It’s the first such change in spending thresholds since 2015, and a sign of a strong recovery in air travel from the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delta’s senior vice president of loyalty Dwight James, in a written statement, called the changes “a necessary step toward both preserving and improving the customer experience for our most loyal and engaged members.”
He added that Delta is “continuing to invest in the customers who invest in us.”
While there will be no change to the $3,000 annual spending requirement for silver status, that lowest medallion level in the SkyMiles program does not afford the benefits that come with Delta’s Sky Priority access, including dedicated check-in areas, expedited baggage service, exclusive lines at airport security and early boarding.
Those who reach a certain threshold of spending on Delta credit cards can get the spending requirement for elite status waived. That is one factor that drives more customers to sign up for SkyMiles American Express cards, which in turn drive billions of dollars of financial benefits for Delta.
The waiver requires $25,000 of spending annually on a SkyMiles Amex, or $250,000 annually on a SkyMiles AmEx for a waiver of the spending requirement for diamond status.
“These [frequent flier] programs are becoming more about maximizing credit card activity for the airline than flying,” said Jay Sorensen, president of the airline consulting firm IdeaWorks.
There’s also a requirement for a certain number of flights to reach elite status on Delta, which will not change.
The increase in spending thresholds come as the resurgence in travel and past extensions of elite status on Delta during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to crowding for some of the airline’s coveted perks. Frequent fliers have complained about long lines to get into Delta Sky Clubs and difficulty getting complimentary upgrades on flights.
“There are simply too many elite travelers to allow airlines or hotel companies that have tiers to ensure an acceptable degree of exclusivity,” Sorensen said. The increase in thresholds for higher status “clearly has the purpose of reducing the number of elites.”
Delta tried to alleviate some of the crowding in its Sky Club airport lounges by limiting when people can use the clubs, which also frustrated members who pay hundreds of dollars a year to use the clubs when they travel. A Sky Club membership costs $545 a year, though diamond frequent fliers can get a complimentary Sky Club membership, and gold and platinum frequent fliers can enter Sky Clubs when traveling internationally.
The extension of elite status on Delta is set to end next year, which will likely reduce the number of elite frequent fliers on Delta. The higher thresholds to reach gold, platinum and diamond status could also alleviate some of the competition for top benefits like Sky Club access.
Exclusivity “allows an airline or a hotel company to provide better service,” which is what frequent travelers really care about, Sorensen said. But “when status becomes so ever present it becomes less special for everyone involved.”
The rise in air fares over the past year could mean that more people will qualify for elite status based on higher spending levels than they would have had the cost of flying not skyrocketed. By this May, air fares had risen 33.3% over the previous year — the largest such increase since 1980, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
Delta said it is also adding more benefits that frequent fliers can choose from once they reach elite status, including a statement credit on a SkyMiles Amex card, a Delta Vacations booking, a boost in reaching platinum or diamond status for the following year or a contribution to sustainable aviation fuel.