Delta’s New Changes Pretend it isn’t a Skyteam Member for Elite Status Earning – But That’s Not Even the Big Story

Lucky thinks it’s a huge devaluation that effective September 1 Delta is reducing elite status mileage-earning on many of their partners, and that you can no longer earn Delta elite status miles on Skyteam partner Korean Air at all.

Full qualifying miles will be earned only on Aeromexico, Air France, Alaska, Alitalia, GOL, KLM, and Virgin Australia.

Reduced status miles may be earned on:

  • Aeroflot
  • Air Europa
  • Czech
  • Kenya Airways
  • Middle East Airlines
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Aerolineas Argentinas
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • China Southern
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Xiamen Airlines

And there will be no elite status mileage-earning on:

  • Hawaiian
  • Korean
  • Malaysia
  • Olympic

It’s indeed shocking that flying on Korean Air — a member of the Skyteam alliance — will not contribute at all towards status on Delta.

Delta is saying that travel with their partners is not nearly as valuable as — and not as deserving of recognition as — travel on Delta.

Which is in and of itself a fair statement. Except that undermines the concept of an airline alliance, something we’ve increasingly seen over the past year with alliance cracks and bilateral agreements outside of and across alliances.

Lucky reports Delta’s absurd explanation.

We’d like you to understand that each airline determines its level of participation in partnership with us, so there are varying levels of customer rewards when flying with our partners.

Because, of course, “we would prefer that your customers not get recognized for travel with us” is what Korean Air said never.

And the notion that “each airline determines its level of participation” is fundamentally contrary the idea of an alliance. It’s how bi-lateral partnerships work.

I actually read Delta’s explanation a bit differently though, and much more weasely. The emphasis should be on in partnership with us.

    Korean Air: We’d love to have our customers recognized for their travel with us through the Skymiles program! That will encourage more of your customers to buy our tickets, which is the sort of benefit we look for as part of an airline alliance.

    Delta: No.

And so there it is. Korean Air determined their level of participation in the Delta Skymiles program, in partnership with Delta.

But it’s not nearly as big of a change as it seems Because the real devaluation was the announcement that beginning in 2014 flights on partners where the tickets were issued by those partners would not have their price count towards the minimum spend that would be required towards status.

If you buy a roundtrip ticket on Air France, you will not earn credit for the money you spent on the ticket towards the needed spend for status.

For many customers, the binding constraint will be “Medallion Qualifying Dollars” and not “Medallion Qualifying Miles.”

If you want to earn silver status on Delta, you could fly 25,000 miles on Air France — that still credits 100% of miles flown towards status — and you would still have to spend $2500 on Delta tickets to have that status.

Earning qualifying miles on partners — unless the flights are on tickets issued by Delta — won’t matter for many flyers. It will only matter for those who spend a lot on their Delta tickets flying relatively short distances, whose tickets are expensive but never seem to fly enough.

It’s another trickle in the Delta devaluation, with certainly more changes to come. And with spin worthy of the airline that ludicrously claims it is forbidden by lawto give advance notice to its members when it increases the price of awards.

Does anyone that knows anything about travel, miles, and elite status — that doesn’t live in Atlanta or the Upper Midwest — still fly Delta?

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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. With DL having a JV with KL/AF, the MQD deval doesn’t really affect KL/AF flying because it’s 99% of the time same price to buy a DL ticket as a KL/AF ticket for the exact same route/price. However, the MQD deval does hit the rest of non-JV ST, of course.

  2. I disagree — today’s announcement is a bigger deal than MQDs, since you can exempt the MQD requirement via credit card spend. I’m just glad to see that I can still earn 200% MQM flying first class with my never-expiring AS BOGO$99 certs!

    I still fly Delta (for now) since I fly to Atlanta 15-20 r/t per year and DL is the most convenient option. However, I see the shaft coming, so I have shifted all of my purchases to award tickets and pay-with-miles for first class tickets, which now earn MQM and RDM.

  3. Great post, tell Randy to quit allowing Delta to sponsor bar-b-q’s and concerts at his blogger do’s…does Randy really not understand what these guys are doing to his constituents

  4. Well I am in your latter basket (upper midwest)… glad I have status now on both AA and UA. What bugs me is when DL makes a negative change, the effective date is ‘flown by.’ When they made positive changes (F earnings)is was “purchased by”…. lame.

  5. I laughed when I first heard about this….the timing of my little piece on learning to like Delta (living in ATL) this morning was impeccable. I’m really, really interested to see how the year unfolds.

