Why I’m Considering A Delta Platinum Status Challenge Now

For a long time I’ve been considering a switch to Delta for my domestic travel. I feel like I’m at the point where it might at least make sense to do a status challenge with them. Let me explain.

Delta is the best of the “big three,” in spite of SkyMiles

I have such conflicting feelings about Delta. When I actually fly with them, I can’t help but feel like the all around experience is better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not better across the board, in the sense that the onboard service isn’t always great. However, Delta overall does try harder. Their SkyClubs are much better than American Admirals Clubs and United Clubs, and in particular I was so impressed by the Delta SkyClub in Seattle, to the point that it almost made me want to switch to Delta.


The Delta SkyClub SeaTac Airport

I think Delta is fantastic operationally, while their arrogance, in particular in regards to their loyalty program, makes me not want to be loyal to them. But with American AAdvantage also having been devalued to no end, it’s not like there’s all that much of a difference anymore.

I’ll requalify for status with American, but am not loyal to them anymore

Some might say it’s a subtle distinction, but I don’t think so. In the past I was loyal to American. I recognized their flaws, but damnit, they were my flawed airline, and I was proud of them. Their loyalty program was sufficiently compelling to the point that I thought they were still the best option. We’ve seen cut after cut after cut after cut, and I don’t feel that way anymore. I have no sense of warmth towards the brand anymore, and if a random person asked me which airline to fly, I certainly wouldn’t recommend American, unless there was a specific reason.

Nonetheless I’ll be requalifying for Executive Platinum status with American this year. The reality is that I travel a fair bit domestically, and having status is useful. I’ve diversified my domestic flying more than ever before (this year I’ve flown Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United, Virgin America, etc.), but in the end I’ll requalify. So maybe it’s just that I’m stuck on the status hamster wheel. I get decent perks, and the switching costs are just too high, especially when I have systemwide upgrades to redeem, and have a couple of discounted premium cabin tickets on oneworld partner airlines booked. In other words, I naturally get so close to requalifying that I can’t justify not doing it.


American’s 777 business class

Why I’m thinking of doing a Delta status challenge now

Delta offers a status challenge program, which I wrote about in July. July was the ideal time to match, since you’d get 19 months of status if you qualified then.

I won’t go into full details of the status challenge promotion again, but the idea is basically that as an American Executive Platinum I could get a Delta Platinum status challenge. I would get the status upfront (with some restrictions), and then I’d have to earn 18,750 MQMs or 25 MQSs within three months to maintain my status through January 2019.

What I hadn’t realized is that partner airline travel also qualifies towards the challenge, which seems to be a new policy as of late 2016.

I have an upcoming trip in Xiamen Air business class to Chengdu, so I’ll be flying from Los Angeles to Xiamen to Chengdu and back.


Xiamen Air’s 787 business class

I’ll be flying a total of 15,854 “butt in seat” miles. “I” fares on Xiamen earn 75% Medallion Qualifying Miles with SkyMiles, meaning I’d earn 11,600 MQMs.

That’s actually not many for paid business class (it’s odd to earn fewer than 100% elite qualifying miles on a business class fare), but that would put me within 7,000 MQMs of completing the challenge, which is easy enough.

So the way I look at it, this would be an ideal time for me to complete a challenge based on the SkyTeam travel I already have booked. Another interesting thing is that Delta status challenges aren’t “once in a lifetime” (like many other program), but rather can be requested once every few years. However, the terms of these offers are always subject to change.

So while I realize Platinum isn’t top tier status with Delta, I also think it will give me a better sense of what the Delta travel experience is like. No, I won’t clear upgrades on a Monday morning from Atlanta to New York, but on the west coast I’ve cleared Delta upgrades through Starwood’s Crossover Rewards program (which put me at the very bottom of the upgrade list), so I figure being a Delta elite should give me even better odds.

Am I crazy for considering a Delta status challenge, or is now the time?

