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As the year begins to close and frequent travelers lock in their status for the 2015 travel year, many are now looking forward towards their strategies for the year to come. For most, that game will change significantly.
No longer will points be earned by simply flying from point A to point B. Now, each reward will be based on the distance of travel and the cost of the ticket. The minimum costs to play the game are also going up, changing the loyalty program focus from leisure to business traveler. Between those two changes, many road warriors may choose to change how they earn and maintain elite status.
The changes are primarily coming to two of the largest legacy carriers: Delta and United Airlines. For their 2015 SkyMiles and MileagePlus programs, respectively, the spending requirements tied to earning elite status are going up by 20% in the new year, meaning that the $2,500 to $10,000 formerly required for status is now $3,000 to $12,000. For Delta’s top Diamond members, the ceiling is even higher at $15,000.
Redeemable miles used for booking free flights will also now be earned based on the cost of the ticket and the elite status of the customer rather than by the distance flown. A high spending business class passenger between Chicago and Detroit may thus soon be able to earn more miles the budget traveler traveling from Chicago to Seattle. Details on each new redemption profile can be found at the Delta and United websites.
For many, the combination of the limited earned miles and the minimum spend requirements will be too much to maintain their continued loyalty. In practicality, however, there are ways around the restrictions.
One way to faster achieve status is by getting the airline’s co-branded credit card. In the case of Delta’s Platinum SkyMiles card for example, 10,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles are annually awarded every year that the consumer puts $25,000 on the card.
Another option is to change carriers altogether. The combined American and US Airways programs will not have any spend requirements in its 2015 program and points will be earned on a 1:1 basis for each mile flown. Though that may change once the merger is complete in 2015, budget travelers still have some near term refuge against money-hungry elite programs.
Objectively, however, the theme of 2015’s programs will have much more to do about careful planning and spending than previous years. For many, $2,500 in travel isn’t much to spend between a few business trips and a family vacation or two. Focusing travel on one carrier and pushing through those status tiers, on the other hand, irrespective of the small fluctuations in price, is a bit harder.