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Delta Air Lines officially killed off the mileage run last fall with its botched SkyMiles program changes by focusing only on how much customers spend – not how far they fly. But for travelers who book package vacation deals through Delta Vacations, there’s a serious silver lining.
Mileage runs have been an annual rite of passage for flyers for decades, leading to a December rush of flights for the sole purpose of locking up elite status for the next year. But to kick off 2024, Delta joined its competitors in doing away with distance-based metrics for earning status: All Delta cares about now is the Almighty (Medallion Qualifying) Dollar.
That stung for many travelers, but it’s not all bad news. From Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) headstart bonuses for select Delta Amex cardholders to earning more of them for lots (and lots) of credit card spending, it could be easier for some travelers to earn Delta status this year … especially if you’ve got a Delta Vacations trip on the books.
For the first time, almost every dollar you spend on Delta Vacations packages will now earn you MQDs – and not just the cost of flights, but on hotel stays, rental cars, and other expenses, too. While it wasn’t immediately clear how it would work in practice when this change was first announced, it is now: Travelers who book these packages can get a windfall of MQDs.
Let’s take a closer look at how to earn MQDs through Delta Vacations – and whether it’s worth it.
How You Earn MQDs with Delta Vacations
When Delta Vacations were first announced as a new way of earning MQDs, it seemed pretty straightforward. On paper, travel packages booked through Delta Vacations now earn 1 MQD for every $1 spent.
In practice, it’s not quite that simple … but the upshot is that you’ll almost always earn far more MQDs toward Delta status than booking your flights, hotels, and rental cars separately. And you’ll be able earn drastically more MQDs than you would on the exact same bookings just a few months ago.
It’s critical to make sure your Delta Vacations package includes a flight – simply booking booking a hotel or rental car alone won’t cut it. But so long as your trip includes a Delta flight, you’ll now be able to earn MQDs for the whole package price.
In theory, booking a $5,000 vacation would earn you 5,000 MQDs – enough for Delta Silver Medallion. In reality, earning MQDs on these packages isn’t quite as simple as it seems. That’s because just like with earning MQDs on flights, you won’t get anything for the taxes and fees charged for your vacation package. Then there’s also the tricky way MQDs are awarded for the flight portion of these vacation packages.
If you’re traveling alone, it’s easy: You truly do get 1 MQD for every $1 spent with Delta Vacations – again, excluding taxes and fees.
But if you’re traveling with others, exactly how many MQDs you earn hinges on the flights you take – and how many people are in your group. That’s because flights booked as part of a Delta Vacations package are considered “exception fares.” So instead of earning MQDs based on the cost of the flight, it’s based on the total distance flown – and then a percentage of that distance based on the actual fare class of your ticket.
Thrifty Tip: Unsure how far your flight is? Plug your starting and destination airport into GCMap and find out!
Each passenger in your group will earn MQDs of their own for the flight portion of the vacation package. And that amount gets subtracted from the amount of MQDs that the person booking the trip eventually earns.
There’s a possible exception to this system for longer, expensive fares (think long-haul business class tickets) that would earn more MQDs than the total cost of the package. But those instances should be fairly rare.
Here’s a quick example to illustrate how it works. A traveler who last year took this $7,600 weeklong vacation package to Hawaii for four – with a seven-night stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort – would have earned about 1,300 MQDs.
Now, that same package would earn close to 6,000 MQDs.
It’s quite confusing, I know. But no matter how you slice it, being able to earn MQDs on the vast majority of your vacation expenses is a big win compared to the old setup.
Let’s take a closer look at how this works with a few more examples.
Examples of Earning MQDs (& Saving) on Delta Vacations
A Family Trip to Walt Disney World
Whether you’re a Disney nut or not, every family has to make at least one trip to visit Mickey and the crew in Orlando … and it’s hardly a cheap endeavor. If you’re on the chase for Delta status, earning extra MQDs for your hotel stay and rental car (or airport transfers) can take some of the sting out of the high price tag.
For example, a typical weeklong vacation for a family of four traveling from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Orlando (MCO) and staying seven nights at a Sheraton costs a little over $2,700 when booked through Delta Vacations. That price doesn’t include any theme park tickets or food, but it covers the bulk of the travel-related expenses for the trip.
Thanks to how MQDs are awarded on these Delta Vacation packages, the person booking the trip would earn a little over 1,600 MQDs while the other travelers on the itinerary would each get 262. That 1,600 balance isn’t nearly enough for even the lowest level Delta Silver status. But pair it with the new MQD Headstart benefit that certain SkyMiles credit cardholders get, and you’d be within striking distance.
If you’d instead opted to book your flights and hotels separately, you’d only earn 387 MQDs for the flights … and nothing for the hotel. All the MQDs in the world aren’t worth significantly overpaying for a trip, though. So what would it cost if you instead booked these flights and hotels separately?
A whopping $3,400! That’s right: Not only are you earning quadruple the MQDs, you’re saving a significant chunk of money by booking this package deal through Delta, too.
To be fair, the Delta Vacations package price doesn’t include a nightly $23 resort fee at the hotel … but even when you factor that in, you’re still saving over $500. And you also likely wouldn’t earn Marriott Bonvoy points, earn elite night credits, or receive any benefits of status because Delta Vacations is essentially an online travel agency (OTA).
But for $500 in savings and 1,600 MQDs, it’s a sacrifice that many would gladly make.
