The Complete Guide to Delta Medallion Elite Status

Sam KemmisDecember 27, 2019

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Whether you’re in it for complimentary upgrades, free checked bags or just the smug sense of superiority, there are many good reasons to pursue Delta Air Lines elite status.

Delta’s Medallion elite status works much the same as other major U.S. carriers like American and United, with spending minimums for each tier and a whole bunch of acronyms like MQMs and MQDs. Whether you’re a wizened old frequent flyer or are new to the game, here we’ll break down everything you need to know about Delta’s program (and keep the acronyms to a minimum).

How Medallion status works

Delta has four tiers of elite status: Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond.

You can earn status by flying and spending enough (see below) within a single calendar year, and once earned you’ll keep it through the following calendar year. So if you earn Gold status in July 2020, you’ll keep it through the end of 2021. If you’re just short of reaching status before the end of the year … well, tough luck.

You can also earn lifetime status by flying a million miles or more lifetime miles. This starts at lifetime Silver status for reaching “only” 1 million miles, and caps at lifetime Diamond status for flying 4 million miles. That 4 million miles is more than 160 trips around the Earth, so don’t hold your breath for this status unless you travel incredibly often.

Earning Medallion status

In a nutshell, you earn Delta Medallion status by:

  • Getting enough Medallion Qualification Dollars for each tier and either

    • Getting enough Medallion Qualification Miles or

    • Getting enough Medallion Qualification Segments

These are often abbreviated to MQDs, MQMs and MQSs, but in our experience that’s more confusing than helpful, so we’ll keep spelling them out.

In Delta’s status universe, you can’t game the system by taking several long, cheap flights (as you can on Alaska Airlines) because you’ll need to reach the minimum number of Medallion Qualification Dollars for each tier (unless you have a waiver earned on a Delta SkyMiles credit card, as discussed below).

Here’s the breakdown:

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

To earn this status, you must have MQDs of at least:

$3,000

$6,000

$9,000

$15,000

AND EITHER this many MQMs:

25,000

50,000

75,000

125,000

OR this many EQSs:

30

60

100

140

How Medallion Qualification Dollars work

Lest you think a Medallion Qualification Dollar is just a dollar, Delta makes it a little more complicated.

First, Medallion Qualification Dollars are only accrued from the base fare of a ticket, excluding taxes and fees. So if your ticket costs $500, $100 of which are taxes and fees, you’ll earn 400 Medallion Qualification Dollars.

Second, you can earn Medallion Qualification Dollars (and miles and segments) when flying on “select partner-marketed flights not ticketed through Delta.” However, the number of Medallion Qualification Dollars earned from partner flights is not based on the cost of the ticket but rather as a fraction of the miles flown. Confused? That’s not even the whole story.

The fraction of partner miles flown that are converted into Medallion Qualification Dollars varies by partner and fare class. The “easiest” way to see how this works is to visit the Delta partner page, click on the appropriate partner, then click on the “mileage earn” box and finally look to the far-right column of the chart that appears.

Delta makes this far, far more complicated than it should be. Thus, when considering whether to book a partner flight through Delta or through the partner itself, you should compare the number of Medallion Qualification Dollars (and miles) you’ll earn in each scenario.

Rollover Medallion Qualification Miles

Delta offers a great feature for those shooting for Medallion status, in which “extra” Medallion Qualification Miles roll over to the following year. For example, if you earn 100,000 Medallion Qualification Miles in 2020, you’ll earn Platinum status with enough Medallion Qualification Dollars. Since Platinum status only requires 75,000 Medallion Qualification Miles, the extra 25,000 you earned will roll over to 2021 and provide a jumpstart to your status for the next calendar year.

However, note that Medallion Qualification Dollars do not roll over to the following year. The dollar threshold is harder to hit than the mileage one for many frequent flyers, which can render the mileage rollover benefit moot.

Credit card waivers

SkyMiles earned from Delta’s branded credit cards do not count as either Elite Qualification Miles or Elite Qualification Dollars. However, they do offer something called a “Medallion Qualification Dollars Waiver” to those who spend a ton on their Delta cards. How much is a “ton”? Here’s the breakdown:

  • $25,000 in spending within a calendar year qualifies for a Silver, Gold or Platinum Medallion Qualification Dollars waiver. That is, you won’t have to reach the Elite Qualification Dollar threshold to earn these three statuses.

  • $250,000 in spending within a calendar year qualifies for a Diamond Elite Qualification Dollars Waiver. (That’s not a typo.)

Medallion status benefits

All Medallion tiers offer priority boarding and check-in, and all except Silver get priority security and baggage access. All tiers also receive complimentary seat upgrade eligibility, free checked bags and bonus SkyMiles, with higher tiers offer correspondingly greater benefits.

Silver

Gold

Platinum

Diamond

SkyMiles earned per dollar spent

7 (40% bonus)

8 (60% bonus)

9 (80% bonus)

11 (120% bonus)

Upgrade eligibility*

• Free upgrades to First Class or Comfort+ seats starting 24 hours before departure.

• Free upgrades to First Class or Comfort+ seats starting 72 hours before departure.

• Free upgrades to First Class seats starting 120 hours before departure and to Comfort+ seats soon after ticketing.

• Free upgrades to First Class seats starting 120 hours before departure and to Comfort+ seats soon after ticketing.

