Delta Rolls Back Some SkyMiles Changes After Customer Backlash

Delta got an earful from loyalists and will be dialing back some of the more drastic changes in response.
Sean Cudahy
By Sean Cudahy 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Delta Air Lines is walking back some of the changes planned for its SkyMiles loyalty program. The airline will reduce the amount customers will have to spend to reach Medallion elite status, tweak entry requirements at its Sky Club airport lounges and add some new Choice Benefits.

The announcement comes a little more than a month after Delta announced sweeping changes to its loyalty program, which triggered widespread customer backlash. Other airlines have even attempted to woo disenchanted Delta loyalists with lucrative status matches.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian admitted last month the proposed changes went too far, but the airline currently has too many elite status members and that’s watered down some Medallion perks.

“It’s been a challenge to balance the growth of our membership with our need to deliver premiums service experiences,” Bastian said, in an email announcing the changes. “Your voice matters, and we are listening.”

Easier path to elite status

As part of its scaled-back changes, Delta will make it a little easier to earn elite status compared to what the company previously outlined (though it’ll still be harder than the current requirements).

Members will still qualify for Medallion solely through “Medallion Qualifying Dollars” (MQDs), accrued by spending on flights and vacation packages booked through Delta, as well as spending on certain co-branded Delta credit cards. Rental cars, hotels or vacation rentals booked through Delta will no longer qualify for MQDs. That's a change from the original overhaul of the program, and Delta will still honor the MQDs for any rental car, hotel or vacation rental reservations booked between Sept. 14 and Oct. 31, 2023, for travel in 2024.

Starting next year (for 2025 status and beyond), SkyMiles members must reach the following benchmarks:

That’s about a 16% drop in the number of MQDs it will take to reach Medallion Silver, Gold and Platinum. For Medallion Diamond, it will be a larger drop of 20% compared with the September announcement.

Plus, certain Delta credit cardholders will get a headstart. Members with the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card, Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card will also receive 2,500 MQDs for the current qualification year just for having the card. Terms apply.

Sky Club access rules announced

Delta is also going to loosen some of the entry restrictions for its Sky Club lounges. In September, the airline announced plans to cap the number of annual visits for members who earn Sky Club access through a co-branded AmEx credit card starting in 2024 or 2025, depending on the card.

Many of these limitations will still be in place, but there will be slight changes to some rules.

More visits for Delta SkyMiles Reserve credit cardholders

SkyMiles members who carry the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card and Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card will be limited to 15 visits annually, instead of 10 as previously announced. And members with The Platinum Card® from American Express will receive 10 annual visits starting Feb. 1, 2025, an increase from the six visit limit announced in September. Terms apply.

Also, all visits made in a 24-hour period will count as one day. So if you visit before a flight and then at another airport during a layover, it won’t count as two visits.

Members with any of the three eligible cards will still be able to earn unlimited access by spending $75,000 in a year on the card. If they don’t reach that spend, cardholders will now be allowed to purchase day passes for $50 once they exhaust their annual allotment of visits.

This policy will begin on Feb. 1, 2025.

Annual Sky Club memberships

All Medallion elite status members now have the option to purchase an annual membership for $695.

Some restrictions remain

Delta did not announce plans to loosen any entry requirements for basic economy flyers. Even SkyMiles members with membership through an AmEx card will be barred when flying on basic economy tickets as of Jan. 1, 2024.

Additionally, Delta did not announce plans to reinstate lounge access for members with the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express Card. These cardholders will lose access privileges come 2024.

Medallion Qualifying Miles rollovers

Delta will allow certain customers with a huge haul of Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) to extend their elite status, despite MQMs disappearing as a means to reach Medallion status under the program changes.

Eligible customers will receive an offer to extend their current status for one year per 100,000 MQMs in their account. Delta’s previous option indicated the airline will allow a one-time rollover where SkyMiles members can convert MQMs into SkyMiles or MQDs (or a combination of both).

Million Miler changes

Starting Feb. 1, 2024, Delta will shift how members who have flown one million lifetime miles or more automatically qualify for status.

  • 1 million miles: Medallion Gold (instead of Silver, under current rules).

  • 2 million miles: Medallion Platinum (instead of Gold).

  • 3 million miles: Medallion Diamond (instead of Gold).

  • 4 million miles: Medallion Diamond (instead of Platinum).

  • 5 million miles: Delta 360 (instead of Platinum).

  • 6 million-plus miles: Delta 360 (instead of Diamond).

These members will also receive higher priority for complimentary upgrades.

New choice benefits for SkyMiles elites

Delta previously told NerdWallet in September that high-level Medallion elite members will have access to new Choice Benefits as part of their status. Here are more details on the options, which will be available when Medallion Platinum and Diamond members qualify for 2025 status:

  • A MQD “accelerator” for the following qualification year, which would make it easier to maintain or earn future status. Platinum members who select this option would get 1,000 MQDs. Diamond members would get 2,000 MQDs.

  • Diamond members can select a Sky Club individual membership. This will cost the member two Choice Benefits.

  • Bonus miles: 30,000 SkyMiles for Platinum members or 35,000 for Diamond. This is an increase from the current 20,000 or 25,000 bonus miles options.

  • Travel voucher, which increased to $300 for Platinum, and $350 for Diamond.

  • A flight credit with Delta’s private aviation partner Wheels Up.

The bottom line

Delta’s changes make it easier to earn elite status than what the airline outlined in September. And it’s making some changes to allow more members to access its Sky Clubs. However, its revisions represent marginal changes, not a total 180-degree shift, as Delta looks to preserve travel benefits for high-level elite members and stem overcrowding in airport lounges.

“I know the modifications we have made won’t solve for every disappointment,” Bastain said in the email announcing the changes. “Our goal is to do our best to ensure we deliver the service and benefits your loyalty deserves.”

(Top photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines)

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