Comments

  1. It’s obviously the right call. For someone that travels as much as you do domestically and internationally, it’s best to have status in a few programs. Then you can book on price, schedule, desired airline product, etc. Delta is a good airline.

  2. But hey lucky…it’s good that you’ve considered Delta because American is doing nothing but breaking relations with other airlines…..

  3. On a recent flight I experienced a delta plane turned over, re-catered, and re-boarded in 35 min for an on-time departure. And I was offered a pre-departure beverage. As a former exp, I can tell you I never experienced anything like this before on AA or any other US carrier. DL’s frequent flier points have minimal value, which is why I don’t actually credit any flights to them. Lately I’ve simply gone after the cheapest F fare, so I honestly don’t care how bad the US-based loyalty programs are. If you’d otherwise fly Y and care about the upgrades, it makes sense to do the challenge. Just remember you don’t get elite bonus miles until you “earn” the status. There’s an opportunity cost crediting flights to DL, so people need to do the math for themselves to see if it’s a good deal.

  4. Frequent flyers are in abusive relationship with the airlines. They beat you senseless and then say sorry and throw in a few flowers and a dinner and you go running back to them.

  5. I’ve been a Delta FF for 12 years now since I moved to a Delta hub. While I hate what they did with their loyalty program I have to say they are by far the best of the big 3 US airlines. Being Platinum helps but overall I have nothing bad to say about my experience flying them. This year I will be Diamond for the first time so will see how it goes.

  6. The only thing i wondered previously is why u did not try for an airline that gives u lifetime status like BA lifetime Gold. U can use domestic lounge as a BA a Gold. If u have placed all your OW flights into BA, u might be nearly there by now.

    And I am unhappily stuck with my ever devaluing pesos because i spent a year as their Platinum and i did not even get a soft landing if i did not recall wrongly.

  7. I did my status match earlier this year and love it. As with you I fly a ton Domestically and have renewed my EXP as well. But DL Plat is actually quite comparable and has some advantages.

  8. All these years of loyalty and they’ve never once offered you Concierge Key? Leave your abuser–things will only get worse the longer you stay in this relationship.

  9. I always thought of switching to DL as well. It seems for what they lack in a loyalty program is a better club/lounge, om board experience, and operational performance. However, being based out of SFO I’m hub captive by UA.

  10. “I recognized their flaws, but damnit, they were my flawed airline, and I was proud of them”

    No, it had very little to do with you being proud of them. You benefited from the old system more than before and now the gravy train stopped….

  11. You’re making a smart choice. As an Atlanta resident, im so thankful to have the best of the thred based here. I have coworkers who frequent other airlines and I’m shocked at how poorly they are treated. Keep in mind that status on Delta, as with the other carriers is also determined by ticket class fare, not just the miles flown.

  12. I have used delta ever since United and Contintental merged… since I live in NJ it’s sometimes a pain in the butt to get out to Kennedy or LaGuardia but Delta is the best legacy carrier in the US in my opinion. In the past couple of months I have flown JFK-SAN-LAX-JFK, JFK-BCN-JFK,JFK-SFO-JFK, and JFK-PDX-JFK. Bad experiences with them are rare

  13. I’m actually doing a delta challenge in the next few weeks as well.

    I also wish the Delta FF program had better value but my main goal was to give myself the option to choose between two airlines going forward for best cost.

  14. Welcome! Skymiles drive me crazy but since I have to fly for work every week, I choose Delta for my own sanity. They’ve been good to me, even during their system meltdowns and have always gotten me home to my person, which is what I care most about.

  15. Delta is indeed the best-run of the legacy carriers. They also have, on balance, the best flight attendants. And their lounges are easily better than those of United and American.

    Nonetheless, I still maintain status with United for some reason. Despite United’s flaws, I still find their Mileage Plus program to be by far the best of the big three in saver award availability. I recently spent just 55k miles for business class on Air Canada to southern South America as one example — an 11-hour flight.

