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With Changes to Earning Status, Delta Gives the Mileage Run One Last Hurrah

Back when Delta first unveiled its unpopular plans to shake up how travelers earn elite status, Tim Koyonen had accepted that next year likely would be his last as a top-tier Diamond Medallion member. Like many loyal Delta flyers, he started thinking about what a post-Delta future would look like.

Yet earlier this month, Koyonen got home from a cross-country trip that would lock in his Diamond status … until early 2028. Even if he never sets foot on a Delta jet again.

“Let’s buy my status as far as I can out, and then see what changes,” Koyonen said of his mindset. “I'm locked in.”

It's an extreme example of how many Delta flyers are turning the airline's controversial changes to their advantage. And while Delta will join the rest of the big U.S. airlines in finally killing off the mileage run next year, one of the olive branches the airline offered to ultra-frequent flyers after this fall's uproar ensures the mileage run will go out with a bang in 2023.
 

delta free wi-fi test 

Read more: Delta Tweaks Medallion Status Requirements & Sky Club Policies After Uproar

 

How Delta is Fueling the Mileage Runs for 2023

Once a fixture among savvy (and sometimes crazed) frequent flyers, the mileage run – taking a flight just to earn miles, status, or both – has been fading away for more than a decade. But it's not dead just yet.

Airlines at home and abroad have steadily shifted away from rewarding travelers for how far they fly, focusing instead on how much they spend. Long gone are the days when a long, cheap flight could pad your balance of miles. Ditto for the usual end-of-year rush to book one last flight to get over the hump for status.

That shift away from measuring mileage was at the heart of Delta's botched overhaul of Medallion Status as the airline will instead focus only on the almighty Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) for status. Come 2024, it's all about spending – and a lot of it.

Months after tweaking its initial proposal due to backlash, it's still tough to keep track of exactly what's changing. Let's take a step back:

  • The airline is drastically increasing how much Delta flyers need to spend each year to earn status, up to $5,000 (5,000 MQDs) a year for low-level Silver status and as much as $28,000 (28,000 MQDs) for the top Diamond tier
  • A tidy workaround to bypass those airline spending requirements by spending $25,000 or more a year on select Delta Amex credit cards (the MQD waiver) is disappearing
  • Instead, travelers with the *delta skymiles platinum card* or *delta reserve card* (or their small business versions) will get a 2,500 MQD head start for each card, then earn more MQDs for their everyday spending
  • The airline is doing away with Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) altogether – tracking your annual mileage no longer matters starting in 2024
  • But travelers who have earned more MQMs than what they need for next year's status can roll over their excess mileage one last time, turning them into redeemable SkyMiles or MQDs … or, best of all, turn 100,000 of those rollover MQMs into an automatic year extension of their current status. 

That final point inadvertently opened the door for some incredibly valuable mileage runs for Delta flyers across the country before the year ends and a whole new system takes hold. It's a one-time opportunity in 2023 only … but one that frequent flyers (or heavy spenders) can use to secure status for several additional years.

“We have heard from many members who had long-term plans for Rollover MQMs, and we are pleased to share more generous options for converting Rollover MQM balances beginning in early 2024,” Dwight James, Delta's senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty, said in an October email to SkyMiles members.
 

delta mqm rollover chart 

In Minnesota, Koyonen saw that new rollover option and immediately started scheming how he could leverage it to extend his Diamond status as far as possible.

 

A Cross-Country Mileage Run for Status

Between once-a-month Delta flights for work and (more importantly) absurd amounts of corporate and personal spending on his Delta SkyMiles Amex cards, Koyonen hadn't just earned the 125,000 MQMs he needed to earn top Delta status for next year. He was just shy of 400,000 MQMs heading into the end of the year.

If he could push above 425,000 with a last-minute trip this fall, Koyonen could parlay the 300,000 difference into three additional years of Diamond status.

“I’m the kind of guy that plays the game: What can we maximize here?” Koyonen said.

So he pieced together a trip across the country: A flight to Boston (BOS) to catch a Celtics game followed by a quick hop down to New York City (JFK), then a cross-country flight in Delta One Suites over to Los Angeles (LAX) to visit friends before heading home. After that trip and his next credit card statement closed, he had all the MQMs he'd need for that three-year extension of Diamond status.
 

delta one suite 

Some travelers are planning digital mileage runs instead, leaning even more heavily on credit card spending: select Delta SkyMiles cards currently give you bonus Medallion Qualifying Miles for spending in hefty increments. At Frequent Miler, Greg Davis-Kean wrote about his plan to lock up seven full years of Diamond status … by spending nearly $200,000 on Delta credit cards by the end of the year.

