Delta CEO: Airline ‘Probably Went Too Far’ With SkyMiles Changes

Wire Service
By Wire Service
September 28, 2023Business News
Delta CEO: Airline ‘Probably Went Too Far’ With SkyMiles Changes
A Delta Airlines jets arrives at Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta on Sept. 12, 2009. (Karen Bleier/AFP via Getty Images)

Delta Air Lines “probably went too far” in overhauling its SkyMiles program and lounge access policy, CEO Ed Bastian said at an event this week, and changes are coming.

“There will be modifications that we will make, and you will hear about it sometime over the next few weeks,” Mr. Bastian said on Monday at a Rotary Club of Atlanta event. He didn’t offer specifics.

Mr. Bastian said the changes announced earlier this month were designed to make certain that Delta could serve all of the loyalty tiers at the level that is expected.

“No question, we probably went too far in doing that,” Mr. Bastian said at the event Monday.

“Our team wanted to kind of rip the BandAid off and didn’t want to have to keep going through this every year with changes and nickel and diming and whatnot, and I think we moved too fast.”

In September, the company implemented changes that would make it more difficult for American Express cardholders to access Delta Sky Clubs and earn Medallion elite status, taking effect in 2025.

For frequent flyers, the airline will also change how it awards Medallion elite status starting in 2024. There will only be one metric—Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD)—and requirements are higher than what they are today. It’s also getting rid of the MQD waiver that popular Delta credit cards offered.

Mr. Bastian said a jump in the number of elite status holders turned into too much demand for Delta’s premium services, such as airport lounge access. It got to the point, he said, that the company couldn’t effectively serve those elite status holders, including upgrade certificates and agents on special phone lines.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of diamond-level members almost doubled, he said, after the company allowed status and miles to roll over while customers weren’t traveling.

The airline is still in the process of assessing what changes will be made to the new policies. Delta confirmed Mr. Bastian’s comments.

Rewards programs are an important tool for companies to acquire customers, learn more about their preferences, and promote brand loyalty. But while rewards members may love freebies and other perks, they’re equally quick to criticize companies for any tweaks.

Brands from Best Buy to Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks faced quick backlash when they implemented changes to their loyalty programs.

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