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How I’m Planning to Keep My Delta Elite Status Through the Pandemic

Fortunately, there is an option to earn MQMs with Delta while grounded. Two SkyMiles credit cards award MQMs after you hit certain spending thresholds. You could use your credit card to get the MQD waiver and buy the required MQMs, but it’s a steep purchase. 

The Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card and the Delta SkyMiles Reserve American Express Card both offer initiatives called “status boosts,” which means cardholders can earn MQMs through certain everyday purchases. For 2021, Delta has increased these boosts by 25 percent. That means Platinum cardholders will get 12,500 MQMs for every $25,000 of spend on the card up to two times per calendar year. Reserve cardholders will earn 18,750 MQMs for every $30,000 of spend and up to four times in a calendar year. 

For those starting on a path to status, both Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Delta SkyMiles Reserve have welcome offers that include a cache of MQMs. The Platinum card is currently offering new cardholders 5,000 MQMs plus 40,000 bonus miles after spending $2,000 in the first three months; the Reserve card is offering new cardholders 10,000 MQMS plus 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. 

The Delta SkyMiles Reserve, which is one of the Delta cards I hold and use for business travel, comes with a $550 annual fee. The status boost for 2021 does make it possible for Reserve cardholders to buy their way to Platinum status. In my case, I’d first need to hit $25,000 of spend for the MQD waiver. I’d also need to buy my way to 41,715 MQMs. That would require three status boosts with the hefty price tag of $90,000. If I’m unable to safely board a plane this year, all-in, it would cost me $90,000 to buy my way to Platinum status in 2022 (the $25,000 for the MQD waiver would bundle into buying the MQMs). It’s financially unrealistic for me, especially in a pandemic budget reality. 

Longer flights could be possible later this year

With the rise in access to vaccinations, I’m hopeful the ability to take longer, cross-country flights is an option in the latter part of 2021. To unlock Platinum status, it will be a price tag of at least $9,000 in MQDs, which would require paying for quite a few cross-country trips in first class. For example, a flight from NYC to Salt Lake City in July to explore some national parks would yield $1,252 MQDs and 5,968 MQMs if I flew first class. Seattle and Los Angeles flight paths offer similar MQDs for first, but they also have Delta One flights, which would help juice the MQDs a bit. But that doesn’t solve the MQM portion. The MQMs are in the 7,000-plus range, but that still means I’d need to fly at least six cross-country flights to come close to securing my status—and that’s with my rollover.

At least one international flight is a helpful way to secure status. While international travel is technically doable to some places, it’s no longer simple right now given testing requirements to return to the U.S. As a last resort, I could do a “miles run,” or a long-haul flight that would earn the majority of the MQMs I need to secure status that wouldn’t even require me to exit an airport. There are usually good options for these types of flights on Delta routes to Asia or Europe, where some countries now allow U.S. citizens as transfer passengers who don’t leave the airport. 

Through a combination of MQM status boosts on my Delta SkyMiles Reserve credit card and the likelihood I’ll be able to board some longer domestic flights this year, there’s a chance I might be able to keep my status. But barring being able to safely board planes this year, I will need to wait to rebuild my coveted Platinum tier in 2022.

Condé Nast Traveler has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Condé Nast Traveler and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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