Achieving airline elite status for 2019 was something new for me. I never expected to fly enough for work to hit anything aside from maybe United Silver in any year. I’d gotten close once, but decided that it wasn’t worth going out of my way when I already received a couple of the same benefits simply by holding the United credit card.

Things changed in 2018. I traveled several times coast-to-coast for work, finding a love for Delta in the process. Not necessarily in terms of status, but definitely in terms of product. However, by picking up multiple co-branded Amex cards and subsequent spend, I managed to hit Platinum Medallion. Simultaneously, I also achieved American Gold through a status offer and United Silver as a Marriott Platinum (then Titanium) benefit. It became the year of status.

But things don’t last. I didn’t expect to renew anything except for Delta Gold Medallion this year. But even that plan went off the rails. Yet now I find myself happy rather than upset.

Crafting the 2020 Status Plans

Work travel this year was less than expected, so hitting Delta Platinum Medallion was pretty much out of the question. I’d have to put a ton of spend on my Delta Platinum American Express card, and that simply didn’t seem worth it. Much of my everyday spend was already slated for my World of Hyatt Visa in my plan to achieve Hyatt Globalist for next to nothing.

But that was no matter. Back in January I booked a business class error fare on Alitalia for ~38,000 Ultimate Rewards points. It was not only a great way to experience a new product and airline flying Alitalia 777-200ER business class, but also the perfect mechanism to lock in status. Spend is always the harder item for me, as I book mostly cheap tickets. Even the more expensive work tickets tend to be less than $700.

Alitalia business class earns 40% flown miles as MQMs when credited to Delta. This would yield over $5,000 MQDs from the less than $600, quite the impressive haul. It’d also add nearly 20,000 MQMs to my total.

Or so I thought. That’s not at all how things panned out.

An Error Fare Mistake

When a flight confirmation says that you’re in the “Business (E)” cabin, one would think that this is the fare code you booked. This is what showed on my Expedia confirmation from Chase Travel. However, it also showed “Basic Economy”. Totally confusing, I know.

I was able to select seats in the business class cabin, though, so surely this was a business class ticket. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to book a non-business class fare and then get to sit up front.

When Delta credited the flights (which I had to ask them to do manually, by the way), it was immediately clear I was not going to receive what I expected. The fare was showing as an X-class economy fare, with far less accrual in terms of MQMs and MQDs. I also came up way short on the 20,000+ redeemable miles I expected. The biggest loss was the MQDs, as I was credited 10% flown miles, not 40%.

I contacted Delta about the issue, and I was told that this was indeed the fare code of the ticket. Providing evidence that I flew in the business class cabin wasn’t enough. The X-class credit is what I was going to receive. Apparently this is part of how this mistake fare worked. The fare type is what matters most (although the credit wasn’t the deep discount economy, which was confusing). C’est la vie.

Yet Now I’m Glad I Didn’t Hit Delta Gold Medallion

My initial estimate, including the error fare, put me at ~55,000 MQMs and $7,000 MQDs for the year. Solidly Delta Gold Medallion, with a few rollover MQMs. No matter what, I’d be short of Platinum, which is a much better tier, but still not worth mileage running when you need that many miles (although I’d maybe consider doing it via Air France / KLM on a $600 ticket from SFO to Nairobi).

With the change in credit from the Alitalia ticket, I barely hit Silver Medallion. No huge business class bonus landed the MQDs way short of Gold.

But here is the massive upside: I’ll have over 23,000 rollover MQMs! This positions me extremely well for hitting Platinum Medallion for 2021. Platinum is so much better (and the first Delta tier really worth having), as you get one choice benefit, more consistent upgrades, and my favorite benefit: the ability to cancel award tickets for free. I’ve booked award sales multiple times this year and then either figured out the details later or canceled.

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between Silver Medallion and Gold Medallion for me. I didn’t start to receive decent upgrades until Platinum on the routes I usually fly, so not hitting Gold tier isn’t a huge loss. Thinking things through now, I’m glad I’m in this boat rather than at Gold with only 5,000 rollover MQMs.

Conclusion

While my original status plans didn’t pan out the way I hoped, I’m actually in a better spot than I would be for the following year’s qualification. This is the beauty of having lots of “extra” MQMs, yet not meeting the dollar requirement. Hitting the $25,000 card spend waiver and $30,000 Delta Reserve card bonus will be an integral part of next year’s plan, but this is completely fine by me.

The crazy thing is that I’ll be at 38,000 MQMs without a bit of flying. I already have 11,000 MQMs worth of flying planned, and I expect there’ll be at least one work trip early in the year, so I could be at Gold as soon as I hit the waiver.

How did your status stack up for 2020 qualification? What are your plans for next year?