About a month ago, Delta Air Lines announced massive changes to its loyalty program SkyMiles: It was set to become entirely based on revenue, rather than travel distance when flying Delta. For customers aiming for a SkyMiles status while flying with the airline, it would have become a massive financial challenge: Gaining Platinum status for example would have required spending $18,000 annually on tickets.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Delta faced massive backlash for this announcement, as it was one of the few programs left that was attractive for passengers travelling primarily in economy. It does come as a surprise that Delta is not unfazed by the waves of criticism it had to endure. As a reaction to the negative feedback, Delta decided to repeal some of the changes it announced in September.
While most of the news in this article as still “not as bad as expected”, there are actually two positive changes: Rollover miles (MQMs) won’t lose the majority of their value in 2024. And Delta’s Million Miler status gains attractiveness.
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New Thresholds for the Revenue Based System
Delta did not change its mind on switching to a revenue based system. Instead of MQM (Medallion Qualifying Miles) or MQS (Medallion Qualifying Segments) your status will be measured exclusively in MQD (Medallion Qualifying Dollars) come 2024. However, you don’t need to spend as much money as before to earn a status:
- Silver Medallion: 5,000
6,000MQD within a calendar year
- Gold Medallion: 10,000
12,000MQD within a calendar year
- Platinum Medallion: 15,000
18,000MQD within a calendar year
- Diamond Medallion: 28,000
35,000MQD within a calendar year
While the changes provide relief of up to 20%, SkyMiles still loses much of its appeal for European travellers because of the following facts:
- The opportunity of earning with hotel stays at the rate of $1 = 1MQD has been scrapped.
- The thresholds are still very high. 15,000 MQD requires spending $15,000 on Delta tickets or slightly less on tickets with SkyTeam partners, but…
- Delta has devalued tickets issued by SkyTeam partners as part of the latest changes.
Devaluing Flights with SkyTeam Partners
Delta also reworked the chart of how many MQDs can be earned when flying with SkyTeam partners. For example, business class flights with Aeromexico, Air France or KLM currently earn 40% of the travel distance in MQD – making it much more attractive than sitting on a Delta plane.
However, this is about to change for the cheapest business booking classes
I. Come 2024, you will only earn 30% of the travel distance in MQD. Here is the devaluation of Aeromexico flights as an example:
There are some other (rather common) booking classes that suffered the same fate:
- KLM Economy,
K: 15% instead of 20%
- KLM Premium Eco,
A: 25% instead of 30%
- Virgin Atlantic Economy,
T: 5% instead of 10%
- LATAM Economy,
Q: 5% instead of 10%
So while Delta lowered the initially ridiculous thresholds, it also made it harder to earn the necessary MQD – at least when trying to avoid the revenue based system.
Rollover Miles Won’t Get Devalued (As Badly)
The worst news for long-time SkyMiles members was the rapid devaluation of rollover MQM. Under the current system, it was possible to keep all MQM you did not need to keep your status. Let’s say you gathered 85,000 MQM and needed 50,000 MQM to maintain your status, you would have started the next year with 35,000 MQM in the bank instead of zero.
This system allowed members to keep a status for several years after one or two years of intense travel. Delta initially planned a massive devaluation, as the offered members an exchange rate of 20 MQM for 1 MQD, because from 2024 onward, MQM are no longer required.
As several members would have dropped one or several tiers despite their sizeable MQM savings, this change offended almost every long-term customer. Delta heard the complaints: Under the newest rule change, 100,000 rollover MQM are required to extend the current status for another year. For example, a Diamond Medallion member with 300,000 rollover MQM in his account will keep the status until January 2028.
Also, the exchange into MQDs has been altered to 10 MQM for 1 MQD.
Million Miler Status Gets Upgraded
If you have travelled more than 1,000,000 miles with Delta or its partners during your lifetime, you qualify for the million miler status. Currently, 1,000,000 miles give you lifetime Silver Medallion status; 2,000,000 gain you lifetime Gold, etc…
These thresholds have been altered and shifted significantly to benefit customers:
- 1 million miles: lifetime Gold Medallion (previously Silver)
- 2 million miles: lifetime Platinum Medallion (previously Gold)
- 3 million miles: lifetime Diamond Medallion (previously Gold)
- 4 million miles: lifetime Diamond Medallion (previously Platinum)
- 5 million miles: lifetime Delta 360° (previously Platinum Medallion)
Sadly, lifetime miles will only be measured in travel distance in the future. Until the changes, it was measured in MQM and therefore possible to earn extra mileage with business class or other premium tickets.
There are some more alterations to Delta’s initial announcement:
- Amex Platinum cardholders will be limited to ten visits of Delta Sky Clubs per year instead of six (currently unlimited). (Starts January 2025)
- The days you have visited will counted towards that limit, not the actual visits – you can enter the Sky Club in
JFKon the same day, and it will still count as one visit.
- Better Choice Benefits: When you gain Platinum or Diamond tier, you can select between choice benefits. These have been improved, for example the option to receive 30,000 instead of previously 20,000 award miles.
It’s stunning and a first that an airline has back peddled on this scale after announcing changes to their frequent flyer program. While one might congratulate Delta on this action, it also underlines how catastrophic the initial changes were received. Many existing SkyMiles members will sigh in relief that massive MQM savings are still worth future benefits. And the changes to the Million Miler status are actually positive. Yet, it will still get harder and more expensive to earn a SkyMiles status, especially when travelling from Europe.