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Delta changes its rewards program; frequent fliers not feeling so loyal

The changes include severely limiting access to its Sky Club lounges and only using money spent, not miles flown, to earn rewards.

MINNEAPOLIS — It’s about to get much harder to achieve any kind of status with Delta Air Lines.

The company is making huge changes to its SkyMiles reward program. It affects everything from scoring reward points and how many you'll need to start getting perks, and who has access to the company’s lounges inside airports.

Some of the updates kick in at the start of the new year and even more in 2025, but many customers say they're angry about the change right now.

“I feel abandoned, really,” said longtime traveler Tim Chinn. “I’ve been loyal to Delta for 40 years, Sky Club member, Diamond Medallion member and now I feel all that is going away."

The sweeping changes will only use cash spent – not miles flown – to calculate rewards and try to increase who’s using Delta’s American Express card. It’s a partnership that, this year, will generate $7 billion.

“Focusing on dollars alone is hurtful, in a way, because some people don’t spend that — but they fly a lot,” said Chinn.

Industry expert Gary Leff says the move means Delta is really trying to drive a hard bargain.

“Delta wants more of your wallet share than ever before in order to deliver the benefits the customer has been used to,” said Leff.

Leff says the update puts those rewards further out of reach, in part, to cut down on consistent overcrowding at Delta’s lounges. To unlock that, a member will eventually have to spend some $75,000 a year when it was free – and one of the program’s biggest selling points.

“They’re not giving customers more, they’re expecting more of customers and they are going to lose some customers along the way,” said Leff.

It’s a bet that Delta was willing to make as its popularity does continue to soar, but the changes leave some asking: For how long?

“I think they’re doing themselves a huge disservice and I think it’s going to show up in customer loyalty and in revenue,” said Chinn.

Some members are channeling their anger and expressing relief, saying they will no longer have to chase some kind of status anymore. Instead, they want to return to prioritizing the cheapest and fastest flights over loyalty.


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