The Most Surprising Thing About Delta’s Changes Is There’s No Good News

Typically when airlines make changes to their frequent flyer programs, they try to balance the bad news with something positive for customers. That may be new benefits, throwing customers a bone. Or it may be some rhetoric about how customers are actually going to be better off with the changes. Executives will say that they ‘listened to customers’ and are making ‘changes you’re going to like.’

There’s really none of that with Delta. Delta is demanding more from customers, and not pretending to offer anything new or more in return. The airline has announced changes where:

  • Their premium credit card (and Amex Platinum cards) will no longer receive unlimited access to their Sky Club airport lounges

  • Passengers traveling on basic economy fares will no longer be able to use credit cards to access their lounges

  • Requirements for earning elite status are rising dramatically, for instance top tier Diamond status will go from requiring $20,000 in qualifying dollars up to $35,000 qualifying dollars – though in addition to earning from credit card spend you’ll be able to earn from hotel, car, and vacation package bookings as well. (When you book hotels through the Delta portal you give up hotel points, elite status credit with the hotel chain, and elite benefits during your stay.)

They genuinely believe that their customers will stretch for this, by booking more Delta tickets (and fewer tickets on other airlines) and by spending more on American Express credit cards. But passengers who manager to qualify for status under new, much stricter criteria, aren’t being given any new reward for doing so.

  • The airline isn’t even pretending customers are asking for this
  • And they aren’t even spinning that customers are getting more in exchange for doing this.

The benefits of status are the same as what elite members received under old rules. And upgrades are increasingly hard to come by and are going to get harder still in the future because Delta says they’re going to do more ‘segmentation’ of first class the way they’ve done with coach (basic economy, Comfort+) in order to sell more seats at different prices.

Delta even says these aren’t the last of the changes, “over the next several years we’ll announce additional changes to qualification and to how a mile is awarded.” In other words, even if you can get comfortable with Delta’s latest changes don’t get comfortable. The goal posts will be moving again.

For year’s I’ve written that Delta is a tough negotiator. In a 50-50 deal, Delta takes the hyphen. This extends to suppliers, it extends to partners, and it extends to customers. When Delta and American Express announced an extension of their co-brand deal into 2029 American Express didn’t even say that the new deal was better for them. When Delta wanted a joint venture with Korean Air, they stopped allowing SkyMiles members to earn status flying Korean. They pushed customers away from Korean until the Seoul-based carrier agreed.

Delta is demanding more from passengers, and not giving more to those who comply. What surprised me most about this announcement is that there isn’t even a fig leaf about how this is good for customers – they don’t even seem to be pretending that this is good for anyone but Delta.

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. @ Tim — What benefits? The privilege of paying for an overpriced credit card? That was the point of this post — Delta isn’t giving benefits worth the investment.

  2. I personally don’t know what the solution is regarding Delta mileage program. However, it was ridiculous, at least in San Diego, when gate agents call up Sky priority, thirty people or more stand up. It was no longer special. It has become impossible to get upgraded anymore. As far as using domestic certificates when you receive Platinum, the flights were never available so they became useless. The SkyClub has turned into any but special. The lounges are too full, and kids are in there using it as a playground. It’s no longer a peaceful and relaxing place. There is differently no advantage from being Gold Or Platinum. Delta will lose people but I think they know that. We usually only purchase first class because we know we will not have a chance for an upgrade. Unlike years ago, we would get upgraded with Gold. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of years.

  3. Tim Dunn as a Delta MM based in BOS and frequent TATL flyer there is nothing in this change that will make me favor Delta. So I will move up to only 3 or spots away from a non-existent upgrade, big whoop.

    Being in BOS I have better options in skyteam than delta; Air France beats the shi# out of Delta for cabin service and food. KLM, ITA, and Virgin all provide equal or better options to Delta. Not to mention British Airways beating Delta like a drum in service to London.

    I can fly JetBlue nonstop to any destination served from BOS by Delta and still get free wifi and more legroom.

    Delta will regret this, they are screwing over their best actual passengers

  4. I read an article earlier today that stated, “Why be loyal to airlines when they aren’t loyal to you”? I can’t agree more! These credit cards that they offer are cash cows for the airlines. Even though I pay a large fee, they have minimal perks and the perks are getting less and less. The article went on to say that you will be much better off with an Amex Platinum card or the Capital One Venture X card, and many other. I have to agree with this too and those are my plans going forward.