But for Koyonen, his second-ever mileage run was a no-brainer. In addition to securing his Diamond perks for years, he hit Delta's vaunted Million Miler status on his flight back to Minnesota. Plus, it was just a fun trip.

“I just made it a travel experience. I felt it was a big win,” he said. “I hit my max with Delta and now it’s just cruise control.”

For Keith Van, the prospect of heading off on a trip later this month to get another year's extension of his own Diamond status felt familiar. He “used to do a lot of mileage runs back when it made sense,” including a trip to earn American Airlines' top status many years ago through Europe, Singapore, and over to Sydney (SYD) – all in economy.
 

mileage run map
A mileage run so crazy it can't fit on the map, courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

Van won't need to do something so outlandish this year. If he doesn't naturally fly the last few thousand miles he needs to secure that extra year extension for a work trip or to visit family, he'll book a quick Delta flight to cross that threshold before the year is over.

Van is more than happy to take advantage of the loophole Delta is creating, which he views as a necessity to appease the customers who rack up hundreds of thousands of miles a year with the airline. But that doesn't mean Delta won back his loyalty for life. It's a calculated decision.

“It wasn’t, for me, falling back in love with Delta. It was about: ‘Hey, how can I use this to my advantage?'” Van said. “Once you’ve changed the relationship, you can’t go back to the way it was.”
 

What Happens Next?

Koyonen, Van, and others like them with big plans for all their Delta mileage aren't on the clock just yet.

A Delta spokesperson told Thrifty Traveler that the airline plans to launch a dedicated page in early February, allowing Medallion members to decide how to roll over MQMs. There are a few options:

  • Travelers with 100,000 MQMs or more can extend their current status by one year for every 100,000 MQMs.
  • Medallion members can turn rollover MQMs into Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) for a head start on next year's status on a 10:1 basis, so 80,000 MQMs could become 8,000 MQDs.
  • You can convert them into redeemable SkyMiles at a 2:1 rate – 80,000 MQMs would get you 40,000 SkyMiles.
  • You can mix and match, so Koyonen could turn his 340,000-some rollover MQMs into a three-year extension of Diamond status, then turn the remaining 40,000 miles into 4,000 MQDs or 20,000 SkyMiles.

SkyMiles members will have until Dec. 31, 2024, to lock in their choices. But that selection is binding: Once it's made, it can't be undone. 

Oh, and there's one other hitch. Travelers who extend their status can't double-dip by earning status again next year: A Delta spokesman confirmed there will not be “an extension of the extension.”

On one hand, precious few flyers will be in the position to take advantage of these potential status extensions with a mileage run to begin with: It requires flying hundreds of thousands of miles with Delta, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on an Amex card, or both. And it'll only be possible before 2023 comes to a close, after which Delta officially stops measuring travelers' mileage and kills off the mileage run for good.

On the other hand, there are likely more passengers than ever in that boat. Delta CEO Ed Bastian claimed this fall that the ranks of top-tier Diamond Medallions had doubled since the pandemic.

Throwing them a bone was critical. But was it enough?

As a hub captive in Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), Koyonen can't pretend like he'll start flying other carriers. But with four-plus years of Delta Diamond status in the bag, Koyonen said he's already thinking about how he might shift his spending away from the Delta credit cards that have been at the top of his wallet for years.

For Van, the chance to extend his Diamond status was nothing more than a financial decision: A cheap way to lock in another year of more upgrades, Delta Choice Benefits, and other perks. After that, he'll probably be a free agent, he said.

“They’ve made it a transactional relationship. For us, as passengers, we’re encouraged to do the same,” Van said. “The loyalty is no longer part of the equation anymore.”