Fee benefits

• Waived baggage fees

• Waived baggage fees • No fees for same-day flight changes

• Waived baggage fees • No fees for same-day flight changes • No ticket reissue fees • No fee to redeposit awards when canceling a ticket paid for with miles

• Waived baggage fees • No fees for same-day flight changes • No ticket reissue fees • No fee to redeposit awards when canceling a ticket paid for with miles

Status on SkyTeam partner airlines**

Elite

Elite Plus

Elite Plus

Elite Plus

Choice benefit

N/A

N/A

1 Platinum benefit

3 Diamond benefits

*For all statuses, companions on your reservation get the same upgrade eligibility as you. **All levels above Silver also get access to SkyTeam lounges.

Upgrades

Although complimentary seat upgrades are one of the biggest benefits of any airline elite status, the process by which upgrades are determined can seem daunting and confusing. This is because all complimentary upgrades are essentially a lottery, with no certainties (even for travelers with Diamond Medallion status).

For example, although upgrades begin clearing for Diamond members 120 hours prior to departure as the above table describes, this only means that they get the first crack at seats that are available at that point.

More seats will open, sometimes at the last minute, and those will get assigned to Medallion members still on the upgrade waitlist in descending order of status (and fare class). In other words, the highest Medallion status members get first dibs on upgrades, but only when those upgrades are available.

So if you’re a Gold Medallion member flying from Atlanta (Delta’s home airport) to New York, for example, you’re far less likely to score an upgrade than you would be on another flight with fewer elites.

Companions traveling with you are also eligible for complimentary upgrades, though it gets a bit convoluted. You can learn all the details on Delta’s upgrade page, but here’s the gist:

  • Companions must have a SkyMiles membership to be eligible for upgrades.

  • A companion booked on the same reservation as you will get upgraded at the highest tier of the two. For example, if you’re Platinum and your companion is Gold, you will both be eligible as Platinums.

  • For a companion booked on separate but linked reservations, it’s complicated — basically these companions are unlikely to be upgraded unless they have Medallion status of their own.

  • For groups of three or more, it’s extremely complicated and very easy for no one in the group to be upgraded. We recommend calling Delta if you’re booking a group ticket and are curious how the upgrades will shake out.

Finally, basic economy (E) fares are not eligible for any complimentary upgrades, so think twice before booking these tickets for long-haul flights.

Choice benefits

Delta offers a unique choose-your-own benefit option for both Platinum and Diamond Medallion members. It’s a nice perk, as it lets you focus on the benefits you value most and skip the ones you’d never use.

Platinum members choose ONE of the following:

  • Package of four regional upgrade certificates.

  • 20,000 bonus miles.

  • $200 Delta travel voucher.

  • $200 Tiffany & Co. gift card.

  • Gift of Silver Medallion status to a friend.

Diamond members choose THREE of the following:

  • Individual membership to Delta Sky Clubs (unlimited access for self; guests pay a fee).

  • Executive membership to Delta Sky Clubs (unlimited access for self and two guests) — this option counts as two choices.

  • Package of as many as eight upgrade certificates (eight regional, four global, or two global and four regional).

  • 25,000 bonus miles.

  • $200 Delta travel voucher.

  • $200 Tiffany & Co. gift card.

  • Gift of Gold Medallion status to a friend.

Partner benefits

The “system” for Medallion benefits on Delta’s partner airlines is so byzantine and inscrutable that we can’t possibly explain it all here. Delta’s own partner benefit page starts with a glossary of terms, like a list of characters the beginning of a Russian novel.

That said, in general:

  • Silver Medallion holders get “SkyTeam Elite” status, which offers a few limited benefits on most partners.

  • Gold, Platinum and Diamond holders get “SkyTeam Elite Plus” status, which offers more robust benefits like lounge access.

  • All Medallion holders get one extra free piece of luggage on partner flights.

  • Most partners offer their own combination of benefits to these two groups. If you’re unsure which airline to fly based on your Medallion status, check the partner page and compare the offered benefits.

Status matching, challenges and Reclaim My Status

Delta offers several helpful ways to give you a leg up on earning Medallion status (or help you get it back after lapsing).

Status matching

If you’re a frequent flyer on another program considering switching loyalty, Delta will match your status for three months to give you a sense of the benefits. To qualify you must:

  • Not have received a status match from Delta in the past three years.

  • Have elite status from another qualifying airline.

  • Be able to prove that you have this status and that you earned it from flying (not through another status match).

If approved for a status match, you’ll also be enrolled in a status challenge. Essentially, this lets you extend your status beyond the three-month trial if you’re able to hit certain flying and spending milestones during the trial.

In fact, you can extend your Medallion status through the entire following year if you begin your status match after July 1. For example, if you begin your match (and challenge) on July 2, 2020 and meet the milestones, you’ll keep your status throughout 2021.

'Reclaim My Status'

This helpful program is essentially parental leave for airline elite status. That is, if you were a Medallion status member who had a major life event that caused you to lose your status, Delta will let you reclaim your previous status in a similar way to the matching program above.

To qualify, you must be able to provide documentation of the life event, but Delta claims that “all life events will be considered.”

If approved, Delta will reinstate your former status for three months and give you the opportunity to extend your reclaimed status through the following year in the same manner as the status challenge above. So you should only apply for the program when you’re ready (and planning) to start flying again.

The bottom line

Overwhelmed by the complexity of Delta’s Medallion elite program? Don’t be. It's a great program for travelers who fly frequently on Delta and its partners, and it can provide money-saving and comfort-improving benefits to all Medallion holders.

If you’re ready to learn more about the Delta SkyMiles program, check out our complete guide.

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