    I have a friend who did just this several years back, becoming a free agent. I’m not sure why I haven’t done this before now. The airlines will figure this out as more people become free agents and their cash cows go away.

  5. Gene and Tyrone,
    again, no one is doubting that individuals will make choices.
    My commentary has consistently been directed at those people that think their actions will hurt Delta or that they made a mistake.

    And I trust you realize that Air France doesn’t fly from Boston to Los Angeles, Miami, Atlanta or Chicago – as Delta does.

    Get what you can “free” from anybody and everybody but just don’t be surprised if the pot gets a whole lot smaller no matter where you turn but also that your spend is not only not as much as you think compared to others that will still remain loyal to Delta and be rewarded for it

  6. I imagine it won’t matter to Delta–I’m not rich, but I do have some disposable income that has allowed me to achieve silver medallion status the past two years through a combination of the semi-low MDQ requirement, long trips (mileage-wise) to locations (SEA>MCO), and higher class fares, plus using my Delta Reserve card. And this year, when I realized I wouldn’t make status for 2024, it actually encouraged me to make a reservation to take a flight from SEA>MCO this December that I wouldn’t have ordinarily spent money on. All because Delta’s loyalty actually encouraged me to be loyal and spend more than I would have one another airline–including paying the ridiculous fee for a credit card.

    And again–Delta probably DOESN’T care. I have read enough in the past two years that Delta has been trying to find ways to make sure their 1%’er passengers retain their feeling of privilege and exclusivity. So, I imagine I am not in their demographic of super high earners that give them the most money. But you know what? You only have so many first class tickets–and if the 1% business passengers end up becoming their sole business because the people like me who have disposable income and were just eeking it out….well, we all add up to a lot. And maybe Delta’s done the calculations to know that they don’t need us….but over time, they probably do.

    So, I guess I really just have to figure out if this is worth it anymore. I’m thinking not. And if I’m not flying Delta often anymore, then I’m not using the Sky Club access I get with the Reserve card…hence, eliminating one of the reasons entirely that I’m willing to pay that insane fee. And so…I might just downgrade the card to the free version. If I keep it for the sole purpose of the free companion fare per year…that means I’ll probably just fly Delta once/year with my husband to utilize the companion fare. This will reduce Delta’s income from me from the 4+ expensive flights I take per year (again, expensive because I almost always fly Comfort + or First Class), to literally probably just one flight a year.

    But ya know–I don’t make $300K/year. So, guess I don’t matter. I’ll go fly with another airline that thinks my measly contributions to their bottom lines matter.

  7. But Delta DOES spin it. In A Sept 14th Bloomberg article by Mary Schlangenstein has several quotes, including “[loyalty members’] feedback has been ‘we would love to be rewarded for being fully
    engaged with Delta’.”’ and “…broadly speaking, we feel good based on focus groups and customer feedback.”

  8. Let’s face it. There are only 5 US airlines today and not enough pilots to allow any airline to grow their flight schedules in any meaningful way.
    This is the time for airlines to trim benefits and raise fares/ fees.
    The flying public has little alternative except to stop traveling or drive where feasible. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  9. I love Delta. I’m not sure Delta Loves me. I’m platinum and striving to get to Diamond. I have the reserve card. My business has 3 cards tied to my Reserve. We fly Delta several times a year. We pay for my husband to go to the ounge whenever we travel together. I feel lost now. I will be shopping for another credit card and be open minded about other airlines. Loyalty begets loyalty. Pitched aside begets pitched aside.

  10. I’ll be canceling my Delta Platinum business card at the next renewal, and downgrading my perspnal Platinum to Gold. I was never interested in lounge access, and the few upgrades have been last minute, never at the 5 day window. The new revenue based plan does nothing for me – the tipping point is, if I understand correctly, is the conversion ratio for miles.

  11. I achieved MM! this year. I bought into the delta reserve card carrot of the skymiles lounge. Now I know starting in 2025 I will be disengaging myself from Delta. What a pure D bullshit test of Delta loyalty to its business (1-3 trips/month for years) plain old SKYMILES Platinum Flyer) customers!

  12. I knew an airline once, a noble airline, an airline that was putting passengers and employees first, an airline that was making 1 billion dollars+ a year in net profits. That was Delta Airlines prior to the merger with Northwest Airlines. That airline is gone………
    Most of my Delta years I was Platinum and or Diamond Medallion and the Sky team lounge was complimentary. I bailed out over 5 years ago and now fly various airlines. When I buy a ticket, I compare price and convenient schedules. As far as lounges, I got the American Express Platinum card that allows me entrance to the Centurion Lounge and 3,500 Airport Lounges worldwide.

