What program to pick?
While North American flyers would naturally assume that Delta is the best choice. But depending on factors such as if you fly between the United States and Canada or Mexico, FlyingBlue might be a valid choice.
Why? Due to the intricacies in how they reward trans-border flights which are rewarded in a very lucrative manner.
For instance, FlyingBlue gives 15 XPs for a short hop such as NYC-Toronto or Montreal in Business Class or 5 XPs in Coach. These flights can be found at times at attractive rates. But purely domestic flights are not as lucrative as in fact a short flight between Rome and Turin gives the same rate as New York to Los Angeles 6 XPs or 2 XPs.
How to obtain Delta Status?
Delta Airlines and their SkyMiles program is one of the most popular mileage programs in the United States. But they have been at the forefront of negative innovation in the mileage program game. At first their program was similar to others, giving miles based on distance but they added a spend component called Medallion Qualifying Dollars or MQDs back in 2013.
The program has been gutted on various occasions most recently in September 2023 where the program went to extreme new levels and killed earnings across multiple partners. A record breaking 28,000 MQDs are needed for Delta Diamond status, $15,000 in MQDs to earn Platinum Medallion, $10,000 in MQDs to achieve Gold Medallion status and $5,000 MQDs for Silver (almost doubling what it was two years ago).
Delta’s goal is to incentivize spend on associated credit cards and direct spending with Delta.
Partner airlines are key to obtaining miles and spend at a low out of pocket price through MQD Arbitration which uses very lucrative opportunities, especially in business and first class where you can collect a significant amount of redeemable miles and spend at a lower cost compared to a similar Delta flight.
You can earn Delta RDMs and MQDs from at least 384 unique airfare buckets across 4 types of cabin (First Class, Business Class, Premium Economy and Economy) and subcategories within each area on over 20 different airlines! Pre-Pandemic, there were more partners but Virgin Australia ceased trans-Pacific flights, GOL got friendlier with American Airlines and Aeroflot was suspended from SkyTeam.
There is a huge range of earning opportunities based on distance from 300% RDMs and 60% MQDs on the high-end to as little as 0% RDMs and 0 MQDs!
Are you a frequent Delta flyer with significant flown flights who misses out on upgrades because of a low MQD count or are stuck at Gold when you could be a Delta Platinum or Diamond?
First thing is to determine if it’s worthwhile. The mileage games that were lucrative in 2019 are no longer the case in late 2023. Remote work killed some road warriors and First Class Monetization (well over 80% of the First Class cabin on a Delta flight is paid (cash or miles) versus upgrades. Add in pilots/crew travelling on duty and the odds of an upgrade are minimal. Lounge Access is limited again so you need to take that into consideration when thinking about airline status.
But if you are still thinking of playing this game, we have published dozens of deals that allow you to maximize the value you get from each flight. We developed the MQD Ratio model that shows how many MQDs you can obtain per Dollar spent on Partner Airlines.
If you fly Delta this value is always below 1 as most taxes and fees are not used in the calculation of MQDs. But when flying partner airlines, MQDs are calculated as a % of flown distance (0% to even 60% of distance) and it's very possible to find ratios of 2, 3 or in some cases 5 to 1. Pre-Covid we even published a 12.69 MQD Ratio deal from FCO-SYD! Several of our readers took advantage of this incredible deal before the world closed in early 2020.
As of early February 2024: We can still help you find 3 to 4 MQD Ratios in many markets such as SoCal or New York with the Tijuana trick using flights with AeroMexico in Business Class as well as deals with Virgin or Air France in Premium Economy.
These earnings decreased in 2024, when most partner airlines that earned 40% of distance as MQDs decreased to 30% of distance. This shifted the lucrative sweetspots from 5-7 down to 3-4 MQD Ratios.
Several years ago, FlyingBlue introduced the concept of eXperience Points (XP) which provides savvy users with many Arbitrage opportunities. Their system values International flights over domestic flights, with distance and class of service as additional variables.
It can give weird values such as a flight from Vancouver to Seattle earning more in the program than Seattle to New York!
Within Europe it allows for some great Arbitrage opportunities from Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Portugal, the UK and more! You can usually obtain XPs for under €7 each in Business Class. Pre-Covid €5-6 was the usual rate but as of late 2023 this seems to be the new normal in pricing.
You can obtain Silver status with 100 XPs which grants you Priority boarding. To reach Gold Status which is equivalent to SkyTeam Elite you need 180 additional XPs and then just need to fly that same amount each year to re-qualify. Platinum can be obtained with an additional 300 XPs.
Overall the secret is how they reward premium cabin transborder flights. The FlyingBlue program rewards individuals who fly in business class across borders, so a flight from Brussels to Amsterdam will give you more miles than a flight from JFK to Los Angeles and while it seems absurd, it gives you the ability to travel-hack your way to status!
One way to obtain status is through what is called the Denmark or Oslo connection. This involves departing from a European city connecting in both Paris and Amsterdam before arriving at your destination. This could be obtained for between €500 to 700 depending on your point of origin. This routing would give you 90 XPs which is almost enough for Silver status and two more of these would give you Gold status which is mid-tier SkyTeam status.
A trick we published recently is the Cairo Connection, Saudia published fares for travel between Cairo and Riyadh, with some very flexible fares rules, as in allowing connections in Asia (Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Europe or North America) on what should be a three hour flight. So for under $800 you could obtain as many as 108-130 XPs and 70 hours in Business Class over 4 days. But sadly no alcohol is served on board to mitigate these long flights.