How to Hit Delta MQD Status Requirements While Spending Less Cash

Delta MQD

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The end of the year is right around the corner and you’re analyzing your Delta account, trying to figure out how to hit your next Medallion Status level for 2019. There are two ingredients to Delta status: taking flights and spending money.

But what if I told you that you didn’t have to spend all those Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) dollars Delta requires, but still get that status?

Hang with me for a minute, and I’ll explain how you can do it while spending a fraction of the requirements.


The Basics of Delta Status

First things first: Let’s cover some basics of Delta status and how to get it.

We tell readers that Delta status – or status with any airline – isn’t for everyone. Even the lowest levels of Delta status require a fair amount travel.

Average travelers are unlikely to even scratch the surface of hitting Silver Medallion status, the airline’s lowest tier. If you travel a fair amount for work – or fly international long-haul with Delta or a partner – that could do the trick.

There are two critical pieces to get status with Delta: flying and spending. You have to rack up a certain amount of miles on Delta flights (called Medallion Qualifying Miles or MQMs, which are different than SkyMiles) or a sheer number of flight segments, plus a spending requirement.


Delta MQD


Here’s a brief rundown on what it takes to climb the status ladder:

  • Silver Medallion Status: 25,000 MQMs OR 30 flights (called Medallion Qualifying Segments) AND $3,000 in spending on Delta or partner flights
  • Gold Medallion Status: 50,000 MQMs OR 60 Medallion Qualifying Segments AND $6,000 in spending on Delta or partner flights
  • Platinum Medallion Status: 75,000 MQMs OR 100 Medallion Qualifying Segments AND $9,000 in spending on Delta or partner flights
  • Diamond Medallion Status: 125,000 MQMs OR 140 Medallion Qualifying Segments AND $15,000 in spending on Delta or partner flights


When you book a flight through Delta, your MQMs and MQDs hit your account after you take the flight. MQMs are based on miles flown and MQDs are based on the money you spent on the flight. It’s a simple equation: Each $1 gets you 1 MQD.

There’s a workaround for the spending requirement: Put $25,000 on an American Express Delta credit card. That works for all but Delta’s highest Diamond Medallion Status, which requires an absurd $250,000 in card spend to get the waiver.

But this loophole could be even better.


Use Partner Airlines to Get Ahead 

When you book a flight with Delta, every $1 you spend gets you 1 MQD. But that’s not how it works with Delta’s partner airlines. And this is where things get fun.

You can fly on Air France or KLM, Korean Air or China Eastern and keep earning Delta SkyMiles – and build on status. One of the benefits of airline alliances like SkyTeam is that these partnerships allow flyers to choose where they want to earn miles and status.

And when you book a flight through a Delta partner, the Delta MQDs you can earn are not based on the dollar amount you spent on the flight. They actually have nothing to do with the price tag of your flight. Instead, it’s calculated by distance flown multiplied by something called a fare class multiplier – a higher fare class means a larger multiplier.

It’s a critical difference. And while you’ll still have to spend some money, these partnerships mean you can spend far less and still build Delta status.


Delta Partner Airline Rules

Each of Delta’s 20-plus partner airline has their own earning rates for SkyMiles members. To find out what a specific airline partner earns, open the drop-down menu for that airline partner on Delta’s homepage and click on the button that says “Mileage earn on/after Jan. 1, 2018.”


Delta MQD


You’ll get a page like this:


Delta MQD


Here you can see that on a Discounted Economy ticket on KLM, you’d earn 100% of the MQMs towards status, but will only earn MQDs equal to 10% multiplied by your distance flown. If you purchase a J-fare class Business Ticket, you’d get 200% of the MQMs on the flight, and your MQDs will total 40% multiplied by your distance flown.

Be sure to read the rules and fine print for each airline, as each partner has different rules. For example, if you read through the bottom of Hawaiian Airlines below, you will see that only flights within the State of Hawaii earn elite credits.


Delta MQD
This all may seem like a headache. Maybe I’ve already lost you.

But if you’re trying to hit status and are short on MQDs, using partner airlines is a no-brainer. This fall, I took a trip and earned 3,136 MQDs on a ticket that only cost $1043.43. That’s over three times the value I would have earned from booking the same ticket through Delta directly. Here’s how to do it:


Research Partner Airlines and MQD Earnings

If you are flying a partner airline in hopes of maximizing your MQD earnings, flying in Premium Economy can be your sweet spot. This is the best bang for your buck, maximizing MQDs while minimizing the cash cost of the ticket.

In looking at my Delta account, I was about 3,000 MQDs and 15,000 MQMs short of hitting Diamond Status – the Holy Grail for Delta flyers. By using Google Flights, I narrowed down my search results to only show Delta partners and their pricing for Premium Economy tickets round trip from Los Angeles (LAX), Seattle (SEA), and San Fransisco (SFO).


