It’s no secret that Delta elite status doesn’t come cheap. After all, in addition to 125,000 Medallion Qualification Miles or 140 Medallion Qualification Segments, top-tier Diamond Medallion status requires earning $15,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars. Worse yet, this will rise to $20,000 for the 2024 status year.
That means you must spend $15,000 ($1 equals 1 MQD, minus taxes) this year on Delta Air Lines to qualify and retain your Diamond Medallion status. However, by maximizing your MQD earnings on Delta’s partners, you can earn 15,000 MQDs while spending less than $7,500 — and it isn’t as hard as you might think.
SkyMiles members can earn MQDs with any SkyTeam member, and they’re accrued based on fare class and flight distance. So this means a $1,000 long-haul business-class ticket booked directly with KLM could accrue 2,000 MQDs or more, depending on how long the fight is.
Let’s look at earning MQDs on partner flights and how it could make earning Delta’s Medallion elite status much less expensive.
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Some background on earning MQDs with partners
As with most carriers nowadays, Delta largely awards elite status to members with high annual spending — at least when you earn status on Delta’s own flights. While Medallion Qualification Miles are earned based on the distance you fly, you’ll also need Medallion Qualification Dollars to qualify for status on Delta-ticketed flights, unless you are eligible for the MQD waiver through credit card spending.
You earn roughly 1 MQD for each dollar spent on Delta’s own flights, excluding taxes. For example, on a Delta flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) for $348.60, you would earn 311 MQDs. This information is available during the booking process on delta.com.
Related: What is Delta Air Lines elite status worth in 2022?
The basics of earning Delta elite status with partners
With Delta’s SkyTeam partners, you earn MQDs based on four factors: whether or not you booked your ticket with Delta directly, the length of your flight, the fare class and the airline that operates your flight.
1. Should you book your ticket with Delta directly?
When you book a ticket with Delta directly, you earn MQDs based on your ticket price, regardless of the operating carrier. This means if you book an Air France ticket on Delta.com, you’ll still earn MQDs based on the ticket’s price.
However, when you book a ticket directly with a partner airline, you will earn MQDs based on the distance you fly and the partner rate set by Delta.
Let’s look at a round-trip business-class Air France flight from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG). When booking with Delta and Air France, the flight is the same price at $3,678.18.
The Delta earnings are indicated during the booking process on delta.com. As you can see, by booking this ticket directly with Delta, you would earn 3,500 MQDs.
The Delta earnings will require some digging and math when booking the ticket with Air France. According to the Air France SkyMiles partner chart, Air France flights in the Z and I fare class (like this one) earn MQDs on a 40% basis.
We have to multiply the total flight distance by 40% (0.4) to calculate how many MQDs you would earn.
According to Great Circle Mapper, this itinerary clocks in at a total of 10,033 miles — 10,033 times 0.4 equals 4,013.20. So by booking with Air France, you would earn 4,013 MQDs.
In this case, but not all, you would earn more MQDs by booking your ticket with Air France instead of with Delta.
2. Which are the best partner airlines for earning MQDs?
On the partner airline earning page, Delta provides the earning rates for all of its airline partners. There are Core Global Airline Partners and (non-core) Global Airline Partners. Core airlines earn more MQDs, MQMs and redeemable miles across the board.
Delta’s Core Global Airline Partners are:
- Air France.
- China Eastern Airlines.
- Korean Airlines.
- Virgin Atlantic.
Delta’s (non-core) Global Airline Partners that earn MQDs are:
- Aerolineas Argentinas.
- Air Europa.
- Cape Air.
- China Airlines.
- China Southern Airlines.
- CZA (Czech Airlines).
- Guarda Indonesia.
- Hawaiian Airlines (inter-island flights only).
- ITA Airways.
- Kenya Airways.
- MEA (Middle Eastern Airlines).
- Vietnam Airlines.
- Xiamen Airlines.
3. How do you see what fare class you’re booked in?
Sometimes, there’s no easy way to tell what fare class you’re booking. In the last example, I had to call Air France to determine what fare class the flight is being sold in.
That said, some airlines will show you your booking class online. For example, Virgin Atlantic will show your fare class on the checkout screen next to your class of service.
Expedia also shows what fare class you’re booking on the checkout screen. For example, on this round-trip Korean Airlines business-class flight from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) to Incheon International Airport (ICN), I was able to select “Show details” on the Expedia review page. However, you should still confirm the ticketing airline with Expedia if you’re booking an itinerary operated by multiple airlines.
Example Delta partner bookings
Now that you know how to calculate the number of MQDs you’ll earn on a partner award ticket, here are some examples of earning MQDs with Delta’s partners. These were found when writing this story and may no longer be available, but they’re here to serve as inspiration for finding your own partner itineraries to maximize MQD-earning.
