I think I should start flying Delta (aka the dumbest post I’ll ever right, er, write)

Please hear me out, folks. Please. I beg you. No, seriously. Let me up front say that there are three parts to this: Delta’s status match policy, why I want to fly Delta, and why it might actually make sense. Now, the reason I’m a complete idiot for even discussing this is because I’m already struggling to fly enough on American and Alaska, so the last thing I need to do is add another airline.

Delta’s status match policy

Delta offers status matches to elite members of other airlines, up to the Platinum Medallion level in their program. If you status match now the status is valid through early 2015. To mach to Platinum and maintain it you have to earn 26,000 MQMs within 90 days which is a lot, though not impossible.


Why I want to fly Delta

In October of last year Delta announced big plans for Seattle. Part of that is improving their longhaul network out of Seattle, including fully flat beds on many of their international routes, as well as a new nonstop service to London Heathrow. International service on Delta doesn’t interest me in the slightest, given that there are no ways to upgrade economically on Delta short of buying a Y, B, or M fare, which are often more expensive than discounted business class tickets.

It’s the domestic service that interests me, and as a Seattle based flyer the single most awesome improvement has to be that all transcon service to New York JFK is now operated by aircraft equipped with BusinessElite seats. So they have three 757s a day with BusinessElite recliner seats, and one 767 a day with fully flat seats. This is hands down the single most comfortable domestic product out of Seattle. And the four times daily service to New York is awesome.

But here’s the really surprising part. You’d think the fact that they’re doing premium transcontinental service out of Seattle means there’s lots of premium demand, though based on what I’ve seen, upgrades on the route are a complete joke, and I mean that in a good way. I have reason to believe that over the course of several days of looking at the upgrade lists between New York and Seattle and vice versa (and after confirming with someone “in the know”), there’s only a single flight one day where a Platinum wouldn’t have cleared the upgrade list.

Fares between Seattle and New York are typically quite reasonable (often under $300 roundtrip), so being able to fly roundtrip with near guaranteed BusinessElite is pretty tempting.

On top of all that, Delta has a really nice SkyClub in Seattle, and also a SkyClub in Tampa, where my family lives.

But while the product seems nice, the thing I struggle with is why I’d actually want to fly Delta. I don’t value their miles all that much, I don’t really want to keep up with another airline, and for me the biggest challenge is that they don’t allow routings from Seattle to most places via New York. For example, if I could fly from Seattle to Tampa via New York I’d fly them in a heartbeat, though the routing rules don’t allow going through New York. Upgrades are substantially more difficult on Seattle to Atlanta, for example, which I’d have to take to Tampa. Then again they’re starting service from Seattle to Los Angeles, so I suppose I could route from Seattle to Tampa via Los Angeles for easier upgrades.

But… but… but… it might actually make sense

In April I wrote a post about achieving Delta status almost exclusively on credit card spend. As a reminder, Delta has the following co-branded credit cards that accrue MQMs:

Delta Reserve Personal Card

MQM bonuses: 30,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
Redeemable miles bonuses: 30,000 bonus miles after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
Annual fee: $450

Delta Reserve Business Card

MQM bonuses: 30,000 bonus MQMs after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
Redeemable miles bonuses: 30,000 bonus miles after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
Annual fee: $450

Personal Delta Platinum Card

MQM bonuses: 20,000 bonus MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year
Redeemable miles bonuses: 20,000 bonus miles after spending $50,000 in a calendar year
Annual fee: $150

Business Delta Platinum Card

MQM bonuses: 20,000 bonus MQMs after spending $50,000 in a calendar year
Redeemable miles bonuses: 20,000 bonus miles after spending $50,000 in a calendar year
Annual fee: $150

So looking only at the Personal and Business Platinum cards, spending $100,000 on the cards would get you 40,000 bonus MQMs plus 40,000 bonus redeemable miles. While that’s not an amazing return on everyday spend, I wouldn’t consider it to be a “waste” either. Similarly, if you reach Platinum status you get 20,000 bonus redeemable miles, so if you decide the credit card spend is what’s helping you get over that threshold, you’re basically earning 160,000 SkyMiles for $100,000 worth of spend. Yes, that’s tough to do, but if you can manufacture spend in a non-bonus category that shouldn’t be too tough.

