Skift Take

It's now going to be extremely difficult for some of Delta's frequent flyers to earn top-tier elite status.

Among the changes recently made to legacy airline loyalty programs, the addition of revenue requirements for elite status has been the most difficult pill for frequent flyers to swallow. Effectively, the constraints require passengers earning elite status to meet minimum revenue targets each year before they get their credentials. For lowest-tier status, that’s typically $3,000 in spend (exclusive of taxes) while highest tiers require upwards of $15,000 annually.

One exception to that rule has typically kicked in if the frequent flyer subscribes to a co-branded credit card like the Delta SkyMiles credit card or the United MileagePlus card (American’s card only awards some qualifying dollars after a certain annual spend is met). On Delta, if passengers spent $25,000 annually on that card, the revenue requirements for elite status would be dropped. United had the same constraint, though that waiver didn’t apply for top-tier 1K status — that had to be earned through flying and spending directly on the carrier.

As of last week, Delta is now following in those footsteps, albeit with a twist. In an email to SkyMiles members, Delta announced that the waiver for reaching Diamond Elite (typically earned after flying 125,000 miles and spending $15,000) would be increased from $25,000 to $250,000 on the SkyMiles card. Other tiers would remain at a $25,000 annual waiver.

Those who earned top-tier elite status on the airline through the spend waiver in 2017 will now have to spend ten times more, or an average of $20,834 dollars each month, to qualify for status in 2018 — plus flying the miles.

The reaction from most of Delta’s frequent flyers has been one of general flabbergast. “I am speechless. This is the biggest FU to come from DL in quite some time. AMEX platinum card is now worthless. I’ll likely cancel it and shift my card spend over to my AA card. If DL wanted to thin the herd this was a good way to do it. It’s clear my loyalty to DL is one-sided. Not any more,” said one angry commenter on Flyertalk on a thread dedicated to the changes.

Others saw it as an improvement and a tool to help the airline focus its loyalty program only on elite passengers who earn status through rigorous, direct spend and travel. That’s also the way that Delta frames the changes.

“This qualification change will allow us to deliver on expectations for Diamond Medallion Status so Members can maximize elite benefits like Complimentary Upgrades and Delta Sky Club access,” suggested Delta’s website dedicated to the changes. In some emails received by SkyMiles members, the airline even admitted that it was trying to thin its ranks of Diamond members, saying, “Based on your qualification history, we expect that this change will improve your overall Diamond Medallion experience because there will be fewer Diamond Medallion Members.”

Indeed, Delta appears to be narrowing the focus of its top-tier elite program to only target those furiously dedicated to flying the miles and making the spend to earn elite status. While the move is going to ultimately end up creating a smaller cohort of top tier elites — and angering some passengers — it’ll also help the airline focus on the most profitable customers. Everyone else, apparently, can get in line.

Skift Stories and More Expert Insight

Air France Unveils Its New Millennial-Focused Airline Joon: Air France might need a low-cost airline. That part makes sense. But why is it trying so hard to attract Millennials? Just offer cheap fares and reasonable service, and young people will fly your airline.

Delta to Introduce Free Texting Service on Most of Its Flights: Delta Air Lines will allow its customers to text for free while on board most of its aircraft as part of its multi-billion dollar investment in customer experience.

JetBlue Airplane Redesign Features More Perks But Less Legroom: JetBlue Airways Corp. has been talking about the first full revamp of its workhorse jetliner for a long time. This fall, almost 18 years since the popular low-cost carrier arrived at airports, it’s finally going to happen, and while there are plenty of bells and whistles to get you oohing and ahhing, there’s a little surprise that may leave you groaning.

Renes Points: Delta Air Lines Is Sending out Free ‘Real’ $180 LSTN Headphones to Some Medallion Elite Fliers: A select group of Medallions who are really spending many thousands of dollars this year with Delta are being sent an impressive gift worth about $180.

Travel Codex: Which Airlines Offer Elite Status Without Spending Requirements? The news that Delta would be raising the Medallion qualifying dollars exemption for Diamond Medallion status from $25,000 to $250,000 is a reminder of how much has changed in loyalty programs. Here’s a quick roundup of which U.S. loyalty programs now require you to spend a certain amount — and which don’t — in order to earn elite status.

The Points Guy: Amex’s Philadelphia and Hong Kong Centurion Lounges to Open in October: Two of American Express’ most exciting Centurion Lounges to date are gearing up to welcome cardholders in the days and weeks to come. The new Hong Kong location will be the first to open, followed shortly by Philadelphia.


The Daily Newsletter

Our daily coverage of the global travel industry. Written by editors and analysts from across Skift’s brands.

Have a confidential tip for Skift? Get in touch

Tags: delta, loyalty

Photo credit: Delta appears to be narrowing the focus of its top-tier elite program to only target those dedicated to flying the miles and making the spend to earn elite status. Delta Air Lines

Up Next

Loading next stories