Economy: Madrid with Air France — 3.19 MQDs per dollar
This round-trip Air France and KLM ticket in the E fare class (10% MQD accrual basis) costs $397, so it would earn the following:
- Los Angeles to Paris: 5,670 base miles, 567 MQDs.
- Paris to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD): 660 miles, 66 MQDs.
- Madrid to Paris: 660 base miles, 66 MQDs.
- Paris to Madrid: 5,670 base miles, 567 MQDs.
- Total: 12,660 miles flown, 1,266 MQDs.
Related: French Connection: A review of Air France economy on the 777 from Paris to New York
Economy: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with Saudia — 3.45 MQDs per dollar
Even though Saudia isn’t a core partner, its long-haul and discounted flights can make it appealing for earning MQDs. This itinerary is in the L fare class and earns MQDs on a 10% basis.
- New York to King Abdulaziz International Airport (JED): 6,365 miles, 637 MQDs.
- King Abdulaziz International Airport to Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL): 4,394 miles, 439 MQDs.
- Kuala Lumpur International Airport to King Abdulaziz International Airport: 4,394 miles, 439 MQDs.
- King Abdulaziz International Airport to New York: 6,365 miles, 637 MQDs.
- Total: 21,517 miles flown, 2,152 MQDs.
Related: JFK to Dubai without the bling: Saudia’s disappointing business class via Riyadh
Economy: London with Virgin Atlantic — 1.47 MQDs per dollar
Virgin Atlantic will be joining SkyTeam in early 2023. In the meantime, SkyMiles members can earn and redeem miles on Virgin Atlantic. This itinerary is operated in the E fare class, so it earns MQDs on a 10% basis.
- JFK to Heathrow Airport (LHR): 3,451 miles, 345 MQDs.
- Heathrow to JFK: 3,451 miles, 345 MQDs.
- Total: 6,903 miles flown, 690 MQDs.
Economy: Lima, Peru, with Aeromexico — 1.67 MQDs per dollar
Aeromexico is another Delta core partner. This round-trip itinerary, which is ticketed in the R fare class (10% MQD accrual basis), costs $463 and would earn the following:
- Miami International Airport (MIA) to Mexico City International Airport (MEX): 1,276 miles, 128 MQDs.
- Mexico City to Lima’s Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM): 2,629 miles, 263 MQDs.
- Lima to Mexico City: 2,629 miles, 263 MQDs.
- Mexico City to Miami: 1,276 miles, 128 MQDs.
- Total: 7,810 base miles and 781 MQDs.
Related: Your ultimate guide to Aeromexico Club Premier
Premium economy: Budapest, Hungary, with Air France — 3.03 MQDs per dollar
Air France is a core partner of Delta. This premium economy round-trip ticket costs $1,246 and is booked in the W/Y fare classes (30%/25% accrual basis). It would earn the following:
- Los Angeles to Paris: 5,670 miles, 1,701 MQDs.
- Paris to Budapest Airport (BUD): 777 miles, 194 MQDs.
- Budapest to Paris: 777 miles, 194 MQDs.
- Paris to Los Angeles: 5,670 miles, 1,701 MQDs.
- Total: 12,894 miles flown and 3,780 MQDs.
Related: Nothing premium here: Review of Air France premium economy on the A380
Business: Mumbai, India, with KLM — 1.72 MQDs per dollar
This round trip costs $4,397 and is ticketed in the Z fare class (40% accrual basis). It would earn:
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS): 5,473 miles, 2,190 MQDs.
- Amsterdam to Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL): 3,962 miles, 1,585 MQDs.
- Delhi to Amsterdam: 3,962 miles, 1,585 MQDs.
- Amsterdam to San Francisco: 5,473 miles, 2,190 MQDs.
- Total: 18,870 miles flown, 7,550 MQDs.
Related: Chaos at Amsterdam mars an otherwise fantastic business-class flight on KLM’s Dreamliner
Business: Lima with Aeromexico — 3.88 MQDs per dollar
Aeromexico is another core partner of Delta. This round-trip business-class ticket costs $1,048 and is ticketed in the D fare class (40% accrual basis). It earns:
- Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to Mexico City: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
- Mexico City to Lima: 2,629 miles 1,052 MQDs.
- Lima to Mexico City: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
- Mexico City to Vancouver: 2,449 miles, 980 MQDs.
- Total: 10,156 miles flown, 4,062 MQDs.
Related: Viva Mexico! A review of Aeromexico’s business class on the 787-9 from Mexico City to Buenos Aires
No matter which cabin you travel in, each of these examples lets you earn significantly more than the 1 MQD per dollar you would earn on Delta-operated flights. Even if you’re starting from scratch, you can earn a healthy stock of both MQDs and SkyMiles miles on partner flights.
As you can see, you can sometimes earn north of 3.5 MQDs per dollar spent, so you might be able to earn 15,000 MQDs by spending just over $4,000 if you do it strategically. That’s a far cry from the $15,000 you would need to spend on Delta-operated flights to earn 15,000 MQDs.