You’d then basically need 35,000 MQMs to actually earn Platinum each year, which is an easy threshold to meet, in my opinion.

Thoughts? I never thought I’d be tempted by Delta, but the transcon service out of Seattle sure makes me want to fly them. My brother lives in New York and I don’t see him enough, so perhaps this would be a good excuse to pop over there, oh, I dunno, 25 times a year?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go find my meds…

(In the interest of full disclosure, of the above four cards only the Delta Reserve Personal Card earns me a referral bonus — thanks as always for your support!)


  1. Delta operates a good airline and a terrible frequent flyer program.

    Go ahead, status challenge with them and fly it a few times. But I wouldn’t spend the time on Delta just for SEA-JFK upgrades!

    Skymiles will likely devalue first among the majors, soon.

    And you’ve written that you aren’t even committed to staying in Seattle long-term.

    Besides, if the SEA-JFK market is that light (and it probably is), how long before they downgrade the service to standard domestic?

  2. If you are curious, I was able to redeem my skypesos for some free flights at the low level. It is possible!

  3. @ Willy — You do, though you’re prioritized below Silver members, so you probably don’t get very many upgrades.

  4. @Gary – I’d say Delta’s frequent flyer program is quite good in their treatment of elites but next to worthless for redeeming miles. Living in the Southeast, I fly Delta on paid fares but accrue United and AA miles through credit cards and other means for award tickets.

  5. I status matched to Delta a few years ago and got Gold. I never got a single domestic or international upgrade ever. I have been Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum on AA and so I was expecting a similar experience with upgrades. All flying on Delta did was make me appreciate AA, and keep my loyalty there. Then Delta left my market, so I didn’t care. Just out of curiosity though, is there a rule about only status matching once? If so, be sure it is the time you want to do this!

  6. Delta lets me book SEA-JFK-TPA.
    Doesn’t show up on flight matrix, and costs . . . looks like $75 more than the cheapest flights, but you can book it.

  7. I just got back to SFO on DL 2 hours ago. DL offers the best domestic service on any airline. With the millions of miles you can earn via credit cards, who cares if SkyMiles sucks? I’m tired of all the Delta bashing.

  8. Plus, when you fly DL, you can actually expect to get where you are going on time. AA is an operational disaster, although I am sure that will improve significantly by 2015.

  9. Plus if you are Plat you also earn miles for staying at Starwood properties. They occasionally have other ways to earn EQM as well, besides flying and CC.

  10. I love all of the loyalty and bashing of programs that a post like this can achieve. First off, there is no single best airline to choose. Delta is a perfectly reasonable choice if it meets your needs. While it might not be a nonstop, what are the odds that you as an Exec Plat won’t be upgraded if you fly Seattle-NYC via Chicago or DFW? Is having DL’s BusinessElite seats for 4-5 hours of flying better than flying AA 1st Class with 1 stop? I guess that’s up to you to answer.

    I have mostly flown DL out of Madison, Wis. simply because DL flies mostly through MSP and DTW rather than ORD, which is primary service for UA and AA. Some days I feel like I would do anything to avoid connecting in ORD. That has always been my priority. Now, once I started getting more into this hobby and I recognize the lack of value of Skymiles relative to UA or AA miles, I am questioning my own priorities.

    I think Delta gets bashed a lot more than is warranted among this community as an airline. As a frequent flyer program I think it deserves all of the criticism it gets. Unless you’re Diamond, then it sounds like the frequent flyer program is quite nice for redemptions

  11. As a Delta Diamond I get probably the most consistently good flying experience of the top level elite programs…Delta runs a good airline and a lousy frequent flyer program. That said, I have booked a trip to Australia on Virgin for 150,000 miles and a transatlantic on Delta for 100,000 this year [both in business class].

    If you combine that with a little moxie and financial horsepower to accumulate points with Star and One World you can do all the aspirational travel you want. In the last year I have flown First on British Airways, Cathay, Singapore, and Emirates [Emirates was a CMB fare].

    So for me…the best of both worlds.

