As a small-business owner, I’m fortunate to be able to earn plenty of points and miles by charging business expenses on credit cards. When I have time to sit down and really strategize, I can occasionally use that spending power to achieve elite status or earn bonuses that might otherwise be difficult to hit.
In 2021, I made the decision to try to attain Delta Diamond Medallion elite status by taking advantage of some pandemic-related earning opportunities. At the time I decided to go for it, my SkyMiles balance was less than 10,000 miles — and just under a year later, I had more than 1 million SkyMiles in my account.
The pandemic turned travel on its head in so many ways. For a lot of road warriors like myself, work travel pretty much came to a complete halt. Airlines tried to encourage us to travel, slowly at first, and then at an accelerating pace. They extended elite status. They eliminated change and cancellation fees and handed bonuses out like trick-or-treat candy. Still, most of us sat at home waiting for travel to get a bit safer or for our employers to work out new travel policies.
While we were grounded, airlines and hotels huddled with their cobranded credit card partners to find ways to keep us spending on those credit cards.
One of those ideas, combined with another recent change, got my attention and caused a pretty significant shift in my spending habits. Without too much extra effort, and before I fully realized it, my Delta SkyMiles account hit a seven-figure balance. Here’s how I accomplished that.
How I even started considering Delta Diamond
It’s probably helpful to offer a brief summary of my pre-pandemic travel patterns.
While you’ll find me writing for TPG and podcasting about travel, I have a day job that requires me to be on the road a couple of weeks a month. My home airport is Dulles International Airport (IAD) and I typically fly more than 100,000 miles per year, mostly on short domestic flights. In other words, I usually earn elite status the hard way: by sitting in coach on lots of unexciting flights.
United has been my primary carrier for the last seven or eight years due to the number and convenience of nonstop flights out of Dulles. As a result, I’ve had United Premier 1K elite status for a while now. Before that, I was a top-tier American Airlines Executive Platinum elite member for almost a decade.
Fast-forward to earlier this year when Delta announced that it would now allow loyalty members to earn lifetime top-tier Diamond status. Sometimes the best ideas are born from unbelievable propositions. In this case, it was a fellow travel blogger writing about how to spend your way to the whopping 6 million Medallion Qualification Miles needed for lifetime Diamond status.
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The article was, I think, written as a parody. I mean, who would really try to earn 6 million MQMs starting virtually from scratch? Hear me out before you decide I’m crazy when I meekly raise my hand!
The fact of the matter is, if I rebounded to my former travel habits and combined them with some unprecedented credit card-related bonus opportunities, the idea wasn’t so far-fetched. There were also a few other factors — mostly pandemic-related — that got my gears turning, and now I’m well on my way to lifetime Diamond.
Delta and Amex turbocharged MQM earning with credit card spending
Delta and American Express announced a variety of unique earning opportunities during the pandemic. It started with a big welcome offer for the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, currently offering 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs when you spend $4,000 on the card in the first three months.
Like the personal Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, the business version also offers a program called Status Boost, where you can earn 15,000 additional MQMs for each $30,000 you spend on the card, up to four times per calendar year. As a small-business owner, I have a lot of spending that goes on our corporate credit cards. Most of it is in categories that typically don’t earn a bonus, such as restaurant equipment. That meant I wasn’t leaving a ton of value on the table by moving some of our business spending to a Delta business Amex.
At 1.41 cents apiece, TPG’s own valuations have Delta SkyMiles squarely between American Airlines AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, with a Delta SkyMiles mile worth quite a bit less than a Chase Ultimate Rewards point. I’d most likely be earning less-valuable miles by opting for Delta, but I’d also be working my way to Delta Diamond status thanks to those MQM boosts.
We’ll cover that more in a bit, but there was one more opportunity for earning MQMs to point out. As a way to encourage folks to spend more on their Delta Amex cards during the pandemic, the Delta Reserve Amex cards (both personal and business) were offering an additional 25% MQM boost of 3,750 MQMs for every $30,000 spent on the card this year.
Another bonus of carrying the Delta Reserve Business Amex in particular is that, after you spend $150,000 on purchases with the card in a calendar year, you earn 1.5 miles per dollar on purchases for the rest of the year (bonus categories continue earning at their specific rates). Given the large number of purchases I make for business, and the high dollar amounts, hitting these figures was no problem, and I saw my earning take off to astronomical levels quickly (but more…
Read More: Why (and how) I earned a million Delta SkyMiles in just 6 months