    It’s always amazed me how well Delta does vis-a-vis United, particularly considering what a seemingly huge advantage United has in its hub airports. United has major hubs in NYC/NJ, Washington DC, Chicago, Houston, Denver, San Francisco and LA — nearly all of which are popular tourist destinations. Meanwhile, Delta runs hubs out of Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati and Seattle — in addition to LAX and JFK.

    Amazing how United does so much less with more.

  16. Justin,

    Of the hubs you mentioned, UA maybe only “dominates” Houston and San Francisco (and SF is doubtful)

    NYC – UA faces DL and AA
    DC – UA faces AA at DCA
    Chicago – UA faces AA, and to a lesser extent Southwest
    Denver – UA faces Southwest
    SF – Virgin/Alaska, Southwest
    LA – Every major airline has a presence

    Delta, on the other hand, faces minimal competition from Southwest in general and little competition at all in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, etc.

  17. The Seattle sky club seems to be the jewel in the portfolio. Check the LAX term 3 sky “booth” for the more average club.

    Having said that, Delta doesn’t hate it’s pax, which is why I chose DL.

    AA would be my second choice.

  18. I did exactly the same. Hit my 150k EQMs with AA to get my extra SWUs (and even hit Emerald on another oneworld airline), and I was off to Delta, which overall offers a better experience. The oneworld network works best for me, but where I have a choice I’m with DL now. Platinum this year, hopefully Diamond next.

  19. I did the Platinum challenge last year after being pretty loyal to AA for 16 years. I wish I had made the change sooner. I am based in Seattle, so the SkyClub is certainly a big advantage, but I’ve also found that other SkyClubs are generally much better than Admirals Clubs in comparably sized airports. SkyMiles sucks but I generally don’t credit any more to SkyMiles than I absolutely have to, once I get to the minimum I credit any remaining Skyteam flights to Flying Blue. With an Amex Delta card (or two) you can pick up some extra MQM’s every year and prequalify pretty easily. I feel like I get better benefits (benefits I can actually use) from Delta Platinum than I did from being AA EXP, and I can qualify for Delta Platinum with a lot less loyalty than AA EXP required (both because of the lower threshold and the CC MQM’s).

    Delta’s European partners are WAAAAY better than the AA’s European Partners. I am thrilled to be able to avoid LHR and BA’s ridiculous 8 across business class. Asian partners are not great but since I don’t need to be totally loyal to Delta/Skyteam I just pick from the field on trips to Asia (CX and EVA for example). As a matter of fact, this year I have flown more different airlines than ever, and I’ll still easily prequalify. I’ve never been able to take advantage of so many carrier and route options than I have this year, and yet somehow when I fly Delta I get better service across the board than I ever received from AA when I needed to be 95% loyal to requalify.

    One of the last straws for me with AA was my cradle seat to Zurich last fall – aircraft and seats and catering are all better on Delta for the routes I fly. And they are better on most of the European routes I typically fly.

    Last thing, I love the rollover MQM’s, I will be able to requalify for 2019 Delta Platinum with three trips that are already on the calendar next year, everything else can be Delta or whoever has the best price, service, schedule, route combination. That flexibility will come in handy when JetBlue starts Mint in Seattle next Spring.

    I have more options than ever, I can’t imagine going back to AA.

  20. I say come on in. The negativity about Skymiles redemption is overdone. It’s regularly possible to get transatlantic coach roundtrip for 100k miles or less when the paid fare is $2000. Even better is business for 200k miles when the paid fare is $8000. These are fair exchange rates. Also don’t forget that on DL you earn miles (not MQM) As a multiple of ticket price, and the multiple goes up with status. For Diamond it’s 11X. So a $2000 ticket is 22.000 miles earned. So if you can status match to a higher level you are getting a better multiple which means .Ore miles to use. Personally I have found the staff and flight crew of DL more professional and pleasant to deal with than either UA or AA, of course everyone sees this based on their personal experience.

  21. Good to know. I’ve never been in an AA club, but Delta clubs are really nice. I guess you just have to know how to use sky miles. I have enough AA miles for a redemption, but I can’t decide if I want to get more with them or get rid of them. Delta customer service is always fantastic IMO.

