Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
File-This photo taken Jan. 20, 2011, shows a Delta Airlines Boeing 757 taking off in Tampa, Fla. Delta Air Lines is making fundamental changes to its frequent flier program and will reward those who buy its priciest tickets, as opposed to those who fly the most miles. The airline said Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, that the 2015 SkyMiles program will better recognize frequent business travelers and leisure customers who buy premium fares. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
Delta changing frequent-flier program to favor big spenders
First Published Feb 26 2014 11:56 am • Last Updated Feb 26 2014 12:06 pm

Dallas • Delta Air Lines is changing its frequent-flier program to favor passengers who buy the priciest tickets instead of those who fly the most miles.

It’s a bid to lure higher-spending business travelers, who often book flights on short notice and pay more than bargain-hunting leisure travelers.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Beginning next year, Delta will base miles toward free flights on the amount that passengers spend on tickets. Currently, members of its SkyMiles program earn miles based on how far they fly — it doesn’t matter whether they bought an expensive first-class seat or the cheapest ticket in economy.

Delta will become the biggest U.S. airline yet to make such a change. American and United are likely to watch to see how travelers respond.

Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t a total surprise. Delta had already taken steps toward rewarding big spenders.

A year ago, it announced that starting in 2014 passengers would need to spend at least $2,500 with the airline to qualify for the lowest level of elite frequent-flier status, which carries perks such as free upgrades and a waiver from bag fees. Before that, they could qualify on miles alone. United quickly matched Delta’s change.

Virgin America and JetBlue Airways Corp.’s "True Blue" frequent-flier program award points based on dollars spent, not miles flown. Southwest Airlines Co., which carries more passengers within the U.S. than any other airline, overhauled its Rapid Rewards program in 2011 to award free tickets based on money spent, not trips taken. It seems to be paying off; a spokeswoman said the changes boosted Southwest revenue by $180 million in 2012 and an additional $100 million last year.

The move by an airline the size of Delta, with its international routes and important corporate customers, adds to a more fundamental trend in air travel — luring big-bucks travelers with better seats, fancier meals in first class, and VIP treatment at the airport.

"If you’re a corporate traveler, the IBM guy, this is good for you," Randy Petersen, editor of InsideFlyer magazine, which tracks the airline-loyalty business, said of Delta’s move. "The infrequent traveler clearly is the loser here. Frequent-flier programs are no longer for them at all."

Some of those Delta leisure travelers wasted no time complaining on social media. The same thing happened at Southwest. But if United and American follow Delta’s lead, "there’s not much a consumer can do," Petersen said. "Where are you going to go?"


story continues below
story continues below

That’s the dilemma facing Ben Holcomb, who works in information technology in Norman, Okla. He said he has earned seven or eight free trips in the past couple of years and climbed to Gold Medallion elite status on Delta by racking up miles with bargain-fare leisure trips. "The days of being able to do that are numbered," he said.

Holcomb said he understood why Delta decided to change its program, but added, "It really leaves no incentive to fly with Delta unless they have a better price."

Al Meyers, who has worked for nonprofits in Atlanta and used to be an elite Delta member, said SkyMiles will go from a frequent-flier program to an expensive-flier one. He said the biggest airlines are catering too much to corporate travelers, forcing average consumers to consider budget carriers.

"We’re going to have the Lexuses and the Tauruses," he said.

Delta Air Lines Inc., based in Atlanta, said that beginning Jan. 1, SkyMiles members will earn between 5 and 11 miles for every dollar they spend on tickets — the low end for general customers, and the biggest bang for elite Diamond Medallion members. All of them will continue to get a bonus for buying tickets with a Delta-branded credit card.

Other changes, Delta said, include more availability of reward seats at the lowest mileage-requirement levels, one-way awards at half the miles needed for a round-trip reward — American does that now — and more options to combine miles and cash when buying tickets.

Jeff Robertson, a vice president who oversees the SkyMiles program, said that nearly all hotel and credit-card programs already base rewards on money spent, and Delta’s change was designed to better reward the airline’s most loyal customers.

———

Contact David Koenig at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.