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Why (and How) to Book Delta Air Lines Partner Mileage Runs

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


We recently posted a couple of AeroMexico mileage runs. Then we received lots of questions and comments.

Based on that feedback — as well as some informal polling I conducted among friends and family — it’s apparent that many people don’t understand why Delta Air Lines partner mileage runs can be so valuable.

Frankly, that’s understandable because the concept can be confusing at first.

Sure, the MQM earnings are very nice. But MQM aren’t really the sole reason for a Delta partner mileage run. The jackpot is all the MQD a well-crafted run produces.

With more than half the year left and many people feeling ready to travel (and maintain or earn Medallion status), now is a perfect time for a broad why-and how-to when it comes to Delta partner mileage runs.

Delta Medallion Elite Status Requirements

To become a Delta SkyMiles Medallion status holder, you must reach certain thresholds across a couple of categories. Most of us know that we must annually earn a certain amount of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQM) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQS).

But that’s only half the battle. We must also reach prescribed annual spending thresholds. There are three options:

  1. $25,000 across our Delta Amex Card portfolio (remember that the Delta Blue and Delta Gold Amexes don’t count toward this figure — unless you also have a Delta Platinum or Reserve Card). That figure is valid for Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion status only.
  2. $250,000 in Delta Amex spending for Diamond Medallion.
  3. Rack up enough Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQD) spending for a certain Medallion level. MQD are, basically, how much money you spend on Delta flights. You earn one MQD for each dollar you spend on base fare and carrier-imposed surcharges. (Government-imposed taxes and fees are excluded).
    • Diamond: $15,000
    • Platinum: $9,000
    • Gold: $6,000
    • Silver: $3,000

MQD can also be earned when traveling on Delta Air Lines partners. That’s the golden goose.

Delta SkyMiles Medallion status bag (brag) tags.

Many People Have MQM — But MQD Are the Sticking Point

This huge, week-long trek earns $12,000 MQD (enough for Platinum Medallion status) and 46,000 MQM (almost enough for Gold). But some folks couldn’t understand the appeal of a run that doesn’t earn you Gold Medallion.

But most people taking these partner runs aren’t starting with 0-MQM balances.

Thanks to Delta’s fantastic MQM rollover feature for Medallions, bonus MQM earned on four Delta Amex cards, and actually flying Delta and SkyTeam flights, many people don’t have a problem amassing MQM during the course of a year. Combine that with the $25,000 Delta Amex MQD Waiver — and it’s not incredibly difficult to reach even Platinum Medallion status.

But reaching Diamond Medallion status requires 125,000 MQM and either $15,000 MQD or $250,000 spend across your qualifying Delta Amex cards. That’s not quite as easy as achieving the lower status tiers.

And, frankly, that’s the point. I don’t think Delta wants to hand out Diamond status like how Oprah Winfrey famously gave away cars to an entire studio audience.

I know a bunch of people with MQM balances of at least 160,000 — and even much higher. While they’re currently Diamond Medallions, they aren’t close to reaching even the Silver MQD threshold for next year.

These flyers rarely (if ever) spend $15,000 on Delta-marketed flights during a calendar year. And I personally know only one person who spends $250,000 across his Delta cards (it’s one card, actually: his Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card).

So what’s a prospective Diamond to do to get all those MQD?!

That is where Delta partner mileage runs come in.

Earning Delta MQD on Partner Airlines

Here’s where stuff gets confusing for many people. So we’ll try to be as clear and concise as possible.

To be clear: the trips we’re discussing are not booked as Delta-marketed flights. You will not buy these partner runs through Delta.com or the Fly Delta app. In fact, you won’t search for any Delta flights.

Whenever you buy and fly a trip on a Delta partner airline and credit the trip to your SkyMiles account, you’ll receive MQM, MQM, MQS, and redeemable SkyMiles.

Delta apparently can’t see how much you pay for a trip with one of their partners. Even the ones they partially own. (At least, that’s the story.) So how are you supposed to earn MQD?

Here’s Delta’s amazing solution we hope never changes (for the worse): Your SkyMiles elite status earnings depend on a formula comprised of how many miles your trip travels and what fare class you buy.

Your MQD earnings have nothing to do with how much you pay for a trip.

