The Beauty Of The Rollover Mile

Friday Travis posted about “status runs,” i.e., mileage runs you might take solely for the purpose of qualifying for the next tier or elite status in a given airline program.

Travis concluded that status runs were really only useful at the margins. That’s true… if you’re gunning for status on United or American. If you’re aiming for Medallion status on Delta, status runs are a bit different, because the Rollover Mile is your friend.

What’s A Rollover Mile?

Delta is unique among global carriers for giving its members “rollover miles.” While Delta’s SkyMiles program gets a lot of flak around here for being (allegedly) consumer unfriendly, Delta’s rollover miles policy is uniquely generous, and distinguishes Delta from the pack in a good way.

On United or American, if you finish the year with 99,900 miles, you end up 100 miles short of Premier 1K or Executive Platinum status, respectively. You’ll qualify for Premier Platinum or Platinum status, as the case may be — the 75,000 mile threshold, in other words — but those 24,900 miles you flew will disappear into thin air when the new calendar year begins. So it’s certainly incentive to fly those extra 100 miles, and not a mile more (since any mile above that threshold also disappears the next year). There’s a certain art in trying to hit your target milestone without going much over — “The Price Is Right” rules, as it were.

Delta banks those surplus miles for you, however. They automatically roll over into your next year’s account as Medallion qualifying miles already in the bank. (The caveat being you have to have more than 25,000 Medallion qualifying miles in your account to begin with — so if you end the year with 23,000 MQMs as a non-elite, nothing will roll over.)

So in the case above, at 99,900 miles, you’d start the next year off with 24,900 MQMs in your account right off the bat — 100 MQMs away from qualifying for Silver Medallion. This makes achieving mid-to-high tier Medallion status substantially easier.

My Rollover miles from 2014
My Rollover miles from 2014

The Benefits Of Not Hitting Top-Tier

Delta may be the only airline where elite fliers may do the math and decide there’s a benefit to coming just close enough (but no cigar) to the next highest tier. And Delta fliers do this, regularly. Why?

Well, let’s use the example of Diamond Medallion status, which requires 125,000 MQMs. Platinum Medallion, the next highest tier, requires only 75,000 MQMs.

Some Diamond Medallions wouldn’t give up Diamond status if you put a gun to their heads. But by and large, Delta treats both its Platinum and Diamond Medallions very well — quite a bit better than its Gold and Silver Medallions.

Platinum Medallions get regional upgrade certificates, decent chances at complimentary domestic upgrades, a highly efficient dedicated phone line, and the ability to select “Comfort +” (i.e., economy comfort seating, with free drinks and food) seats at booking, among other perks. Being Platinum Medallion is pretty great.

My Medallion tracker for 2015 so far
My Medallion tracker for 2015 so far

So let’s say you’re a Platinum, and you love it. Let’s say you have 120,000 MQMs in your bank in November. You have two options:

  1. Do an easy status run to get Diamond Medallion status and end the year at (say) 126,500 MQMs. You’ll be treated like a king the next year and your status will come with more perks. At the same time, you’ll start the following year with only 1,500 MQMs in your account… so to keep your status, you’ll need to find a way to generate 123,500 MQMs the following year, which is daunting, to say the least.
  2. Do everything you can do to keep your MQMs under 125,000 for the year. This can mean, in some cases, crediting miles on necessary flights to Alaska or Air France simply to avoid hitting Diamond. Let’s say you do this and end the year at 124,000 MQMs. You’re still “only” Platinum, but you start the next year with 49,000 MQMs already in your bank. You’re just 1,000 MQMs away from Gold Medallion, and you need to earn just 26,000 MQMs in the following calendar year to re-qualify for Platinum Medallion — which is a walk in the park.

And in the latter case, you still stand a pretty strong chance of making Diamond Medallion the next year, since you’d need “just” 76,000 MQMs to reach that goal, rather than 125,000.

In my case, I did just that last year. I’d vacillated back and forth between Silver and Gold Medallion status for the last few years, and I was within easy reach of Gold Medallion at the end of last year, but I held back after doing the math.

At the beginning of this year, I started with 22,500 MQMs in my account already, which was a huge head start. Yeah, it “sucked” to be Silver Medallion for the first few months of the year knowing I could have been Gold and I could have had the benefit of better upgrades and Sky Priority status at the airport.

And then I flew to Madrid and got ~20,000 MQMs in my account. Added to the few short-haul trips I’d already made that year, suddenly I was Gold in March.

Add a 15,000 MQM bonus from the Delta Reserve Credit Card from American Express, and another ~17,000 MQMs or so from a trip to London.

All of a sudden, I’m well over my threshold to qualify for Platinum and it’s only halfway through the year.

Had I aimed for Gold last year, I’d have skipped over the couple months of “slumming it” as a Silver, but I’d also still be Gold, and in fact be some 15,000 MQMs short of Platinum.

In this case, “holding back” on the next tier up actually propelled me to an even higher tier, faster, the following year.

What This Means For You

This year, it’s my goal to make Diamond Medallion — even if it leaves me with just a few thousand rollover miles in the bank for 2017. Personally, it’s what I value for next year, and ultimately whether you choose to gun for the top tier or keep comfortably in the middle is your choice.

