Delta Issues Non-Denial Denial On Eliminating Spend Waiver for Top Tier Elite Status

Delta, United, and American all have minimum spending requirements for earning their elite status.

  • Delta requires you to spend a minimum of 12 cents a mile for status (eg $3000 for 25,000 mile Silver, $15,000 for 125,000 mile Diamond) but waives the requirement for customers living outside the U.S. and for U.S. customers spending at least $25,000 on a co-brand American Express card.

  • United requires you to spend a minimum of 12 cents a mile for status (eg $3000 for 25,000 mile Silver, $12,500 for 100,000 mile 1K) but waives the requirement for customers living outside the U.S. and waives the requirement for earning up to the Platinum level – but not 1K – for U.S. customers spending at least $25,000 on a co-brand Chase card.

  • American requires you to spend a minimum of 12 cents a mile for status (eg $3000 for 25,000 mile Gold, $12,500 for 100,000 mile Executive Platinum) and does not waive the requirement for customers living outside the U.S. U.S. customers can earn up to 6000 elite qualifying dollars based on spend with a Barclaycard co-brand Mastercard [3000 for $25,000 spend on an Aviator Red card, 3000 each at $25,000 and $50,000 spend on an Aviator Silver card].

Rene’s Points says he has confirmed with 3 sources that Delta will be making a change to only allow the American Express credit card spend waiver to count towards Platinum status. In other words, $25,000 in spend will allow customers to avoid the $9000 minimum qualifying dollars for Platinum status but customers seeking Delta Diamond would still have to spend the required $15,000 on travel whether they spend on the American Express card or not.

This would be a real blow to the value proposition of Delta’s American Express cards which currently make sense only for:

  1. The casual traveler who wants to have some travel benefits on Delta but doesn’t fly Delta enough to earn elite status. This person probably lives in the Southeast, in New York, or the Upper Midwest.

  2. The heavy elite traveler who doesn’t spend enough on tickets to earn the status level their flying would otherwise qualify them for.

The heavy elite traveler looking for a waiver of the spend requirement for status (or looking to earn elite qualifying miles for status) is the only one that should spend any money on this credit card after earning the card’s signup bonus.

Not only are Delta miles worth less than other currencies, but even the cardmember who wants to earn Delta miles can earn more Delta miles with other cards. That’s because American Express offers several cards with broader bonus categories which earn more Membership Rewards points, Membership Rewards points transfer to Delta, and offer the flexibility to transfer to better frequent flyer programs.

Delta refuses to deny that they are making this change. A spokesperson offered only, “I don’t have any info on what you’re asking [..] – we haven’t announced any such changes.”

I followed up explicitly asking for more than a non-denial denial, and they replied “We haven’t announced anything to this effect – that’s just a fact.”

Clearly they haven’t announced it. But they chose not to deny it, either. If this turns out to be a change that Delta is making, it will be:

  • Good for flyers who spend enough on Delta to earn top tier status without needing the credit card waiver. They’ll have less competition for upgrades.

  • Bad for flyers who have been loyal travelers but need the spend waiver to hit Diamond. Delta is saying that their business is worth less, that earning via credit card along with travel isn’t worth enough to be a top tier elite.

  • Bad for American Express, who keeps taking it in the chin from Delta. Not only did American Express set the bar with a new most-expense co-brand travel card deal after losing Costco, but Delta knowing they’re the next-biggest partner of American Express after Costco was they’ve continued to chip away at the value American Express gets for their top dollar. The elite status that Black Card members get, for instance, is even devalued and American Express lounge access with Delta no longer comes with guests either.

Two years ago American Express refused to claim that Delta miles were getting more valuable. We know that Delta’s claims to the contrary are disingenuous.

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, 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. Frankly, this is an enhancement. While miles can be given away, status should be earned.

    I would take it even further and eliminate the mileage component. Say, with a minimum number of segments (10 or so), base status ONLY on spending, with no credit card waivers.

  2. @ Gary — Another fact: you and I know more about Delta than Rene.. As a general rule, you should give little weight to anything he says.

  3. @Gene – I will accept your apology on the dozen or sites you have trolled about me when the news comes out (you will do so on all the sites right)!? 😉

  4. I just wish the Big 3 cared about their high spending short-haul flyers. Meeting the EQD spend is pretty easy for me, because I buy a lot of last minute tickets with a higher cost. But I will never rack up the EQM because I’m not flying transcon, since I live in the midwest, or international. So that leaves me going after 120 segments requirement for EXP. Which is akin to almost flying every week of the year. Not sure what their thought process is, but the message received is we don’t care about big spending short-haul flyers, so we should not be loyal at all.

