Chasing Diamond: Why I Flew To South Africa For 3 Days To Requalify For Delta Elite Status


Delta Air Lines and I have had our problems over the last year.

I have dealt with operational failures, mechanical issues, and devaluations of SkyMiles. Still, I find Delta consistently offers the best experience of major US airlines and suits my needs as a frequent business and leisure flyer in New York City. So when I realized my Medallion qualification dollar balance was going to be about 5,000 MQD less to re-qualify for Diamond Medallion at the end of the year, I knew I had to do something.

Spending over $5,000 on airfare was out of my budget, so I started looking for MQD travel partners to help me earn them at a discount. This is the same strategy I used last year when I booked a relatively cheap Aeromexico business class ticket to Europe to bridge the gap between Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion.

This year, I ended up settling on a partner operated ticket to South Africa which helped me earn almost 5500 MQD at a fraction of the cost. Below you will find details about my criteria, what I booked, my flight experience and how to credit my SkyMiles account. It wasn’t the smoothest MQD run of the year, so let’s take a closer look at how it went.

What I booked to keep Diamond Medallion for 2023


I spent countless hours looking for a partner MQD run that would earn at least 5,000 MQD, be within my budget of about $2,000, and allow me to briefly visit a new country.

I looked at a variety of destinations in Asia, Africa and Europe. Still, I had a hard time finding a New Year’s Eve premium economy or business class fare that fit my budget. Travel is back in full swing, and airlines know they can get the best deal on many of these routes, especially at the end of the year when many Americans take a break from work to travel.

I eventually found a flight from New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport (JNB) via London Heathrow Airport (LHR) in Virgin Atlantic premium economy for $2,013. The itinerary wasn’t perfect (16+ hours in premium economy is tough and the return flight had a long layover in London), but it met my basic requirements.

All Virgin Atlantic premium economy fares earn the following when you credit SkyMiles, regardless of fare class booked. Percentages are based on physical miles flown. You can view partner earnings rates for all of Delta’s partner airlines on this home page.

medallion rating dollars Medallion Qualifying Miles Base SkyMiles Earned Bonus SkyMiles Earned Total SkyMiles Earned
30% 150%. 100%. fifty%. 150%.

So, I booked the ticket and paid with The American Express Platinum Card® to earn 5 points per dollar on flight purchases (up to $500,000 in flight purchases per calendar year) when you book through Amex Travel. This gave me a whopping $201.30 in value according to TPG valuations and is more than enough to book a one-way domestic ticket when taking advantage of transfer partners like British Airways Avios or Avianca LifeMiles.

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In addition, it turned out that the long layover in London did not happen. I booked my flight well in advance and Virgin Atlantic had a schedule change on my return leg. Because of this, I was able to rebook my return leg to only have a three hour layover without paying extra.

The most important part of the trip is elite status and earning miles, and it was quite the ride. Earned over 45,000 redeemable SkyMiles with the 50% Cabin Bonus and 120% Diamond Medallion Bonuses, nearly 5,500 MQD and just over 27,000 MQM. I didn’t need the MQMs as Delta has carried over the MQMs since the start of the pandemic, but they will help me next year as Delta carries over anything beyond their status level to next elite year.

medallion rating dollars Medallion Qualifying Miles Base SkyMiles Earned Bonus SkyMiles Earned Total SkyMiles Earned
27,216. 27,216. 18,144. 30,844. 48,998.

Problems crediting the flights to my SkyMiles account

As with most things in the world of points and miles, this mileage race didn’t go 100% to plan.

Upon returning to New York, a few days passed and I noticed that the miles from my trip had not been posted to my account. I initially submitted a mileage request online that went unanswered. After two weeks I started to get a little worried so I contacted Delta support via iMessage.

Turns out, when I rebooked my ticket after the time change, my entire itinerary was reissued with a new ticket number. So the representative asked for the correct ticket number and submitted a request on my behalf. The miles were in my account two days later: the crisis was averted.

Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy is (mostly) excellent

In terms of the onboard experience, I was a big fan of Virgin Atlantic’s hard and soft products.

My flights between JFK and LHR were operated by the airline’s flagship Airbus A350, while the legs between LHR and JNB were operated by their Boeing 787 aircraft.

The A350 was the star of the show. The aircraft’s new premium economy seat was comfortable and had excellent inflight entertainment. Plus, I had stable, fast, and reasonably priced Wi-Fi throughout the transatlantic journey from New York to London.

In fact, the A350 provided one of the best inflight Wi-Fi experiences I’ve had to date with very little downtime. Wi-Fi costs £20.99 ($25.36 at time of writing) on ​​flights between JFK and LHR, which I think is reasonable for a stable connection.


Meanwhile, the Boeing 787 product is good too, but it’s starting to show its age. The selection of inflight entertainment is pretty much the same, but the inflight Wi-Fi didn’t work properly on my way to or from Johannesburg. I bought a messaging plan, which only included 20MB of data, on the journey from LHR to JNB, but I couldn’t send or receive messages. The data limit disappeared within a few minutes of connecting.


Service in all four segments was top notch. I liked the traditional British food options, especially the full English breakfast. Also, there was a grab-and-go snack counter in the kitchen stocked with snacks and drinks to keep you satisfied throughout the flight. Since the flights between JNB and LHR lasted more than 10 hours, this was highly appreciated.

Thanks to my Diamond status, I was able to access the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses at JFK, LHR and JNB. All are excellent and offer many food and drink options delivered right to your table.

Want to learn more about Virgin Atlantic’s premium economy? See TPG’s full reviews of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 products.

It was worth it?


So was spending over $2,000 and a weekend in Johannesburg worth it to maintain my elite status? Absolutely.

I had a mostly positive experience as a Diamond Medallion in 2022. I was upgraded on more than half of my flights and used all of my Global Upgrade Certificates despite their devaluation earlier this year. Also, the Delta SkyClub guest pass (which I choose annually as another Choice benefit) has been great when I’m traveling with my partner or friends as they can access the Sky Club with me.

With all the operational difficulties this year, having quicker access to support has been a blessing. I was rebooked due to weather, my hotels were reimbursed by the airline, and overall I had a good experience with Delta’s Diamond Medallion line. This support has been extremely valuable and as a frequent business and leisure traveler it has helped me keep my sanity more than once.

On top of all this, the 48,998 SkyMiles I earned on this trip are worth $690.87 based on TPG’s valuation of 1.41 cents per SkyMile. It’s a nice discount on my expenses, and the miles financed a flight back to Chicago for the holidays.

Of course, visiting Johannesburg for a few days was also great. Now I am even more excited to return next June when I take a two week trip to South Africa.

Related: How Much Is Delta Air Lines Elite Status Worth?

Bottom line

While getting the flights credited to my account took some work, I’m glad I booked and flew this year-end MQD race.

I earn over $2,013 in benefits from my Diamond Medallion benefits per year, so this mileage run made sense. Although I wish it hadn’t been so difficult to get the flights credited to my account, Delta support was extremely helpful via iMessage. I wouldn’t hesitate to do the same next year if I’m short on MQDs at the end of the year.

Should you do a similar MQD run? It depends on how often you fly, the status level you’re applying for, and how much you want to fly Delta in the future. If you’re looking to bridge the gap between Platinum and Diamond, I think it’s worth the money to invest if you have the time to spare.


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