  22. American Airlines is currently the worst US airline. Significantly worse than United. AAdvantage has gone downhill and their customer care is terrible even as an EXP. Huge problems to get partner miles credited and miles impossible to use if you want to fly somewhere exciting and/or close to a weekend.

  23. As Platinum you will really be in coach most of the time. The “stickers” with AA at least mean not everyone asks to upgrade all the time. As a DL Gold this weekend I was somewhere south of 30th on the list LGA-DEN and 23rd on the return at departure.

    Also, as you note, Skymiles is just awful and worse every day. While I try to earn enough DL MQM to at least have Silver just for seat selection, I actually hate earning Skymiles because they are so frustrating to use at better than 1 cent per mile. The new “mileage surcharge” to redeem less than 21 days out is just another middle finger from Skymiles.

  24. Hmm, Delta seems to have something of a cult following here, which is kinda weird given that its crap by almost any global standard.

    Delta is my least favorite major US airline. Not least because they have a conscious policy of flying really old planes around (yeah, yeah, I know they just got a A-350). I’m really done flying 30-year old rear-engined planes.

    Of course, if I lived in Atlanta, MSP, Detroit or Salt Lake, I’d have little choice. But that would just make me resent them.

    I’ve flown UA and AA a bunch. Not used Delta in 20 years. Prefer Virgin and JetBlue to any of them. The grass is always greener . .

  25. Good choice. I find Delta and American First Class to be pretty good (Though to me flying any first class product is good enough). If I may ask, what do you find to be the best from the two (in terms of first class)

  26. I am Diamond on Delta and EP on American, American treats me much better than Delta. I was even a flying colonel with Delta back in the day. I am always upgraded to first on American and rarely upgraded on Delta. Americans upgrade priority is based on your monthly spend with them and I find that to be the acknowledgment that appeals most to me.

  27. As many have stated, SkyMiles is a problem for those who are considering shifting to DL. A larger problem is the earn chart associated with SkyMiles for partner airlines.

    At least with AAdvantage, any status bonuses apply to all OneWorld partners. This isn’t even close to true for SkyTeam partners when earning SkyMiles.

  28. With just silver status a few weeks ago, I was upgraded to First from Cancun to Salt lake city on delta. So it happens even for us peons.

  29. I live in Atlanta and have always flown DL. Last year I decided to try out AA and UA, of the three DL is far and away better. As a Platinum I get upgraded a decent amount of time but not always, I guess that is just the pitfalls of being in ATL. At a minimum I always get a Comfort seat which is fine for most of my travel. The rollover MQMs are great and having the Reserve DL AMEX makes a difference from an upgrade and miles earning standpoint. Using the miles is frustrating at times but I have nothing to really compare it to so cant comment on other program’s. I am curious as to how one credits paid flown on DL to another program, that is something to look into to maybe get better redemption opportunities to Europe or Asia?

  30. While skipping AA (but still getting EXP), your spend will be less on AA. Hence your upgrade priority as an EXP will be lower.

  31. I have been a long time Ex Plat with American accumulating over 175K a year butt in seat miles on them (mostly directly and not on partners) split between domestic and Intl. Given 90% of flights I book are one way and usually last minute – and in paid first (as the difference is usually minimal at the point I book) – my revenue spending is also very high. Never before have I been offered Concierge Key – and when I inquired twice over the years I was never offered why as there is no published criteria and was just told “if you ever meet the standards we will notify you.” Well, that was fine when AA was still reasonably the best option for me and felt more of a global player in terms of service. But frankly since Doug took the reigns the airline is deteriorating rapidly and I am also, like Lucky, considering a shift. I have been trying all the carriers this year to examine what will be the best fit for me. Alaska would be wonderful but without a strong East Coast presence for me it makes little sense. Delta has been in my mind the next best and, agreeing with most of the sentiments here, a vast improvement over American and United. United, surprisingly, even despite (for now) the less than optimum INTL Business is second as there seems a sincere effort for service on board. I just don’t want to deal with Newark or Houston as my main hub choices. Delta offers a great network with well positioned hubs, frequency, good clubs, and decent service comparing to the Big Three. Furthermore they seem to be trying much harder. Yes, the planes are crap 60% of the time. That is going to change though and with new Airbus 321 and 350’s coming into the fold will offer a nicer experience. I am still considering my move until the end of the year. But unless American announces some sort of widespread improvements and a culture change (which won’t happen until Parker is gone I’m afraid) I am done. Not that I think they even care.

