SkyMiles vs. MQM’s – Whats the Difference?

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Even for the most savvy travel veterans, trying to understand how elite status works can prove to be a chore. It’s acronym after acronym, qualifying gate after qualifying gate and it can all be pretty confusing. On the one hand you could consider that to be a “good thing”. If most people do not understand the difference between an MQM and a PBJ then that means less competition for your next first class upgrade. On the other hand it can be frustrating for the more casual traveler as they may not be aware of the benefits they’re missing out on. Maybe the airlines want it this way, maybe not. Regardless, today we’re going to talk about the difference between a SkyMile and an MQM. While this post is specific to Delta (both SkyMiles and MQM’s are Delta words) the underlying principles apply just as well to other programs such as American’s AAdvantage miles vs. EQM’s, for example.

Earning SkyMiles

A SkyMile is a mile that you can earn in a number of ways. First, you can fly on Delta. If you do not have any status then you will earn 5 SkyMiles per $1 spent on Delta flights less the cost of any taxes. Take the following example, you’re flying from RDU->LAX and back, both flights are non-stop. Your total cost for the ticket is $444.20, $57.52 goes towards taxes, fees, and charges. Your actual price per passenger then is $386.98, lets call it $387. That is the number you use to derive the number of SkyMiles that you will earn. In this case, since you have no status we can multiply $397 times 5 to get 1,935 (round up) which is the number of SkyMiles that will be deposited into your account. Thanks to the medallion mileage bonus benefit, having status with Delta means you earn more than the base 5 SkyMiles per $1 spent.

Silver: Earns 2 additional miles per $1 – $387 * 7 = 2,709 SkyMiles earned

Gold: Earns 3 additional miles per $1 – $387 * 8 = 3,096 SkyMiles earned

Platinum: Earns 4 additional miles per $1 – 387 * 9 = 3,483 SkyMiles earned

Diamond: Earns 6 additional miles per $1 – $387*11 = 4,257 SkyMiles earned

Now, flying on Delta is not the only way that you can earn SkyMiles. SkyMiles can also be earned by spending money on a Delta co-branded Amex card. On all three of the Delta cards (Gold/Platinum/Reserve) users will earn 1 SkyMile per $1 spent on all purchases. In addition, all purchases made with Delta will earn 2 SkyMiles per $1 spent. So in the example above, if I paid for the ticket using my Delta Platinum Amex, given my gold status I would earn ($444.20 * 2) + (387 * 8) = 3,984 SkyMiles in total.

A third way in which you may “earn” SkyMiles is through purchasing them directly from Delta. Generally speaking, you don’t want to do this as the cost of the miles tends to far outweigh their actual value in the marketplace. However, if you’re very close to a redemption and theres no other option then its something to consider.

Spending SkyMiles

Once you’ve earned your SkyMiles you’re going to want to spend them on something. I would say more often than not, the best value for your SkyMiles is by using them to purchase an award ticket. An award ticket is one in which the total cost of the ticket is represented in miles, and all you pay for are the taxes, fees, and charges. Below you’ll see a screenshot that depicts the same RDU->LAX round trip that we talked about earlier for a total of 25,000 miles. That ticket would’ve cost us $444.20 in cash so in this case our miles are worth roughly $0.017 cents a piece.

Screenshot 2016-09-04 14.32.42

If you’ve got a Delta Amex then you can take advantage of the Delta Pay with Miles redemption option which enables you to pay for your ticket using miles at a flat rate of 1 point / $0.01. So in the example above it would cost you a little over 44,000 miles for that same ticket. You can start to see even in this somewhat contrived example how much more valuable these miles are when you use them on award tickets.

You could also choose to spend your miles on things like lounge access, shopping, donating them, etc. For a full list of redemption options click here.

SkyMiles Overview

  • Earning methods
    • Flying on Delta
    • Spending on a Delta Amex
    • Purchase through Delta
  • Spending methods
    • Award Tickets
    • Pay With Miles
    • Shopping/Donating/etc.
  • Miles never expire
  • Miles do not count towards elite status

Earning MQM’s

Now that we’ve talked at length about how SkyMiles are earned and how they can be redeemed let us now turn our attention to the MQM or Medallion Qualifying Mile. MQM’s can be earned by flying on Delta and generally you earn 1 MQM per 1 mile flown. If you’ve paid for a seat in a premium cabin then you’ll earn a 50% bonus, or 1.5 MQM’s per 1 mile flown. The only other way to earn an MQM is by meeting hefty minimum spending requirements on one of two Delta co-branded Amex cards. If you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the Platinum Amex you will earn 10,000 MQM’s and 10,000 SkyMiles. Once you spend $50,000 you’ll earn the same bonus. So in total once you’ve spend $50,000 on the Platinum Amex in a calendar year you will have earned 20,000 MQM’s and 20,000 SkyMiles. This is in addition to any SkyMiles that you earned through regular purchases and/or any sign-up bonuses that you may’ve taken advantage of. The Delta Reserve Amex functions in much the same way but its minimum spend numbers are a bit higher. On that card you’ll earn 15,000 MQM’s and 15,000 SkyMiles after $30,000 in purchases, and the same bonus after $60,000. So in total, if you spend $60,000 in a calendar year on the Delta Reserve you’ll end up with 30,000 MQM’s and 30,000 SkyMiles, again this is in addition to whatever you earned as part of your sign-up bonus and regular spend.

Spending MQM’s

So now that you’ve got all of these MQM’s because you’ve met the minimum spending requirements, what can you do with them? The answer of course is…nothing! MQM’s simply exist as a means of tracking your progress towards the various elite status tiers that Delta offers. Those tiers are silver, gold, platinum, and diamond and the MQM requirements are 25, 50, 75, and 125,000 respectively. You could choose to earn your status though MQS’s instead (we’ll save that for another post) but for most people MQM accrual will be easiest.

MQM’s have no value outside of tracking elite status, and cannot be redeemed. At the end of the calendar year your balance will reset to zero unless you’ve got roll over MQM’s. Lets say you earned 65,000 MQM’s in 2016, that means in 2017 you’ll start the year with Gold Medallion status as well as 15,000 MQM’s towards your 2017 status. Note: If you do not earn at least Silver status you will not rollover any MQM’s.

MQM’s Overview

  • Earning Methods
    • Flying on Delta
    • Meet minimum spend requirements on either the Delta Platinum Amex or Delta Reserve Amex
  • Spending Methods
    • MQM’s cannot be spent
  • MQM’s expire at the end of each year. If you have at least Silver status you’ll be eligible to rollover excess MQM’s.
  • MQM’s count towards elite status

Bottom Line

Both MQM’s and SkyMiles are important, they just serve two different purposes. SkyMiles are to be used towards the purchase of award tickets. MQM’s are meant to track your journey to medallion elite status.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of the differences between the two. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out!


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