Delta New 125,000 Qualifying Mile Top Tier… Unimpressive.

It’s been all over the media since yesterday, but Delta is introducing a new fourth tier to their elite program. It’s been mentioned before, but now there are details. And I should say it’s at least been as all over the media as elite status issues get!

One Mile at a Time has a rundown. The new level, Diamond, clocks in at 125,000 elite qualifying miles. That’s not as daunting as it sounds when you can get more than halfway there with credit card spend if you’re a high enough volume charger nad use the right cards.

The biggest benefit is that Diamonds are ahead of Platinums for upgrades. With a low top tier of only 75,000 qualifying miles, with plenty of non-flying methods of earning qualifying miles, and with a huge combined Delta/Northwest route network there are simply too many Platinums. I’m a Northwest Platinum this year via status match (and will requalify for mid-tier at least without trying, I won’t make Diamond, so this decision makes it less likely that I’ll go for Platinum). I’ve actually been #26 on the upgrade waitlist after everyone else clears. That’s somewhat a function of the DC market where government fares book into Y and full fare buckets are eligible for upgrade on Delta ahead of status consideratoin. But it’s also an indication of how many elites they have now. The new higher tier will properly re-align the upgrade pecking order. Though I do hope they upgrade Diamonds on mid-tier fares ahead of Silvers on cheap government full fares.

The next big benefit of the tier that has been announced so far is lounge membership. Delta used to provide this gratis to Platinums. And it’s included in the premium Delta Reserve American Express, which is one way to earn qualifying miles. I wonder whether Delta will offer a fee reduction to Diamonds with that card, or a pro-rated refund to those members who have paid for lounge access but receive it free under this new elite benefit? At a minimum they should offer something else to Diamonds who have the Reserve card.

Diamonds will earn 125% of flown miles, what Platinums earned through the end of last year.

Finally, there are going to be two ‘choice’ benefits – something that already exists (‘extra perks’) for Platinums flying beyond the required threshold to retain status. The particulars of what those choices are bonus miles, club passes, gifting lower tier status (Platinums gift Silver, Diamonds gift Gold), a retail gift card, or systemwide upgrades. Sadly, those upgrades are still as bad as they were before. They’re confirming when upgrade space is available on only the highest fares — Y, B, or M internationally and K fares or above domestically. The new innovation is that they’re usable day of departure, so elites wishing to use a certificate to upgrade internationally (and presumably who are on a high enough fare to qualify) won’t sit in the back while seats go out empty or go to nonrevs.

Delta has announced rollover qualifying miles, where extra miles earned beyond status ‘roll over’ to the next qualifying year to give the member a head start requalifying. That’s a great innovation, it gives members a real incentive to keep flying even after they’ve stretched to requalify for their status.

Ultimately the 125,000 mile level is all about being ahead of Platinums for upgrades. The actual benefits – as announced so far – are nothing particularly exciting. Both United and American offer more to their 100,000 mile flyers than Delta appears to be offering to their 125,000 mile flyers. That’s no real surprise. United and American offer their top tier elites confirmed upgrades at booking both domestically and internationally with most fares qualifying. Delta’s confirmed elite upgrade intruments are next to useless. I’ve often found paid discounted business class on other carriers for the price of upgradeable coach on Delta. It’s truly sorry that Delta failed to address the confirmed upgrade deficiency relative to United and American. Their top tier just still is not competitive.

Of course, Delta miles are also worth less than those of most competing carriers. So the redeemable miles side remains deficient. At the 125,000 mile level one could wish (in a snap your fingers and you have a pony sort of way) that they’d offer guaranteed redemption the way that Air Canada does for its 100,000 mile members — redeem the standard miles for business class even on any Air Canada flight. Delta just isn’t that rewarding, of course, and likely never will be.

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. Well, I just tried to use my upgrade certificates – and they’re tantamount to useless. They can’t be used on Delta’s codeshares with Air France (and Delta has dropped all of their own flights to Paris out of JFK) and there’s not too much available on Delta’s flights out of Atlanta in a few weeks (plus, my M ticket would be well over $3,000). So, maybe I’ll just stay at home for Thanksgiving. I just keep wondering why I used to be able to take a transatlantic flight and upgrade for a fraction of the price. Maybe coach…no worse than the 40% of the time that I didn’t get upgraded while flying every week across the country a couple of years.

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