This page on Delta’s website breaks down how much you’ll earn with each partner.

Let’s create an example. For our purposes, we’ll use AeroMexico’s earnings below.

Delta SkyMiles earning on partner AeroMexico

So when you buy an AeroMexico-marketed trip in a “C” class (Business), your MQD earnings will be equal to 40% of the distance flown.

Let’s use those criteria and some round numbers to make this as simple as possible.

If an AeroMexico trip is scheduled to fly 10,000 miles, you’ll earn $4,000 MQD regardless of how much your trip costs. Why? Because 40% of 10,000 miles is 4,000. So if you paid $1500 for your business class ticket, you earn more than two-and-a-half times that amount in MQD. Four of those trips would snag you $16,000 MQD — more than enough MQD for Diamond Medallion status. And you’d spend only $6,000 on airfare.

AeroMexico 787 Business Class

What about taking a cheap coach run? If you buy a Deep Discount Economy/”V” class ticket, your MQD earnings are only 5% of the distance flown. In our above example, you’d earn only $500 MQD. (10,000 miles x 5% earnings) So that’s probably not worth your time or money.

Also, consider that most of these mileage runs involve at least one long flight. Having a business class seat — especially a lie-flat bed — can make your trip fairly comfortable. And considerably more fun.

Here are some real-world examples of lucrative partner runs:

How Do You Find Out How Many MQM You’ll Earn?

If you use ITA Matrix to find runs, they’ll display the approximate mileage right there on the itinerary page.

I also go to the Unofficial SkyMiles Calculator and plug in the itinerary.

There’s usually a slight discrepancy between Matrix and the USC. I generally choose the lesser figure just to stay on the “safe” side. Then I go to Delta’s partner earnings page, find the airline and fare class, and do the math.

Another great perk of the USC is it determines approximately how many MQM and SkyMiles you’ll earn from a partner run. You’ll see above that I plugged in the “I” fare on carrier “AM” (that’s the code for “AeroMexico). So the AeroMexico trip hauls in about 23,290 MQM and 31,052 base SkyMiles — before any applicable Medallion bonuses.

How to Credit Delta Partner Mileage Runs

When you’re booking a Delta partner run and asked to input a frequent flyer account, enter your SkyMiles number. That’s the whole point.

When you check-in, make sure your Delta SkyMiles number is printed on the boarding pass. If it’s not, talk to an agent at that airline.

Keep every single piece of documentation you receive pertaining to your reservation. (Receipts, boarding passes, etc.) If something goes wonky, you have backup.

Warsaw, Poland. 28 May 2018. Passenger airplane F-GRHV - Airbus A319-111 - Air France is flying from the runway of Warsaw Chopin Airport
(©iStock.com/Bartek71)

Will Any Flights Be on Delta?

Possibly. But you’ll be flying as a passenger of, say, AeroMexico flight 6123 operated by Delta Air Lines as a codeshare. You still earn miles and MQD according to the AeroMexico fare class chart.

How Do You Find Delta Partner Runs?

Before the pandemic, we cranked out runs on a relatively regular basis. We hope to become more active — but we still publish them from time to time. Make sure to sign up for our alert emails and follow us on Twitter.

I usually start punching around Google Flights and ITA Matrix. I pick a few departure and destination cities — then go from there. I select “Business Class” and “SkyTeam” for my criteria. Occasionally, I’ll hunt for Premium Economy runs.

I sometimes find good runs on Premium Cabin Deals.

We generally aim for runs whose MQD earnings are at least triple the cost of a ticket. For example, a trip costing $1,000 but earning $3,000 MQD interests us. But a $2,000 trip earning $3,000 MQD usually isn’t too exciting — unless we’re super desperate.

The trips are sometimes bookable on an airline’s website (i.e., AeroMexico.com. Again, don’t touch Delta.com for these trips.) Other times, you might be able to find them only through an online travel agency (OTA) such as Priceline, Momondo, Expedia, etc.

Keep in mind you may have to take positioning flights to/from a mileage run’s departure city. For example, my dad lives in Fargo. He’d have to get himself to and from JFK to start the $12,000 MQD odyssey. But he’d take Delta, of course, and earn medallion qualification markers on that trip, too!

