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Delta Mileage Run Guide
In this “Delta Mileage Run Guide” we’ll cover the components of elite mileage runs for Delta medallion status and how you can do it yourself. Back in the good old days when most airline loyalty programs awarded miles based on distance flown, mileage runs were an amazing thing. You could often earn tens of thousands of miles and hit an airline status tier in a single trip. Unfortunately, things have changed and while you no longer earn oodles of award miles (exception: Alaska), the mileage run is alive and well for the another reason: elite status. For more on why I love airline status over hotel status read “Maximize Extensions & Why Airline Status Beats Hotel Status!” Because of Delta’s recent changes in how elite status is earned, it means that elite status is now based on spend.
What is a Mileage Run?
A mileage run is a trip booked simply for the sake of earning qualifying miles, segments or dollars (spend) that help you attain elite status with a particular airline (or in some cases to earn a ton of miles cheaply). Often this means flying on a quick turnaround itinerary just for the elite status credit without even leaving the airport (yes, I’m a crazy person and have done this several times). However, you can also build a mileage run around a trip or fare deal, which is an excellent strategy if you’re flexible on timing and on places you want to visit.
A mileage run is generally part of a larger status earning plan because it’s generally not worth mileage running every single mile and dollar needed to attain frequent flyer status. If you’re not flying enough to really use status, then spending extra money to earn status just doesn’t make sense. If you’re trying to hit a low-level status tier, it’s also usually not worth a run, as the benefits aren’t all that significant.
On the other hand, mileage running for a higher status tier when you fall short or have a ton of travel planned can be lucrative. Say you end up about $200 MQDs short of Delta Platinum Medallion after your work travel has wrapped up for the year. Since you will enjoy a Choice benefit, additional miles, and the chance of an upgrade, spending a few hundred bucks to earn the required MQMs might be worth it.
Delta Medallion Status Requirements and Benefits
Delta elite status requires earning Medallion qualifying dollars (MQDs), which is was a change announced in Mid-August. Previously, you needed either Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs), Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQSs), along with MQDs (Medallion Qualifying Dollars). The requirements for each of the four status tiers are:
- Silver Medallion – $6,000 MQDs
- Gold Medallion – $12,000 MQDs
- Platinum Medallion – $18,000 MQDs
- Diamond Medallion – $35,000 MQDs
MQD waivers through credit card spend are no longer a thing, but it is possible to earn elite status through credit card spend through a Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, or a Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card. You earn 5 Medallion Qualifying Cents (MQCs) on the Delta Platinum Card, and 10 (MQCs) on the Reserve Card. Suffice to say this is a major devaluation, as you’d now need to spend $180,000 on the Reserve card, and $360,000 on the Platinum card, which was previously the main sweet spot. Finally, to earn Diamond status, it would take $350,000 in spend on the Reserve card, and $700,000 on the Platinum. That is laughably high if you ask me. In the vast majority of cases, you are probably better off spending $350,000 or $700,000 on a cashback card. Even at 2%, you would get $7,000 and $14,000 back, respectively, on each card. That would more than pay for what you get in elite status benefits.
You can check out my video review of Delta One Suites here
Delta Medallion Benefits
I’m not going to go into detail about all the benefits of Delta elite status but we can’t do a whole Delta mileage run guide without at least mentioning a few highlights. You get things like waived fees, checked bags, extra miles and all that jazz. The benefits you really want to understand are the Choice Benefits offered at the Platinum and Diamond levels, which include:
- Delta Sky Club membership options
- Upgrade certificates
- Bonus miles
- Gift cards
- Status gifting
The best options are the upgrade certificates, if you have the ability to use them. They were previously more useful, as you could upgrade directly from Main Cabin to Delta One. You now can only upgrade from Economy to Premium Select if you are flying on a 3 cabin configured aircraft. But, you will be on the Delta One waitlist 24 hours before departure.
Now that Delta Reserve card holders only get 10 lounge visits a year, it might make sense to get a SkyClub membership with your choice benefits. But, it requires 3 of your choices, meaning even a Diamond member would have to use up all of them.
How to Use Amex Airline Credits in 2023
Building a Mileage Run: The Basics
The goal of a mileage run is simple: earn as many qualifying dollars possible for as cheaply as possible.
When flying Delta, you earn 1 MQD per dollar spent on all Delta tickets, and MQDs based on the distance flown when you fly flights not marketed by Delta.
