Delta: What have you done for me lately?

Delta has finally come out of the closet with phase one of its long-rumored revenue-based SkyMiles program. Luckily, we are getting a full year’s notice. For travel this year, you will continue to earn status for 2014 as before. However, beginning with flights in 2014, status for 2015 will be based miles flown and dollars spent.

First off, the same segment and Medallion Qualifying Mile (MQM) requirements will remain in place. But starting next year, you will have meet a new MQD (Medallion Qualifying Dollar) threshold.

To achieve Silver Medallion, you must fly 25,000 miles and spend at least $2,500 on Delta. If both are not met, you will not earn status. For Gold Medallion, you must spend at least $5,000; for Platinum, at least $7,500; and for Diamond, you must spend at least $12,500.

Screen shot 2011-02-17 at 4.04.45 PMMQDs are based on money spent on Delta-marketed flights only (taxes and fees excluded)—this does NOT include money spent on ancillary fees for bags, upgrades, in-flight food/bev, etc. Spending on Delta-marketed flights will include partner and code share flights– those tickets with an 006 prefix. So, for example, dollars spent on a Delta-marketed Alaska Airlines flight will count. Delta says that passengers will be able to track their MQDs on the new SkyMiles dashboard introduced as part of its recent website redesign.

Delta is still mum on how SkyTeam flights will be handled under the new scheme.

One way around the new rules: Spending at least $25,000 miles in a calendar year on any Delta SkyMiles American Express card exempts you from the spending thresholds (but not the mileage/segment requirements).

Meeting or beating these new spending thresholds may be easy for some, but for others, not so much. For example, to attain or maintain Gold status (50K miles + $5K spend), you would have to buy an average of ten $500 Delta tickets over the course of a year. How easy or hard do you think this will be? Please vote in our poll!

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Delta is betting that this will weed out the flyers that “game the system” for status or simply buy the lowest fares. In the end, the new spending thresholds are going to hurt leisure travelers (who bring Delta the least revenue) most. Big spending business travelers might find that with fewer Medallions to compete with, it’s easier to board early and upgrade.

As usual with SkyMiles changes, Delta says that we’ve been asking for this– here’s a line from the press release announcing the changes: “These changes are a result of considerable research that we’ve conducted including conversations with hundreds of customers, many of whom expressed a desire to see the Medallion program truly target our best customers,” said Jeff Robertson, vice president – SkyMiles. “Adding a revenue component to the SkyMiles Medallion program ensures that our most valued customers receive the best program benefits and a more exclusive experience.”

Stay tuned to The TICKET for further updates about SkyMiles changes—these new spending thresholds are rumored to be only the first step toward a full transition to a revenue-based program.

What do you think about the new rules? Please leave your comments below.

A few good comments from our Facebook page about these changes:

>Vicky: “It’s a sign that frequent travelers/fliers are not as important as frequent spenders. It’s no longer a frequent ‘flier’ program.”

>Steve: “Delta is the best at making these kind of changes, calling them improvements and saying that we, their most frequent and loyal travelers, asked for/demanded them. Yeah, uh-huh, dat’s right.”

>Mike: “I think if they are going to make the program revenue based they should remove the mileage component altogether. Status should be completely based on spend not on miles in a seat.”

>Paul: “No impact for me, or most of the other Medallions I know– if you travel frequently you’ll probably hit the spend threshold easily unless you’re making status purely on MRs.”

>Lynn: “I agree with Paul…. there won’t be any impact for most people I know – $12,500 is peanuts for most diamond medallions!”

>Ed: “Will silver medallion status continue for million milers? I am retired and don’t travel as much any more. Will I lose my silver medallion status in 2014?” (We are awaiting an answer from Delta on this one…)

EARNING MQMs TO CHANGE. As if the Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirement were not enough, the ability to earn MQMs will become more difficult for some folks. M fares will no longer earn 150% MQMs, dropping instead to 100%. The Y and B fares still earn 150%. Luckily, all other economy fares earn 100% MQMs. If you are privileged to purchase first or business class tickets, you will soon earn 200% MQMs. Reinforcing the revenue-based trend, Delta’s incentive is to reward the flyers that bring Delta the most money, which makes sense. But, it is tough price to pay for of those who have learned to love the older, easier way.

COMPETITIVE RESPONSE? While low fare carriers such as AirTran, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America have embraced the revenue-based trend, it is yet to be seen if American, United, or US Airways will follow along. Since most other legacy carriers are in varying states of uncertainty or disarray compared to Delta, it’s unlikely they will enact such changes in the near future. However, if you are ready to bail on Delta, United will be happy to match your Delta status—but you must act fast. This offer expires on Jan 31. The deal requires you to fly United for a pre-determined number of miles within 90 days. Your new United status will be instant allowing you to enjoy upgrades and other perks during your qualification flights.



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  • Joe plumber

    Sheesh. Delta is getting worse and worse.

