Delta CEO Hints at Rolling Back Some SkyMiles Changes

Delta CEO Ed Bastian told an Atlanta Rotary Club meeting that the planned Delta SkyMiles changes "went too far."
Sean Cudahy
By Sean Cudahy 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Editor's note: Delta has since scaled back some of the changes outlined below. Read about the new requirements for earning Delta elite status and Sky Club access announced Oct. 18, 2023.

Delta Air Lines may not be going through with all of its planned SkyMiles program changes after all.

Earlier this month, Delta announced it would significantly overhaul its loyalty program, changing how members earn elite status and limiting access to its Sky Club lounges.

After facing significant customer backlash since the announcement, Delta’s top executive revealed the company may roll back some its plans.

“We will be making modifications and changes,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian revealed during a Sept. 25 meeting of the Atlanta Rotary Club, promising an update in the coming weeks.

Bastian also shared more context about why Delta is planning the SkyMiles overhaul, though he didn’t reveal what changes might get put on pause.

Planned changes to Delta SkyMiles

Delta’s loyalty program overhaul had a couple of key elements.

  • Awarding Medallion elite status solely based on spending, which is tracked as Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

  • Allowing members to earn MQDs on flying, hotels and rental cars booked through Delta, Delta Vacations packages, and spending on Delta co-branded American Express credit cards.

  • Limiting or removing Sky Club access for customers who are eligible through a credit card.

The changes are currently set to take effect in 2024 and 2025.

Customer backlash

Customers were quick to condemn the planned SkyMiles changes. Travel writers wrote think pieces (guilty as charged). Delta flyers complained on social media and sent feedback to Delta itself.

And even airlines are joining in. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have published status match opportunities geared specifically toward Delta loyalists — poking fun at Delta in the process.

“Earning elite status shouldn’t require a second mortgage,” Alaska Airlines vice president of loyalty, alliances and sales Brett Catlin said in a statement last weekend.

It appears the message has been received.

In Bastian’s recent Atlanta Rotary Club appearance, the Delta CEO said the company needed to reduce the number of high-level elite status members in its loyalty program. The number of top-tier Diamond Medallion members has doubled compared to before the pandemic, and the growth has diluted the service.

“It’s unsustainable, where we’re at now,” Bastian said.

Delta to roll back some changes

Though Delta wants to thin out its elite ranks, Bastian says the changes went too far.

“Our team wanted to kind of rip the band aid off,” he explained. “I think we moved too fast.”

Bastian said the team is currently evaluating how it might modify the planned changes to the loyalty program.

(Featured photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

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