I say “cheap” based on qualifying for Diamond with under $15,000 in flight spending as detailed below.
Even a few years ago, airlines used to make things quite easy for customers trying to earn high elite status. I remember one of the years I was Delta Diamond that I was able to earn 80,000 elite miles (MQMs) of the 125,000 necessary with just 2 very cheap flights to Sydney (thanks to a double mile promo) – and earning Diamond at the time only cost me $2,000! That’s insane! And it is also history now…
Being a “Cheap” Delta Diamond Elite Will Cost You $250,000 With Amex Each Year
The airlines have been moving to try and reward the passengers that actually spend more money on their flights. They really do not want the many of us who fly on cheap tickets – even cheap business class tickets – and would prefer to get the bigger dollars.
What Does This Mean?
To put it simply, Delta requires one of two things to earn elite status – a minimum amount of qualifying miles flown in a year or a minimum amount of segments flown in a year. The mile requirement starts at 25,000 for the base level (Silver Medallion) and goes all the way up to 1250,000 miles for the highest level (Diamond Medallion).
In addition to either one of those requirements, you must also spend a minimum qualifying amount on flights. That starts at $3,000 spending on flights per year for Silver status and goes all the way up to $15,000 on flights per year for Diamond.
Note: if your account address is in a foreign country, the spending threshold does not apply to you. Also, how Delta credits partner airline costs can work in your favor for the spending threshold as well.
Spending as a Waiver to Ticket Values for Status
But they also introduced a waiver at the same time as their qualifying dollars for status by allowing elites to avoid that spending threshold if they would spend $25,000 on their Delta Amex cards per year. This is like United but Delta was the only one that let you spend for a waiver for their top elite status.
The spending was also helpful since some of the Delta Amex cards allow you to earn those elite qualifying miles by spending as well. For example, the $450 annual fee Delta Reserve card lets you earn 15,000 elite miles for spending $30,000 in a year and you can double that with another $30,000 in spending.
If you have both the personal and business cards, that means you can earn a total of 60,000 elite miles without ever stepping on a plane and by using your credit cards for $120,000 in spending.
New $250,000 Spending Requirement for Waiver
“Starting January 1, 2018, the Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) Waiver for Diamond Medallion Status is increasing. The MQD Waiver for Diamond Medallion Status is currently earned by spending $25,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year on a SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express. It is being adjusted to $250,000 in a calendar year.” – That is quite an adjustment!
To “preserve” their highest elite status, Diamond Medallion, they have now
hiked boosted catapulted the spending requirement per year from $25,000 on the Delta Amex cards to $250,000 in a year! That is a huge amount of money to spend on one family of cards and Delta will likely get what they want – most people dropping Diamond status unless they are spending the otherwise-required $15,000 on flights per year.
This is a bold (and likely a long-term dumb) move by Amex as well in accepting this type of requirement. There are a lot of Delta Reserve cardholders that keep that card and pay the annual fees year after year because they can supplement their flying with the elite miles in their spending.
As I mentioned above, spending $120,000 in a year will earn you 60,000 elite miles which is more than enough to cover the distance between Platinum Medallion (75,000 miles per year) and Diamond Medallion (125,000 miles per year). Now, you will need to double that spending (and then some) to hit the new waiver for Diamond Medallion that you would otherwise need to spend on tickets.
This new requirement will go begin for the 2019 qualifying year (January 1, 2018).
Amex’s Move May Backfire
To be honest, I understand Delta wanting to keep an elite level more elite but this is just greedy on both Delta and Amex’s part. Instead of keeping it elite for the true flyers that spend $15,000+ per year on flights and fly 125,000 miles, they are just showing that they still consider the big spenders on credit cards to be a big target for them as well.
How might this backfire? I doubt that there will be many people at all that will spend $250,000 on Amex cards (unless they already do it). Spending $25,000 per year is doable, but spending 10 times that on a single product family of credit cards is really not a good move for most.
Alternative Spending To Demonstrate the Absurdity
Instead, if you put just $50,000 of that spending on another Amex product, the Blue Business Plus, you would earn 100,000 Membership Reward points. That is a no-fee card that would net you enough points for some amazing travel (transferred to Aeroplan, it would give you 100,000 miles which is just shy of the 110,000 miles required for business class roundtrip from the US to most of Europe).
How about if you put it all on the SPG card from Amex? That would net you 250,000 SPG points which, if transferred to an airline, would give you 312,500 miles (possibly more with the transfer bonuses that come around).
Let’s move to a card that would give you 2% cash back. Spending a quarter of a million dollars in a year would give you $5,000 back in your pocket! With that, you could buy the flights you want on any airline and not worry about card/airline loyalty.
How about if you could move that kind of spending through the US Bank Altitude Reserve card using mobile wallet payments? That would get you 750,000 Altitude Reserve points that you could then use for over $11,000 worth of travel through US Bank or put $7,500 in your pocket!
There are plenty of other scenarios where putting that kind of spend on other cards would net you some other amazing travel opportunities – and without the hassle of dealing with Delta’s continual cutting of awards and benefits.
In the end, there will be a few Delta loyalists that may up their spending to try and keep that waiver. But it will likely only be a few. I think it is far more likely that people will drop down to Delta Platinum (and roll over any miles earned between 75,000 and 125,000 for the next year) or they will try harder to hit that $15,000 in ticket prices if they are near it.
But, I also think that this will create huge blowback for both Delta and Amex from loyal customer. This hurts the people that are already putting a minimum of $25,000 on their Delta Amex cards – and likely a lot more to get the bonus miles from spending. This is a huge slap at them and their spending and I think Amex is going to see that spending largely go away. And it will probably not be made up by those increasing their spending to $250,000!
Delta Diamond will likely return to what elite status used to be – people who fly a lot and spend a lot to fly. For those Diamond members, this is good news.
Are you a Delta Diamond member? How do you feel about this new requirement?
Editorial Note - Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.
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