Delta Loyalty Program Changes Reward Biggest Spenders Most l ION International
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Delta Loyalty Program Changes Reward Biggest Spenders Most
Airline also will curtail lounge access for some credit-card holders to ease crowding

Travelers won’t need to step on a plane to earn status in Delta Air Lines’s ; red down pointing triangle frequent-flier program—if they spend enough money.

Delta had been a holdout in keeping its SkyMiles loyalty program closely tied to flying even as rivals had shifted to reward credit-card spending more richly.

Now, the carrier is shifting to a model that ties status exclusively to how much people spend, either on travel with the airline and its partners, on co-branded credit cards, or by booking hotels, rental cars and vacation packages through Delta channels.

Elite status has long been highly sought after—and hotly pursued—by frequent fliers who cherish perks like early boarding, free checked bags, seat upgrades, and bonus miles to spend on award travel. Delta is the latest carrier to decide that flying is no longer a prerequisite.

Dwight James, Delta’s senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty, said the changes mean there are more ways for people to earn status and that it will be simpler to navigate. Instead of the three metrics that currently contribute to a customer’s progress toward the upper echelons of Delta’s Medallion status tiers, there will be just one.

“We wanted to make the program more welcoming to customers,” James said. “But we also want to ensure that we’re reserving the most premium experiences for our most premium customers.”

Travelers will have higher spending bars to clear.

Delta customers currently need to spend the equivalent of $3,000 on flights to earn Silver status, the lowest. Starting next year, requirements based on the number and distance of flights taken will be gone, but customers will have to spend double that. For the highest status, Diamond, they will need to spend $35,000 a year—$15,000 more.

Delta isn’t the only airline to make it more expensive to earn and maintain higher levels of status recently, which analysts say is a reflection of the continuing travel boom. Other carriers also have been raising the bar for earning rewards as they look to address a glut of top tier fliers that made it more difficult for members of loyalty programs to reap highflying benefits. Delta previously raised spending thresholds last year but left the overall structure of the program intact.

Delta also announced Wednesday plans to further restrict access to its Sky Clubs in an effort to ease the crowding that has become a persistent problem in the post-Covid travel boom.

Delta already has tried several tactics, including capping visits at three hours, limiting who can buy annual passes and raising fees. But it says demand is still exceeding clubs’ capacity, even as it has opened new spaces.

Those with the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card will now get 10 visits a year and can gain unlimited access only if they spend $75,000 on their card in a calendar year. SkyMiles Platinum cards will no longer provide access to Delta Sky Clubs.

The shift underscores changes in airlines’ customers. The road warriors who racked up points through constant flying haven’t fully returned. Leisure travelers, who fly less frequently, have proven willing to shell out for pricey premium tickets and other perks.

James said millennials—a growing segment of SkyMiles members—are spending more than ever on travel but devote the bulk of their budgets to things like hotels and experiences rather than just flights. Even traditional corporate travelers are increasingly blending business and leisure, adding extra vacation days to business trips.

Co-branded credit cards that allow airlines to earn revenue whether people are buying airline tickets or groceries have become increasingly critical to airline revenues. Delta has said it expects to earn $6.5 billion from its credit-card agreement with American Express this year, a figure it expects to eventually grow to $10 billion.
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