It’s about to get more difficult for Delta Air Lines frequent fliers to earn coveted elite status, along with all of the upgrades and perks that come with it.
Atlanta-based Delta also plans to further limit access to its Sky Club lounges, which have become overcrowded with frequent fliers and others seeking a respite from the harried airport environment.
Combined, the two changes mean Delta is significantly raising the bar separating the classes of travelers who sit in the front of the plane, relax in exclusive lounges and get the best treatment — from those that crowd into congested gate areas and sit in economy class.
Starting in 2024, Delta will count only how much money its customers spend — and not how many miles they fly — to determine whether they qualify for so-called Medallion elite status.
It will also require significantly more “Medallion Qualification Dollars” to reach each elite level — and that’s expected to put the status out of reach of many Delta travelers.
“We’re a premium airline,” said Dwight James, Delta’s senior vice president of customer engagement and loyalty. A key component of the changes is “the importance and focus on preserving an elevated, premium experience,” he said.
The changes to the Delta SkyMiles program requirements to reach elite status are expected to cause frustration among customers — including some who could switch from Delta to other airlines as a result.
To reach the lowest silver level of elite status, Delta customers would have to spend $6,000 in a year on Delta flights, or reach that threshold through other Delta-related expenditures. The new requirements will take effect in 2024 to qualify for elite status in 2025.
The changes mean Delta is trying to push its customers to spend more of their money on Delta flights, Delta credit cards and bookings through Delta’s website.
“It doesn’t necessarily preclude you from still gaining access,” James said. “I think this is a very welcoming program now, because we’re allowing more people to engage and be rewarded for that.”
The policies announced Wednesday come after other Delta changes in recent years that shifted the focus of its SkyMiles program to dollars spent, rather than miles flown, and made it more difficult to reach elite status.
It’s also part of the airline’s broader goal to become a massive travel marketing company and bring in billions of dollars through its credit card partnership with American Express.
“People want to achieve a certain status, people want to receive a certain level of recognition,” James said. “There’ll be some that are no longer diamonds. But then there’ll be some that become diamonds.”
James said the changes will simplify the way to earn elite status by using only one measure, instead of the current system requiring a combination of miles or flight segments and Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) or credit card spending.
The airline is adding a variety of alternative ways to earn Medallion Qualification Dollars beyond just spending money on Delta flights.
Those alternatives include booking Delta Vacations packages, or booking car rentals and hotel stays through Delta’s website.
But for many travelers, that would mean forgoing points through their hotel and car rental loyalty programs, to get only Delta points instead. While Delta has a partnership with Hertz, other car rental and hotel bookings made through Delta’s website would only earn points through Delta, according to James.
Another way some will be able to earn elite status is by spending even more money through certain Delta American Express cards.
Spending on a Delta Platinum American Express card will earn 1 MQD for every $20 spent, while spending on a Delta Reserve American Express card will earn 1 MQD for every $10 spent.
That means to earn silver elite status through Delta Platinum credit card spending would require paying the $250 annual fee for the card and then charging $120,000 in expenditures to the card.
Through the Reserve card, silver elite status would cost the $550 annual fee plus charging $60,000 to the card.
To reach the highest level of diamond elite status, Delta customers would have to spend a whopping $35,000 in a year on Delta flights, or charge $350,000 on a Delta Reserve card or $700,000 on a Delta Platinum card. That said, travelers can combine credit card spending and flight purchases to reach elite status.
For the transition to the new system, Delta will allow a one-time rollover of their miles into MQDs, at a rate of 20 MQMs to 1 MQD.
Restricting Sky Club access
Another major change Delta announced Wednesday is a significant reduction in future access to airport Sky Clubs through certain Platinum and Reserve credit cards that come with hefty fees.
Many travelers pay a $695 annual fee for the Platinum American Express card or a $550 annual fee for a Delta Reserve card to get access to Sky Clubs, along with other benefits.