  6. Bobo: No, they’ll still have their BBQ– they just need to serve stronger koolaide to the bloggers.

  7. And I should add…. depending on how the new AA ultimately unfolds, I am not above looking at the 30 minute flight to CLT and an easy connection as a cost of doing business.

  8. Anyone who keeps flying Delta (and has a choice) after all the negative changes deserves them. The management basically doesn’t care and pushes the envelope as much as they can.

  9. MQDs are a red herring for the vast majority of travelers.

    And, despite your assertion to the contrary, even within the alliance rules about FF earning reciprocity are made on a bilateral basis. This is the case for all three alliances.

  10. Hobo13, I would love to see one of these Boarding Area Bloggers be the first to refuse to put up Delta AMEX credit card links, but it won’ t happen…MONEY talks.

  11. @Seth Miller next post on the subject highlights language from the Skyteam website that promises elite status earning on all Skyteam flights. What Star Alliance airline offers no mileage earning for any flight at any fare in the United program?

  12. Just to know that I have to go thru ghetto ATL to connect to anywhere else, is reason enough to avoid that disgusting airline. Ghetto ATL mentality, ghetto Airline mentality!

  13. Bobo, actually, as soon as I’m in a position to apply for Amex cards again, the DL cards are high up my list. As I’m transitioning from a mileage run guy to a CC spend guy, DL status just for spending on CC is very, very attractive. It doesn’t hurt I’m dating someone in Au and DL miles are great on VA! Also, I’ve been finding ST has terrific award space from AU to EU compared to the other alliances. I’m throwing my hat in the ring with Beaubo (no relation to you, I presume) and saying that MRing for status is yesterday. There are too many ways to get status and fly F with CCs and other creative promos.

  14. HansGolden, I was at lunch with a colleague and after he pulled out a gold Skymiles credit card, I was so annoyed, I took him back to office, had him apply for Chase Sapphire immediately, In your situation, I understand, but those miles are worth so little compared to a card like Chase Sapphire.

  15. Bobo, I understand. I shudder when my “normal” friends proudly tell me they have the DL Amex. (DL/Amex is REALLY good at marketing those things.) However, I do believe the bloggers give sufficient warning and education re: “SkyPesoes” when they provide DL Amex links. It was actually the constant testimony of the bloggers on this subject that allowed me to finally convince my dad to move some of his spending (which is very large) away from DL Amex toward Chase UA.

  16. when delta yukking it with the bloggers, giving them free food and what not, did ANY of you guys talk to the about what they are doing to the program? Try to get any answers to hard questions? call them out on the lies they spin as truths (i.e. the law prevents them from disclosing program changes)?

    i’m guessing one doesn’t bite the hand that literally feeds

  17. I’m still flying DL because they have better service and are better in flight. They are also more reliable. DOT numbers are pretty revealing.

  18. BWI/DCA flier here. Anyhoo, I finally jumped ship for *A this year and am annoyed to find that the actual flying was way less fun and pleasant than on Delta. So, basically, I either earn shitty miles in a pleasant way, or valuable miles in a shitty way

  19. This sucks, but it is not too surprising about KE. Many of their fare classes (and also CZ) already did not get earn the same MQMs as DL flights. Over the past decade I have been flying to Asia several times per year. KE has been regularly undercutting DL’s biz class fares by at least $1K or more out of LAX and other cities – especially after they deployed the A380. DL knows there are plenty of lower cost options to Asia so I guess this is their way of making Medallions think twice before picking another carrier.

  20. @jay – I never spoke with any Delta executives at the event. I believe there was someone from Delta there at some point, but I never saw him during any breaks. In any case I don’t think it’s fair to say that I’m somehow soft on Delta.

  21. My DL Platinum this year is, in part due to flying LHR-ICN-MEL-ICN-LGW. I’m not going to be living in the US after September, who should I choose as my SkyTeam FF card?

  22. At what point is it sensible for the domestic passenger to begin crediting delta flights to a different skyteam airline? I live in NYC, for instance, so I’m not looking to credit to AS. Maybe KE and then I can get the tie-in with my Ultimate Rewards?

  23. Why Atlanta got mentioned by its own name, then ‘upper Midwest’? For us unfortunately stuck with delta because we live in the twin cities, don’t our cities at least deserve mote direct a representation? How about Detroit? Are they lumped all together as some part of Midwest too? No fair…

  24. The problem isn’t with DL, but with KE. KE has to pay DL each time a pax flies on KE but wants to accrue DL miles. Usually, this is based on a mutually agreed price of $xx/miles. KE likely does not want to pay and so DL does not allow miles to be accrued.

