Can You Earn Delta Diamond Exclusively Through Credit Card Spend?

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UPDATE: The limited time offers on the Delta Amex cards are expired, though the other information in this post is still relevant. You can find the best current credit card offers here.


I’ve written a lot about Delta credit cards the past week, in particular the Gold Delta Personal Amex and Gold Delta Business Amex, given that they offer big sign-up bonuses with waived annual fees the first year. My focus on those cards is around the redeemable miles you can earn, as opposed to how they can help you earn elite status.

However, I think it’s interesting to look at some of Delta’s premium credit cards, as Delta is the only global airline where you can earn top tier status exclusively through credit card spend, at least in theory.

How much do you have to spend on Delta credit cards to earn status?

Delta has four credit cards that earn MQMs (Medallion Qualifying Miles) for reaching certain spending thresholds, as follows:

  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express ($195 annual fee)
    • sign-up bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $2,000 within three months
    • annual bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $25,000, further 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $50,000
    • annual bonus redeemable miles: earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000, further 10,000 bonus miles after spending $50,000
  • Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express ($450 annual fee)
    • sign-up bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 MQMs after first purchase
    • annual bonus MQMs: earn 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $30,000, further 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000
    • annual bonus redeemable miles: earn 15,000 bonus miles after spending $30,000, further 15,000 bonus miles after spending $60,000
  • Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Business Credit Card From American Express ($195 annual fee)
    • sign-up bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 MQMs after spending $2,000 within three months
    • annual bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $25,000, further 10,000 bonus MQMs after spending $50,000
    • annual bonus redeemable miles: earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $25,000, further 10,000 bonus miles after spending $50,000
  • Delta Reserve for Business Credit Card ($450 annual fee)
    • sign-up bonus MQMs: earn 10,000 MQMs after first purchase
    • annual bonus MQMs: earn 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $30,000, further 15,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000
    • annual bonus redeemable miles: earn 15,000 bonus miles after spending $30,000, further 15,000 bonus miles after spending $60,000

Delta-First-Class
Delta’s domestic first class

Crunching the numbers on Delta MQMs

Forgetting the sign-up bonuses (since those are “once in a lifetime”), on an annual basis you can earn:

  • 20,000 bonus MQMs for spending $50,000 on the Delta Platinum Card
  • 30,000 bonus MQMs for spending $60,000 on the Delta Reserve Card

So in theory if you had both the Platinum and Reserve Card, and spent $110,000 between them, you’d earn 50,000 MQMs. Meanwhile if you had all four cards — the personal and business versions of the Platinum and Reserve Card — and spent $220,000 between them, you’d earn 100,000 MQMs.

Obviously this isn’t for everyone, since most people don’t spend that much on credit cards. If you have all four cards, you’re also spending $1,280 in annual fees. At the same time, I know plenty of people who spend a lot on credit cards through reimbursable business expenses, etc., so something like this could make a lot of sense.

I think it’s also worth noting that you can redeem your MQM bonuses through these credit cards for others. In other words, a spouse/parent/sibling/friend could pick up a card, spend on it, and send the bonus MQMs to your account.

Delta Diamond status requires 125,000 MQMs, which seems high, though with credit card spend it becomes much more achievable.

If you had each of these cards you’d be looking at earning 100,000 MQMs and 100,000 bonus redeemable miles for a total spend of $220,000. Yes, there’s $1,280 in annual fees, but it does come with some other benefits, and when you factor in that it gets you that many MQMs, I think it can be a great deal if you’re someone that generates a lot of credit card spend.

Also keep in mind that you’re earning bonus redeemable miles for these spend thresholds. So you’re not just earning 10,000-15,000 bonus MQMs, but you’re earning the same number of bonus redeemable miles. This means you’re also essentially earning 1.4-1.5 SkyMiles per dollar spent.

Yes, I’d rather earn 1.5 Membership Rewards points through the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card, or 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points through the Chase Freedom® Unlimited, but with the Delta card you’re also spending with a specific purpose in mind.

What’s so great about Delta Diamond status anyway?

Delta Diamond status comes with lots of perks, including:

  • Unlimited complimentary upgrades to first class
  • Unlimited upgrades to Comfort+
  • Priority check-in, security, boarding, etc.
  • Waived bag fees, standby fees, award cancelation fees, etc.
  • 4 Global Upgrades OR 8 Regional Upgrades OR 2 Global Upgrades and 4 Regional Upgrades

There are many other perks on top of that, but those are the highlights, in my opinion.

Delta-One-London - 3
Delta’s international business class

Bottom line

Delta’s co-branded credit cards can be a fantastic way to help boost your way towards Delta status. If you’re a huge credit card spender (again, that doesn’t apply to many of us, but I know I have a lot of readers who spend over a million dollars per year on their credit cards), it might be worth considering using Delta credit cards to get all the way to Diamond status with very limited flying (do keep in mind you’ll get the most value out of status if you actually fly — there’s not much value to this if you earn status through credit card spend and then never take advantage of status perks).