    I picked up a bagel at Goldbergs to take on the plane and then walked into the a17 sky club. I got harasses by three employees telling me I could not take it in there! I am just carrying the darn thing cause my hands are full of luggage!

    These guys keep offering disincentive after disincentive!

    They acted like the tsa for carrying my breakfast in a paper bag!

    Complaints fall on deaf ears. Will not renew membership at sky club. $$$ talks.

    Can you hear me now delta?

  • Joseph V

    My goodness, well at least we know where we stand — I think I am to be weeded out, your word choice. I am Silver, but accepted long ago that Silver is a pretty color, means nothing. If you live in ATL, it’s often difficult to assess whether Delta or the airport staff are winning the race to make travel as difficult as possible for as many people as possible. I think the ATL staff is winning, honestly. But Man oh man, the Jackson Concourse F is a whopper of an example how to spend $1.4 billion and strand everybody !!!!! You may have noticed that all the big international carriers are announcing new flights to Dallas, Washington, and Houston, but not here, no way baby. Hmmm, so i guess that Delta’s skid to mediocrity is sort of appropriate, it mirrors its home base and its corrupt, crime-infested hometown………Euw.

  • Stephen G

    Chris, I’m confused. You state: “Delta has finally come out of the closet with phase one of its long-rumored revenue-based SkyMiles program. Luckily, we are getting a full year’s notice. For travel this year, you will continue to earn status for 2014 as before”

    I purchased a ticket from ATL-LHR on Orbitz recently (2013). I took the trip last week and returned on Monday, January 21st. I just looked at my FF miles for that trip and as a Gold Medallion I only earned 1053 MQM miles each way. Normally that number is 4,500 MQMs. If the changes do not take place until 2014, why am I only seeing 1053 miles for each leg? I just had a lengthy conversation with an agent and a Delta supervisor, and they told me it is because I purchased the ticket on Orbitz. Last year, that would not have mattered. So doesn’t it appear that the changes are in effect, otherwise my MQMs earned would be what they were in 2013.

    I love your opening line “Delta has finally come out of the closet with phase one”. Each agent I spoke with acted like this is information that I should have been aware of and known like the back of my hand. Maybe my head has been in the sand. I knew changes were coming, but I had no idea that I could no longer purchase a Delta ticket on Orbitz and get the normal amount of MQMs that I have gotten in the past when purchasing a Delta ticket there.

    I’m seriously considering moving to United or US Air. I had no idea there would be so many hoops to jump through to maintain my status. What arrogance this company shows to those whom have been loyal to them for so many years. You know that a company has a monopoly when they display such arrogance.

  • SC

    After first reading the email from Delta, I have to say I was a bit miffed. Changing the program to make reaching medallion status harder without describing any enhancements to the program seemed insulting. After reading through the frequent flyer programs out there, I have to say, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. In my opinion, you fly Delta, not because you want the miles. You fly Delta because of the comfort that flying with status affords you. I have been DM for the last 3 years and fly approximately 150 segments on Delta (and about 30-50 on United) each year. Over the last year I have literally flown coach on less than a dozen of those segments, mostly because of making last minute flight changes. It may be harder to redeem miles, but that is okay, because I prefer the comfort. If you want value for the miles I would suggest not looking at individual reward flights, but instead take a look at the Around-The-World ticket. That appears to be the best value for miles. 280,000 miles, business class, 6 stopovers. That is the way to do it!

    I will spend more than the 12,500 this year and I have the Delta Amex so it is not a matter of reaching status. No one likes to feel like someone is taking something from them. That was my initial reaction to Delta, but honestly I don’t know there is another elite program with the same level of service and price value. I can’t speak to whether or not other tiers of status would have the same value anymore, but DM still seems to be tops. Just bring back the Garden Salsa Sun chips!

  • Jackie

    Both my number and my husbands number start 023 and he has almost 2 million miles earned exclusively fom domestic travel with few points earned from anything else like charge cards (silly us). Of course, right about the time he’s ready to retire and we can finish using the points, delta changes the rules. Used to be special just to be called a flying colonel! I do resent that the ancillary fees don’t count and I hate, ate, hate the bogus award calendar. Delta has never surveyed us so I do wonder just who is supposedly included in this magical survey.

  • Victor Midtown

    As a longtime FF (my number is 200*******, my wife’s in the 100’s), I can only tip my hat and call Delta “My Daddy.” They have decided to simply trample on years of loyal ridership (so much for the Hometown Airline lies). By all means, honor those worthy of and willing to pay for the goodies but spare me the story of how they surveyed passengers and discovered that this is what they want. What a crock. If you ask Paul, of course he’s going to be happy if you say you will rob Peter for his benefit. Where’s the silver medallion survey? Delta won’t ask Silvers anything but to step out of the way. Golds, you’re next!

  • Tommy

    As someone who does travel for business but only enough to maintain Silver status this is not much of an impact since I will still be in zone one with anyone that has a Delta gold or platimun AMEX, anyone that pays for early bording and any other delta revenue generater. If this reduces the congestion in zone one then maybe its a good thing. If it doesn’t then the mad dash is on to board.

