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Estimating the Diamond Medallion Population

Estimating the Diamond Medallion Population

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Old Aug 25, 18, 11:20 am
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Estimating the Diamond Medallion Population

I received another one of those Delta marketing e-mails today with a bunch of statistics, and one of them in particular caught my eye:

"Diamond Medallion members will fly enough miles during summer for 85,285 trips around the world!"

I wanted to try to use this to get a more up-to-date estimate of the number of Diamond Medallions; in particular, it would be a useful comparison to future years so we can get a sense of how much the qualification changes affect the overall population.

Let's start by converting this statistic into actual miles. The earth's circumference isn't consistent - it isn't a perfect sphere - but this estimation is going to be so inaccurate that doesn't matter in the slightest. Let's use 24,880 as the Earth's circumference, resulting in 2,121,890,800 miles flown by Diamonds during the summer.

Next, we need to convert this to an annual amount. Delta doesn't define "Summer" in the e-mail, but I'm going to assume it's the months of June, July and August - roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day. We can figure out exactly what proportion of passenger miles is flown during the summer - in 2017, across all scheduled passenger airlines touching the US both domestic and international, it was 28.44% according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Let's assume Delta roughly follows that pattern (probably a decent assumption) and that Diamonds fly consistently during the summer (probably a less good assumption, because proportionally more travel will be by non-elites in the summer - so this probably inflates our estimates a little. But lacking better data...). That means that, annually, Diamonds fly 7,460,938,115 miles.

Now we need to estimate the average amount that a Diamond flies to qualify. This is where the estimate goes off into the weeds a little. For one, we don't know if DL's statistic is actual flown miles or MQM credited including bonuses, and if it is Delta only flights or if it includes partners. I'm going to assume it's based on credited MQM, because that would be the easiest statistic for them to pull ("how many MQM did we hand out to all DMs over the summer?"). We also don't know how many MQM on average Diamonds accrue to qualify: there are likely a bunch of 125,000 mile qualifiers relying on CC bonuses and a few 300k+ outliers, and the exact distribution is proprietary.

So let's bracket the results, using three guesstimates at how many miles is average for a DM qualification: my guesstimate is somewhere around 140k, and we'll also run the numbers with 125k and 175k.

125k: 59,687 DMs
140k: 53,292 DMs
175k: 42,633 DMs

So, if these numbers play out, it's likely there are somewhere between 50k-60k DMs, with the real figure probably in the upper level of that range once you factor in comped memberships from corporate contracts, Delta Private Jets, and the like.

In the charter year of the program back in 2010, 32,000 DMs was a widely reported statistic. In 2013, I find a few references claiming 40k. And in 2015, I found a claim of 50-60k. So this number isn't too far out of line: it's pretty reasonable to imagine stable or slightly growing numbers of Diamond members over the last few years, as the revenue based qualification requirements have kicked in and made it more difficult to qualify.

These numbers are useless for basically everything, but it was fun doing the estimation!
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Old Aug 25, 18, 11:37 am
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Love this.. you're a man over my own heart

I'd argue that there is a long tail on DM MQMs so I bet the average mileage is higher than 140K... but either way, the other factors you pointed out would be driving large error bands in either direction anyways.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 1:15 pm
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DL says 118,422 for PM members.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 1:27 pm
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Segment DMs can fly less than 125K but that statistic probably doesn't change your numbers much.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 1:52 pm
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50,000+ of anything isn't very "Elite."

Diamond is the new PM, which is why I have to believe that MANY would be big advocates for another logical (published) tier above DM, using their current methodology -- GM is SM+SM, PM is GM+SM, DM is PM+GM, so the next logical tier would be ?M is DM+PM, or 200K MQMs and $24K MQDs (and let's kill all MQD waivers at this level, while we're at it, to make it truly a "flyer's tier").

Waivers and MQM bonuses have diluted DM into an oversize herd versus anything akin to "Elite" that should be more of an Endangered Species List. Anyone with a few Amex cards -- even without the third-level MQM invite -- can fly just 25K miles, hit the MQD waiver, and *POOF!* -- they're Diamond. If they get the third MQM boost invite, they can actually hit DM without having flown a single mile.

The painfully obvious question for Delta is: How is that rewarding your most-loyal fliers?

Hmmm... sorry, I just went Full Noob. Derp!
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Old Aug 25, 18, 5:17 pm
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Originally Posted by TheHorta View Post
50,000+ of anything isn't very "Elite."

Diamond is the new PM, which is why I have to believe that MANY would be big advocates for another logical (published) tier above DM, using their current methodology -- GM is SM+SM, PM is GM+SM, DM is PM+GM, so the next logical tier would be ?M is DM+PM, or 200K MQMs and $24K MQDs (and let's kill all MQD waivers at this level, while we're at it, to make it truly a "flyer's tier").

Waivers and MQM bonuses have diluted DM into an oversize herd versus anything akin to "Elite" that should be more of an Endangered Species List. Anyone with a few Amex cards -- even without the third-level MQM invite -- can fly just 25K miles, hit the MQD waiver, and *POOF!* -- they're Diamond. If they get the third MQM boost invite, they can actually hit DM without having flown a single mile.

The painfully obvious question for Delta is: How is that rewarding your most-loyal fliers?

Hmmm... sorry, I just went Full Noob. Derp!
The AMEX waiver for DM is $250K not $25K spend. Your entire theory is wrong. You're a year behind reality.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 5:22 pm
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How about the DM360 (by invitation) level?
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Old Aug 25, 18, 5:40 pm
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Originally Posted by Christefan View Post
How about the DM360 (by invitation) level?
It's not an attainable tier for most FFs. $50K minimum at outstations, $100K+ at hubs. It's basically for people who buy full-fare F/J on a near-weekly basis.