What you want to build, then, is the cheapest trip that will get you the MQDs you need. I’m currently seeing Delta tickets from JFK to CUN for $946, or $789 excluding taxes. It’s important to exclude the taxes from determining how many MQDs you’ll earn, as it could be the difference between earning and not earning elite status. Plus, this flight goes to Mexico. It probably beats New York in February, right? 😉
However, Aeromexico also has fares at $946. These are booked into I class on the same flight. But, due to Delta’s recent
devaluation changes, you would earn 30% of the distance flown in MQDs, and 100% of the distance flown in SkyMiles. So in the case of JFK to CUN, which is 1555 miles, you would earn 933 MQDs and 6220 SkyMiles as it is booked into I class. So in this case, it is better to book with Aeromexico, as you would earn 933 MQDs versus 789 MQDs with Delta. But, in some cases, it might be better to book with Delta on codeshare flights, so I would recommend comparing both options before booking anything.
Delta Partner Flights AKA “The Secret Sauce”
Delta has a number of partners that you can earn MQDs on. Previously, the Bougier partners were Core Global Partners. But, with the recent changes, the earning rate is quite similar. Here’s how to check the earning rate. Also, here is a spreadsheet that was shared on Flyertalk that compares the old and new changes. Make sure to choose XX Airline Mileage Earn on or after 1/1/2024. Furthermore, here is a list of all of Delta’s partners:
- Aerolinas Argentinas
- Air Europa
- Air France
- Cape Air
- China Airlines
- China Eastern
- Czech Airlines
- Garuda Indonesia
- Hawaiian Airlines
- ITA Airways
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air
- Middle Eastern Airlines (MEA)
- Vietnam Airlines
- Virgin Atlantic
- Xiamen Airlines
Previously, the MQD earning rates were far better for their Core Global Partners, but nowadays, they are generally the same. So previously, if you were trying to go from London to Dubai, it might have been better to book with Virgin Atlantic on the nonstop flight. But, with the new changes, booking with Saudia is better because there is a connection, which helps increase the distance therefore giving you more MQDs. For example, a roundtrip Virgin Atlantic, $754 ticket in Late October in X class would get you $684 in MQDs as it is 10% of the distance flown. But, a $588 ticket on Saudia would get you $722 in MQDs because it has a stopover in Riyadh.
Here are some of the basics:
- All Partners earn 25% flown miles as redeemable miles for all non-award flight fare classes
- All Partners earn MQDs based on distance flown (minimum 5%)
- All partners earn 25% of the distance flown as MQDs and 150% of the distance flown as SkyMiles
- Business class fares earn 30% of the distance flown as MQDs and 200% as SkyMiles
The ability to earn high amounts of MQDs in premium economy and business class, however, is where the real magic is. For example, this Air France premium economy ticket out of Vancouver isn’t half bad for earning miles. With the 150% SkyMile earning rate and 25% MQD earning rate, you’d accrue ~24,600 SkyMiles and ~$4100 MQDs on a journey of ~16,400 miles and $1650.
Sure, the ticket does cost $1,650. But if you’re interested in visiting Dubai and a Seattle-based Delta loyalist, it might be something to consider for a trip. Plus, you could likely use Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards to book the ticket and save the cash.
Saudia, for example, has some very attractive business fares. An example of this is NYC-RUH-CAI (15,024 miles flown round trip). The fare code if booked through Saudia is D. So if you look up the earnings chart on Delta’s site for Saudia you’ll see that flights in class D earn 30% of the distance flown in MQDs- so about $4506 in MQDs for a $3249 flight.
The main takeaway here is the MQD accrual. The ticket earns ~1.28x the cost in MQDs, which is what you can often achieve (and better) by booking tickets Delta partner flights.
Tips for Finding High-Value Delta Mileage Runs
Finding high-value mileage runs really boils down to two things:
- Flying with connections, as these increase the overall distance flown.
- Flying in at least the premium economy cabin, but preferably business (of course).
Mileage Run Ideas
You can sometimes find good economy fares, but who wants to fly that? Ew. You should really hunt for cheap business class with Delta Tier 1 partners. Although they aren’t a great airline, Aeromexico business class to Central or South America can work well. You can sometimes accrue over $3,000 in MQDs for under $1,000 spent. Not too shabby.
Another note: don’t restrict yourself to your home airport. If you live near an excellent hub like I do (hello, JFK), you probably don’t need to bother. But there are other times where a quick positioning hop to a different airport will let you take advantage of a cheap premium cabin ticket.
Final Thoughts: Delta Mileage Run Guide
Because of Delta’s recent changes, mileage runs are not as lucrative as they were previously. It is important to consider the costs of the mileage run versus the benefits. For example, if you only fly twice a year, it is probably not worth it to go through the hassle of finding cheap flights, flying them, etc. But, if you are quite close to earning Platinum or Diamond status and use it frequently, mileage runs can make a lot of sense.