Delta MQD
I found six possible destinations I could get to for around $1,000. I decided on heading to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia (BKI) flying China Southern, with a layover and cabin change in Guangzhou, China (CAN).


Pick Your Flight And Calculate Your MQDs

Once you’ve found a potential flight, it’s time to see about how many MQDs you will actually earn from this journey. You could do the math yourself, but who has time for that? This unofficial MQM calculator is a great resource to do that work for you.


Delta MQD
From this, it looks like I will earn approximately 7,279 MQMs from the LAX-CAN segment and another 1,186 MQMs from the CAN-BKI connection.  During the booking phase with the airline,  you can see the booking code your ticket is under. You’ll need it to crunch the numbers.


Delta MQD

China Southern Delta SkyMiles Earnings


I had a Premium Economy (S) ticket for my segments from LAX to CAN and back. For my flight from CAN to BKI and back, I was booked in an Economy (P) ticket. Using the chart above, you can see that a Premium Economy (S) fare on China Southern earns 100% MQMs and 20% MQDs, based on the distance flown.

Here is where some math comes in to calculate how many MQDs I could earn. It’s easy, I promise. It looks like this: (MQMs earned X # of Segments) X MQD Earning Rate

So for my round-trip ticket, I worked it out like this: (7,279 MQMs x 2) x .2 = 2,911.6 MQDs, plus 14,558 MQMs, for the trip between LAX and CAN. For the connecting flights between CAN and BKI, it was: (1,186 MQMs x 2) x .1 = 237.20 MQDs, and another 593 MQMs.

For the whole trip, I’d spend $1,043 and earn close to 3,149 MQDs. Had I booked through Delta, I’d earn far less than that for the same expense.  So yeah, I booked with China Southern.


Booking the Partner Flight

My starting point was actually in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), so I booked a separate round-trip flight with Delta MSP to LAX. By purchasing these flights separately, I could capitalize on Delta’s partner award charts and earnings.

Below you can see the price paid below for our flights from LAX-BKI round trip. And yes, I did drag someone else along with me for this mileage and MQD run. That’s what family is for, right?


Delta MQD


Enjoy Your Trip (And Check Your Balance)

Now it’s time to kick back, relax, and take advantage of all of the luxuries of a Premium Economy Cabin. And then check your Delta account.

I had calculated I would earn 3,149 MQD’s and about 15,151 MQM’s total for my trip. So how close was my math? Here’s a snapshot of my Delta account.


Delta MQD

Outbound Flight Earnings


Delta MQD

Inbound Flight Earnings


The grand total: 15,689 MQMs and 3,136 MQDs. 3,136 MQDs, when I only paid $1043.43. Again, that’s far more than what I’d get had I booked a similar flight with Delta. Learn from me: This is the way to go if you’re in a serious crunch to earn MQDs.


Bottom Line

Hitting some of the steep MQD requirements for Delta’s Medallion status can be tough. And it’s almost impossible depending on what status level you are trying to hit.

But utilizing Delta partner airlines and their earnings charts can help you squeeze more out of your money while spending less. If you have a good chunk needed to get to the next status level before the end of the year, Delta partners are the way to go.


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Lead photo credit to Grant Rupkalvis

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews, or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

6 Responses

  1. Kevin D says:

    Couple questions:
    1.) Would you still earn based off the partner chart if you book through a partner on a Delta operated flight? and
    2.) Did you have to book the LAX to CAN and CAN to BKI flights separately to get the different cabin options, or could you do it on one itinerary?

    • Janelle Rupkalvis says:

      Hi Kevin!
      To your first question: At this time I am unsure as it seems like a major loophole if so, but there are logistical challenges Delta faces in obtaining this information, so it may be possible. I am working on getting this answer though! I have a flight in March to test this out. Stay tuned.
      Second, the LAX to CAN and CAN to BKI flights were all booked together, on the same itinerary. This was actually just the option that Google Flights presented to me when I went to go book the ticket. Hope this helps!

      • Kevin D in MSP says:

        Thanks for the reply! How will I see if it works; Will you be posting another article in March? Also, is this your first article with TT? If so, looks like I am your first commenter! Keep up the good work 🙂

        • Janelle Rupkalvis says:

          If it works, I would definitely foresee a follow-up post! And yes, this is my first article with TT. Expect to see more in the future! 🙂

  2. Kate says:

    I just want to point out that it doesn’t always work in your favor. I frequently fly AF/KLM routes to Africa, most of which are quite expensive even in discount economy. I routinely earn <1000 MQDs on $2000+ tickets. (and if any DL execs are reading here, please don't change the partner MQDs! It's the main reason I fly DL rather than United/*Alliance or other airlines)

    • Janelle Rupkalvis says:

      Kate, you are aboslutley right that in flying in the discounted economy your MQD’s earned are much less. For KLM, it is a 5% fare multiplier on discounted economy vs. a 25% fare multiplier in full economy. That is why utilizing the reward charts on Delta’s website is crucial if you are flying to earn MQD’s!

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