    For you Ben…you may have a hard time facing your blog readers if you get elite status on Delta 🙂

  12. Ben
    with the recent DL Plat Biz offer for 20k MQM for 5k spend
    add the 20k for spending 50k and the 20k MQM from personal card
    You are looking at 60k MQMs before you step on a plane
    All you need is 4 trips to TPA and you are PM till Feb 2015, with free award changes
    The 160k DL miles will get you 4 trips on DL to Tampa for free over the next 18 months or at least 1 trip to SYD on Virgin

    The only problem with Virgin is that the bar is at the back of the plane and you get dagger looks from economy pax nearby as you enjoy your happy hour there and whoop it up. One of them might take it out on you on your way back up front.

  13. @ Linda T — Right, it is technically once in a lifetime, though nowadays the question is whether that’s the lifetime of the airline or the lifetime of the account.

  14. Some of their decisions have be scratching my head as far as redeeming miles, but if you are talking flying domestic they are a DARN GOOD airline.

    If I don’t requalify as a GM this year I will be rather dissapointed.

  15. @ steve — Best I can tell is that when it shows up as an option it’s simply breaking the fare in NYC, so basically it’s the sum of a Seattle to New York and New York to Tampa ticket.

  16. It’s fun to see all these delta fanboys defend their beloved airline. That’s why delta will keep abusing them and devaluing their program and they’ll keep coming back for more!

  17. @ Gene — Valid point, though to some degree it’s a function of whether it’s travel you have to make or choose to make. I don’t think either of us *have* to fly as much as we do, but we choose to. And when it’s discretionary travel I think it has to make sense in more ways than one.

    Operationally I think Delta is a great airline. But as someone that’s looking to get more value out of status than reliable travel, it’s tough to justify Delta in many ways.

  18. @ Nick — Yeah, that’s the other thing speaking slightly in favor of Delta. I value Starpoints at a bit over two cents each, so while it’s not huge, it is a 2%+ “return” on Delta travel in addition to everything else.

  19. @ Cory — Well American has a nonstop flight as well from Seattle to New York (though once daily vs. 4x daily). Upgrades on it are quite easy as well. There are plenty of ways to get to NY on American with upgrades, it’s just that none are nearly as pleasant as what Delta offers on the nonstop.

    I don’t think anyone bashes Delta as an airline. I think they run a great operation, and domestically have the most consistent experience and are the furthest ahead technologically. It’s their frequent flyer program that gets them crap, and justifiably so. There’s no doubt it’s a good program for domestic upgrades, but aside from that the entire program is simply a slap in the face.

  20. @ ffi — Hah! Well I’d take advantage of that except for the fact that if I status match I already get Platinum status through 2015, so any MQMs I earn below 75K this year would be “wasted,” basically.

  21. @ Michelle S — Well upgrades are a joke within the realm of them flying a premium transcontinental product in the market with only 16 business class seats. I don’t think Alaska upgrades would clear for the most part on those routes, given that Diamonds, Platinums, Golds, and Silvers would be ahead of them.

  22. If they meet your needs, great. If not, don’t. But yes, you should visit your brother more often.

    I don’t use them because no comp upgrades ex-HNL and their systemwides are useless. But for lower 48 travel and mileage awards on their new business product, at least for now they are a good product.

  23. I agree 100% with Gary. Plus Delta likes to test markets and then withdraws quickly. It has happened here in Miami also ( they started a 764 service to London, it just made fares cheaper for a while, that was the only positive). Need to add that Skyteam is the reject alliance. And having to connect thru Atlanta is not an experience I enjoy. I love AA and find Aadvantage to be the best in the world.

  24. Unless you actually plan on seeing your brother 25 times a year, I don’t see why upgrade availability on SEA-JFK has much, if any bearing on you. And how often do you visit your parents in TPA? Seems like a decision based on the possibility of only a handful of flights a year.

  25. Unless you actually plan on seeing your brother 25 times a year, I don’t see why upgrade availability on SEA-JFK has much, if any bearing on you. And how often do you visit your parents in TPA? Seems like a decision based on the possibility of only a handful of flights a year.

  26. @ Jonathan — Yeah, that’s the alternative “premium” option, though to be honest it’s kind of tough to justify given the lack of wifi and flight time on the return, which requires overnighting in Vancouver.

