Awesome Update! Delta Medallion Status Can be Earned with Award Flights (2021)

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Disclosure: Bougie Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Bougie Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.

Delta Medallion Status 2021

Delta made some major (positive) changes to the ways you can earn Delta Medallion elite status for 2021 and since we just published our Complete 2021 Guide to Delta Mileage Runs, I though this post would be a good addition. The most significant development is that you can now earn Delta MQMs and MQDs on award travel! This makes acquiring Delta Medallion status by flying award tickets a compelling idea that could cost you very little out of pocket (and definitely enhances the value of some milage run strategies). Besides allowing award travel to count towards your qualifications for Medallion status, Delta is boosting the number of MQMs and MQDs you can earn from all travel during 2021. I’ll walk you through this year's unique changes and then some potential strategies for earning Medallion status for 2021 and 2022. Last week, I covered everything you need to know about Delta mileage runs including a strategy, but this changes things for the better. Also don't forget that these changes apply to status matches and challenges, so yeayy.

Delta Status Match and Challenge Guide (2021)

Earning MQMs and MQDs in 2021 with a BIG Bonus

Here are the changes Delta is making to how you accrue MQMs, MQSs and MQDs between April 1 and December 31, 2021:

  • Earn at least 50% more Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) on Delta flights. This includes Pay with Miles tickets and award travel
  • Earn an additional 25% (for 75% more total) on all premium cabin tickets (Delta One®, Delta Premium Select, First Class and Delta Comfort+®) and this includes upgrades purchased after your initial ticket purchase (cash or miles).
  • These bonuses only apply to Medallion status earnings. Redeemable miles earned remain the same. 
  • Bonuses apply toward status matches and challenge requirements. 
  • Bonus MQMs apply toward Delta Million Miler status. 
  • Bonuses do not apply to partner earnings. These are strictly for Delta marketed and operated flights.

It is a bummer that the changes don't apply to partner earnings, but we can't have it all. Delta certainly wants to incentivize travelers to fly with them. (A girl can dream, though.) It would have been amazing to be able to redeem miles for partner flights and then have them accrue miles based on distance flown. (Obviously way too much to ask for.)

Here is Delta's example earnings for some of their tickets: 

delta medallion status 2021

Earn Delta Medallion Cheaply with Award Flights

Now that you can earn delta MQMs on award travel, it's possible to earn Delta Medallion status extremely cheaply. If you’re sitting on a pile of SkyMiles, this might be a great time to burn them. You could enjoy some great trips through summer and fall and earn Medallion status for 2022. What’s not to love about that?

For people who aim to reduce out of pocket spend, the best way to leverage the ability to earn MQMs from award travel is to combine this with the MQD waiver offered by spending on either the Delta Platinum or Delta Reserve American Express cards. Assuming you have the Delta Platinum, you’d need to spend $25,000 on it this year to earn the MQD waiver. This would also earn you 10,000 MQMs on its own, which has been increased to 12,500 MQMs (25% boost) for 2021. You’re already nearly halfway to silver this way.

Transcontinental domestic flights are probably the best option for earning the most MQMs for the fewest redeemed SkyMiles. You can find nonstop coast-to-coast flights for 15,000 SkyMiles round-trip in basic economy. Sure, this isn’t a bougie way to travel, but it is the most cost-effective. A JFK-SFO roundtrip will earn you ~7,750 MQMs for 15,000 SkyMiles and $11.20. Not bad.

The one bummer about earning Delta Medallion status from award tickets is that you need to burn a ridiculous number of SkyMiles to earn enough MQDs for Diamond Medallion (unless you spend 250k for a waiver- no thanks). Every 100,000 SkyMiles redeemed will earn you $1,500 MQDs (with the 50% bonus). This is on par with reasonable cash tickets in business class to Europe, so I guess one can’t complain. But this does mean Diamond Medallion would require burning 1 million SkyMiles, if you tried to do it through just award travel. This is my plan but I will be earning the $15,000 MQDs through a combination of partner flights, SkyMiles awards and trans-con paid flights under $1,000. Personally I'd rather spend the 25k for the waiver on other credit cards, but I know that's where I differ from most people chasing status. 

The credit card MQD waiver plus earning tons of MQMs from award travel is the solid strategy for getting to Silver through Platinum Medallion.

FoundersCard Members Receive Free Virgin Atlantic Status for a Full Year!

Example: Using Delta Award Travel to Earn Platinum Medallion

Let’s assume you fly the following trips this year:

  • Two trips to Las Vegas in Main Cabin for 18,000 SkyMiles per trip
  • One trip to the Bahamas in Comfort+ for 26,000 SkyMiles
  • One trip to Hawaii in Comfort+ for 65,000 SkyMiles
  • One trip to Amsterdam in Main Cabin for 66,000 SkyMiles
  • One trip to Dublin in Comfort+ for 80,000 SkyMiles

Assuming flights out of JFK everywhere, you'd earn the following MQMs and MQDs:

  • Las Vegas trips (combined): 13,480 MQMs and 540 MQDs
  • Bahamas trip: 3,830 MQMs and 455 MQDs
  • Hawaii trip (via SEA): 17,840 MQMs and 1,137 MQDs
  • Amsterdam: 10,920 MQMs and 990 MQDs
  • Dublin: 11,120 MQMs and 1,400 MQDs

Total: 57,190 MQMs and 75,940 MQMs and 4,522 MQDs

I know. Flying economy is out of the question for me. But this is just a way to illustrate how you could earn status for very little out of pocket. You'd hit Silver status “organically” this way. But by spending $30,000 on the Delta Reserve American Express card to earn 18,750 MQMs and the MQD waiver, you'd hit Platinum with just over 75,000 MQMs. 

Total cost: 273,000 SkyMiles

I value SkyMiles at about 1.2 cents each, so this is about $3,300 worth of miles. But you get six trips out of it and earn Platinum status. 

How to Use Amex Airline Credits 

Final Thoughts

While this seems all good, I’m a tiny bit worried about the number of people who could earn Delta elite medallion status with stockpiles of Skymiles sitting around. Especially since American Express has has some pretty incredible Welcome Offers on their Delta Co-branded cards this year. As we all know, if everyone has status, no one has status- but I think this is unlikely since we're already in April and travel has just started to pick up. The ability to earn Delta MQMs and MQDs on award travel is an awesome change. I honestly wouldn’t go out of my way to earn Medallion status this way unless you know you’ll hit Platinum. If you have a way to earn enough MQDs, Diamond would be a far better target. Status is only really worth it if you expect to travel a bunch in 2022. But given how the past year has gone, people might be ready to really hit the sky and make up for lost time. I'll be sure to post my exact strategy to earn Diamond over the next few weeks when I finalize it. 

Disclosure: Bougie Miles has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Bougie Miles and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.
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