Finding myself 1,582 MQM short (and making it up)

I mentioned all the way back in June that I was planning on making Delta Platinum Medallion this year thanks to the 200% MQM I'll earn on a First Class ticket operated by Alaska Airlines this Christmas. Oddly, while only "full fare" First and Business class tickets earn 200% MQM on Delta-operated flights, Alaska Airlines only has one First Class fare class, and that fare class earns 200% MQM on Delta, even when it's only trivially more expensive than Coach (as it was on this itinerary).

Then, the unthinkable happened: I decided to spend New Year's Eve in Portland, Oregon, instead of flying back to New England on December 30. Crucially, that meant my final first-class leg, PDX-BOS, would be credited to the 2014 program year, instead of the 2013 program year. That would leave me 1,582 Medallion Qualification Miles short of Delta Platinum Medallion, which is the best Delta Medallion status, since it gives you unlimited free award changes and redeposits, allowing you to grab low-level award seats as they become available.

I'm never one to shy away from a spontaneous vacation, but unfortunately I needed to fly on paid tickets in order to earn MQM, which meant I needed to think strategically. I thought I'd walk through my decision-making for my readers, in case they find themselves in a similar situation.

The Options

When trying to piece together a last minute mileage jaunt like this, you need to evaluate all the options. There are three important dimensions to look at right away.

  • Are one-way tickets more expensive than round-trip tickets? If not, you can use different methods to buy each ticket, as I ended up doing in this case.
  • Are first-class tickets (much) more expensive than economy tickets? I only needed 1,582 MQM, which thanks to the 500-mile minimum on Delta works out to 4 segments. If, however, I'd needed 2,582 MQM, then I could book my tickets in First Class and with the 50% class-of-service bonus those same 4 segments would earn 3,000 MQM.
  • What kinds of points do you have available? This is obviously key if we're trying to earn these miles as cheaply as possible.

The Solution

It turned out that for the flights I had in mind, one-way tickets were half the price of round-trip, with each direction costing about $180 in economy.

On the flights I was looking at, first-class tickets were only about $100 more in each direction.

Finally, I had about 16,000 ThankYou points left over after my last student loan rebate redemption, and those points can be used at full value (1 cent each) for travel reservations made through the ThankYou booking tool. I also had a $50 Delta transportation voucher from a broken reading lamp a few trips ago.

With all that in mind, here's what I ended up doing:

  • Ticket #1: Since I didn't have enough ThankYou points to cover the entire $180 ticket, I spent just 15,500 TY points, leaving me with $25 to pay with my Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard, which will allow me to redeem my Arrival miles against the purchase.
  • Ticket #2: I used my $50 transportation voucher against the $180 ticket and paid for the remaining $130 with my Arrival MasterCard.

After redeeming my Arrival miles against the purchases, my total cost for this roundtrip will be about $81.38: $23.75 for the ThankYou points and $57.63 for the Arrival miles (assuming I'm paying 0.75 cents per dollar in manufactured spend). That's a no-brainer for Platinum Medallion status, which also comes with a Medallion Choice Benefit (I picked the 20,000 bonus miles last year).

An Alternative

Interestingly, since First Class tickets were only slightly more expensive than Coach, there was another solution: I could redeem my Skymiles for 1 cent each against a First Class "pay with miles" ticket, which unlike economy redemptions do earn MQM and redeemable Skymiles. I have enough Skymiles that I could have redeemed them for the entire cost of one or both tickets. I considered doing this, but there are a few reasons why I decided not to go that route:

  • Delta transportation vouchers can't be used in conjunction with a "pay with miles" redemption, and just like miles and points, the least valuable travel voucher is the one you don't use;
  • ThankYou points are worth a maximum of 1 cent each, while Skymiles are worth a minimum of 1 cent each. I can use my Skymiles for premium-cabin international trips, while the best alternative use of my ThankYou points is for student loan rebate checks, where I'm also getting 1 cent in value per point.

And that's how I'm going to earn Platinum Medallion for (probably) the last time, before switching to Alaska Gold MVP+ at the end of next year and earning hyper-valuable Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles instead.