But this really isn’t an “all or nothing” game. Contributor Nick has explained how he earns Diamond status through a combination of credit card spend, discounted international business class tickets, and domestic flying. This can also be useful if you’re going for Gold or Platinum status, for example.

Delta-Diamond-Status

Does anyone use credit card spend to qualify for Delta status, and if so, to what degree?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

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Comments

  1. I believe its also possible to spend 60k on the Reserve, earn 30k MQM, downgrade to Platinum, spend another 50k, earn 20K MQM. Rinse and repeat each year. But I have not tried this personally.

  2. in short, the answer is no, as it can only get you to 100k when 125k is necessary.

    so why does it say, “Delta is the only global airline where you can earn top tier status exclusively through credit card spend, at least in theory.”

  3. I believe some of the cards can gift the bonus MQMs to others, so you could get another Reserve in your spouses name, spend another $60k and get all the way to Diamond before you even fly a mile. I can’t imagine why you would want Diamond status if you fly less than 25k BIS miles though.
    @RenesPoints should chime in. He is a pro at this.

  4. If you can afford to spend $220k per year on this, then you can afford to just buy premium seats instead of going through such hoops.

    Lucky please don’t tell me that you or Ford are considering this ridiculousness just to get some status. Its just a bigger seat and faster lines, not worth the spend.

  5. Me, great perspective and great point.
    This “hobby” is becoming a bit ludicrous. In light of the current state of the world and especially recent events, this all seems vapid and frivolous. Still, bravo to the people that can even consider charging this much to one or two credit cards while doing major spending on 3-5 additional cards. I travel for business approximately every other week and I don’t think I could get near that kind of spending.

  6. If you’re a real high roller, you can effectively buy Diamond Medallion status with the Delta Jet Card, which can be used for travel on Delta or with their private jet sharing program.

  7. I fly 110k+ miles a year, 90% of which are domestic. For me, status matters a lot because I fly a lot. And, generally, I’m flying during the week when it’s relatively tough to get upgraded. My status saves me thousands of dollars a year and makes my 150 days of business travel a bit less horrible than it otherwise would be.

    What is the point of spending so much time and energy to get status if you don’t fly nearly enough miles to make it worthwhile? There’s this insane corner of the miles community that will MR, manufacture spend, and sign up for multiple credit cards… all because the individual doesn’t actually fly enough to get status. If you don’t fly that much, you don’t get that much from the status!

    The whole thing seems incredibly absurd. What’s the point? Am I missing something, or is this just a way to serve up credit card links in a sightly more creative fashion than usual?

  8. A couple of years ago, I had my 5 year old daughter at diamond by gifting her miles.
    Now I just qualify myself in January, then my wife early the next year and we gift gold to our daughters. To many better cards/programs to earn miles with.

  9. “If you can afford to spend $220k per year on this, then you can afford to just buy premium seats instead of going through such hoops.”

    There are other perks to status, especially during irregular ops. It can be very nice indeed to have both status and a paid F ticket.

  10. Earlier in my career, I was in charge of marketing collateral for a major fast food chain. We “sold” the materials to franchisees and we’d set up our distribution vendor to accept credit cards after years of direct billing and slow paying franchisees.

    We had a handful of very large operators with 75-150 restaurants and, for these folks, we offered them the option to pay via wire transfer. I was surprised to find they all wanted to use cards…all of them to earn miles or points.

    To be clear, some of these operators were spending close to or over $1 million a year on these cards. I can tell you they traveled well.

  11. Resellers like myself spend $220k a month easily. I don’t have millions of dollars in profit to afford buying premium tickets for cash, so for the rare person like myself, this could be a good deal. I am going to think about it, although you can only have 4 amex credit cards – not sure if any of the above is a charge card. I wouldn’t want to drop the everyday preferred or BRG as you can earn more delta miles with those cards than you can with the delta cards

  12. Considering your negative review of their product when you traveled to London, I am a bit surprised you are considering moving your travel to them.

  13. A few years ago when I travelled less (~35k miles annually) and had loyalty to DL, I’d usually count on the 10k MQM from the platinum card plus one MR to make gold medallion. The $25k spend was already a given, since it’s needed to get the MQD exemption

  14. No is the short answer to your question.

    I was Platinum, got all the cards, spent a ton and flew a ton, and made Diamond. Here’s a bold statement. There is no difference between Diamond and Platinum.

    I’ve got TSA Pre so I don’t need Sky Priority security. I’ve got lounge access from Amex, so that Diamond perk doesn’t matter. I had great luck with upgrades as a Platinum, and that luck mostly continues as a Diamond. Sure, I get an extra Choice Benefit, and technically I’ve got more certificates to use, but they never seem to be available when I need to fly – even when I am massively flexible with dates and times.

