Delta Award Tickets Count Towards Status Permanently, No More Mileage-Earning Cap On Flights

Delta Air Lines announced two changes to the SkyMiles program this morning. SkyMiles award tickets for travel on Delta, which first began counting towards elite status in 2021, will become a permanent feature of the program. And, in an effort to incentivize customers who buy the most expensive tickets, there will no longer be a cap on the miles earn for travel.

Award Travel Counts Towards Elite Status

Delta-issued award tickets for travel on its own flights will count towards elite status permanently. Delta vassal Virgin Atlantic was the first to make this change to its program. SkyMiles followed on a temporary basis for 2021, and then extended this for 2022.

In some sense this is a trend because American Airlines, which completely revamped its elite status earning so that most activity (including credit card spend and online shopping) counts towards status – while a minimum number of flights on American are needed to earn ‘choice rewards’ at the Platinum Pro status level and beyond. Award travel counts towards the 30 minimum segments for this benefit at American.

Note though that Delta’s status-earning doesn’t count award travel on partner airlines, or partner airline redemptions on Delta.

Earning is calculated based on distance the minimum miles requirement for SkyMiles status. Each award flight is a segment. And qualifying dollars treat each mile redeem as worth a penny, so a coach award ticket that costs 30,000 miles earns 300 qualifying dollars.

No More Cap On Miles Earned For Tickets

When Delta introduced its revenue-based mileage-earning program eight years ago, they placed a limit on the number of miles that a ticket could earn. No ticket would accrue more than 75,000 SkyMiles no matter how much that ticket cost.

  • The most expensive tickets stopped earning miles as price went up to the very highest levels

  • Lower-tier members were treated more generously, because higher status members hit the cap more quickly as a result of their bonuses.

At 5 miles per dollar spent, a general member could earn on the first $15,000 spent on a ticket. However a top tier member earning 11 miles per dollar would max out their earning after $6818. Most tickets aren’t that expensive, of course, but last minute long haul business class certainly could be.

This created a weird incentive, too, for customers to break up their tickets into one-ways. It adds complication to the customers they want to make things easiest for. Finally Delta has eliminated this cap.

When United and then American went revenue-based with their programs, they copied Delta’s cap. Generally U.S. airline executives believed at the time that Delta’s management was smartest and anything they did must be correct. It’s not yet clear whether United or American will remove their caps, following Delta’s move.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Lifting the cap is a good thing. I’ve regularly bought $5000-$6500 business-class tickets 30 or 45 days out. I’ve seen prices as high as $10,000 for Detroit-Tokyo pre-pandemic. It never made sense.

    Now if only Delta would fix the regional upgrade certificates, which are basically worthless by allowing them to be used for economy to premium-economy on all international flights or economy to business-class on flights to Iceland and South America.

  2. @ Gary — No surprise on the permanent credit for awards. I was all but certain this would happen.

  3. Good move. Its all OPM buying those tickets anyway.
    Incentivizes OPM to scam more expensive tickets from their companies than necassary.
    And all that incremental income goes to Delta.

  4. I’m not sure if this is lack of precision in the announcement or a change.

    The incentives that DL announced in 2021 said this about MQMs on award travel: “Flights operated by airlines other than Delta and tickets included as part of a travel package where the ticket price is not disclosed (other than Delta Vacations packages) are excluded from the promotion.” https://news.delta.com/delta-fast-tracks-2022-medallion-status-skymiles-members-unprecedented-ways-get-rewarded-more#:~:text=Flights%20operated%20by%20airlines%20other%20than%20Delta%20and%20tickets%20included%20as%20part%20of%20a%20travel%20package%20where%20the%20ticket%20price%20is%20not%20disclosed%20(other%20than%20Delta%20Vacations%20packages)%20are%20excluded%20from%20the%20promotion.%C2%A0

    So, that would mean no MQMs on award travel on a KLM operated flight even when booked under a DL flight number.

    However, the new announcement language seems to indicate that one could earn MQMs on a KLM operated flight booked under a DL flight number: “the ability to earn toward Medallion Status on Delta-marketed Award Travel will become a permanent feature of the program.” https://news.delta.com/delta-rewards-skymiles-members-two-industry-first-program-enhancements#:~:text=the%20ability%20to%20earn%20toward%20Medallion%20Status%20on%20Delta%2Dmarketed%20Award%20Travel%20will%20become%20a%20permanent%20feature%20of%20the%20program.

  5. Net-net, will these changes make a HUGE difference? Maybe not, but Delta does seem to “get” things that some other airlines don’t.

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