Delta Changes Its Frequent Flyer Miles Program, Adds Spending Requirement

The subject line of the Delta email seemed harmless enough: “Changing the way you earn Medallion status“. But it has some current members of the airline’s SkyMiles frequent flyer program seeing red. “There goes my exalted status,” wailed one business traveler to FareCompare. Or as air travel analyst Rick Seaney put it, “The new rules create fewer high level elites – making it more elite.”

Listen to Rick Seaney for the low-down on the changes:

American Changes Its Miles Program, Too

SkyMiles Changes in 2014

Seaney points out that this appears to be an industry first: “I believe this is the first time I have seen spending tied to elite status,” but he also notes that at least Delta is giving SkyMiles members plenty of notice; changes won’t arrive until next year and don’t affect status until 2015.

Still, it’s already creating a lot of buzz because it will no longer be enough to gain elite status by flying a lot. The new spending requirement means passengers will also have to shell out a certain number of dollars on flights each year or as one report put it, a minimum amount “for each rung on the mileage ladder.”

Southwest Also Changes Frequent Flyer Program

What Delta Passengers Must Spend for Status

The changes, which begin taking effect Jan. 1, 2014 for status in 2015, shake out as follows:

  • Silver Medallion status: Fly 25,000 MQM*, spend $2,500 a year MQD**
  • Gold Medallion status: Fly 50,000 MQM, spend $5,000 a year on MQD
  • Platinum Medallion status: Fly 75,000 MQM, spend $7,500 a year on MQD
  • Diamond Medallion status: Fly 125,000 MQM, spend $12,500 a year on MQD

*Medallion Qualification Miles

** Medallion Qualification Dollars

SkyMiles Winners

Some business travelers won’t feel any effect at all, particularly those who fly so much they (or their companies) routinely pay more than the bare minimum. In fact, on the plus side, they may have an easier time getting upgrades and/or free flights, because as Rick Seaney points out, they will have “fewer elites to contend with for the perks.”

SkyMiles Losers

Seaney says three groups of flyers will likely lose under the program changes:

  • Those who achieve elite status solely through mileage running (by buying cheap tickets on long flights to rack up miles) although those that just use mileage runs to push them over to a particular status tier are “probably still okay.”
  • Those who mostly fly Delta partners where the spending may not be counted toward status
  • Those who don’t spend over $2,000 a month on a Delta-branded credit card

Are Frequent Flyer Programs Worth the Trouble?

Frequent flyer miles programs used to be so simple; fly, rack up miles, achieve status. Today’s programs include enough fine print to rival many legal documents, which raises the question: are they still worth the time and trouble, along with need to stay loyal to a single carrier that may not offer the cheapest priced tickets? We’d be interested to hear what frequent flying readers have to say.

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Published: January 18, 2013