  32. Delta is an absolutely pitiful airline overall. Here is what I have found coming from EXP:

    1. Atlanta sucks – I hate this hub… nightmare
    2. Upgrades as a Diamond are almost never.
    3. First Class is pretty poor. Get used to much less (MUCH LESS) leg room. Seems 3-5 inches less than American and United. No bulkheads make it feel like an all-economy plane. Very crowded feeling
    4. Only low budge airlines put as many seats between door 1 and 2 on a 757 making for a very crowded feel . There are over 100 of these planes.
    5. MD80s and 717 – the PITS. I do not care for these planes at all. American MD80s feel older but more spacious. Delta 717 first class is squished in. Maybe in coach these planes are alright and thats where you’ll be most the time.
    6. First Class food is worst of all carriers. Ive ben served the same disgusting Turkey breakfast sandwich many times. Its very gross. The also serve a nasty turkey lunch sandwhich with 2 slices of meat on white bread. Ive never seen an airline try so little on food in first. No courses, ice cream served WITH your food in a tub. Tacky
    7. Skymiles – its bad and Delta cannot stop itself. Skymiles is the worst program in the US and you’ll understand when you earn all those miles then watch them get less valuable by the time you can spend them.
    8. Skyteam – The worse alliance . Worst lounges. Worst customer service. Lots of chinese airlines that offer a below average trans pacific experience.

    I ended up with Diamond and could not think of 1 reason not to go back to American. There are a few nice Skyclubs, yes but when it comes time to go international (you go alot) you will find there are no good lounges. Nothing like Americans new Flaghips or United Polaris or any of the amazing partner lounges in the other alliances. So afew nice Skyclubs domestically do not make up for the disaster of Skyteam international lounges. Also the food in all Skyclubs gets old. You will get tired of it after a few trips.

  33. Ben, you are realizing what those of us in the Dakotas and MN have known forever, that Delta, without a doubt, is the best airline for domestic business travel. It really is not close, despite Skymiles. So do it, and I’ll finally get to meet you in a MSP SkyClub.

    BTW, when you have to connect, use MSP. So much better than Atlanta and Detroit.

  34. Just submitted a status match as an AA Executive Platinum over to Delta. It was for status in 2016 so I am hoping that it is still valid. Excited to try out Delta and see how it compares, especially given we are based in NYC.

  35. I just checked on it and it says you cannot do the status match if you are currently a Delta Medallion member. WTF? I joined a couple years ago for the one flight a year I HAD to take to an airport only served by AA and Delta. Now even though I am 1K on United I can’t do a status match? Am I misreading this??

  36. See… you fly so much (and I imagine most of it is revenue) that Delta is probably the best choice. I know I would fly them more often if they had a hub in the D.C. area, but they don’t.

    I can choose between Southwest, AA, and United. I have status on Southwest, and honestly, I think I will probably stay with them. I know exactly what I will get with Southwest every time I get on the plane, even if there are no upgrade options… and ultimately, that’s worth a lot to me.

  37. It is weird to see a miles blog plugging Delta. Everything about DL product is okay except for skypesos. Really it’s a choice between miles you can use (UA) or paying at least 2x miles (DL) with a slightly better experience flying DL. Personally I’ll take the miles because I don’t have unlimited miles and I prefer not to get ripped off when converting to actual flights. But I certainly get why people prefer flying DL. Just don’t forget the skypesos.

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