WOW: Delta to Require $250,000 Credit Card Spend to Waive Revenue Requirements for Diamond Status

Back in July I wrote that Delta was apparently considering eliminating the ability to spend on its credit card instead of meeting minimum spending on tickets for elite status for those qualifying for their top Diamond tier.

Currently Delta requires you to spend a minimum of 12 cents a mile for status (eg $3000 for 25,000 mile Silver, $15,000 for 125,000 mile Diamond) but waives the requirement for customers living outside the U.S. and for U.S. customers spending at least $25,000 on a co-brand American Express card.

Supposedly they were only going to let you earn up to Platinum using this waiver. They didn’t do that, but they might as well have.

Starting next year in order to earn top tier Diamond elite status for 2019 and beyond they’re upping the spend requirement from $25,000 to $250,000.

As a Credit Card Member, we want you to be aware that starting January 1st, 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.

We understand this is a significant increase, but wanted you to know that the MQD Waiver to qualify for all of the best-in-class benefits of Platinum, Gold and Silver Medallion Status will still remain at $25,000.

You can still spend $25,000 on a Delta co-brand card and waive the minimum ticket spend for elite status up to Platinum. But if you want to earn Diamond the new spend requirement increases tenfold.

This is a blow to the value of Delta co-brand credit cards. As it is the heavy elite traveler looking for a waiver of the spend requirement for status (or looking to earn elite qualifying miles for status) is the only one that should spend any money on this credit card after earning the card’s signup bonus.

Not only are Delta miles worth less than other currencies, but even the cardmember who wants to earn Delta miles can earn more Delta miles with other cards. That’s because American Express offers several cards with broader bonus categories which earn more Membership Rewards points, Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta, and offer the flexibility to transfer to better frequent flyer programs.

Ultimately this change is:

  • Good for flyers who spend enough on Delta to earn top tier status without needing the credit card waiver. They’ll have less competition for upgrades since many of those doing $25,000 on the card and earning Diamond now will be shed from the ranks.

  • Bad for flyers who have been loyal travelers but need the spend waiver to hit Diamond. Delta is saying that their business is worth less, that earning via credit card along with travel isn’t worth enough to be a top tier elite unless you all of a sudden earn ten times as much as before.

  • Bad for American Express, who keeps taking it in the chin from Delta. Not only did American Express set the bar with a new most-expense co-brand travel card deal after losing Costco, but Delta knowing they’re the next-biggest partner of American Express after Costco was they’ve continued to chip away at the value American Express gets for their top dollar. The elite status that Black Card members get, for instance, is even devalued and American Express lounge access with Delta no longer comes with guests either.

(HT: Andrew H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I would think this is a typo, but likely not. Not flying Delta. This monopoly they have over their reward program with constant devaluations and now this is just mind boggling.

  2. It ain’t over till the fat lady sits in your seat…and then it’s really over! Let the new games begin!!!

  3. I am befuddled by this clearly self-defeating change at Delta.

    Whatever vig they get from AMEX on $25,000 spend isn’t enough? OK, fine I believe that. How about $50,000? Really still not good? What about the $60,000 you get from maxing out the Reserve card?

    Heck, what about requiring the waiver to be ONLY on the Reserve for Diamond. That’d be the big, fat annual fee plus, say, $60,000 in spend and the associated vig.

    Now, Delta does something weirdly insidious to itself. “Tier 2” flyers like myself have less reason to book the marginal flight with Delta. Not none of course: Delta still offers a great in-air product and we Platinums get to board pretty early, likely get Comfort Plus (yes, I know Rene hates it but some of us don’t), etc.

    But when looking at the flights between, say, 50K BIS miles and 100K — the ones we need with credit-card MQMs to get over the Diamond threshold — we should consider:

    1) Price of competitors who might be cheaper
    2) Better schedules on competitors
    3) Chances to maybe get upgraded on competitors for small-ish fees since we often have little chance on Delta anyway
    4) Opportunities to enjoy some even nicer metal from JetBlue or others on routes where the Delta seating leaves less to be desired and, perhaps worst of all for Delta…

    5) Split loyalty. Instead of going to the already high 125K on Delta, maybe go to the 50K and try out Alaska… or Southwest… or heaven forbid United/American.

    If 5 goes well, maybe Delta drops to lower priority next year. Now us “Tier 2, but very very loyal” types who spend say $5-10K with Delta annually, use the card even with the knowledge that a mess of SkyPesos wasn’t the best spend but we needed the MQMs, go a bit out of our way to fly Delta… Well we have a lot less reason to be loyal.

    I see the number of people willing to manufacture 250K of spend with Delta Amex cards as close to zero. I wonder how many would-be Diamonds are wiped out this way. And why Delta thinks that’s a good idea.

  4. Gary, I have seen no points oriented blogs mention, but you can get instant Diamond status for as long as your contract is with Delta Private Jets. I know you may have to purchase a very large package in terms of hours (not sure if it comes with the Jet Card), but you can use on both commercial fares and private jets the amount, and get discounts on Delta One tickets. It’s obviously not for everyone, but I think it also comes for the spouse as well. Certainly better than spending $250,000 for 250,000 SkyPesos!

  5. Wow. Any one who can make top tier elite in both Delta and Hyatt is going to have to be Hella Loyal. But they will probably get all the upgrades they’ve ever dreamt of….

  6. DL knew Amex had no way out after they’ve lost Costco and jetBlue, has an unexciting partnership with Hilton, and a very uncertain one with Starwood.

    On the same time, they’re really forgetting one thing – $250K is firmly within the qualifications for the Amex Centurion (“black”) card. Folks who can spend $250K on their cards, even if it’s business expenses, aren’t exactly the ones fussing about global upgrade certificates.

