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Many of the loyalty program changes in 2024 are part of a continuing trend in the airline industry to reward customers who spend more.

Reaching status with an airline loyalty program may feel more difficult in 2024, as airlines opt to incentivize passengers willing to spend more.

Delta Air Lines made headlines earlier in the year for revamping its loyalty program to further reward those who spend more on tickets versus those who rack up miles. 

Revenue-based loyalty programs are not new for the airline industry. Virgin America started one of the first based heavily based on revenue in 2008, and since then, an increasing number of airlines have been changing programs to reward those who spend the most on airfare and with co-branded credit cards. 

“When you reward people based on spend, it reflects the value that they are bringing you versus rewarding them on distance,” said Jonathan Kletzel, transportation and logistics practice leader at PwC. 

Loyalty programs are a multi-billion dollar business for airlines. For example, American Airlines’ AAdvantage program and United Airlines’ MileagePlus program are valued at $24 billion and $22 billion, respectively. 

The new year is also the first time where most of eased pandemic-era status requirements are gone, with airlines opting to bring back pre-pandemic status tiers as they grapple with overcrowded lounges and a high volume of fliers reaching elite status. 

American AAdvantage

American hasn’t announced any changes regarding its AAdvantage loyalty program, and it’s possible that the carrier won’t be making adjustments, according to Henry Harteveldt, president of market research firm Atmosphere Research Group. 

“I don’t think American will make too many changes,” he said. “I think that American recognizes that if they don’t make a lot of changes, if they keep elite status qualification levels pretty similar to where they have been in 2023, they may gain some of the disaffected Delta passengers that are out in the market.”

Combined with a loss in corporate business travel and a lower on-time performance rate compared to United and Delta, American may avoid sweeping changes.

Delta SkyMiles

Delta led the pack when it announced sweeping changes to its SkyMiles loyalty program, making it more difficult for travelers to earn Medallion status and limiting the number of times travelers with the carrier’s co-branded credit card can visit its lounges. 

The sole criteria for achieving status is Medallion Qualification Dollars, rewarding travelers who spend more on flights.

With the changes, Delta initially said travelers would need to hit a $35,000 spending threshold within the year to reach the carrier’s top-tier Diamond Medallion status. 

The changes drew significant backlash from the carrier’s frequent fliers that it decided to scale back some of the changes. For example, for 2025, travelers would instead need to spend $28,000 to reach top-tier status. Platinum status is at $15,000, Gold $10,000 and Silver $5,000. 

For 2024, travelers need to spend $20,000 for Diamond Medallion status, $12,000 for Platinum, $8,000 for Gold and $3,000 for Silver. 

“The trend in general is to try to tie the benefits to the consumers that are driving them the most spend,” Kletzel said. 

United MileagePlus

United made no changes to its MileagePlus program for 2024, however, it did give more perks to United MileagePlus credit cardholders, offering 25 Premie Qualifying Points for every $500 in qualifying purchases.

The carrier is also removing a 15,000 PQP cap travelers with these credit cards can earn from qualifying purchases. All the PQPs earned through credit cards will go toward achieving status. 

Travelers who hold a United SMInfinite Card will also be able to earn 10,000 PQPs in the new year, an increase from the previous 8,000 PQPs. 

These incentives are part of a growing trend where airlines have been increasingly tying their co-branded credit cards to their frequent flier programs to encourage consumers to engage more with their loyalty programs through spending, Harteveldt said. 

“A spending based loyalty program spurs engagement with the co-branded credit cards, and it can disproportionately shift the spending from other credit cards to the airline credit card,” Harteveldt said. “And the airlines and their credit card partners love that.”

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Southwest is one of the few airlines that made it easier to earn status in 2024, lowering the number of qualifying flights and money spent needed to achieve A List or A List Preferred status

Starting January 1, 2024, travelers can earn A List status through flying 20 qualifying flights, a decrease from 25, or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points. For A List Preferred status, travelers need 40 qualifying flights, down from 50, or 70,000 tier qualifying flights. 

Fliers with a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card will also earn 1,500 tier qualifying points for every $5,000 spent, lowering the threshold from $10,000. 

Alaska Mileage Plan

Alaska is one of the few carriers with a primarily mileage-based loyalty program. Travelers can only reach status through qualifying miles, and the carrier is erasing minimum segment number requirements for status. 

The changes make it easier for travelers to earn status through flying with any of Alaska’s partner airlines, and the airline has 30 partners, giving travelers plenty of options. 

These changes make Alaska stand out as one of the more consumer-friendly frequent flier programs as it removes flight caps, and allows travelers to fly with any of its partners — which included the entire Oneworld alliance — while still earning miles with the carrier. 

Frontier Miles Program

Frontier also made it easier for customers to receive miles. In 2024, travelers will get as much as 20 miles for every dollar spent. Travelers can also earn 10 miles for every dollar spent on baggage, flights and seat selection. 

The ultra-low-cost carrier is also adding new tiers. 

  • Silver Tier: achieved at 10,000 miles. 
  • Gold Tier: achieved at 20,000 miles. 
  • Platinum Tier: achieved at 50,000 miles. 
  • Diamond Tier: achieved at 100,000 miles. 

With the changes, travelers can also earn more miles as they achieve higher status. Those with Silver status earn 12 miles per dollar spent; Gold 14 miles per dollar spent; Platinum 16 miles per dollar spent; and Diamond 20 miles per dollar spent. 

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Tags: aadvantage, delta skymiles, mileageplus

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