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Delta Air Lines is permanently making a change to its SkyMiles loyalty program that’s ultimately good news for flyers. As of Thursday, March 31, the airline is permanently allowing flyers to earn elite status-qualifying credits when they redeem miles for award travel — a privilege that, until the pandemic, was previously only available for flights paid for using cash.

Before breaking down this customer-friendly change, let’s revisit the basics of the Delta SkyMiles frequent flyer program. Delta SkyMiles members can earn two different kinds of miles: redeemable miles that you can use toward free flights (which are also called SkyMiles) and Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs), which can’t be redeemed but are accumulated to achieve elite status.

In other words, SkyMiles will get you nearly free travel, while Medallion Qualification Miles — alongside other metrics such as Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) and Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) — can earn you elite status on Delta.

Traditionally, when you got an award flight by redeeming SkyMiles, that flight wasn’t eligible to earn MQMs, MQDs or MQSs toward elite status. You could only earn those elite-qualifying credits for flights paid for using cash. However, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and downturn in travel, Delta temporarily waived that restriction and allowed members to earn elite-qualifying MQMs, MQSs and MQDs on award travel. Now the airline is making that feature permanent.

For travelers gunning for Delta elite status, this is great news. You’ll be able to earn the miles, segments or dollars needed for elite status even if you’re flying on an award ticket (so long as it isn’t a basic economy ticket). In other words, earning status with Delta just got more attainable.

In order to get Delta elite status, you need to earn the following in a calendar year:

  • Delta Silver: Earn 25,000 MQMs or 30 MQSs and $3,000 MQDs
  • Delta Gold: Earn 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs and $6,000 MQDs
  • Delta Platinum: Earn 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs and $9,000 MQDs
  • Delta Diamond: Earn 125,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs and $15,000 MQDs

You can also earn redeemable Delta SkyMiles through a number of the airline’s credit cards, and most of them come with welcome bonus offers at the moment. For example, the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, which is our favorite choice for regular Delta flyers, currently comes with a welcome offer of 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 MQMs when you spend $2,000 in the first three months after opening the account.

Learn more about the Delta Platinum Amex.

Delta offers SkyMiles members plenty of ways to redeem their miles. From short-haul flights around the United States to cheap flights to the Caribbean, Canada and beyond, or business class to London, Delta SkyMiles can help you save cash on your next flight booking. Best of all, you’ll now be able to earn elite-qualifying credits for the award flights.

If you’re not interested in paying the $250 annual fee (see rates and fees) that comes with the Delta Platinum Amex, there are cheaper ways to rack up SkyMiles quickly. The Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card comes with no annual fee (see rates and fees) and a welcome bonus offer of 10,000 miles when you spend $500 in the first three months after opening the account.

Learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Blue Amex.

Or, alternatively, the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card, which has a $99 annual fee but a $0 introductory fee for the first year (see rates and fees) and currently features an impressive welcome offer of 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $1,000 in the first three months after opening the account.

Learn more about the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex.

And if more Delta SkyMiles is what you’re after, the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card comes with a welcome offer of 60,000 bonus miles and 10,000 MQMs when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, with the card, you can earn up to 60,000 bonus MQMs each year — you’ll get 15,000 MQMs after spending $30,000 on purchases in a calendar year up to four times per year.

Learn more and apply for the Delta SkyMiles Reserve Amex.

Finally, if you don’t want to lock yourself into a Delta-branded card, American Express Membership Rewards can be incredibly useful. That’s because the points earned with cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express can be transferred at a 1-to-1 rate to your Delta SkyMiles account. In other words, the 100,000 bonus points that come as a welcome offer on the Amex Platinum when you spend $6,000 in the first six months after opening the account can be redeemed for award travel on Delta, allowing you to earn elite status in the process.

Learn more and apply for the Amex Platinum.

Ultimately, this program change is good news for Delta flyers. By opening up the option to earn elite-qualifying credits on award flights, travelers have more options for earning elite status — and all the benefits that come with it. Plus, by redeeming your miles for nearly free flights, you’re saving money and getting additional perks. It’s a win-win.

Click here for rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Blue Amex.
Click here for rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex.
Click here for rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum Amex.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they’re subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.