With the recent news of Delta massively increasing its requirements for earning status in 2024, if you’ve had Delta status in the past, you might be wondering how much maintaining your status is going to cost…or if it even worth it.
For most Delta SkyMiles members, Delta’s changes to SkyMiles massively increase the cost to earn Medallion status in 2024 and beyond. Is it worth it? Here’s how I’m thinking about this.
My travel situation
I currently hold Delta Platinum Medallion status. For me, that’s the sweet spot. For the last several years, I’ve comfortably rolled over a ton of Medallion Qualifying Miles and, while I travel frequently, most of my travel is on my own dime.
Your travel situation will be different from mine, but my intent is to present my value calculation in a way that makes it easy for you to determine if going after Delta status is worth if for you.
The value of Delta elite status
It’s easy to get caught up in playing the status game, but I try to look at pursuing frequent flyer status dispassionately. At the end of the day, I’m buying (giving up value) for a set of (promised) benefits. Being a Delta Platinum Medallion isn’t really a part of my identity. For me, determining the value of Delta frequent flyer status comes down to two questions:
- What is the value I am getting from playing this game?
- What would I pay, in cash, at the beginning of the year, for a year of these benefits?
Here’s how I think about each element of the Delta SkyMiles value proposition:
- Unlimited complimentary upgrades. Delta upgrades used to be a huge perk of the SkyMiles program. When I traveled for business, I could almost count on an upgrade as a Diamond. Today, most seats in first class are either sold outright or are sold as paid upgrades prior to departure. Most Diamonds I know only get upgraded to first class occasionally. I think that, as a Platinum Medallion who flies a few times a month, I think I’ve been upgraded around five times in the last year. Upgrades are nice when they come, but I no longer consider this a meaningful benefit.
- Delta Comfort+ seating. Delta markets this as an “upgrade,” but Comfort+ and other products like it are just a coach seat with extra legroom. These seats with extra legroom used to be available almost universally to anyone with frequent flyer status. United and American still offer access to these extra-legroom seats at booking for all but their entry-level elites. Delta will only clear its high-level Diamond and Platinum members into these seats after booking, if it chooses to make them available. Still, I’m able to get seated in Comfort+ at booking on more than half of my flights, so this benefit is probably worth a few hundred dollars a year… what I might otherwise pay for this seating as a non-elite.
- Earning additional miles for flights. With Delta (and now most of the U.S. domestic airlines) you earn redeemable miles based on the amount you spend on your flights. Most frequent flyer program members earn most of their miles through credit card spending. I’m in the same boat. This doesn’t really count for much for me.
- Waived checked baggage fees. I’m on team checked bag and this is a benefit I use. But this is also one of the cheapest benefits I can buy. I just need to hold an entry-level Delta credit card for $99/year.
- Platinum and Diamond choice benefits. Platinum and Diamond members get to choose a certain number of “choice benefits” like upgrade certificates, miles, Delta gift cards, and merchandise. At launch, the upgrade certificates were the most interesting benefit of the Medallion program and the global upgrade certificate were easy to use. These days, I know many Delta Diamond medallions who have had global upgrade certificates expire because they simply couldn’t use them. At the end of the day, my one Platinum choice benefit is worth about $200 in Delta travel credit.
- SkyTeam lounge access when traveling internationally. Lounge access when traveling internationally used to be a great perk of status. In 2022, this was taken away. You can still get into international SkyTeam lounges when you’re traveling internationally as a SkyTeam Elite Plus member (Gold status or higher on Delta) but Delta won’t let you into of any of its SkyClubs. Enough international airport have Priority Pass lounges and I fly international business class often enough that I no longer value this benefit.
- Waived same-day confirmed fees. I actually value this benefit more than most. When I have some flexibility, I will book the cheapest flight on the day I want to travel and then same-day confirm it to the flight I actually want to take. This benefit saves me several hundred dollars a year.
At the end of the day, without trying to get too precise, Delta Platinum Medallion status is worth a few hundred dollars a year to me. Would I cut Delta a $500 check each year for these benefits? Probably. $1,000? Maybe. $2,000? Nope.
What will it take to get 2024 Delta Medallion status?
So, what will it take to get Delta frequent flyer status in 2024 now that Delta is changing the program. Before we look at the cost to get Delta Medallion status, here’s a high-level summary of how the program is changing.
- Starting with the 2024 qualification year, Delta is moving to a single metric for determining your frequent flyer status level: Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs.)