But what this means is that, unlike on United and American, Delta is an airline built for status runs.

If you see a cheap business class airfare to Europe, grab it: there’s up to 20,000 MQMs in your pocket, either to use or to save for a rainy day.

It means you don’t have to do the math and worry about spending money and going over a threshold, or ending the year just under a threshold. It means you can tie your vacations and travel into MQM-maximizing fares, knowing at the end of the day these are MQMs that will benefit you no matter what.

Bottom Line

Delta is the only U.S. airline (and only airline, period, as far as I’m aware) to offer its frequent flyers the ability to roll over unused MQMs to the following year. It’s an amazing benefit, and a key reason I love being a Medallion member.

While American and United loyalists are frantically doing the math to make sure they get as close as they can to their top-tier threshold without going too much over, Delta Medallions benefit from a system that rewards every mile of elite qualifying travel they earn.

It’s not often that Delta SkyMiles is considered a “generous” program, but the rollover miles policy is really I think where Delta distinguishes itself — and shines.

Comments

  1. Great article, Nick! Air France Flying Blue also uses the concept of rollover miles. However, it’s a bit tricky if you have Platinum status already since rollover miles are only possible if you’ve matched the same status that year. For example, if I’m a Platinum member already and at the end of the year, earn only 60,000 miles, I will be a Gold member next year with NO rollover miles. However, if I fly 100,000 miles, then I’d still be Platinum the following year and on top of that, have over 20,000 rollover miles to start the new year! I’m not sure if Delta uses the same exact concept but AF & DL are close skyteam partners so perhaps the same management team thought of this idea! 😉

  2. I get your point, and agree for the most part. But as DL Plat who will finally make Diamond this year, you’d be nuts to purposely miss it by 5K MQMs. There are a lot of flights I don’t get upgraded on, because of the Diamonds.

  3. You forgot that PM and DM get award change and redeposit fees waived. That benefit, along with C+, was the best for me when I was PM.

  4. @Neil S., from reading Delta Points’s blog, another reason to consider on why you’re not getting upgraded is First class upgrade discounts. I heard a good number of passengers opt to upgrade themselves to domestic First Class if the price is right! 😉

  5. Some airlines informally offer a sort of roll-over of excess status earn. Qantas, for example, has been known to consider your total earn over the previous three years (and dividing that by the required earn level, to see if a number near 4 or more results) when asked to extend your status for another year (despite falling short).

    However, far superior to have something like Delta offers, where the terms are clear and public (and can be relied upon). Wish more programs did this, to smooth out variable travel patterns.

  6. @Joey – Very true, and I’ve done it myself a few times for longer rides when I know I care more about not being in the back.

  7. Agreed that the rollover miles are a nice bonus, but I think it’s negated by the fact that top-tier status requires 25k more miles than does American or United. Granted, this is only a problem if you’re going after top-tier status. I usually fly between 100k to 110k miles per year, and knowing that I’ll qualify for American EXP every year is worth more to me than seesawing between Platinum and Diamond on Delta. (And this is without taking into account how much more useful American miles are.)

  8. Great article. Everything you’ve said also applies to MQMs earned from the various cobranded Amex cards. Not only do they have better MQM earning rates than the AA options, but you also know that that spend won’t be going to waste.

  9. It is worth noting that MQDs have made rollover somewhat more interesting … on the one hand, you have to meet the MQD requirement the following year even if you have enough MQMs to qualify for a new status level. On the other hand, you can earn 150,000 MQMs but only, say, $10,000 MQDs, in which case you will earn Platinum this year and roll over 75,000 MQMs to the following year (by my read of the rollover rules), which can be even better than landing at 124,500 MQMs. It can even be a disincentive to complete the Amex spend waiver.

  10. Most people (normal people LOL) don’t play the FF game as much as “we” do. I think the MQM rollover is mostly aimed at business travelers that have a number of flights throughout the year, and that the total MQMs of those flights exceed a threshold (either 75k for plat or 125k for diamond). For those people (who happen to be the most profitable passengers to any airline), if excess MQMs get “thrown away” each year, they may choose to fly a different airline for the latter portion of the year and get status on a second airline. This way, those profitable passengers remain with Delta having the assurance that excess MQMs will simply be credited to the next year.

  11. I’ve been debating if I should get Diamond or just rollover extra miles to easily attain Platinum again next year. The beauty of Diamond are the international upgrade certificates but since most of my international flights are already on paid business class by my employer I may cut close to Diamond, keep Platinum and rollover tons of MQMs for next year so I can easily get Platinum again.

  12. With the Virgin America co-brand credit card, unused Status Points rollover to the next year. Those status points are based directly off of spend, though, so it’s a slightly different story.

  13. Can you rollover miles earned via credit cards? For instance, I have 0 MQMs this year but earn 10,000 MQM from Delta Platinum signup bonus, can I roll those over to next year?

  14. @jediwho

    You need at least the lowest level of medallion status to rollover. So the answer is no. If you had 25,000 MQM and attained silver medallion status, and received another 10,000 MQM from the credit card signup, THEN you could rollover 10,000 MQM to next year.

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