As widely reported over the previous day and leaked on Reddit, Delta will be making some major updates to their loyalty program. These changes are so big they're sending their employees through a special training session to get them caught up with the upcoming changes. Unfortunately I don't think any of these changes will benefit the consumer, Delta has been struggling with too many elite members and over crowded lounges, they can't seem to control it. I fear that Delta is going nuclear with their program changes to compensate.
Over Crowding & Too Many Elites
In my eyes Delta has too major issues plaguing the customer experience, their lounges are over crowded with too many people having access and with rollover MQMs and status extensions from the pandemic there's a skewed proportion of elite travelers.
Delta's Sky Clubs are one of the most consistent products in the United States, they are all generally clean, have a good food selection, and their bar offerings are pretty top notch. It's the perfect middle of the road lounge and anywhere I fly I know I'll have a decent and quiet experience, that is if you can get into them. Delta pushes their credit cards hard! They don't go as far as to annoy you with minutes long announcements in the airplane but they are extremely effective at pushing their cards. With massive intro offers of up to 100,000 SkyMiles and some good looking perks almost everyone I know has some flavor of their American Express card, to be fully transparent I have two a Reserve and Platinum Delta SkyMiles card.
Delta has been very generous with their lounge entrance policies, if you're a American Express Platinum (Personal or Business) or an American Express Delta Reserve (Personal or Business) card holder you get complimentary access with your Delta ticket regardless of class except for Basic Economy. Not to mention if you're traveling with any one of Delta's partner airlines in a premium cabin you also get complimentary access. There's a lot of ways to access the Delta Sky Club for free with your ticket, I think too many ways. With the American Express Platinum card being the most popular travel card, and Delta's Reserve card coming in a close second, there are millions of people with access and they're all frequent travelers.
In addition to a wide variety of access options, Delta had one of the most generous pandemic status extensions out of any airline. Along with rolling over Medallion Qualifying Miles, they made it easier to earn them by including award tickets and extending people's status TWICE! From 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 Delta extended people's status in an effort to keep their frequent travelers happy and loyal to Delta. That was two years of complimentary status and more than enough time for even the lightest of frequent travelers to build up their bank and qualify for status into the 2022-2023 year. Now I believe Delta has too many elite customers. As a Platinum Medallion myself, who has kept my qualification though actual flying rather than having it extended, I have noticed that the upgrade list is getting longer and longer, and it's increasingly difficult to use my Regional Upgrades.
Some may believe that having so many elites is a good thing for the airline and means they have a dedicated customer base, sure but it also means that benefits that you used to enjoy are not available anymore. Before the pandemic as a Platinum Medallion I could count on a complimentary upgrade to First Class a little more than half the time I flew. So far for the past two years I have not gotten a complimentary upgrade once!
What changes are coming?
There is no way for certain to know what Delta has planned, nobody has leaked the details yet. However, I would bet money that all the changes will be terrible for the status earner. We just have to take a look at other status program changes from American and United to get some hints on what might be coming.
American had a massive model shift to their loyalty program a few months ago, it puts revenue above all else when it comes to earning status with the airline. Instead of tying their earned miles to earning status they transitioned to a "Loyalty Point" system where your earning of miles is not only based on the miles earned but additional activity like credit card spend and booking through their shopping portals. They also greatly increased the amount of "points" required for their top tier statuses. And because the only way to earn status is now by a revenue model it's all about how much you spend with the airline, for the casual traveler that may never be achievable but for the frequent flyer who may travel on business that's a easy way to continue to earn status.
Similarly United has also transitioned to a "point" model with Premier Qualifying Points (PQP) and Premiere Qualifying Flights (PQF). Ensuring that not only are you earning more "points" by spending more but they require you to take more flights to qualify. To reach their highest tier status they would require you to fly 54 times a year and a lesser amount of PQPs, but they're harder to come by as their credit cards only earn a maximum amount per year.
For me I've always been a fan of Alaska Airline's model where status is awarded through butt-in-seat miles rather than cheating by reaching a certain number of credit card spend or getting boosts through co-branded cards. People who put their butt in the seats most often I believe are usually the ones who should get that upgrade first.
Delta will likely be a hybrid of American & United
If I had to put a firm guess out there I think Delta will transition to a hybrid status earning model with revenue being the main driver of earning status. And overall I think the requirements to earn status will go up again as they try to price out the more leisurely traveler and target only the most frequent of travelers. If it's one thing I know Delta loves to be exclusive and their current model doesn't appear to reflect that.
On top of the earning changes I think the lounge benefits for both American Express cards will change, they'll probably put limits on how many complimentary times a year you can enter the Sky Club (maybe 5 or 10 times a year) before having to pay. Or to get complimentary Sky Club access you also have to be a certain status (Platinum or Diamond) holder with their premium credit cards, or else you have to pay for entry while also being a premium card holder.
Whatever these changes are coming on September 14th, prepare to struggle to earn status for the 2025 year. I fear that even I won't be able to requalify for Platinum Medallion with all of my traveling, I comfortably qualified last year but this year I am just going to be able to qualify by the skin of my teeth due to the increased spending requirements. 2024 will spell the end for many Delta status earners and keep it out of reach for the modest frequent traveler.