  27. I’ll be Platinum by 1 Sep. Which makes me a junior birdman in Atlanta Delta is a labor of love. Frankly, they’re a great domestic airline. SkyMiles….meh…they can be used…. just not easily. I live in Atlanta now, and I can’t imagine flying anyone else, but SkyMiles cannot be your only game. And I know you’re covered on that…. so go for it and let us know how it goes.

  28. I guess the DL Amex affiliate links have nothing to do with this newfound pondering of Delta?

    My experiences flying on DL are far and above the other domestics (of course the bar isn’t set that high!). They treat their elites better, especially since the CO takeover of UA was finalized.

    Their FFP has its flaws, some of which are quite glaring. Does their website stink for award booking? Well, it’s better than AA and US IME, but way worse than UA.

    Is availability sketchy at times? Sure, though in my personal experience it’s not been worse than AA & its parners (obviously YMMV based on routes, etc)…though again, can’t match *A and UA in particular. I wouldn’t be surprised to see UA and AA move to the Low-Med-High model before too long, though.

    The lack of true one-way awards is a major DL flaw for me. Though AA’s published fare-based award rules can sometimes be a deal killer…the dependence on BA for so much of TATL and its onerous fuel surcharges are another big kink in AA’s armor.

    Point is I agree with I think only one or two posters who point out that there is no universally perfect FFP. None will be ideal for every person, or for every point in each person’s life. Ditch the drama and just go with whatever thing(s) work(s) best, and don’t be afraid to experiment.

  29. As a self-professed DL fanboy (and it’s appropriate, since they put the food on my table), I’d say go for it! As already stated numerous times, it’s a great airline. Plus, DL has been giving a LOT of love to SEA lately. You’ve got quite a bit of int’l service out of SEA: PEK, PVG, NRT, KIX, AMS, CDG, and soon to be LHR. Currently, all but AMS are on the refurbished flat-bed. And while I’m guessing you’ll think the soft product may lack in comparison to some of the top foreign carriers, the new hard product is fabulous, especially the 747.

    Go for it man, life is short. 🙂 Looking forward to talking with you in Tampa at FTU.

  30. Just fyi – the math is a little off with your earning structure (which actually skews towards a better deal for the traveler).

    For $60k in spend use the Reserve card which would offer 30,000 transferrable MQMs. But also when those $30k/$60k thresholds are hit not only do you get the MQM but they are ALSO RDMs. Meaning $60,000 spend gives you 30,000 MQM and 90,000 RDM (i.e. 1.5/$).

    Plus you’d get Skyclub access included. Overall I think its a very fair value for the $450 annual fee (and a much better value than the DL Plat card which I used to have and switch to the Reserve from).

  31. Don’t waste your time. Delta has the worst elite program out there. So, they compare their Platinum level to AA’s Executive Platinum? OMG!!!! Even if you reach Diamond upgrades are rare. They have so many people with elite levels that upgrades are almost impossible. I’ve seen many Diamond’s not get upgrades in flights from MSP to DTW, JFK and ATL meaning they had more Diamond members in the plane than seats in first class. Also, their systemwide upgrades are useless since you need to book your ticket in full coach to have a chance to be upgraded in international flights. I hate Delta but being based in MSP I am stuck with them 🙁

  32. I’ve had far greater success with DL’s ff program than would be commonly expected. Their website search-engine is terrible – but using EF and searching for partner awards and knowing how to work the phone desks, I’ve had tremendous success. We got 4 J seats to DXB over Christmas last year on AF using DL points. 4 J seats departing the Friday night before Christmas in unheard of! We now have 4 J award seats (low miles, on Virgin) to Oz this year for Christmas.

  33. Remember that the Delta/SPG partnership amounts to revenue based earning. Be careful what you wish for…

  34. @ Matt B — To be honest I’m the type of person that doesn’t make any changes unless I have a reason I need to, so I’m probably going to stick around for another year. It’s a lot of work to move, so I’d rather scout out where I’d like to go before making the decision to move again.

  35. @ Mac — Hmm, so basically doing the two Platinum cards it would be 40K MQMs plus 140K RDMs after spending $100K, while with the Reserve Cards (assuming one did both) it would be 60K MQMs plus 160K RDMs after spending $120K, right?