- You can earn MQDs in three ways:
- Earn 1 MQD for each $1 you spend on Delta-marketed flights. Only the base fare (not taxes and fees) counts. And Basic Economy fares don’t count.
- Earn 1 MQD for each $1 you spend on car rentals and hotel stays booked through Delta’s website.
- Earn 1 MQD for every $20 you spend on a Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or 1 MQD from every $10 you spend on a Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. (You earn a similar amount on your spending on the small business variants of either card.)
- Rollover MQMs will be eliminated. If you have rollover miles for the 2024 qualification year, you’ll be able to convert them into redeemable miles at a 2:1 ratio (2 rollover MQMs get you 1 redeemable mile) or into MQDs at a 20:1 ratio (20 rollover MQMs get you 1 MQD.)
Thinking about cost of earning Medallion status
I would imagine that most people are in the same boat as me. They spend a moderate amount on Delta travel each year, but not enough to meet Delta’s new MQD requirements. Maybe they were meeting the previous MQD thresholds or using using Delta’s Amex credit cards to spend $25,000 a year and earn a MQD waiver.
If this sounds like you, you’re likely going to have to jump through some hoops if you want to keep your status with Delta.
Delta’s solution is to bring your travel and other spending into its channels. Book your hotels and car rentals through Delta’s portal. Book more Delta vacations. Put all of your spending on Delta credit cards. But the part of the equation that they leave out is the very real cost of booking this.
How I’m calculating the cash value of Delta miles
There’s a lot of debate about what miles are actually worth. I tend to think in terms of cash. What would be a reasonable market price for Delta SkyMiles?
- When I redeem miles, I can usually get 1.5 cents worth of Delta travel out of each of them. (10,000 miles usually gets me about $150 worth of Delta tickets.) I have a Delta credit card that gets me the Take15Off benefit, which I’m assuming that everyone who would be chasing Delta status would have.
- $100 of Delta flight credit is not the same as $100 of cash (or even $100 worth of flexible travel credits).
- Major U.S. airline gift cards can usually be resold for about 80% of face value. I discount the “Delta value” of my miles by this amount to get a cash value.
In this article, I’ll refer to this cash value of Delta SkyMiles, which ends up being 1.2 cents per point.
Booking hotels and car rentals through Delta
Delta wants you to book your hotel stays and car rentals through its website. Simply, the company earns a generous commission (likely around 30% of the total booking price) when you do. But is that the best place to book your hotels? Almost certainly not.
I’ve only called out hotel bookings below, but car rentals work similarly.
Alternative 1: Booking hotels directly through the hotel’s website
There’s a good chance you should be chasing hotel elite status if you travel for work and frequently stay at the same hotel brands. Hotel elite status can earn you more rewards, get you better treatment, and provide perks like room upgrades and free breakfasts. But there’s a catch. You usually must book your stays directly through the hotel brand’s website.
When you book your hotel stays through Delta, you’re giving all of this up. Instead of providing you benefits, the hotel provides Delta a generous commission. Consequently, most hotels do not honor any elite benefits for stays booked through third parties. How much this is worth to you will vary greatly depending on how much you travel, whether you’re expensing your meals, and how much you value perks like room upgrades. For the purposes of this article, we’re not placing a monetary value on hotel elite status.
If you want to maximize rewards on hotel stays, you’re usually best booking your stays directly through the hotel’s website and using the hotel brand’s loyalty credit card to make your booking. Let’s look how this plays out in dollar terms. As an example, let’s say I book a $1,000 Hyatt hotel stay through the Hyatt website using my World of Hyatt credit card. Here’s what I’ll earn:
- 5 base points per dollar spent for being a World of Hyatt member (5,000 points)
- 4 bonus points per dollar for stays charged to a World of Hyatt credit card (4,000 points)
I am able to consistently get around two cents worth of hotel stays out of each of my Hyatt points. Hyatt points aren’t cash, so I’m discounting this amount by 80% to turn it into a cash-equivalent, making these 9,000 points worth $144. This is in addition to any benefits I might get from status with the hotel.
Bottom line earnings: I would earn $144 of rewards when I use a Hyatt credit card and book a $1,000 Hyatt stay directly through the hotel’s website. Plus, I’ll earn credit toward hotel elite status and receive hotel status benefits during your stay. You are likely to earn similar rewards and benefits with most major hotel chains.