  5. Heavy Elite Flyer ≠ Low Spend

    This is the flaw in your constant arguments about how this abandons elite flyers by requiring a minimum spend. Us actual heavy commuters easily spend $15k a year flying our preferred airline (myself, I show over $24k in spend last year) and, frankly, we should get more recognition than those who just play the game. And, I am not even recognized as Global Services or Concierge Key – think about that, you are complaining about $12k when airlines have thousands of people like me who are top-tier elite spending $24k+ AND have a whole other tier of big spenders that they covet even more.

    I get it – you are upset the game is changing and in some ways going away, but, come on, anyone who CAN spend $25k a year on a credit card can afford to just buy up to First or, at the very least Comfort+. This is called segmenting a market – Delta is doing it phenomenally.

  6. @ Gary @ Rene, excuse my naivety, but could Delta be using Rene ( or other bloggers) to leak potential changes and use the reactions bloggers or readers a barometer? Perhaps after observing initial reactions, Delta could to a 180 degree on the proposed change. Just a thought…

  7. AMEX is unaware of any of this as I spoke to them directly. And not just a card rep. The top executive offices. They called me after I send an email regarding the matter. I spend quite a bit with them and so do many others. While people who spend heavily on airfare are applauding this potential move, I am sure AMEX would not like losing so many good customers. Delta can easily create a different recognition tier or program for those who spend a lot actual dollars on airfare. Below that of the 360 club. They don’t have to completely screw with what helps both them and American Express. And I already buy first class tickets each and every time, just not $15,000 worth. Remember, this is a partnership benefit. It is not taking away from those who spend heavily on Delta, it benefits those that spend heavily on one or the other. If Delta wants to go it alone without a credit card partner, they have every right to. They would be the only one, but apparently it seems to be beneficial to 99% of all airlines and 100% of all airlines who co-brand with a card.

  8. Many of us have to buy the cheapest non-stop economy-class ticket. It would be very easy to fly 125,000 miles or more — otherwise qualifying or re-qualifying for diamond — but not spend more than $15,000 on airfare.

    Secondly, Delta doesn’t fully count money spent flying partner airlines toward the $15,000 threshold.

    For the record, I flew 158,000 miles in 2016 and spent $20,000 with Delta. In 2015, I flew 130,000 miles and spent $12,000.

  9. @Jerome – Great question but in this case I really do not think so. In fact I am reasonably sure Delta is rather furious this was leaked at all. I think this change is in fact set in stone and once in place will be all but impossible to change.

  10. I understand that they want to make the heaviest spenders feel special. How about doing something for them and not taking away from others.

  11. There is no way they dump the waiver. Maybe it goes to 50K but it is worth far too much to Amex/Delta to dump it. The relationship is worth multi multi millions.

  12. They should go ahead and increase the amount for the waiver for Diamonds. 25K gets you a waiver all the way to Platinum. 50K or 65K or some such number needed for a waiver to Diamond. Reward people who fly a lot and also spend good money on the co-branded card even if they don’t spend 15K on Delta metal.

  13. Welp I just got the email. You now have to spend $250,000 (yes $250K) on the card for Diamond waiver. What a joke.

  14. Seems that the airlines are continuing to punish flyers for flying with them. I have been an American flyer, but my brother is a pilot for another major, and continually tells me stories of airline contempt for their customer. “You have to understand that 70% of the people in the back of the plane only fly once a year or less, and they have no brand loyalty – they only care about a cheap ticket.” Given the miserable experience they’re offered – small wonder.

    The rejoinder is “you need to remember that 70% of the revenue comes from the front of the plane.” While my sense of fairness bristles with the tilting of the tables toward privilege with little regard for “the huddled masses in steerage,” my sense of business says “why would you convince any of your top-spending customers to shop elsewhere?”

    I’m an unusual case. I’m not someone who flies on upgrades. I’m responsible for the cash spend that has kept not one but two EP’s afloat in my family. Since my full-time job has a meager reimbursement policy I actually purchase the vast majority of the tickets we fly on (and always first class or business, or I just can’t make the spend). It bothers me a lot that as a paying customer for American’s premium product I’m getting crowded out, or being told “be a chump and give us MORE money.”

    In the end, status doesn’t really mean that much to me beyond wounded pride. Pretty much all the “benefits” of status are only meaningful to those who are forced to spend most of their flight time in economy. While the airlines talk about “thinning the herd,” perhaps a better way to do so is stop competing to have the industry’s smallest seat pitch, the highest bag fees, and the smallest bags of peanuts. (Wait, did I say peanuts? The cabin must be depressurizing while I type…).

    I miss the days when the airlines seemed to want me to be their customer. When I’m tithing nearly 10% of my annual income to them and that’s still not good enough, I need to rethink. I’ll probably continue to spend as much money as I do now – and on premium air fares. Some of it is business and some of it is love of travel. But I’m no longer going to limit my travel by any sense of loyalty, because I’m fortunate enough to be able to buy the perks and I don’t need to grovel for them.

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