As the last of the big three US airlines, Delta is now definitively transitioning to a spending-based system for status qualification. This makes the frequent flyer program almost entirely unattractive for us Europeans. Starting in 2024, those who only fly with Delta, for instance, will need to spend US$18,000 (~€17,010) per year to achieve Platinum status.
The spending-based system can be partially circumvented on flights with partner airlines such as KLM & Air France, but even then, qualification becomes significantly harder than before. The new system for frequent flyer status is just one of numerous downgrades announced today. Rollover MQMs are almost completely devalued, and lounge access is further reduced.
Frequent Flyer Status Solely Based on Medallion Qualifying Dollars
Currently, Delta has three “currencies” used for earning frequent flyer status:
- MQM – Medallion Qualification Miles: Based on actual flown distance miles, often equivalent to 100% of the distance in economy class, varying by airline and travel class.
- MQS – Medallion Qualification Segments: Equivalent to the number of flight segments, excluding Basic Economy.
- MQD – Medallion Qualification Dollars: Calculated either from the ticket price (Delta flights) or similarly to MQM based on distance and booking class. Previously, only relevant for US citizens.
MQD has been entirely irrelevant for us Europeans so far. For Platinum status, it was sufficient to fly 75,000 miles in economy class around the world (excluding Basic Economy since 2022). Alternatively, the status could be earned with 100 segments.
These rules will change completely for all flights starting from January 1, 2024. The previously unimportant currency MQD (for us) will then be the only one that matters. At the same time, the thresholds will be significantly raised. It will take:
- Silver Medallion: 6,000 MQD
- Gold Medallion: 12,000 MQD
- Platinum Medallion: 18,000 MQD
- Diamond Medallion: 35,000 MQD
Even for Americans (who already had to consider MQD), this represents a massive increase of 50% to 100% compared to last year (compared to 2022 it’s even an increase of up to 133%) depending on the status level. The new thresholds mean:
- If you exclusively fly with Delta, you will need to spend US$18,000 (~€17,010) per calendar year on tickets to earn Platinum Medallion status. Taxes, fees, and all flights in Basic Economy are not even considered.
- MQS and MQM will be entirely irrelevant for all flights from 2024 onwards.
- For those travelling with partner airlines (KLM, Air France, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, etc.), you will have to read the “Medallion Qualification Dollars” column on the Delta website. Depending on the booking class, you’ll get between 5% and 40% of the distance credited as MQD.
Apart from flights, there are many other ways to earn MQD. For example, you get 1 MQD per dollar spent on hotel bookings through Delta Stays, car rentals through Delta Car Rentals, and more. These are essentially rebranded Expedia pages.
However, if you prefer to book hotels directly on the hotel’s website (for status benefits with Marriott, IHG, etc.), this might not be very useful. But booking a hotel this way might be worthwhile if you need to earn a few more dollars toward your status at the end of the year.
How many MQD do you get for your flight?
Of course, Delta would prefer that we all only fly Delta and credit the miles to their program. However, that will be the least attractive option in the future.
For those flying with partner airlines, you will continue to earn MQD based on distance and booking class. Apparently, the MQD credit corresponds exactly to 20% of the award miles earned for the same flight. You can find it in the right column of the mileage chart, as shown here for KLM:
Here are a few examples of what you’d earn:
- Economy Class Light (booking class X) on KLM: 5% of distance miles
- Economy Class (booking class U) on Saudia: 5% of distance miles
- Business Class (booking class O) on Air France: 20% of distance miles
- Premium Economy (booking class A) on KLM: 30% of distance miles
- Business Class (booking class I) on Air France: 40% of distance miles
For those who don’t know much about MQD, you can use our calculator to estimate the MQD credits you can expect for flights with SkyTeam partners. It will also show you how many miles you would have earned before:
Remember that you need to add the price to Delta flights (as shown in the example above). Alternatively, just omit all Delta flights and add the price to the result, as the MQDs are literally just the exact same number as the ticket price.
Massive Devaluation of Rollover MQMs
Delta SkyMiles currently has a unique feature: If you earn more miles (MQMs) in a year than you need for your status, you can carry them over to the next year. For instance, if you earn 120,000 MQMs, 75,000 are deducted for Platinum status, and you start the next year with 45,000 MQMs.
This could be taken to the extreme, and if you have several hundred thousand MQMs in your account, you could secure Diamond status for several years.
At least in theory. In the new program, this option will no longer be available. Moreover, all accumulated rollover MQMs for 2024 will become completely useless. They can only be converted into either award miles or MQD under the new system, and the conversion rate is unfavourable:
- 2 Rollover MQMs = 1 award mile (RDM)
- 20 Rollover MQMs = 1 MQD
To illustrate how unfavourable this is, consider this example: 50,000 rollover MQMs, which used to be sufficient for another year of Gold status, will be converted into 2,500 MQD next year, which isn’t even 50% of Silver status.
