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A bargain hunter's survival guide to Delta frequent flyer changes



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Since everyone is still talking about the Delta disaster, that is, the announcement on Wednesday of coming changes to the frequent flyer program, we may as well discuss it here.

As you probably know, beginning Jan. 2015, Delta will change the way travelers earn points in their frequent flier program. Under the new program, points will be based on dollars spent instead of miles traveled. It’s not just how much money you spend, your status on the airline also matters.

Fliers with no status will earn five miles per dollar spent while Delta’s top tier travelers – those who travel 125,000 miles per year – will earn 11 miles per dollar spent. If you have a Sky Miles credit card, you still earn two miles per dollar spent.

While Delta says the changes are designed to benefit their high value customers (frequent business travelers) more than a few folks have already pointed out the holes in that theory noting that for some long-haul routes, high status frequent fliers may have to spend more than average customers to get the same number of miles they get under the current program.

Several business travel experts also point out the fact that we know nothing about what these new points will earn. And what’s the point of having points if you don’t know what you can use them for?  Delta has only said they will move from a three tier to a five tier reward model with more information to come in the fourth quarter of 2014.

So what does any of this mean for Bargain Hunters who are not heavy duty business travelers on Delta?  It means cheap tickets – whether you fly long or short distances – will earn fewer points.

Here are some thoughts from on what cheapies can do to offset the ill-effects of the change:

Rely on a credit card. If you have a Delta SkyMiles Amex, for example, you get two points per dollar but you give up points earned from a different card. Gary Leff of View from the Wing points out that it makes more sense to get more than two points per dollar using an Amex or Chase reward card and transferring them to Delta for frequent flier points.

Consider partner airlines. Next time you plan a trip to France (or another international destination); consider booking through Delta’s airline partners. Miles earned on partner airlines (for now) are still based on miles flown, so having partner airlines to credit Delta flights may be worthwhile. I would compare your points earned per dollar spent for flying Delta vs. a partner airline, before booking and see which one puts you on top.

Your thoughts, input, solutions are welcome. Will you keep flying Delta, or will you become a loyal member of another airline? (The options are horribly slim).

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