Delta Air Lines SkyMiles

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Delta is one of the three large U.S.-based legacy carriers and one whose frequent flyer program, known as SkyMiles, has taken a few hits recently. Some routes now require more miles for redemption, elite benefits are being stripped, and the new revenue-based earning model has some members rethinking their allegiance.

Recent and upcoming modifications in the rules for earning and redeeming awards have made this frequent flyer program far less customer-friendly than it used to be, according to our Delta SkyMiles review.

Under changes implemented in January 2014, reaching any of the four elite Medallion tiers became harder. The new program requires a certain number of Medallion Qualification Miles (based on distance flown on Delta Airlines flights) or Medallion Qualification Segments (flown on Delta flights) plus -- here's the kicker -- a certain number of Medallion Qualification Dollars (spent on base fare for Delta flights, not including taxes or fees). Mileage requirements start at 25,000 and climb to 125,000; segment requirements start at 30 and reach 140; minimum spending ranges from $2,500 up to $12,500. The revised terms make it harder join the elite ranks, especially for travelers who seek out good deals on ticket prices -- although not everyone is complaining. One pleased club member notes in a Delta SkyMiles review at FlyerTalk that any resulting empty seats in first and business class just enhance the value of those tickets. The good news: Benefits associated with elite status remain unchanged and include earning extra redeemable miles, complimentary upgrades and preferred seating, waived baggage fees, and so on.

The changes keep on coming. Starting in 2015, all SkyMiles members will earn miles based on the price of a ticket (a model similar to the JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines programs) instead of miles flown. This is potentially bad news for everyone, but oddly, it will hurt loyal and elite-status Delta passengers the most. Consider a $361 round trip between Dallas-Fort Worth (Texas) and La Guardia (New York City), an example used by Delta on its website. Under the new system, program members will earn 5 redeemable miles for each dollar spent, for a total of 1,805 miles. Based on miles flown, however, the passenger would receive 2,778 miles. Someone who holds the highest SkyMiles status, Diamond Medallion, will be rewarded with 11 miles per dollar spent, or 3,971 miles in this case. Under the soon-to-be-abandoned system, the Diamond Medallion flyer would receive 125 percent of miles flown, for a total of 6,250. The regular SkyMiles member loses 973 miles with the new plan; the elite-status member loses 2,279 miles. One plus for SkyMiles members: Delta will begin issuing one-way award tickets.

Delta's new award chart shows five award levels instead of the current three, with redemption requirements varying depending on the flight. The lowest level redemptions have been spared cost increases, and some even require fewer trade-in miles. But a Delta SkyMiles review by The Points Guy points out that these new redemption requirements follow closely on the heels of recent redemption price increases.

A review of Delta's SkyMiles program at One Mile at a Time notes that the number of miles needed to buy seats is only one facet of the game. More important, the commentary continues, is the number of seats on a flight designated at each reward level -- and that information is not shared. This is critical, as Delta has a reputation for being especially stingy with its lowest level and business-class frequent flyer awards, allocating only a few seats to each; both frugal and high-spending travelers are often disappointed. The lack of availability for any but top-priced award seats has prompted use of the term SkyPesos in place of SkyMiles on frequent flyer forums and blogs; that is, you need a lot to get anywhere.

Delta Air Lines is leading a minor revolution in the way frequent flyers earn elite status -- to the detriment of its most loyal customers. Tack that on top of other changes in the SkyMiles program, and Delta ranks lowest among the legacy carriers.

Louis DeNicola

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer who specializes in credit, debt, and practical money-saving tips. He loves stacking savings opportunities to get amazing deals, traveling for free using credit card rewards, and teaching others how to do the same. Connect with Louis by visiting louisdenicola.com.

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