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.