Among the changes recently made to legacy airline loyalty programs, the addition of revenue requirements for elite status has been the most difficult pill for frequent flyers to swallow. Effectively, the constraints require passengers earning elite status to meet minimum revenue targets each year before they get their credentials. For lowest-tier status, that's typically $3,000 in spend (exclusive of taxes) while highest tiers require upwards of $15,000 annually.
One exception to that rule has typically kicked in if the frequent flyer subscribes to a co-branded credit card like the Delta SkyMiles credit card or the United MileagePlus card (American's card only awards some qualifying dollars after a certain annual spend is met). On Delta, if passengers spent $25,000 annually on that card, the revenue requirements for elite status would be dropped. United had the same constraint, though that waiver didn't apply for top-tier 1K status — that had to be earned through flying and spending directly on the carrier.
As of last week, Delta is now following in those footsteps, albeit with a twist. In an email to SkyMiles members, Delta announced that the waiver for reaching Diamond Elite (typically earned after flying 125,000 miles and spending $15,000) would be increased from $25,000 to $250,000 on the SkyMiles card. Other tiers would remain at a $25,000 annual waiver.
Those who earned top-tier elite status on the airline through the spend waiver in 2017 will now have to spend ten times more, or an average of $20,834 dollars each month, to qualify for status in 2018 — plus flying the miles.
The reaction from most of Delta's frequent flyers has been one of general flabbergast. "I am speechless. This is the biggest FU to come from DL in quite some time. AMEX platinum card is now worthless. I'll likely cancel it and shift my card spend over to my AA card. If DL wanted to thin the herd this was a good way to do it. It's clear my loyalty to DL is one-sided. Not any more," said one angry commenter
on Flyertalk on a thread dedicated to the changes.Others
saw it as an improvement and a tool to help the airline focus its loyalty program only on elite passengers who earn status through rigorous, direct spend and travel. That's also the way that Delta frames the changes.
"This qualification change will allow us to deliver on expectations for Diamond Medallion Status so Members can maximize elite benefits like Complimentary Upgrades and Delta Sky Club access," suggested Delta's website
dedicated to the changes. In some emails received by SkyMiles members, the airline even admitted that it was trying to thin its ranks of Diamond members, saying, "Based on your qualification history, we expect that this change will improve your overall Diamond Medallion experience because there will be fewer Diamond Medallion Members."
Indeed, Delta appears to be narrowing the focus of its top-tier elite program to only target those furiously dedicated to flying the miles and making the spend to earn elite status. While the move is going to ultimately end up creating a smaller cohort of top tier elites — and angering some passengers — it'll also help the airline focus on the most profitable customers. Everyone else, apparently, can get in line.