 

29 Responses

    • Similarly, my wife and I have been Delta Devotees as Diamond for many years by topping the AmEx Card levels for miles. Unfortunately several years ago the top tier annual leve spend requirement jumped tenfold from $25,000 to $250,000. That increased level was just too extreme for both of us to attain in one year. So, just one of us made the cut last year. But now with 3 million miles, you get lifetime Diamond Tier, and we reap the benefits of Diamond again. All those years of flying solely on Northwest & Delta have finally made it worthwhile again for us. Unfortunately though, not many flyers have that many miles to breath freely, and the struggle will only get harder as time passes.
      ProClocks

  • I’m honestly tired of the whining. My husband and I became Delta loyal two years ago, we live in Seattle so our choice is really free agent, Delta, or the big hometown hero Alaska. I initially chose Delta because I was trying to do the opposite of what everyone else seemed to be doing which was choosing Alaska, but I fell in love with Delta’s service and their culture. This will be my first year achieving Delta’s silver medallion status and I couldn’t be more pleased with Delta’s decision to focus on spending versus miles flown. My husband and I both are coming into our peak earning years and that means that we can afford to buy business and first class tickets outright and I agree that that spending should be more valued by Delta than the number of miles that you fly. I am also loyal to a particular resort group in Las Vegas and my status at that resort is not based on how often I visit or how long I spend in one of their properties, my status that I have to earn twice yearly is how much money I put on the tables and into their machines. It makes sense – someone who comes into their casino and just plays penny slots for 10 hours a day once a month should not be at a higher status than somebody who comes maybe once every 3 months and drops some serious coin. Why should an airline be any different? And all of these people who say Delta, you’re doing us dirty, this isn’t fair, I’m going to start looking at other airlines I say go for it! Make more room in the sky club for me and my husband and make more seats available for purchase in the first class cabin. I’m not Delta loyal because of some amazing incentive program, I’m Delta loyal because they do service right, they’re on time percentage is above most other airlines on the routes that I fly, they have a good mix of aircraft and as silly as it may seem, while I do travel with multiple gadgets, I do very much appreciate a monitor in the seat back in front of me. Occasionally I do need to take flights on other airlines for various reasons and every time I do, I am disappointed with either the service or the delays or the aircraft or its condition. So again, I am just tired of the whining and if people want to go somewhere else, so be it I hope they get what they pay for!

      • Exactly Gary lol. Also for someone who’s been loyal for the past “2 years” and just earned Silver Medallion, she shouldn’t even be able to speak about the new program because she has no idea what true loyalists have been through to get to the status’ we’ve paid for and earned as well. If folks are “whining” it’s for damn sure a good reason and a pretty penny too lol.

    • Let me explain why people are whining. I have been at the top tier of Delta’s status for 30 years. I planned my life and career travel around their status requirements. But after 3 million miles, they have changed the rules 20 times. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars extra to stay loyal to Delta in order to earn a handful of upgrades, etc. So we have every right to complain when they don’t fulfill their end of the bargain.

  • Hello! This is a great summary of the unique opportunity of a late 2023 mileage run to max out MQMs for rollover status. I’m not clear what you mean, however, by this statement:

    “…Oh, and there’s one other hitch. Travelers who extend their status can’t double-dip by earning status again next year: A Delta spokesman confirmed there will not be “an extension of the extension.”

    Is this meant to cover the (unlikely) event that someone has rollover status, but also earns status, therefore might have qualified for two (2) sets of choice benefits? Does it mean one cannot start earning status again once the rollover status(es) have expired (that would not be good for loyalty)? Or something else?

    Thanks

    • So let’s say you’ve earned Diamond Status this year (through January 2025) and also use 100,000 rollover MQMs for an automatic year extension (through January 2026). If you were to earn 28,000 MQDs in 2024, you would not push that extension out to January 2027 – nor would you earn two sets of Choice Benefits.

      So while it’s not great for loyalty, per se … it IS great because it free you up to fly (and, more importantly, spend!) however you want!

      • “You can mix and match, so Koyonen could turn his 340,000-some rollover MQMs into a three-year extension of Diamond status, then turn the remaining 40,000 miles into 4,000 MQDs or 20,000 SkyMiles.”

        What would be the reason to take the MQDs for 2024 spend/2025-status if you already have 2025 status from the 100k? You basically have to convert the remaining MqMs to miles after a 100k status extension, right?

          • One reason is if you’re only platinum through 2024 and want a chance at diamond. If you convert your 100k mqm to 10k mqd, you’ve got a great chance to get diamond for 2025 vs platinum.

  • I love Delta. I fly seversl.of my employees at The Carpet Guys on Delta flights someplace warm to reward them for their hard work and dedication during the winter months. Out of DTW we have spirit, American, Dta, southwest, and Fromtier all with direct flights to South Florida. DELTA is usually 5he highestbprice of the bunch but well worth it for the great service

  • Delta is the most overrated of the big four. I am not saying any of the others are better, only that Delta is nothing special. They have managed to disappoint me to the point where I avoid.

