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Delta Makes a Change Loyalty Program Members Will Hate

But it's also introducing a few new loyalty perks.

At the moment, JetBlue Airways  (JBLU) - Get Free Report and American Airlines  (AAL) - Get Free Report are getting sued by the Justice Department and six states for what it alleges is essentially an unofficial merger that is costing consumers $700 million a year in higher fares.

Meanwhile, Delta  (DAL) - Get Free Report is on the whole doing pretty well for itself. Sure, it got in trouble over a viral Tweet about its Sky Club being, in one person’s opinion, far too exclusive. And yes, everyone hates flying at the moment, so much so that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has told the airline industry that they need to do something about the high volume of flight delays and cancellations this year has seen.

Nevertheless, Delta has been making power moves lately, a sure sign of self-confidence, as it has announced a big bet on global travel, with plans to offer a number of new transcontinental routes next year.

But the news cycle only ever marches forward. Somedays, you’re winning, and other days you make a move that’s likely to annoy your customers, as Delta has now done.

Delta Changes Its Loyalty Program

Delta’s frequent flier loyalty program is called SkyMiles, and customers can earn points for buying flights and using Delta-branded credit cards.

Customers can use those SkyMiles to earn Medallion status, which comes in Diamond, Platinum, Gold or Silver tiers. 

Medallion comes with benefits such as priority boarding and check-in, and all of them except for Silver get priority security and baggage access. As you’d expect, the higher your status, the more you get. 

Silver comes with bonus miles (40%), free baggage, free upgrades, priority check-in and boarding, while Gold offers free same-day flight changes, free upgrades, priority security line access, expedited baggage service.

Platinum throws in free flight changes, while Diamond, the big enchilada, also has complimentary Clear membership, three bonus benefits.

To qualify for Medallion status, customers earn status by flying and spending enough in a calendar year, and once earned, they’ll retain that status through the following calendar year.

The exact way you earn them is, a bit complicated and jargon-y, but basically you have to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars, which are earned through purchases on Delta flights and flights from qualifying partners, though Basic economy purchases don't earn qualification dollars. There’s Medallion Qualification Miles and Medallion Qualification Segments, which are based on distance flown and your fare class, excluding Basic Economy.

And now, Delta has increased the threshold necessary to qualify for various Medallion status, as pointed out by Travel Weekly.

Silver Medallion status can still be obtained with $3,000. For Gold, the minimum payment is now $8,000 qualifying dollars, up from $6,000. Platinum sees a bump to $12,000 from $9,000. For Diamond, it's now $20,000 in 2023, up from $15,000.

The changes won’t impact the minimums on flight segments or miles flown. 

"As Delta exits an unprecedented summer of demand for travel and navigates an evolving industry landscape, the airline remains committed to ensuring Delta SkyMiles membership and Medallion Status levels provide exclusive, earned opportunities for its most loyal customers," the airline said in a statement.

The big exception is that if you have an American Express credit card, Delta will continue to exempt SkyMiles members from the Minimum Qualification Dollars requirement for Silver, Gold and Platinum status if you spend $25,000 on said card. For Platinum members, that number is $250,000.

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Delta Introduces A New Perk

Basically, you’re going to have to spend more money to get perks. That might make the loyal customers a bit bummed, and understandably so.

But on the bright side, Medallion members with upgrade certificates will now be able to request upgrades digitally, while making their purchase on the Delta website. Delta is also working on a similar change for its app. 

Delta is also upping its offerings in its Choice Benefits program, which Diamond and Platinum members are eligible for, such as a $250 travel credit voucher. Those lucky Diamond status members will also qualify for $500 in Delta Vacations hotel and flight credits, and Platinum status can opt for a $400 voucher.