Remember you can use points (such as Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards) to book many Delta partner mileage runs. For example, head to AmexTravel.com, find a partner run, and then apply MR points to knock down your cost. You’ll still earn the MQD, MQM, etc., when crediting the trip to your SkyMiles account.

I may sound like a broken record — but Juicy Miles is such a fantastic help. They can build an entire mileage run (including positioning flights, hotels, COVID testing, etc.) according to your wish list. And they know how to use points and miles to keep your costs to a minimum.

Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Japan -- a Delta Air Lines destination occasionally accessible through mileage run deals!
Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, Japan.

Which Airlines Are the Best for Delta Partner Runs?

Quite simply: one with a great deal.

AeroMexico is sort of our savior right now. They have a nice selection of transoceanic business class flights.

KLM, Virgin Atlantic, and Air France occasionally pop up with something good in Premium Economy, though those runs aren’t as lucrative. However, Air France and KLM allow you to use Global Upgrade Certificates to upgrade from premium economy to business class. So they may be worth your time.

A KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner, tail number PH-BHG and inscribed with "The Flying Dutchman," is seen parked at gate D3 during sunset at Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) in Salt Lake City, Utah.

China Eastern was popular with many readers — and its home country now allows US visitors inoculated with Moderna, Pfizer, or Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations. But consider that Chinese President Xi Jinping apparently told his subjects that China is “unstable.” So I don’t know that I’ll chance visiting or even connecting through an “unstable” China — especially just for frequent flyer status.

What If You’re More Comfortable Taking Delta Runs?

That’s 100% understandable if you’re chasing MQM. (Especially this year with the 50% and 75% bonuses!) You’re familiar with Delta. Maybe you don’t want to leave the country and deal with all that COVID testing hassle.  Perhaps you’re able to meet the $25k Delta Amex MQD waiver and are fine with Platinum, Gold, or Silver.

Delta One seat in an Airbus A330 aircraft.

In that case, you’ll probably be happy with (lots of) domestic Delta MQM runs. (Which we also post and Juicy Miles helps book.)

Final Approach

Delta partner mileage runs are a fantastic way to help you earn Medallion status — especially Diamond. You can earn a lot of MQD while keeping costs fairly low — and enjoy traveling in premium cabins!

The concept can be a little tough to figure out at first — but once you get the hang of it, the Sky(Miles) is the limit.

 

 

To see rates and fees for the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, please visit this link.

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

7 Comments

  1. Stacy Jordan Reply

    Thanks for the refresher post and I’m one of those people who have MQM but not the MQD for PM in 2022. Have one MR through Juicy doing JFK to MAD since I live in DC area. Cheaper to take bus or Amtrak up to NYC. Another one I did myself to MEX all on AM. Think I may get close to DM and will potentially take another run towards the end of year. Since Delta allowed full rollover, I want to see if I can reach DM for 2022. The highest status I’d prior to 2019 was GM. The blog helped me feel good about using Juicy Miles to achieve higher status.

  2. Thanks for clarifying again. Just to be certain:, flying to Ireland this fall, purchasing a main cabin ticket, paying for ticket using credits from a canceled trip and prior Choice bonuses, upgrading to business using Global upgrades all still qualifies for MQMs and MQDs as a main class ticket?
    What qualifies as Award Travel? use of SkyMiles?
    Thanks.

    • Per Delta: “If you are upgraded to a premium cabin using an Upgrade Certificate or through a Complimentary Upgrade, you will earn bonuses based on the cabin you paid for, not the cabin you were upgraded to.” So you’ll get the 50% MQM and MQD bonus but have a nice seat 🙂

      Award Travel = SkyMiles tickets covering the cost except for taxes and fees

  3. Chris, If I take my wife on a trip with me on a trip on AM, is there a way to apply the MQD for her ticket to my spend?

  4. There is a 12+ hrs layover in Mexico City for the return portion of the JFK to MAD run on AeroMexico. Can someone comment on what to do during 12+ hrs layover in Mexico City. I heard that Mexico City is not exactly a very safe city; so I am a bit hesitant to tour the city on my own. Is there a Hotel at the airport which I can just check into during the layover?

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