It's not like the benefits are that great anyway. Super DM would come with eight GUCs, the ability to grant PM status, etc.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 5:54 pm
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Delta says 180,924 trips around the world for us lowly FO’s this summer!
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Old Aug 25, 18, 7:39 pm
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131,492 trips around the Earth for us Golds.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 7:42 pm
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Originally Posted by SuperG1955 View Post
The AMEX waiver for DM is $250K not $25K spend. Your entire theory is wrong. You're a year behind reality.
No, I'm well aware of the $250K waiver. Like many others here, I exceeded that in Q1 of this year. For those who received the third MQM boost notice from Amex, that means you can now -- for the first time ever -- reach DM without having to fly a single mile, literally. Even for those who didn't receive the notice, you'd still be able to achieve DM by flying only 25K MQM which, in some instances, can happen in just two flights.

There should be NO MQD waiver(s) for higher tiers. That's my point. $250K is still too easy to reach for many. If I can do it so easily -- basically running what amounts to little more than a home-based business -- then so can others. It dilutes "Elite" status and cheats those who actually fly the miles and pay the dollars. So, why not create a published tier (i.e. not a mystical, arbitrary, invite-only tier -- which is fine, BTW) that TRULY rewards the people who pay Delta to spend countless hours inside their tubes. Enough with the CC shenanigans.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 7:59 pm
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Originally Posted by WWads View Post
It's not an attainable tier for most FFs. $50K minimum at outstations, $100K+ at hubs. It's basically for people who buy full-fare F/J on a near-weekly basis.

It's not like the benefits are that great anyway. Super DM would come with eight GUCs, the ability to grant PM status, etc.
While eight GUCs would be nice, I don't think it would be necessary. Just open a published, logical tier above DM that can't be achieved substantially through CC legerdemain. Assuming such a tier would follow the current method of calculation, that would be 200K MQMs and $24K MQDs, with no MQD waiver. It doesn't get any more "pure" than that, and doesn't even need to grant substantially more Choice Benefits than DM, other than sitting above DM and below 360 in the UG food chain as a genuine "Elite" flyer status tier.

Heck, they can even bring back the $25K DM Amex waiver then if they want, and it would -- at least in my hypothetical universe -- make everyone happy.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 8:25 pm
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Originally Posted by TheHorta View Post
No, I'm well aware of the $250K waiver. Like many others here, I exceeded that in Q1 of this year. For those who received the third MQM boost notice from Amex, that means you can now -- for the first time ever -- reach DM without having to fly a single mile, literally. Even for those who didn't receive the notice, you'd still be able to achieve DM by flying only 25K MQM which, in some instances, can happen in just two flights.

There should be NO MQD waiver(s) for higher tiers. That's my point. $250K is still too easy to reach for many. If I can do it so easily -- basically running what amounts to little more than a home-based business -- then so can others. It dilutes "Elite" status and cheats those who actually fly the miles and pay the dollars. So, why not create a published tier (i.e. not a mystical, arbitrary, invite-only tier -- which is fine, BTW) that TRULY rewards the people who pay Delta to spend countless hours inside their tubes. Enough with the CC shenanigans.
Does it matter though? Someone who has status but doesn't actually fly isn't really a detriment to those who do fly.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 8:31 pm
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Originally Posted by CyBeR View Post
Does it matter though? Someone who has status but doesn't actually fly isn't really a detriment to those who do fly.
Honestly, that's irrelevant (and has been pointed out and discussed in previous threads). It's the fact that you can "achieve" the highest published "Elite Frequent Flyer" status Delta has to offer without having to fly a single mile.

That's little more than a sad irony or a cruel joke. Give Frequent Flyer elite status to the actual flyer. Delta would have to change nothing, but simply add a published tier that makes sense for those who actually Fly Delta Jets.
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Old Aug 25, 18, 8:37 pm
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Rerunning the numbers with the PM, GM and FO mileage value and rounding to 3 significant digits:

DM: somewhere between 42500 and 60000 (est 53500)
PM: somewhere between 82500 and 138000 (est 104000)
GM: somewhere between 153000 and 230000 (est 192000)
FO: somewhere between 315000 and 633000 (est 450000)

This math indicates either something is wrong with my estimating technique, or the medallion population has changed dramatically since 2013 with the introduction of MQD. Using these numbers to estimate what percentage of the overall Medallion population is a given level:

DM: 4-10% of overall Medallions (2013 reported value: 2%)
PM: 8-21% of overall Medallions (2013 reported value: 6%)
GM: 16-34% of overall Medallions (2013 reported value: 12%)
FO: 43-69% of overall Medallions (2013 reported value: 80%)

This suggests to me a combination of factors:

- PM and DM estimates probably should skew toward much higher miles flown than the qualification minimums (unsurprisingly), and FO/GM estimates should be on the lower end (just eking out a particular qualification level.)
- It's also possible that this is an indication that Delta's figures are based on actual physical miles flown - which would account for lower-than-expected numbers of GMs and FOs that disproportionately benefit from 500 mile minimums and class of service bonuses.
- GM is also a commonly comped/gifted status, which confuses things a bit too.
- Lower Medallion tiers (especially FO) may fly disproportionately large portions of their annual mileage during the peak summer and holiday seasons, unlike road warriors whose miles would be more distributed throughout the year.

Even accounting for all of that, though, these numbers suggest to me that the MQD qualification changes have at least partially thinned out the Silver Medallion ranks...

Thanks for sharing the other ranks' numbers, everyone!
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