The rise of modern travel credit cards and points-and-miles websites has led many ordinary travelers to imagine that the gilded world of first-class cabins and VIP airport clubs was within our reach. The results? A bonanza of credit card signups — and overcrowded lounges.
This month, Delta Air Lines caused an uproar with changes to its SkyMiles loyalty program designed to reduce the crowding and make high-end travel exclusive again. The changes make sense for Delta, but they raise questions for us regular flyers when it comes to Sky Clubs and seat upgrades.
Short answer: Delta's elite Medallion status never was easy to attain for mere mortals, and now it's practically off the table.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a points-and-miles hobbyist. I have the Delta SkyMiles Platinum American Express Card, and I usually break even on its $250 annual fee. It's my "for fun" card that I use for earning some SkyMiles, a free annual companion pass, free checked bags, and Amex promotions like this week's Olivia Rodrigo ticket lottery. (No luck there.) I used it to pay $50 (per adult) to get my family into an MSP Sky Club this year, which was a little more money than that experience was worth.
But seeking Medallion status with this card has always been a confusing jumble of acronyms like MQDs (Medallion Qualification Dollars), MQMs (Miles) and MQSs (Segments). You could waive one requirement by spending a whopping $25,000 a year on an eligible SkyMiles Amex. Even in a huge travel year, my online progress bars for all four criteria looked pathetically low.
And that's because I'm just not loyal enough to Delta. MSP's dominant carrier is dependable, but I'll always want to make a cheap international hop on Icelandair or United, or chase a domestic deal on Southwest or Sun Country — and charge it to a non-airline travel card. The dream of elite status has never been enough to stop me from finding the best deal or best flight.
For 2025, Delta is "simplifying" its process by getting rid of the MQMs and MQSs, which really means you'll now have to spend more on their flights and credit cards. A lot more. Medallion status will now require earning at least 6,000 of those MQDs (up from 3,000) with combined spending on Delta flights and your Delta Amex. For my SkyMiles Platinum card, $20 of spending would earn just one MQD. That comes out to (checks notes) $120,000 of just credit card spending to achieve status.
If you're dropping $120K a year on one credit card and not running up debts, I salute you. But then you're probably a better fit for the SkyMiles Reserve American Express, which has a $550 annual fee that you'll barely notice. Reserve cardholders will now get a maximum of 10 Sky Club visits per year and one MQD for every $10 spent, which comes out to only $60,000 a year to get status.
Meanwhile, I'll no longer be able to get into the Sky Club with my Platinum card at all, even for $50. What about the entry-level SkyMiles Gold Amex? It doesn't even qualify for Medallion.
Delta flights and Delta Vacations purchases will earn one MQD per dollar, so it might be easier to just spend $6,000 — a year — on flights. If you still have your heart set on status, a four-figure Delta Vacations package might be the fastest way to get to 6,000 MQDs.
But I'm only quoting the requirements for Silver Medallion, the lowest tier of the program. What does that even get you? Complimentary seat upgrades starting 24 hours before departure. But members of the three higher tiers — Gold, Platinum and Diamond — get in before that, and have dibs on the upgrade seats for your flight. To get to Gold Medallion, the required MQDs doubles to 12,000 — and so on.
Enough. With its changes to SkyMiles, Delta has made it easy enough to ignore the status game. The airline has made it clear that its Sky Club lounges, Sky Priority lines and Delta One suites are once again the domain of the actually rich, the captains of industry, and/or George Clooney in "Up in the Air."
In other words, I guess the natural order of things has been restored in the skies.