    And while I suppose there could be Diamond perks during IRROPS, Delta has so few operational issues it rarely comes into play. I guess weather would be one?

    Diamond customer service is great. So was Platinum. Check the list of benefits on their site. And then fly as a Diamond from one of their hubs. Maybe I am missing some secret pot of wonderfulness but I wouldn’t spend a ton more on cards to get the extra 50K MQM. Just don’t see the practical impact over and above Platinum. In my experience.

  15. If you own a small business $200k in spending is not out of the realm and you could be only making 50-60k from it. So not everyone with this kind of spend is wealthy etc.

  16. Looking at if from the perspective of someone who does a lot of manufactured spending, but not much “real” spending, the deal isn’t attractive. The cost of MSing $220K would be around $2,500 by the most commonly available method. Add in the annual fees and you have a cost of $3,800 (plus the time spend MSing). In return you get 100K (3.8CPM) redeemable miles and Plat status with 25K rollover. Do it again next year and you have Diamond with no rollover.

    The real cost is higher, since you would be forgoing 2% cashback on that spending. The Skymiles from spending would effectively cost you $4,400 (2CPM). Thus making your total cost $8,200 and the average cost of all miles earned 2.5CPM. If we assume that the true value of Skymiles is 1.5CPM, then you wood need to value Diamond status at $3,400 for this proposition to begin to make sense.

    Yes, yes, TLDR.

  17. Follow up: Even if your spending is “real” you still must include the opportunity cost of 2% of total spending in any evaluation. In that case the cost for 320,000 Skymiles is $5,680 (or 1.77CPM). Ceterus paribus, the miles are still worth $4,800, so the 100K status miles would cost you $880. I’d say the prospect begins to look more attractive if you can generate $220K per year in “real” spending.

  18. So is this OMAT or Delta Points? 🙂 Are you finally jumping the ship into Delta. I follow your blog for many years and never seen so many posts about Delta like in the last couple weeks.

  19. I still don’t think Ben can actually handle actually flying DL enough to make Diamond, so good luck with the card route.

    As for those who think the DL never has IRROPS problems– try a nice thunderstorm day in ATL or the snowstorms in MSP, DTW or SLC… Apparently I’m the only one who ever experiences broken MD8x issues on those ancient DC9s DL flies. Their fleet average age is many years older than the next closest major (which used to be AA until American started to put a new plane a week into the fleet.)

  20. @Andy. There is no 2% cashback opportunity cost when u are using a business credit card from your employer. Guess who gets the cashback? Hint its notme.

  21. The answer to the question is yes, as long as you do all of the spending in the same year you acquire the cards and earn all of the signup bonuses. Theoretically one could earn 140k MQMs this way, so that would make one DM with 15k rollover MQMs. If someone actually does that, I hope they’ll write about it.

  22. I get how you guys think it’s ridiculous. On the other hand, sometimes with promotions the numbers are pretty compelling. Currently the 2x points through plastiq means you’re spending 1.25% per mile, and earning 1.4 miles each with a Delta Platinum in $25k increments. So your cost is .89c each, even before any tax deductions you may be entitled to for business spending. I only spend points at 2c and up, and usually only for international business/first so they are worth 3 or 4c and up. [This isn’t nearly as compelling with the 2x bonus or the Delta miles bonuses so you get 1.4x rather than 1x, but together it is.]

    So if you can use this kind of spend to also buy you status, that’s a bonus. I’m only going to be silver or gold so I’m not sure if I’ll get any upgrades etc, this is kind of an experiment. But I only fly non-business routes so I’m hoping the road warriors are not on those flights. For example I often fly to Hawaii and see a lot of upgrades being given at the gate. And I always buy comfort+ or first, so getting upgraded to either would save me $.

  23. Can someone tell me how to gift MQM’s? Do you have to do it by the end of the year in which they are earned? We spent enough this year for us both to get silver next year, but with the October change where your companion gets upgraded too, I think it would be better for one of us to be gold and the other no status. (We usually travel together.)

  24. Want to clarify that per the terms, only Delta Reserve can transfer MQM, not Delta Platinum.

    Also, the terms say “Card Members may be permitted to have more than one Options, classic, Gold, or Platinum or Delta Reserve SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express account; however, Card Members are only eligible to receive one annual bonus for each type (i.e., Options, classic, Gold, Platinum or Reserve) of Delta SkyMiles Credit Card account from American Express.” What does this mean exactly? You can have 2 Platinum cards but only get bonus MQM’s on one? Not if one is a business card I would hope?

  25. Here’s my question. Delta Reserve costs $450 which is mostly justified by the club access but for me also by earning MQM as this article discusses. What happens though when you get to Diamond? It seems that for 2018 Delta has this covered since you no longer get club access automatically as Diamond HOWEVER you get 1 extra choice benefit which you can use for club access if you don’t already get it. Nice one!

  26. Sorry my last post wasn’t a question, it was going to be until I researched it a little more to find out what I told you.

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