less than 25K MQMs in a calendar year, none are rolled over. If you earn more than enough for elite status, the extras are rolled over).
I’m considering doing a version of the two player game myself, with my wife as Player B. If we each hold a Delta Reserve card, then we can alternate each year earning 60K MQMs. From regular flying (or maybe an occasional dose of extra MQMs from a Platinum card), we could then each maintain Platinum status for only a bit more spend than I currently do myself to keep my status. It’s very tempting and so I might just go for it. What about you?
Hat tip and thanks to several friends who have suggested variations of the games described above.