Comparison between the old and new systems
After the theoretical part, we’ve selected a few examples and calculated the credit under the old and new systems. It turns out that passengers with cheap economy tickets are the biggest losers:
Cheap Tickets in Economy Class
For simplicity, let’s stick to straightforward examples. Under the old system, you could achieve Gold status with 50,000 distance miles (50,000 MQMs) in economy class (except in Basic Economy). This might involve, e.g. four round trips to the US West Coast or Asia per calendar year.
The following four trips, according to the old system, earned 51,200 MQM and therefore Gold status:
- Delta Economy Class Berlin – Amsterdam – Los Angeles round trip (for €500)
- Delta Economy Class Berlin – Paris – San Francisco round trip (for €500)
- Air France Economy Class Berlin – Paris – Singapore round trip (ticket price doesn’t matter)
- Air France Economy Class Berlin – Paris – Bangkok round trip (ticket price doesn’t matter)
Under the old system, the ticket price was irrelevant. In the new system, it becomes relevant if the flights have a DL (Delta) flight number. So, you get:
- 2,110 MQD if the US flights have a DL flight number
- 2,530 MQD if the US flights have a KL/AF (KLM/Air France) flight number
Both of these amounts are not even 25% of Medallion Gold status, and they don’t even reach half of Silver status. So, for travellers with only cheap economy tickets, the new system puts them at an 80% disadvantage compared to the old system.
Cheap Tickets in Premium Economy Class
Delta SkyMiles was also a reasonably attractive program for premium economy flights. For simplicity, let’s consider three round trips in premium economy:
- KLM Premium Economy Berlin – Tokyo round trip (ticket price doesn’t matter, booking class A)
- Delta Premium Economy Berlin – Amsterdam – Chicago round trip (for €900)
- Delta Premium Economy Berlin – Paris – Los Angeles round trip (for €1,000)
Under the old system, this would earn 51,400 MQM, which is also enough for Gold status. Under the new system, you would get:
- 5,900 MQD if the US flights have a DL flight number
- 10,060 MQD if the US flights have an AF/KL flight number
This corresponds to between 49% and 83% of the new Gold status requirements for 2024 (meaning 51% to 17% worse). Here, it becomes evident that flights to the USA should, whenever possible, be booked with KLM or Air France instead of Delta. The spending-based system is always the worst choice for cheap tickets.
Cheap Tickets in Business Class
For the following three business round trips, you would earn 50,700 MQM under the old system, also enough for Gold status:
- KLM Business Class Stockholm – Singapore round trip (ticket price doesn’t matter, booking class P)
- Delta Business Class Berlin – New York – Los Angeles round trip (for €1,900, booking class I)
- Delta Business Class Berlin – New York – Los Angeles round trip (for €1,900, booking class I)
Under the new system, these would result in:
- 6,500 MQD if the US flights have a DL flight number
- 12,550 MQD if the US flights have an AF/KL flight number
If you booked the flights through KLM / Air France, you would earn 12,550 MQD, which would also get you Gold status and even put you in a slightly better position than before. If you booked with a DL flight number, the spending-based calculation applies, resulting in just 6,500 MQD, which is barely enough for Silver status.
Reductions in Lounge Access (for Amex Holders)
Not only is status qualification being revamped, but there are also further cuts to lounge access. This comes after lounge access with economy tickets was eliminated in 2023.
This mainly affects the conditions for credit card holders such as Amex Platinum:
- Even those who have access through their credit card will no longer have access to the Delta SkyClub if they are flying in Basic Economy / Light fare.
- Access to Delta Sky Clubs with Amex Platinum is limited to 6 times per year.1
1 -It is not yet entirely clear whether this limitation also applies to international Amex cards, i.e., those issued in countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, etc.
Similar changes have occurred in recent years with United MileagePlus and American AAdvantage. Since then, both programs have become almost entirely unattractive for frequent flyers from Europe. Delta SkyMiles now appears to be heading in the same direction. Moreover, Americans have some advantages (earning status miles with credit cards, upgrades on domestic flights, etc.) that don’t carry as much weight for us but are essential pillars of the program.
In our current guide to Delta SkyMiles, we say: Great for long-haul economy flyers. In the future, it will be the opposite: Those who only fly on cheap economy tickets can forget the program entirely.
If you currently hold a status with Delta SkyMiles, you will soon have to look for a new frequent flyer program. Flying Blue by Air France & KLM is a possible alternative. It offers many similar benefits, but achieving a high status with economy flights is also challenging there.