Delta reverses some loyalty programme changes that enraged travellers

CEO Ed Bastian said he had received ‘hundreds’ of emails from disappointed customers

Mike Bedigan
Los Angeles
Thursday 19 October 2023 00:43 BST
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Delta has rowed back on several changes to its frequent-flyer programme, which favoured big spenders over those loyal to the airline, following “hundreds” of email responses from disappointed customers.

The revisions were outlined to Delta’s SkyMiles members in an email from CEO Ed Bastian on Wednesday, in which he acknowledged the changes did not “fully reflect” customer loyalty.

Changes to the programme were announced in mid-September, with Delta saying they were needed to address overcrowding at the lounges and a surge in elite-status customers that was making it harder to score upgrades.

The airline proposed to make spending with Delta the only way to reach elite status — no longer counting flights taken or miles flown. Delta also sharply raised spending requirements for each SkyMiles level.

“I have read hundreds of your emails, and what’s been most clear to me is how much you love Delta and the disappointment many of you felt by the significance of the changes,” Mr Bastian wrote in his email.

“I appreciate your opinions and understand your disappointment. Your voice matters, and we are listening… It’s been a challenge to balance the growth of our membership with our need to deliver premium service experiences.

“We made some difficult program decisions to address this issue…. But your response made clear that the changes did not fully reflect the loyalty you have demonstrated to Delta.”

The changes take effect next year, when travelers will be trying to qualify for elite status in 2025.

According to Mr Bastian’s email, flights and miles still won’t count toward the status, and spending requirements will go up from current levels — though by less than the original changes proposed in September.

It will now take 5,000 “Medallion qualifying dollars” for Silver, the lowest of four levels, down from 6,000 in September. Currently, customers can reach Silver with as few as 3,000 qualifying dollars or points if they take enough Delta flights, and no points if they accumulate enough miles.

The Diamond top tier will cost 28,000 points instead of the 35,000 outlined in September, but more than the current 20,000 plus enough flights.

Delta-Frequent-Flyers

Delta also plans to limit the number of times that premium credit card holders can visit airport lounges, but not as severely as it proposed in September.

“Your loyalty matters. When I read your emails, you clearly expressed how much Delta is part of your lifestyle. I greatly appreciate that, and we don’t take it lightly,” Mr Bastian said.

“Our investment in your experience will always be at the heart of everything we do. I know the modifications we have made won’t solve for every disappointment.

“Our goal is to do our best to ensure we deliver the service and benefits your loyalty deserves.”

The September proposal created a backlash among Delta customers on social media, with some threatening to switch to other airlines. Less than two weeks later, Mr Bastian admitted that the airline “probably went too far" and was reexamining the changes.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst at Atmosphere Research Group, told The Associated Press some SkyMiles members would still be unhappy about Delta moving to an entirely spending-based programme, and will view even the reduced requirements negatively.

“I don’t think these concessions are going to go far enough to placate the disgruntled Medallions,” he said. “Given the mercenary mindset that many travelers have, they will fly other airlines and not look back.”

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