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Delta Air Lines Revises Loyalty Program Changes Following Customer Backlash

by Lucas Garcia
8 comments
Delta Air Lines Loyalty Program Changes

Delta Air Lines is revising alterations it initially made to its SkyMiles frequent-flyer program, in response to customer objections. Although the company still intends to refocus SkyMiles to prioritize higher spenders over frequent flyers, it has made some concessions.

CEO Ed Bastian communicated the amendments in an email addressed to SkyMiles members this past Wednesday. “After perusing numerous emails from our loyal members, it’s evident that your strong affinity for Delta has been shadowed by disappointment over the extent of the changes,” stated Bastian.

The primary concerns raised by customers were regarding the increased difficulty in attaining elite status and new limitations on airport lounge access.

Initially announced in mid-September, the changes were intended to manage overcrowding in lounges and the inflation of elite-status members, which was impacting the availability of upgrades. Among the key modifications was the exclusion of flights taken and miles flown from the criteria for status achievement. Delta had also significantly elevated the spending prerequisites for each SkyMiles tier.

As per Bastian’s latest email, while flights and miles will continue to be excluded from status eligibility, the spending requirements will increase but not as significantly as originally proposed. For instance, attaining the Silver status, the lowest of the four tiers, will now require 5,000 “Medallion qualifying dollars,” a decrease from the previously stated 6,000. Currently, customers can reach Silver with as little as 3,000 qualifying dollars or points, provided they fly enough on Delta routes.

The Diamond level, the highest tier, will now necessitate 28,000 points, less than the 35,000 announced in September but more than the current 20,000, in addition to the requisite flights.

The amended changes are set to become effective next year and will be applicable for elite status qualification in 2025.

Moreover, Delta has moderated its restrictions on premium credit card holders accessing airport lounges, although still limiting it more than in the past.

The September alterations had instigated a negative reaction among Delta’s customer base, manifesting notably on social media platforms, with some patrons even considering switching to competitors.

Competing airlines like JetBlue and Alaska Airlines attempted to capitalize on the situation by offering to match elite statuses for customers departing Delta’s loyalty program. Southwest Airlines declared it would simplify the process for achieving the top tiers of its own frequent-flyer program starting next year.

According to Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, the modifications to the SkyMiles program may still not satisfy all members. “The revised changes may not suffice in mollifying the disenchanted Medallion members,” he noted.

A scant two weeks post the initial announcement, Bastian conceded that the company had perhaps overreached with the proposed alterations.

Delta officials disclosed last week during a conference call with analysts and journalists that the controversy had not adversely impacted sign-ups or expenditures on its co-branded American Express credit cards.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Delta Air Lines Loyalty Program Changes

What changes did Delta Air Lines initially propose to its SkyMiles Program?

Delta Air Lines initially announced significant modifications to its SkyMiles frequent-flyer program in mid-September. The changes aimed to prioritize higher spenders over frequent flyers. Delta also intended to disqualify flights and miles flown as criteria for elite status and proposed stringent spending requirements for each SkyMiles tier. Additionally, there were plans to restrict access to airport lounges.

How did Delta’s customers react to these proposed changes?

Delta’s customer base largely expressed dissatisfaction and disappointment with the proposed changes. The most frequent concerns were about the increased difficulty in attaining elite status and limitations on access to airport lounges. The backlash was notably strong on social media platforms, and some customers even considered switching to other airlines.

What amendments has Delta Air Lines made to the proposed changes?

Following the customer outcry, Delta Air Lines decided to revise its initially proposed changes. According to an email from CEO Ed Bastian, while flights and miles will still not count toward elite status, spending requirements for each tier will not increase as significantly as initially proposed. For example, attaining Silver status will now require 5,000 “Medallion qualifying dollars,” down from the initially proposed 6,000.

What is the new timeline for these changes to take effect?

The revised changes will become effective next year and will be applicable for customers trying to qualify for elite status in 2025.

How did competitors react to Delta’s initial changes?

Other airlines such as JetBlue and Alaska Airlines attempted to capitalize on the dissatisfaction among Delta’s customers by offering to match elite statuses for those willing to leave Delta’s loyalty program. Southwest Airlines also announced plans to simplify its own frequent-flyer program’s top tiers starting next year.

What was the industry analysis of Delta’s moves?

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, noted that some SkyMiles members will still be unhappy about Delta’s shift to an entirely spending-based program. He stated that the revised changes may not suffice in mollifying the disenchanted Medallion members.

Did the controversy affect Delta’s business in terms of credit card sign-ups?

According to Delta officials, the public controversy surrounding the SkyMiles program changes has not negatively impacted sign-ups or expenditures on its co-branded American Express credit cards.

More about Delta Air Lines Loyalty Program Changes

  • Delta Air Lines Official Statement on SkyMiles Program Changes
  • Ed Bastian’s Email to SkyMiles Members
  • Atmosphere Research Group Analysis on Delta’s Moves
  • Social Media Reactions to Delta’s Proposed SkyMiles Changes
  • JetBlue and Alaska Airlines’ Elite Status Matching Offers
  • Southwest Airlines’ Announcement on Frequent-Flyer Program
  • American Express and Delta Co-branded Credit Card Information

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8 comments

Kathy M October 19, 2023 - 4:40 am

Honestly, I’m just glad they listened. Could have been much worse if they just stuck to their guns.

Reply
Mike D. October 19, 2023 - 10:13 am

Wow, Delta really thought they could just change things up and expect people to be cool with it? Seriously?

Reply
Jen G October 19, 2023 - 1:52 pm

Did they really think we wouldn’t notice? Good on them for backtracking, but they shoulda thought this through from the get-go.

Reply
Tim H October 19, 2023 - 2:07 pm

Not surprised that the credit card sign-ups weren’t affected. People still want those travel rewards, even if Delta is making it tougher for ’em.

Reply
Ray S October 19, 2023 - 7:57 pm

Henry Harteveldt hit the nail on the head. Some of us still aren’t happy with the changes. Think I’ll start shopping around for a new airline.

Reply
Chris L October 19, 2023 - 9:05 pm

so JetBlue and Alaska are offering to match statuses huh? Might be worth lookin into.

Reply
Paula D October 19, 2023 - 10:28 pm

Got the email from Ed Bastian. Appreciate the transparency but they still missed the mark a bit.

Reply
Sara T October 20, 2023 - 12:04 am

I mean, I get it, airlines need to make money too. But making it so hard to get elite status? c’mon Delta, do better.

Reply

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