  • I agree with Gary you are the one whining. Clearly you do not fully understand the medallion program and the depth of the changes. My Delta Loyalty is 40 cross country flights this year(exclusively Delta). I have deep appreciation for Delta’s culture and service. The new Delta program disregards loyalty and makes it transactional.

  • Did a mileage run to Florence Italy and back with my daughter two weeks ago in the lie-flats for essentially the same reason. Purely transactional, because it will allow me to divert another year of card spend, but fun as well. Amex better get ready for a steep drop-off in the use of their branded cards.

  • So if I spend 30k on my Amex Delta Reserve card in 2024 on non delta airlines purchases, what if any medallion level would I have for 2025?

    • $30,000 on your Delta Reserve Card would earn you 3,000 MQDs. Combined with the 2,500 MQD bonus you get for simply holding the Delta Reserve, you’d have enough for the lowest Silver Status.

  • I like the change. I’ll make diamond with no card spend for the next 3 years. And with a 2500 mqd bonus for having an Amex I really won’t have to spend that much more per year than I do now. And if that doubles for having a personal and business card I will actually have to spend less per year than now. I’m MSP based and fly Delta exclusively. I’ll pay more to ride with them. I’ve flown American a few times as a guest of another business and the equipment was old no seat back screen etc. Flew to Santiago Chile in September on a virtually brand new Airbus A350 in Delta One. Service is exceptional. Less Diamond Medallion members will mean more free upgrades. I’ll fly with Delta for years to come.

  • Kyle will excess MQDs roll over every year going forward? Or will you start at zero every year no matter how many MQDs you had? If so I can use a different credit card to earn points and then use those points to buy tickets on Delta. Will still be a free flight but will get MQDs as a result. Also will MQDs still be awarded if you use miles for your flight instead of purchasing it?

    • No, excess MQDs will not roll over – you’ll set back to zero Jan. 1 every year. You do earn MQDs when booking flights with SkyMiles, but it’s not much: 100:1 for every SkyMile you redeem. So a 25,000 SkyMile trip gets you 250 MQDs.

      • Thanks for the info!! Great website by the way!! Will all work perfect for me. I will be diamond for the next 3 years can bank points on a different card during that time to buy delta flights and get MQDs, reducing the card spend I need every year to get diamond down the road. Only problem will be I will have less miles in my Sky Miles account if I’m not using my Delta Amex as much. Thanks for the article!!!

  • If I understand this correctly, if I need to have a minimum of 225K MQMs to take advantage of this offer. In that case, the first 125K of MQMs will apply to my 2024 status (already earned) and the remaining 100K can be used to earn 2025 Diamond status even if I don’t spend a single dollar on my Delta Reserve card in 2024.

    If we value skymiles at a penny a piece, it is costing us $500 to get a year of Diamond medallion without doing anything else. That’s quite a deal. I’m at 219K MQMs and may have to do a quick mileage run in the next week…

    If so, I’ll switch all my card spending in 2024 to my Amex Business Platinum and come back to the Delta Reserve in 2025 to earn MQDs for 2026. Won’t several people with rollover MQMs then essentially stop their Reserve spending in 2024 since it gets us nothing?

    Or am I understanding this wrong?

  • “For Van, the chance to extend his Diamond status was nothing more than a financial decision: A cheap way to lock in another year of more upgrades, Delta Choice Benefits, and other perks.”

    Will people who extend status under this program receive Delta Choice benefits for each year they rollover MQM’s for matching status?

  • I came to Delta from Northwest and boy did they clip my million mile status… I had 4 million miles on Northwest which was reduced to 1.8 million for Delta. So they’ve burned me once already. And there seems to be no more “lifetime status” ability. I’ve been Diamond since the merger. As a DTW hub flier if you want direct there just aren’t a lot of other choices. I have 425,000 MQMs to convert so I should have 4 years to figure it out. I fly business class to international destinations a lot so it usually requires a connection anyway. I’ll probably start doing repositioning flights to other cities and fly airlines like Qatar and Singapore where the service is far superior and the fares are actually cheaper than Delta.

  • I have about 300,000 SkyMiles banked. Have been saving for a big family blow-out. I’m wondering how best to save and use them now. Are you saying I can “buy” 3 years of higher medallion status with them?

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