Delta Air Lines will backtrack on a proposed overhaul of its frequent flyer program after an outcry from customers, CEO Ed Bastian said.
Speaking at the Rotary Club in Atlanta earlier this week, Bastian acknowledged that the proposed changes to the SkyMiles program and SkyClub lounge access “probably went too far.” He said the carrier is “still assessing” but would make “modifications” to the plans.
Just two weeks ago, Delta unveiled a raft of changes it said would “simplify” and preserve the exclusivity of its loyalty program. That includes raising the bar travelers need to clear to qualify for Medallion status tiers and their perks.
Under the proposals, due to take effect in early 2024, flights will no longer directly count toward Medallion qualification. Instead, it’s spending that matters: travelers must earn Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs), either by spending on Delta-branded credit cards, booking Delta flights, or arranging accommodation and car rental through Delta direct channels.
Customers also need more points than before to qualify for each Medallion tier.
Delta is also toughening up the door policy of its SkyClub lounges, particularly capping the number of times premium credit card holders can visit each year.
The changes sparked outrage among Delta’s frequent flyers, with many long-time Medallion holders facing demotion and feeling betrayed by the carrier.
Justifying the changes, Bastian told the audience at the Rotary Club that Delta has seen too much demand for its premium services over the last few years as the number of elite status holders jumped.
During the pandemic, as the airline allowed customers to roll over their status and miles while travel was restricted, he said the number of Diamond Medallion holders, the highest published status, nearly doubled.
With so much demand, Delta has struggled to deliver some of the elite status perks, including dedicated phone lines and upgrade certificates, he said. SkyClub lounges have also been crowded.
“We need to make certain that we can serve our higher tiers with a level of premium experience that you deserve,” he said.
However, he acknowledged that the changes were too much, too fast. “Our team wanted to kind of rip the Band-Aid off and didn’t want to have to keep going through this every year with changes and nickel and diming and whatnot.”
He said that Delta is now reevaluating the proposed changes and is “listening to the feedback” from those disgruntled customers.
“There will be modifications that we will make, and you will hear about it sometime over the next few weeks,” Bastian said. However, he didn’t disclose which parts of the proposals would be walked back.
Delta isn’t the only airline facing a swell of elite members in the aftermath of the pandemic and working out how to keep their perks exclusive while staying on travelers’ good sides. Its competitors have made similar changes to their loyalty programs, tightening lounge access, switching to spend-based earning models, and emphasizing credit cards. For example, American Airlines and British Airways have adopted revenue-based earning models for loyalty points over the last year.