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All three of the US legacy carriers now require customers to meet spending thresholds if they aspire to one of the airline’s elite status tiers. These spend requirements are on top of the longstanding requirements that require flyers to fly a certain number of miles or segments to achieve elite status.
Delta was the trailblazer for minimum spend criteria in the US and if you have designs on Delta Medallion status these are the targets the airline sets:
All three US airlines like to see customers using their co-branded credit cards and so, to one extent or another, they all offer some kind of a waiver of the minimum spend criteria needed for status in exchange for meeting a set spending target on their co-branded credit card(s).
Delta is the only one of the 3 legacy airlines that offers customers the chance to have the spend requirement (Medallion Qualification Dollars or MQD) for top-tier status waived. United and American Airlines will let you earn a waiver of some of the spend requirement….but not enough so that you can earn top-tier status.
Here’s the wording from Delta’s own webpage:
$25,000 is not all that much in the world of frequent flyers – especially not for those with expense accounts – so this has always been a strangely generous loophole that Delta has offered.
Well, in case you missed the news, a few weeks ago Delta decided to close that loophole…and it closed it with a bang.
Here’s the statement from Delta:
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.
That’s right, Delta upped the credit card spend requirement for a top-tier status spend waiver by a factor of 10 to a quarter of a million dollars.
That’s a ridiculous number…but that’s not the point.
Leaving aside the fact that this was a remarkably foolish thing to do from a PR standpoint (far better not to have a waiver at all for top-tier status just like United) I can understand what Delta is doing and I don’t actually have a problem with it.
What Is Delta Doing?
On the basis that this isn’t going to be popular with a lot of flyers Delta is clearly not looking to win over a large section of its flyer base and, on the basis that this isn’t going to do much for the value of Delta’s co-branded Amex cards, Delta is clearly not looking to impress American Express either.
The only thing the airline can be doing is attempting to water down the number of top-tier elites it has.
To a large degree I applaud that.
Yes, you could argue that it’s easy for me to say this as I’m not a Delta elite….but I’d be applauding this if American Airlines (with whom I do have top-tier status) did this too.
There’s a commonly heard phrase that says “if everyone is an elite then no one is an elite” and that’s illustrated quite well by a couple of things I see on a regular basis.
- Upgrades for elites are a lot harder to get nowadays (across all the US legacy carriers) because there are so many elites eligible for upgrades.
- Priority lanes can mean very little nowadays as so many people have been given “priority” thanks to generous credit card benefits and generous elite perks for status that’s not very hard to attain. I’ve seen priority lines that are longer than the regular lines.
Top-tier status should be a challenge to attain and, in recognition of that, the benefits of top-tier status should be very good indeed…but they’re not.
The problem is this:
Waivers make status a lot easier to reach than it should be and, as a result, the airlines have to provide benefits for a substantial pool of flyers. Those benefits cost money and if there’s one thing we all know it’s that airlines do not like to spend money on flyers.
A smaller pool of top-tier elites should mean that an airline has more resources to provide truly worthwhile benefits to those who reach the top and that, to my mind, is a very good thing.
I feel genuinely sorry for the flyers who will now lose their top-tier status because they’re no longer going to get the MQD waiver they need to get that coveted Diamond status….but I understand Delta’s rationale.
Putting $25,000 of spend on a credit card takes very little effort at all and top-tier status should be earned with effort.
It’s already easy to earn tens of thousands of Medallion Qualification Miles through credit card spend so having a minimum spend waiver was making Diamonds status way too easy to reach. Something had to give.
The interesting thing to watch for is this: As Delta’s Diamond population is reduced over the next 12 – 18 months will benefits improve and will upgrades get easier? Or will things stay the same?