    I already have SkyClub access through the American Express Platinum card so am not sure I’d value the MQMs highly enough to justify the $300 incremental annual fee. Can definitely make sense, though.

  36. @ DiscoPapa — The international destinations are great, though any tricks to getting to the front of the “bus” on those without spending business class prices? 😀

  37. @ Ryan E — No, it doesn’t, actually (and only one of the four links is an affiliate link). The reason I bring this up now is because late last a friend pointed out just how easy upgrades were on the JFK-SEA sector, and I’ve been monitoring it ever since.

  38. I used 12.5k miles to upgrade myself from JFK-SEA last Saturday and I shouldn’t have bothered: even as a lowly Silver I would have cleared. Flying home (to BWI) via Seattle-Atlanta tomorrow and guess what? Cleared. On a Monday! I really think Seattle is a gold mine of empty F-cabin seats. At least on the 76W with its big front cabin.

  39. @Lucky

    $120k spent on DL Reserve Personal+Biz would be 60k MQM + 180K RDM.

    Of course for $900 in annual fees & that kind of annual spend you might as well get an Amex black card where for $2500 they give you “free” Platinum status.

  40. Elite status…such a trap sometimes. When you have to pay for a ticket, just book the cheapest one. Or pony up if you want a little more comfort. Try to stay rational as a consumer and only remain loyal to a brand (or switch loyalty to a different brand) when it benefits you.

  41. I’m a DL Diamond and an AA EXP based out of JFK. These days, the only route I’ll fly on DL is JFK-LAX or JFK-SFO, and that’s only when flying in the evening or late at night, and then, once AA gets their transcon 321s, they’ll be no reason to fly DL again.

    Upgrade percentage is about the same for me on either airline (I’m almost never in coach domestically.) Service/treatment is generally great on both airlines, although on the whole the EXP desk is better than the DM desk (if you ever get anyone from the Delta Cincinatti desk, hang up and call back.)

    What no one has yet mentioned is that outside of these transcons to JFK, the AA domestic first experience is far superior to DL’s domestic first. AA has better seats, better pitch, and much better food (served much more frequently on more routes.)

    Also it should be noted that all Sky Clubs, with the recent product/service devaluation, are garbage. That includes the SEA club, the new JFK club, the supposedly “fancy” club in ATL F, and even the beloved NRT clubs, which are a joke compared to real international business class lounges. (The one redeemer is LHR’s SkyTeam lounge… Not a SkyClub, but better than most AA FSLs I’ve seen.)

    Add all that is known about DL’s ff program deficiencies and I’d say it’s an easy choice.

  42. @Marcus Aurelius Details from the link: “you’ll need to earn a specific number of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) within the 90-days of enrolling by flying Delta or Delta Connection®. ”
    I would have been very interested if you could get the MQMs as credit card MQMs.
    Also the link says sign up by June 30, 2013. Is there a newer link?

  43. I have a two-pronged issue with DL. First, SkyMiles is garbage. No further explanation needed. I don’t buy the argument that you can redeem them at a low level with just a little bit of effort. Quite frankly, I have a job and for the rest of the time, I have a family I’d rather spend time with. Next, being MSP based….it is totally unbelievable how much they rip us off for. I have to fly to London in business class next month. I can drive 60 miles to RST to take a flight that connects to the same non-stop MSP-LHR and save $1000 bucks. Is that fair? Is that something I should pay more for? This is a very frequent issue with my business flights out of here. I’ve started to take Southwest for domestic flights and will likely fly a Star Alliance airline to Europe next month….

  44. Interesting…I’m an Amex Biz Centurion small-biz owner with cc spend of 25k min per month. The only perk I really get to use and enjoy is DL Plat status. So it would appear I could save a fair amount of money by foregoing Amex Cent and the $2500 fee to get DL Plat status next year?

  45. @ JC — Yep, assuming you’re willing to get multiple of the Delta cards that could work out in your favor. That being said, it’s not “free” guaranteed Delta Plat like what you get with the Centurion card.

  46. I think SEA is an especially good base from which to redeem Skymiles, because it is Alaska’s primary hub. If the award is available on AS then you can easily redeem your DL miles at the low-level, so I wouldn’t be as worried about their poor redeemability as I would from a non-West Coast city.

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