    I am a two million miler that gave me Gold Medallion Status for life. There are really no perks, other than an occasionally upgrade to economy comfort, that I omitted from my profile out of fear to get a middle seat. I rather sit at an aisle seat behind economy comfort that I pick at the time of
    booking. I fly Delta maybe once a year. Having that said, I advise people to stop hunting lifetime Medallion status on Delta Airlines. It is definitely not worth it.

  13. Ed Bastian has screwed up this airline from his first day on the job. Delta was amongst the leaders in taking pandemic $$$ then offering early aircrew retirement. Did the idiots think this was going to last forever? Bottom line for short term profits with no long term vision for adaptability.

    When the storms blew through the southeast late spring of this year and essentially closed ATL down it took two days to get out. I immediately got a text saying how sorry they were that my flight was cancelled due to weather. BS. Had a plane at the gate, flight crew, and a pilot who had his Miami flight cancelled and for over 2 hours pleaded with Delta Ops to take the flight to Norfolk to help clear the gate. DENIED! $150 DELTA ELECTRONIC TRANSPORTATION VOUCHER? What is that? No offer to comp the hotel when it wasn’t weather related, your ops center was too lazy to service customers.

  14. So many great responses – I am not going to repeat them. I worked hard to be loyal only to be slapped in the face, it is clearly a one-sided feeling.

  15. As a recently retired air captain, Mr. Ed Bastian doesn’t give a flying duck about long loyal employees either. Delta has become a bottom line company and that has become their focus in the past eight plus years. When you make bad decisions, as Delta has just done, the bad decisions only complicate the future bad decisions. As a long time resident of Atlanta, we were once proud of our “hometown” airline. At one point, with 80,000 employees, we felt like we were all connected like family. Delta’s loyalty to employees and customers has gone the way of the Dodo bird.

    So to anyone who is looking to make an airline’s loyalty program a major consideration for their flying allegiance, don’t put yourself through the misery of having to accept the inevitable let down. This change by Delta is only pointing towards even more severe changes in the near future. Ed Bastian says, “These changes are to simplify how you receive Medallion status.” Simplify is just another way of saying “We are making it easier on us and remove 50% of you from our Skylounges!”

  16. This was inevitable. I just made a longhaul trip with DL on which they announced every passenger (200+) was an elite Medallion member! And that of course, meant very limited upgrades and preferred seating options available. And don’t get me started on Sky Priority. As one person experienced in another post, nearly two-thirds of our flight held that “perk”. I’m a longtime Platinum Medallion and will continue to fly with them; their flight offerings work best for me, and I know staff and crew at my airport who are helpful and great . But I’ll be demoted with these changes. I can only wait and see what consideration they show me after 25+ years of loyalty to them…

  17. Delta has ticked off way too many customers and may not actually recover. I’ve been flying them (well, starting with Northwest back in the day) for over 25 years, am a Million Miler and consistent Diamond member even though i travel almost exclusively in North America and have price constraints set by my company. They have now put Diamond out of reach for me (unless i decide to spend way too much on an Amex I don’t have and don’t want) by effectively turning a Frequent Flyer program into a Frequent Buyer program. Someone could not fly a single leg all year long and spend like crazy on their co-branded Amex and hit Diamond status. it would make sense if Delta was a credit card company, but it incredibly stupid for an airline. They should concentrate more on butts in seats instead.

  18. Delta is the airline that is superior in service and convenience, but rips you off on price and breaks promises. Back in the ’80s, the program was “Delta Frequent Flyer Program” and they promised to “never change the benefits” (negatively) as long as the Frequent Flyer Program existed. In 1995 they made drastic changes and to keep from breaking their promise, they simply changed the name to “Skymiles”–thus the old program no longer existed.
    And worse for those of us flying out of ATL, we face the highest international fares of any hub in the USA because of Delta’s “lock” on the market here (gate slots, etc.) No international discount carriers in ATL; flights to Europe from NYC, BOS, IAD, MIA, etc. are 1/3 to 1/2 less!

  19. I was with Delta for years. I’m a 5 million miler. Trust me, the good old days were indeed the good old days. Don’t chase it now. It isn’t worth it.

  20. I was Gold Medallion status with DL for awhile & stopped flying them after the first major reduction in FF benefits I would like to call this “war” on their best customers I’ve been AA Exec Plat since then & haven’t looked back (even though they have challenges themselves, nothing like DL)

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