Delta Airlines is shaking things up in 2015 with a revamped rewards program. SkyMiles now awards miles based on the amount the traveler spent on the ticket, not the number of miles flown. This move makes Delta the first full-service airline to base awards solely on the dollar amount of the ticket, although some discount airlines like JetBlue use a point system that is also based on ticket price.
In exchange, SkyMiles participants will find it easier to spend their miles. They’ll be able to use miles to pay for any Delta flight, with no blackout dates and no limits on the number of seats per flight than can be purchased with miles. Customers can also pay more easily with a combination of miles and money, so they won’t have to wait until they’ve saved up the requisite number of miles to use them toward a ticket.
Holders of Delta-branded travel rewards credit cards will not see significant changes to the rewards they can earn. They’ll still accrue double miles when they use the card to buy Delta tickets, and the company promises a better experience for cardholders when they go to redeem miles.
Miles still matter
The number of miles flown still counts for something, however. Delta still uses miles as part of the qualification requirement for elite status. To reach the top status tier, called the Diamond level, a traveler would have to rack up 125,000 miles’ worth of flights and spend a minimum of $15,000 in a year.
Business travelers who aren’t paying for their own plane tickets may not be bothered at all by the changes. Other people who are savvy about finding extremely low plane fares may miss the days when the length of the flight determined the size of the SkyMiles reward. But for many, the ability to redeem miles more easily may make the program changes worthwhile.
People who already have Delta credit cards or who frequently travel to and from airports serviced by Delta will probably be content to hang on to their cards, despite changes to the program. But people who have been considering applying for a credit card from Delta may be better off looking at all their options before they make a decision. Some of the best travel cards are not specific to a single airline, so if you don’t like the changes to a specific company’s rewards structure, you can simply use their competitor to redeem your points instead.
United Airlines is following Delta’s lead and instituting similar changes to its rewards program, but time will tell whether most carriers head in this direction. For now, SkyMiles members will be watching whether they earn rewards more slowly under the new program as they look to see where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.
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