An All-Inclusive Adults-Only Getaway in Mexico
If the chaos of Disney World doesn’t sound like your idea of a vacation, I’ve got just the ticket for you. How does an all-inclusive resort with high-caliber food, drinks, and service on the beach in Mexico sound?
Looking at a six-night trip over a busy spring break week this March, you’ll see that this kind of vacation doesn’t exactly come cheap. Roundtrip flights, airport transfer, and lodging for two at the phenomenal Secrets Moxché Playa del Carmen cost just over $8,700 when booking through Delta Vacations.
That price might seem kind of high … but unless you’re using Hyatt points to book your stay for free, you can easily expect to pay north of $1,000 per night at this property. And unlike other vacation packages, that total really is your all-in cost: Since you’re booking an all-inclusive with flights and airport transfers included, the only other out-of-pocket costs you’d need to account for would be tips at the resort.
And since you’re earning MQDs on nearly every dollar spent for this vacation, you’d earn nearly 7,000 MQDs in the process. That alone is enough for instant Silver Medallion status. With the right Delta credit card in your wallet, you’d be knocking on the door of Gold.
Yet again, none of this matters if you’re not interested in a nearly $9,000 trip to the Riviera Maya this spring – or if you’d wind up overpaying for your trip by booking through Delta Vacations. In this case, there’s no need to worry: Booking this same trip through Delta and Hyatt separately, it’d cost you over $9,000.
That’s $300-plus in savings by booking through Delta Vacations.
Hyatt fans, in particular, might shy away from this method. You’d be giving up on earning 30,000 or more valuable World of Hyatt points plus credits toward status with the chain.
Looking for a cheaper way to stay at a Secrets Resort? Book the new Secrets Tulum Resort & Beach Club for as few as 17,000 World of Hyatt points per night!
Did Someone Say Sushi?
If the freshest sushi and richest ramen in the world are all the excuse you need to cross Japan off your bucket list, you can earn a significant amount of MQDs by booking your trip through Delta Vacations. Roundtrip flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and a six-night stay at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo booked through Delta Vacations will cost you just over $5,500.
Since you’re not only earning MQDs for the flight but also your hotel stay, you’d walk away with over 2,300 MQDs after completing your trip – much more than the 1,600 MQDs you’d earn for the flight alone. Again, this isn’t quite enough for any level of Delta Medallion status. But if you have either the *delta skymiles platinum card* or the *delta reserve card* in your wallet, you’d be nearly there.
And once again, booking your trip through Delta Vacations doesn’t just result in extra MQDs – it also saves you money. In this case, the $200 savings isn’t quite as significant as our other examples. Still, it’s better than booking flights and hotels individually.
Related reading: Which SkyMiles Credit Card is Right For You?
What About Earning SkyMiles?
MQDs aren’t the only thing you’re earning when booking one of these Delta Vacation packages. You’ll also earn some redeemable SkyMiles for the flight portion of your vacation – and depending on how expensive your package is, there’s a bonus involved as well.
There are two ways to earn SkyMiles with Delta Vacations. Whichever route earns you more SkyMiles is what you get:
- SkyMiles when you fly: This method works the exact same as earning SkyMiles on any old flight. Your ticket price is based on the retail value of a flight for the same dates, time, and booking class. Everyday SkyMiles members will earn 5x miles per dollar (excluding taxes and fees), while those with Medallion status will earn miles based on the mileage multiplier for their status level.
- SkyMiles when you fly with exception fares: This method calculates your SkyMiles earnings based on a percentage of the distance flown on the selected flight and booking fare class, much like how MQDs are earned.
Here’s the chart Delta uses to determine SkyMiles earned through an exception fare, like the ones in these Delta Vacations packages.
Thrifty Tip: Earn bonus SkyMiles by using one of Delta’s co-branded credit cards to make your purchase.
Finally, each traveler can earn up to 10,000 bonus SkyMiles based on the total price of your Delta Vacations package.
Is it Worth It?
For the most part … yes. It really can be.
I’ll be honest, I’m kind of shocked to see just how good the pricing is when booking through Delta Vacations. In all the searches I’ve done, I have yet to come across an example where it would have been cheaper to book a Delta flight and hotel separately. And the amount of MQDs you can earn toward Delta status is shockingly generous compared to just a few months ago.
To be clear, Delta Vacations still won’t (and shouldn’t) appeal to every traveler. And you’re still only earning MQDs based on the amount you spend, just like any old Delta flight: There’s no outsized value here for long trips and cheap flights, unlike the mileage runs travelers have taken over the years.
But if you’re already planning a trip and need some more MQDs to hit that next level of Delta status, looking and booking through Delta Vacations can easily be worth it. You can save some money and climb the Medallion status ladder at the same time.
Just keep in mind that in order to earn a bunch of MQDs on these trips, you have to fly Delta – you’d be ruling out flights on all other airlines that could be cheaper or more efficient, or both. As always, be sure to price-check your vacation package against other available options to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
This year’s changes to Delta’s status program might have done away with the good, ol’ fashioned mileage run. But Delta Vacations might just take its place.
Starting this year, Delta Vacations bookings will earn more MQDs – and not just on flights, but on the cost of your hotel, car rental, airport transfers, and other expenses. That can drastically accelerate how many MQDs you earn compared to just a few months ago, helping you climb the status ladder even faster.
It won’t still won’t make sense to book a Delta Vacations deal just for the sake of earning status. But this new system makes Delta Vacations worth a hard look for travelers looking to pile up more MQDs throughout the year – and maybe save a few hundred bucks in the process, too – rather than book a last-minute flight before 2024 comes to a close.