  7. @Mark
    It’s really hard to justify offering a CC spend waiver based off what you get from the issuer. Most airlines are doing it for goodwill, not because their cut of the spend makes it worth while.

    Delta will be getting somewhere in the range of 0.9-1.1% of each dollar spent. So on $25,000 in spent, that is in the $225-275 range. Even assuming that’s pure profit (which it isn’t, as there is a cost when the 25,000 miles are redeemed), it makes no sense to provide a top-tier waiver for $250.

    $250,000 means Delta will receive roughly $2,500, and that’s a much more reasonable to offer waiver based on. Though, I’m actually surprised they bothered and didn’t just remove it like UA did. That high of a spend will offend people, probably more than a complete removal would have.

  8. The funny thing is, they’ve simultaneously made Diamond a much less valuable status than when it was introduced. To quote Bannon, “They think you’re a pack of morons!”

  9. If you are stupid enough to spend $250,000 in one year on a DL Amex you deserve a lot more than Diamond status. Personally I’d rather have 250k Chase UR or Amex SPG than worthless skypesos.

    I am not sure how you accumulate 125k on DL without spending $15k, but even assuming you bought cheapo long haul domestic economy tix you presumably have at least $10k in spend. So the smarter play would be to buy a TATL or TPAC paid business class ticket for a vacation, and then enjoy the upgrades. Because the $250k spend would return $5k on a 2% cash back card, and potentially even more value with Chase UR or Amex SPG.

    In sum, this is basically an illusory benefit, as nobody in their right mind would spend $250k on DL Amex.

  10. Whats a few bucks difference with our good honest and high integrity friends from Delta
    The most trusted airline for taking care of their loyal customers
    At least they have a published amount disclosed for it
    No big deal really
    And you have to admire about them just gradually increasing it over time 😉
    Best FF Program the world over

  11. Gary if everyone is elite nobody is elite. DL wants to whittle down the Diamond ranks to fewer people primarily frequent travelers and high spend individuals to ensure these individuals receive benefits and recognition commensurate to the value they bring to the table.

    It upsets you when airlines act in their best commercial interests especially when it means fewer benefits for your blog readers.

  12. It is far simpler to just buy Domestic F or Int’l J on the carrier that best suits you and stop chasing elite status.

  13. Consistent with United which does not provide a pathway to its top official tier (1K) through a CC spend waiver. $250k threshold is tantamount to eliminating the benefit entirely.

  14. Can somebody who is still a member of Delta’s frequent flyer program explain to us why they haven’t given up yet?! Clearly Delta doesn’t want/need you so why are you still staying with them?

  15. Little do they know professional manufacturing spend folks can do $250K pa easily.
    Though I don’t think this will actually be “Good for flyers who spend enough on Delta”, I think they just plan to sell more upgrades, the elite experience will be about the same. I also think they think those folks who will miss out on Diamond will just accept their fate and keep flying for Platinum. Probably right there too…

  16. @Josh G – “It upsets you when airlines act in their best commercial interests especially when it means fewer benefits for your blog readers.”

    I highlight who wins and who loses in this change. It sucks for those who lose. That is all. The rest of the stuff is only in your delusions…

  17. I think it’s the magnitude of the change I find offensive, but, it confirms my opinion that Delta couldn’t give a sh*t about its higher-spending customers. I would make the spend limit for Diamond without the Cr Card spend, but I think I’ll just pile more onto AA.
    What does that cost? Until this year I was almost exclusively on DL. At over 300,000 MQMs on AA and 70,000 MQDs this year, that’s what DL lost.

  18. Not really sure i get the beef. The best I can figure, exclusive of a one time signup bonus the max MQM’s anyone can earn in a year with card spend is about 30K (60K spend on the Reserve Amex card). That leaves 95K MQM’s that need to be earned FLYING. I can’t figure out how you can ean 95K miles without also spending the required 15K MQD’s. Do the math, if you took the Delta shuttle and earned 500 MQM per flight you would need to make that flight 190 times a year( 4 flights per week) and would need earn only 79 MQD’s per flight(that’s a darn cheap ticket). On the other side of the spectrum 4 business class flights (in Z the lowest cost in class prob only 2 in F) between US and Europe or Asia would do it also get it done.

    How many people who actually earn 95K MQM’s flying wouldn’t still qualify Platinum based on MQD’s spent on those flights. I can’t figure there were very many card users who would qualify based on the lower (25K) card spend anyway!

  19. In the grand scheme of things, the $25K Diamond status was way too low and meant there was a much higher percentage of Diamonds than there should have been. For most frequent flyers, $25K on one card is pretty easy to reach without working very hard.
    While $250K is a big jump, it means that Diamond will no longer be so diluted and be more meaningful. As a Platinum, it also greatly increases my upgrade chances:)

  20. Boraxo nailed it above.

    Why spend $250,000 on a Delta credit card when you could direct that spend to a Chase card that provides superior benefits AND flexibility.

  21. A better idea: Get rid of EQD waivers altogether or offer minimal “top off” credit cards. The Aviator cards for AA are too generous; you should only be able to earn EQDs ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 instead of the current $3,000 and $6,000. Actual on-airline spend should be the highest priority.

  22. I am a Platinum Delta elite. And a million miler with Delta. You ask why I still stay with Delta. Believe it or not many years I have had to tried not to achieve diamond status. There is so little difference in benefits between Platinum and Diamond. I also have Amex Delta Reserve card so each year I get 30 Medallion miles after $60,000 spent. I travel overseas often and lounge access is important. Also anytime I have had any problem Delta private Platinum line reps have always been helpful and handled all problems. Sorry folks but I know Delta is not perfect but I am not an unhappy Delta camper

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