Alternative 2: Booking hotels through a portal like Capital One Travel
If you’re not chasing hotel elite status and you stay at a variety of hotel brands, you might prefer to book through a bank portal or a site that offers a discount on your hotel stay. You won’t earn any hotel points or get any elite benefits by booking this way, but booking through a bank portal (or an online travel agency that offers a generous discount) is the best way to maximize value with hotels if you’re not brand loyal. Here are some options:
- The Chase Sapphire Reserve card earns 10 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar spent on prepaid hotel reservations through Chase Travel.
- The Capital One Venture X Rewards card earns 10 Venture Miles per dollar spent on hotels booked through Capital One Travel.
- The Amex Platinum card earns 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar when you book prepaid hotel stays through its portal.
- Booking.com offers 10-20% discounts through its Genius program.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your $1,000 hotel stay would earn you 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points, which can be redeemed for $150 worth of travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards when you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve card. You can increase this value by transferring your points to travel transfer partners and booking sweet-spot awards, but we’ll use the $150 value toward Chase Ultimate Rewards bookings for simplicity.
Bottom line earnings: You’ll earn $150 worth of points good toward travel rewards when you book a $1,000 stay through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Alternative 3: Booking through Delta’s portal
Like booking through a bank portal, when you book through Delta’s portal, you’ll give up any elite benefits you hold through your hotel status and you won’t earn hotel points or elite night credits for your hotel stay. You’ll only earn Delta miles and MQDs for your stay.
Assuming the best case scenario, you’re Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or a Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card. Both of these cards earn three Delta SkyMiles per dollar you spend on hotels. When you book a $1,000 hotel stay through the Delta portal, here’s what you’ll earn.
- 3 SkyMiles per dollar spent on your hotel booking (3,000 miles.)
- 50 Medallion Qualifying Dollars.
Bottom line earnings: You’ll earn $36 of value in rewards when you book a $1,000 stay through Delta’s portal, plus 50 MQDs.
Cost of putting general spending on your Delta SkyMiles credit card
When it comes to general spending, the cost of swiping your Delta credit card is much simpler to calculate.
There are many credit cards with no annual fee that earn 2% cash back rewards on every purchase. If you don’t have one of these cards in your wallet, you should. It make a great “everywhere else” credit card. And it’s a good idea to think of 2% cash back as the opportunity cost of putting spending on any credit card.
- If you put $10,000 of spending on a card that earns 2% cash back or equivalent awards, you’ll earn $200 in cash rewards that you can spend anywhere.
- If you put $10,000 of general spending on a Delta credit card, you’ll earn 10,000 Delta SkyMiles, worth about $120.
Bottom line: For every $10,000 of spending you put on your Delta credit card, you’re losing $120 worth of rewards.
Summing it all up
Assuming that you don’t meet Delta’s MQD requirements solely by flying on Delta and its partners, you’ll need to find a way to make up your MQD deficit. Whether you choose to book your hotels and car rentals through Delta or simply spend more on your Delta credit card, here’s what those MQDs will cost you:
|Hotels and car rentals||General spending|
|How to earn 10,000 MQDs||Book $10,000 of hotel stays through Delta’s portal.||Spend $200,000 on a Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card|
|Opportunity cost of 10,000 MQDs|
(Value you give up to earn 10,000 MQDs)
|$1,500+ of Chase Ultimate Rewards or|
$1,440 of hotel rewards, plus elite status qualification and benefits
|$4,000 of cash back rewards|
Assuming you would otherwise put spending on a 2% cash back card.
|Delta rewards earned||$360 worth of Delta miles|
(30,000 redeemable miles)
|$2,400 worth of Delta miles|
(200,000 redeemable miles)
|Cost to earn 10,000 MQDs||$1,140|
Plus you forfeit any benefits from hotel elite status.
My bottom line: Chasing Delta status isn’t worth it.
I fly a lot, but I travel opportunistically. Most of my travel is on Delta is domestic discount fares in coach. When I’m traveling internationally, I mostly use my Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Points to book international business and first class travel using transfer partners. I will probably spend a few thousand dollars on Delta flights naturally during the year, but I’m expecting that I’ll need to find a way to get around 15,000 MQDs if I want to keep Platinum Medallion status.
Ultimately, that means giving up the equivalent of $2,400 in cash value if I want to keep my Delta frequent flyer status. For same-day confirmed and a handful of upgrades to first class each year, the value doesn’t seem worth it. I will almost certainly come out ahead by simply booking the cheapest flight based on schedule and price.