Delta loyalty program backlash: Airline backtracks on some changes after an uproar from customers

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Delta Air Lines is easing off some recent changes to its SkyMiles loyalty program that sparked criticism from frequent flyers.

The changes are aimed at the most loyal travelers who have built up years of status at the airline as well as business travelers and Delta’s (DAL) credit card holders.

Fundamentally, Wednesday’s announcement keeps in place a significant overhaul announced just last month that transitioned the loyalty program from miles-based to spending-based. But the airline will make it easier for frequent flyers to reach certain rewards thresholds than the original changes.

Last month, Delta CEO Ed Bastian pledged modifications to the program, but downplayed customer frustrations. He said changes of some type were necessary. Other airlines also have spending-oriented loyalty programs.

“[E]veryone sees that the premium number of customers that we continue to build are in excess of the premium assets that we have to offer,” Bastian said.

The modifications lower the spending thresholds to earn the stepped levels of Medallion status and confer higher lifetime status to travelers who have accrued millions of flight miles.

The company also backed off some more stringent limits on accessing Delta’s airport lounges. Multiple visits over a 24 hour period, for example, will now count as a single visit credit. That will benefit frequent business travelers, an especially lucrative type of customer who have traveled less since the pandemic as meetings went virtual.

Credit card holders will also receive more visit credits than under the September program modifications.

Bastain last month acknowledged at a Rotary Club of Atlanta event that Delta “probably went too far” in overhauling its SkyMiles program and lounge access policy.

“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,” he said last month.

Bastian said Delta gained so many elite status holders that demand for premium services, including lounge access at airports, overwhelmed the company. Lounges became overcrowded, and the company couldn’t serve customers effectively, he said. Phone lines became jammed, and staff reported that they were inundated with requests for seat upgrades.

The new program are scheduled to go into effect in 2025.

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