In September 2017, Delta announced a major change to its rewards program. Currently, it takes 125,000 qualifying miles (MQM) to reach Delta’s top-tier diamond medallion status.
Another way to reach Diamond Medallion status is by spending money with a qualifying credit card. Under the current rules, cardholders must spend $25,000 on their Delta credit card during the year in order to reach Diamond Medallion status with Delta.
As of January 1, 2018, however, it is going to get a lot harder to reach Diamond Medallion status with a Delta-branded credit card. The Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) mileage waiver spending requirement will increase to $250,000.
This change is incredibly important to Delta-branded cardholders who do not necessarily fly enough miles to earn Diamond Medallion status but like the benefits associated with it when they do fly.
The Reason for the Change
Delta says that the reason for the change is the company’s desire to preserve the elite nature of the Diamond Medallion status. They want to ensure that their most valued customers are able to enjoy all the benefits of this hard-earned frequent flyer status.
Allowing cardholders to waive the mileage requirement by spending $25,000 on a branded credit card caused a significant increase in the number of customers reaching Diamond Medallion status each year.
Delta’s management felt that the company was unable to maintain the service and availability of benefits due to the large number of customers earning the status through the Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) waiver. In order to maintain the expectation of superior service for its most loyal and elite customers, Delta decided to leave the mileage qualification the same while increasing the spending requirement for Delta cardholders.
It is not surprising that Delta-branded cardholders using their purchases to qualify for Diamond Medallion status are not pleased with the change. Very few of those cardholders will be able to achieve Delta’s elite flyer status after 2018. Some simply accept the change and consider the requirements for the lower Silver Elite status.
Travelers who actually earn Delta’s elite status through qualifying mileage seem pleased by the change. These customers fly on Delta every week and have complained that there are simply too many passengers with elite status on the flight.
When the most elite status becomes too easy to obtain, it loses its appeal and tends to devalue the brand. They are happy that Delta’s new policy shows the company’s appreciation of their loyalty and a commitment to providing them with exceptional service.
The reality of the market is that Delta was the only airline still allowing customers to qualify for its most elite frequent flyer privileges solely with Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD). Most other airlines require at least a combination of spending on a qualifying credit card along with actual mileage.
For example, American Airlines converts $50,000 in qualifying dollars on its branded credit card into 6,000 qualifying miles. Spending alone, however, gives a cardholder at most half of the miles needed for the highest frequent flyer status with American. United Airlines, on the other hand, does not offer any spending waiver at all for its most elite frequent flyer status. Customers can only reach their elite status with qualifying mileage on a United flight.
The Impacted Delta Credit Cards
The credit cards impacted the most by the policy changes are the Delta-branded American Express cards. There are both personal and business versions of the cards at two service levels: Gold and Platinum. These branded credit cards directly turn spending dollars into Delta frequent flyer miles.
The American Express Blue Delta Skymiles card also turns spending dollars into Delta miles but does not charge an annual fee like the Gold and Platinum Skymiles cards. The Delta Reserve American Express card is the most elite of the whole family of Delta credit cards. It has the second highest annual fee but offers the most Delta travel benefits to cardholders, including a free companion ticket each year.
In addition to the Delta-branded American Express credit cards, there are a variety of other cards that may be impacted by the change. These cards offer the option to turn spending points into Delta miles.
The Mercedez-Benz card, Starwood Preferred card and business card, the American Express Rewards card, American Express Platinum card, and the American Express OPEN line of personal and business cards all offer the ability to convert dollars spent into rewards miles with Delta. Customers may choose to close these American Express accounts in favor of a different airline card as a result of the changes to Delta’s Diamond Medallion qualification requirements.
Author: Jeff Gitlen
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