But instead of allowing unlimited Sky Club visits for Delta passengers, the airline starting in February 2025 will limit Delta Reserve card holders to 10 visits per year and limit Platinum American Express card holders to six visits per year — unless they spend $75,000 on the card in a year.
Delta will also no longer allow those who use the American Express cards to access the clubs to get in if they’re traveling on the lowest-priced Basic Economy tickets, starting in 2024.
“We want to ensure that our most premium members are receiving the experience they’ve grown to expect from Delta,” James said.
Delta’s elite frequent flier status changes
Beginning January 1, 2024, all SkyMiles Members will earn toward Status through only Medallion Qualification Dollars
New 2024 Medallion Qualification Dollar Thresholds for 2025 Status
· Silver Medallion - $6,000 MQDs
· Gold Medallion - $12,000 MQDs
· Platinum Medallion - $18,000 MQDs
· Diamond Medallion - $35,000 MQDs
Current Medallion thresholds for 2024 Status
· Silver Medallion – 25,000 Medallion Qualification Miles or 30 Medallion Qualification Segments AND $3,000 MQDs or MQD waiver
· Gold Medallion – 50,000 MQMs or 60 MQSs AND $8,000 MQDs or MQD waiver
· Platinum Medallion – 75,000 MQMs or 100 MQSs AND $12,000 MQDs or MQD waiver
· Diamond Medallion – 15,000 MQMs or 140 MQSs AND $20,000 MQDs or MQD waiver
*Platinum, Gold and Silver MQD requirement waived after $25,000 in spending on a Delta SkyMiles American Express card. Diamond MQD requirement waived after $250,000 in spending on a Delta SkyMiles AmEx.
New ways to earn MQDs in 2024 for 2025 status:
· Delta and Partner Flights: Earn $1 MQD per $1 spent on the ticket price for a Delta-marketed flight operated by Delta or by one of our partner airlines.
· Delta SkyMiles American Express Cards MQD Boost: Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Reserve Business American Express Card Members earn $1 MQD when they spend $10. And Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Platinum Business American Express Card Members earn $1 MQD when they spend $20.
· Car Rentals: Earn $1 MQD per $1 spent on completed car rentals when you book through Delta direct channels.
· Stays: Earn $1 MQD per $1 spent on completed stays when you book through Delta direct channels.
· Delta Vacations: Earn $1 MQD per $1 spent on the entire vacation experience, in addition to what you earn for your flight, when you book directly with Delta Vacations.
· For those with rollover Medallion Qualification Miles earned during 2023, Delta will provide a one-time rollover choice where Members can either convert MQMs into redeemable miles, MQDs, or a combination of both. The conversion will be at a rate of 20 MQMs to 1 MQD, or 2 MQMs to 1 redeemable mile, starting Feb. 1, 2024.
Delta’s Sky Club Access Changes
· Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Reserve Business Card Members: Starting Feb. 1, 2025, Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Reserve Business American Express Card Members will receive 10 Club visits per Program year. Members can earn unlimited Club access after spending $75,000 on their eligible Card in a calendar year and will have unlimited Club access for both the remainder of that year through January 31 of the next year. Spend tracking begins Jan. 1, 2024, for the 2025 Medallion year.
· Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Platinum Business Card Members: Beginning January 1, 2024, the Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Platinum Business American Express Card will no longer provide Card Members with access to Delta Sky Clubs.
· The Platinum Card from American Express: Starting Feb. 1, 2025, American Express Platinum and Platinum Business Card Members will receive six Club visits per Program year. Members can earn unlimited Club access after spending $75,000 on their eligible Card in a calendar year and will have unlimited Club access for both the remainder of that year through January 31 of the next year. Spend tracking begins Jan. 1, 2024, for the 2025 Medallion year.
· Basic Economy fares: All American Express Card Members traveling on a Basic Economy ticket or an equivalent ticket with a partner airline will not receive Delta Sky Club Access effective January 1, 2024.