  25. Xf: It’s really the entire region from MSP to DTW (and even west of MSP into the Dakotas) where DL dominates. No sane person will sit on UAX E45s and battle ORD regularly when DL often runs a mix of CR2s and larger RJs with F to the smaller (but not tiny) markets in the region out of MSP and DTW. OTOH, the Southeast has enough alternatives to flying through ATL on DL that it seems sensible to mention ATL and then a larger geographic region where DL is strong.

  26. I live in NYC, for instance, so I’m not looking to credit to AS.

    You know AS allows for redemptions on AA, AF, BA, DL, EK, KL, KE, and LA, right? That’s 8 airlines that serve NYC.

  27. Does not surprise me sadly. All of my family lives in the Midwest, and I gave up on flying Delta a long time ago. Just not worth the hassle and poor earning/redeeming…

  28. I always feel that anyone that flies Delta gets what they deserve unless they have no choice.
    The changes are absurd but not unexpected from the greed mongers of the industry. I am flying through DFW to get to ATL this week just as I have done many times before and happy to do it to avoid supporting anything Delta Award availability issues alone
    There are so many reasons to avoid Delta IMHO
    Many years ago I was elite with Delta.
    Delta is amongst the worst carriers I have ever flown from Customer service to its stingy penny pinching program. They make the other legacy carriers look like heroes.The lowest of low
    Did I say I dislike Delta lol
    Ill pass on their 400,000 mile redemptions roundtrip to Australia too while I am at it 🙂

  29. I’m shocked that the changes are “effective for travel on and after September 1, 2013” rather than with tickets purchased on or after that date.

    If I purchased a ticket, only to have Delta apply these changes after my purchase, I’d would (at the very least) be seeking a refund.

  30. Delta Airlines? Oh, now I remember them. Haven’t flown them in well over 20 years ——

  31. I am thankful I whittled down my delta balance from 600k to 75k since 2008. bonus was moving to Charlotte and Status matching to US miles earning and redeeming experience has been so much improved even if I have taken a small hit in operational excellence.I look to the AA émerger with optimism and at worst at least it will be better than deltas program.

  32. Typical Delta, cutting back again when they claim to have “the best employees in the world”. This stinks and really screws over Skyteam fliers. Thankfully I don’t use my Delta card anymore, I use my KLM one and they treat you a lot better.

    I’m no fan of flying Delta, I only do so because I have to.

  33. Well how else can one get to LGA from BUF now that USair “traded”slots with DL @DCA???

  34. Comments saying that we’re idiots for flying DL are totally uncalled for. Yeah, Skymiles is the worst and keeps getting worse but DL still the best flying experience among the legacies. Plus, living in ATL, nothing else is gonna cut it for international flights.

    You’re basically suggesting to me to screw DL and split my flights among ATL’s number 2 airline, AirTran/Southwest, for domestic (BTW, no chance at all for an upgrade on SW) and other random carriers for international.

    Ok, so now I have crappier flight experiences and my miles split among four or five carriers so it will take me forever to accrue enough for a redemption ticket without resorting to credit card churning. How is that better than sticking with DL?

  35. @Tony – no if you re-read what I wrote I was very specific that it made sense for folks in Atlanta and the Upper Midwest to continue to fly Delta. But I don’t think it’s true that Delta offers a materially better flying experience than American.

  36. All of the recent devaluations have been really frustrating as a previously happy Delta PM. Same Day Award changes, non-allowance of partners for MQD qualification, and now the partner MQM slashing…

    I status matched to UA last week. The service isn’t the same, but at least my miles will be worth something.

  37. Gary, I noticed you’ve trumpeted SV for awards to India, but the returns from India to the US often involve double connections within Saudi Arabia approaching and exceeding 18 hours (the maximum for a transit visa). Any way around that?

  38. @Amol – I think you mean for transit without visa. Saudia’s schedule is odd with lots of non-daily service (alternating service between JED/RUH), it requires coordinating travel dates with Saudia’s schedule.

  39. Between AA and DL, for their loyalty programs, hands down AA wins out; for the hard products though, my limited experience does favor DL. RJ’s with first class? DL seems to have more such things than AA. Wifi? DL again. DTW vs. ORD? DTW. Lie flat in business class? DL for sure. Club quality? Delta has oatmeal and NY Times which makes me happy; what does AA have? Bad cookies any one?

    In five years AA should be able to catch up with a new cost structure, as long as the merger doesn’t ruin it.

    But for now, if DL had a better program, I would be willing to fly them exclusively because of their quality. Well, as long as we don’t move away from the twin cities, we are stuck with one of them anyway…

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