Starting Jan. 1, 2018, Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles members will have to spend $250,000 annually on their affiliated American Express credit card to meet one of the requirements for Diamond Medallion status, which provides the airline’s best perks. That’s a staggering 10 times more than the spending amount—$25,000—required in past years.

Other annual SkyMiles requirements to achieve Diamond Medallion status will remain the same. Members must fly 125,000 miles or take 140 flights, and they can spend $15,000 on tickets for Delta or partner airline flights instead of $250,000 on the American Express card.

Many angry flyers who have achieved Diamond Medallion status by credit-card spending have vented their emotions about the massive change in social media.

Loyalty360 talked to Gina Fleck, Director of Loyalty at HelloWorld (herself a Delta Platinum member for the past four years), to find out her thoughts on this move by Delta.

“The initial negative response was definitely anticipated by Delta, but, ultimately, the change is good for the program,” Fleck explained. “Delta is the only legacy carrier that allows flyers to waive their elite qualifying spend requirement through their co-branded credit card to earn top tier status. Changing this requirement from $25K to $250K sounded shocking, but this is still the only legacy carrier that even allows the option at all.”

The number of Diamond members needed to be reduced to ensure that Diamond members continued to enjoy the most sought-after perks that status gives–upgrades and lounge access–and, in theory, provides an even more exclusive experience to those dedicated Delta flyers, Fleck noted.

“From my perspective, I think this is a solid long-term strategy,” Fleck said. “I’ve seen the benefits of Platinum status dilute over the years due to what I can only assume is a larger cohort of members, and I can imagine that this dilution was also happening at the Diamond level. Top-tier status is meant to be exclusive and truly rewarding, so I applaud Delta for taking the steps needed to maintain the program’s initial intent.”

What’s more, Fleck said that Delta has made huge strides as of late to enhance the customer experience for all flyers–including complimentary access to the in-flight entertainment, Delta Studio,free in-flight messagingautomatic check-in, free meals in economycomplimentary prosecco on international flights, and even launching new planes.

“I don’t think this change reflects that Delta doesn’t appreciate their loyal flyers,” she said. “Instead, they are doing what they can to ensure that they are rewarded accordingly while ensuring all Delta flyers have a top-notch experience.”

Fleck cited some industry takeaways:

For programs that have tiers, make sure that the tiers mean something. Elite status can only be elite if it’s worth the effort and not everyone can easily achieve it. Make sure to back up your tier requirements with consumer data to ensure that they are achievable for the cohort you want in each group. Balance the cost of the benefits with the incremental revenue generated by that group. And, make sure to re-evaluate the tier requirements regularly. You may find that changes are necessary over time.

A focus on superb customer service and experience for all your customers is a must, especially in travel. You may have a business traveler who books 10+ trips with you a year, but their employer is paying for it and it’s only 50 percent of their business. You may also have a leisure traveler who gives you 100 percent of their business, but they only travel once a year. Both are valuable and should be treated that way. 

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