  • Tom

    Retired, I take a half dozen RT’s a year domestically and maybe as many as 2 Intl flights. I barely keep silver status. Silver gets you squat. Delta will upgrade Manti Te’O’s fake dead girlfriend before they will ever upgrade a silver. I have always said that Delta can go ahead and slurp their Diamond/Platinums, they deserve it. It’s just the cold-blooded way they have decided to spit upon Silvers & Golds – no matter how long they have been loyal DL customers. I have flown SW a few times, at lower fares, and the world didn’t end.

  • krw929

    I will NOT be flying Delta.

  • Idahost

    I have 258,000 miles rolled over and I plan to retire in December. So I will get screwed for year 2016, so instead of spending 50k on China and South African flights this year, I will use Star Alliance,. I would have spent 50k this year on Delta so my status would stretch into 2017 or later, now Delta gets nothing from me…so Delta loses and I lose, great marketing skillset from Jeff Robertson.

  • John

    it will be interesting to see if DL decides to ” prostitute ” themselves at the end of the year to allow once again flyers to buy status when they are close to next level. They have diluted the program already with antics like this –

  • Chris

    Wow! Thanks, Rolfe! For those of you who may not not it, Rolfe Shellenberger worked for American Airlines, and is widely credited for inventing the AAdvantage program– the first frequent flyer program. The TICKET has some impressive readers! — Chris

  • Rolfe Shellenberger

    I resisted the idea of making AAdvantage revenue-based because it would possibly increase corporate travel expense, even with policies requiring use of “lowest available fare.” I don’t quarrel with the concept that revenue could be the standard but I think there are better ways to deal with this, perhaps, with reduced mileage earnings on less than standard fares. I submit that loyalty derives mainly from an airline’s overall performance. With a dollar standard only, first class will be filled with lawyers and consultants whose clients are billed for travel expense.
    Rolfe Shellenberger

  • Rolfe Shellenberger

    I resisted the idea of making AAdvantage revenue-based because it would possibly increase corporate travel expense, even with policies requiring use of “lowest available fare.” I don’t quarrel with the concept that revenue should be the standard but I think there are better ways to deal with this, perhaps, with reduced mileage earnings on less than standard fares. I submit that loyalty derives mainly from an airline’s overall performance. With a dollar standard only, first class will be filled with lawyers and consultants whose clients are billed for travel expense.
    Rolfe Shellenberger

  • Sam

    We’re not your road warriors who travel for work so ticket costs come out of our pockets, not a business expense. We bounce between silver and gold depending on how many trips we make to visit kids, grandkids, family funerals, vacations, etc., as we don’t travel frequently for work anymore. The Amex card with its’ 10k miles for charging $25K annually has helped us make silver/gold in the past, and looks like it will help with the MQDs (another 3 letter acronym!). Do I like it? No–but what is the alternative? Do we want to use one of our free Amex companion fares to go to Vegas or pay for both tickets to maximize MQMs & MQDs? The one big thing I don’t like is the fact that when I pay for my kids, grandkids, or father to fly to a family event it helps with my Amex charge total, but those MQMs go to someone who rarely travels. I would like to be able to choose either the traveler or the purchaser get the MQMs (& now MQDs) for flights, rather than only the traveler. How about that, Delta?

  • DeWhit

    This new wrinkle only affects those play the status game for fun.

    The rest of us have no choice as long as we must travel for work.

    A new credit card that would combine Delta and your prefered hotel and rental car company and park-n-ride vendor and other providers would be a nice thing if the points could be directed to the various programs and of equal value. (hint hint marketing)

  • Bill

    As someone stated earlier, this shouldn’t be a problem for the higher tiers. Tho’ now retired, I was making between 6 and 9 international trips a year where only 1 or 2 annually were purchased as business due to short notice requirements and I was the top tier for 14 straight years. As I look back at travel expenses, we were spending between $45k and $55K per year as I had to have refundable/changable tickets. However for those just travelling in the US with hard company rules on ticket purchases, or just travelling for leisure this could be difficult.

  • Phil Bush

    Not a big shock or Hardship for True Frequent Flyers. I am wondering how my Million Miler Status plays here- at 4,500,000 miles, I wonder if that counts for anything?

  • Chuck Lowenstein


    You tipped us off that this was coming. As others have said, it probably won’t be too tough for most of the higher level elites to meet the spending level. And, especially if you have the AMEX Platinum SkyMiles Business card, you should be able to knock off the $25k easily (and pick up 10k MQMs in the process). I too wonder what this will do to my lifetime status. Retirement time isn’t too far off and, while there will be travel to do, it certainly won’t be of the “road warrior” ilk and that will change things for me. Finally, most of my international travel is booked in M fare as that is the lowest upgradeable. Cutting out the 150% will hurt – not sure I’m willing to pay the premium for B fares just to get the bonus MQMs. I’ll probably do that on a case by case basis.