Delta to Re-Evaluate Revisions to SkyMiles Program and Lounge Access
Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian, has announced plans to make adjustments in response to the recent changes to how travelers access frequent flier status and lounge privileges. This marks Delta Air Lines' first public statement since the September 13 press release introducing the redesigned SkyMiles loyalty program and lounge access policy based in Atlanta. Bastian acknowledged that the airline has been actively listening to feedback and interacting with customers who have voiced their concerns.
The modifications revealed in mid-September primarily pertain to how passengers attain Delta frequent flier status. In 2024, the exclusive determinant for elite status will be an annual spending requirement known as "Medallion Qualifying Dollars" (MQDs). However, these adjustments have triggered a considerable public outcry due to the increased spending conditions, which, in some instances, have doubled the annual expenditure needed to achieve status. Additionally, Delta has imposed restrictions on premium Amex cardholders' access to its popular Sky Clubs, limiting entries to a maximum of 10 per year unless cardholders spend $75,000 on their cards.
The airline's loyal customer base has been particularly vocal about the new prerequisites for status and the restrictions on lounge access. Bastian acknowledged their loyalty but admitted that Delta has struggled to meet the increasing demand for their premium products and services.
Bastian's recent statements come in the wake of numerous complaints about the changes to frequent flier status and lounge access, which the company had initially described as "simplified." A quick look at social media comments and tweets reveals that many travelers were not enthusiastic about the news, especially the way it was communicated. Social media metrics from Sprout Social, a platform that analyzes messages and sentiment, indicate a 352 percent increase in the volume of "negative sentiment" tweets about the Delta loyalty program during the week following the SkyMiles changes (September 13 through September 20) compared to the previous week (September 5 through September 12). Additionally, the percentage of tweets expressing "positive sentiment" about airlines other than Delta (such as United, American, Southwest, Spirit, and JetBlue) increased by 13 percent during the week starting September 13 compared to the prior week.
JetBlue and Alaska, based in New York and Seattle, respectively, have capitalized on the backlash against Delta by offering generous status match opportunities. These programs do not require travelers to fly with the airline to earn status through the end of 2023; only proof of similar Delta status is necessary. JetBlue has even humorously named its program "Mosaic on the DL" to attract disheartened Delta supporters to its Mosaic elite tiers. Meanwhile, Alaska highlights its Mileage Plan program as the only loyalty scheme in the United States that rewards based on flight miles rather than spending.
Industry analyst Gary Leff, creator of the View From the Wing site, points out that JetBlue and Alaska recognized the opportunity to attract dissatisfied customers, but Delta's recent change in direction isn't solely due to competitive pressure.
"Delta saw the status matches, but it was mainly a reflection of underlying customer frustration," says Leff. "They're hearing directly from customers, monitoring social media, and presumably witnessing an increase in co-branded card cancellations, although neither American Express nor Delta has officially acknowledged this."
Bastian revealed during the Rotary Club of Atlanta event that "modifications" to the program will be made, but he did not provide specific details on the changes. More information is expected to be released in the coming weeks, as confirmed by a Delta spokesperson, who declined to comment further on the matter.
Bastian likened the rollout of the September 13 announcement to "ripping the Band-Aid off," acknowledging that the changes were introduced abruptly and created a strong reaction.