The internet is on fire with rage over Delta’s most recent changes to both their Skymiles program and Sky Club lounge access. While I will break down the major changes and my solution to them in this article, I will also provide some backstory of both gamification of the program and what lead us as consumers to this point.
Part 1 - How we got here - a 2-part problem
Part 2 - Previous Gamification
Part 3 - Changes and how to adapt (if possible)
Part 1 - How we got here - a 2-part problem
While one could argue that the SkyMiles program eventually needed to be updated (organizations often update rewards programs to benefit the company’s bottom line), the problem was exacerbated by the pandemic. Delta took a very customer-centric move, twice, during the pandemic.
First, in April 2020, they were the first airline to extend Sky Miles status to their members automatically. Extending everyone’s status from January 2021 to January 2022 and rolling over Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM) for the year as well. MQM was and technically still is (until the new program starts) a critical element in reaching status levels. By making this move, they made earning status in 2022 easier. Of course, halfway through 2021, the pandemic was still going on.
Again, in July 2021, Delta extended Sky Miles status and rolled over MQM. This meant everyone got another year of the pre-pandemic status (through January 2023) and everyone’s MQM piggy bank got even larger. The MQM rollover made the earning of status tiers with Delta much more achievable. Case in point, look at the amount of MQMs I have due to the back-to-back rollover.
As the pandemic ended, we saw traveling increase to levels higher than pre-pandemic. People were tired of being quarantined to their homes and were making up for lost time. Remember the rollover MQMs everyone had? This increased travel allowed many of these Sky Miles members to achieve status levels they had never hit previously. With all of this traveling, why would you not also grab a Delta American Express card so you could get even more benefits out of the Delta program? The Delta Amex cards allow quicker accumulation of MQM and provide access to the Sky Club lounges.
Fast forward to this year. Many times this year, I arrived at the airport early with the intent of relaxing or working from the Sky Club. Almost 50% of those times, there has been a line outside of the lounge with people waiting for others to leave so they can enter. Oftentimes when there was not a line, it was still difficult to find 2 seats together if I was traveling with my wife or a co-worker. The chaos of the Sky Club and not being able to count on it added an anxiety variable to travel when people are looking for a relaxing travel day. Delta customers were quick to complain on X (formerly Twitter) and other social media channels. While I am not sure if I have made one of those posts (I do believe I made a Centurion Lounge tweet once), I absolutely have texted pictures of the line for access to friends. The point is, Delta likely received thousands of complaints about how busy the lounges were. When constantly complaining to a brand like Delta, which is often teaching a masterclass on taking care of your customers, did you not expect them to react and come up with a solution?
In addition to the busy lounges, the abundance of higher-tier Sky Miles members and Delta Amex users was abundantly clear. Sky Priority check-in lines are oftentimes longer (or at least the same) than the regular lines which is a major indicator. Another indicator is when planes are boarded and half the plane is able to board before the zones are called. It was clear to everyone, even the ones not complaining, that something had to be done.
Part 2 - Previous Gamification
The Delta American Express cards have a gamification element to them that many of the popular rewards sites are quick to call out. You can have multiple Delta Amex cards (I currently have 1 personal Reserve, 1 business Reserve, and 1 business Platinum). In addition to the Delta Sky Club access that the cards provide, there are Status Boost bonuses that can help you stack up MQM. With the Reserve, you receive a 15,000 MQM Boost Bonus for every $30,000 you spend on the card, capped at four boost bonuses (60k MQMs / $120k card spend). For the Platinum, there are two Status Boost bonuses that can be earned of 10,000 MQM at $25,000 and $50,000 of card spend. That means, with the 3 cards I mentioned, if you hit all the spend bonuses you would end up with 140,000 MQMs which would get you Diamond Medallion status. That is also if you were starting off at 0 MQM which we know is the furthest from the truth with 2 years of rollover MQMs for everyone. In current and previous years, one of the Choice Benefits that you get to select as a Diamond Medallion member is a Sky Club Membership. While these gamification examples above could have probably been sustainable for the program, when combined with the pandemic extensions Delta made, the program needed a rehaul.
After all, if everyone is special, nobody is special.
Part 3 - Changes and how to adapt (if possible)
Let’s break the changes down into sections, most of which Delta has addressed while one still has to be decided.
Goodbye MQM and MQS, MQD is all the matters.
Starting in 2024 for 2025 Status, the new thresholds are:
Silver Medallion - $6,000 MQDs
Gold Medallion - $12,000 MQDs
Platinum Medallion - $18,000 MQDs
Diamond Medallion - $35,000 MQDs
This is a big increase to the previous thresholds needed to achieve status. Starting in 2024, these are the ways to get MQDs:
- Delta and partner flights. You earn 1 MQD per dollar spent on the ticket price.
- Credit Cards - While the Boost Bonuses are going away, the cards can still get you MQD. For the Delta American Express Platinum cards, you will receive 1 MQD for every $20 spent. For the Delta American Express Reserve cards, you will receive 1 MQD for every $10 spent. There is no limit to how many MQDs you can earn with this method.
- Car rentals and Hotel Stays - Earn 1 MQD per dollar spent on completed car rentals and completed hotel stays booked through Delta direct channels.
- Delta Vacations - Earn 1 MQD per dollar spent on the entire vacation purchase (in addition to the MQM earned from the flights)
The flight element for MQDs has remained the same, however, the rest is all different. While Delta Vacations was in previous programs, they have increased the amount you can earn by using them. Car rentals and Hotel stays are also a new way to earn MQDs. Delta is giving you additional ways to earn MQDs if you are brand loyal and spend in their ecosystem. Let’s however address the elephant in the room, the removal of the MQD waiver and elimination of Boost Bonuses.
Currently and previously, spending $25,000 on the Delta Amex cards could get you a MQD waiver for Silver, Gold, and Platinum Medallion. Using that waiver and combining it with all of those rollover MQMs, status was super achievable. For Diamond, the MQD waiver was met with $250,000 in card spend.
In 2024, those card spend levels are not going to get you to the status tier you previously could. $25,000 in card spend in 2024 is going to get you either 1,250 MQDs or 2,500 MQDs depending on the card tier you have. Let’s say you have the Reserve and that means 2,500 MQDs. You are not even halfway to Silver Medallion. Let’s say you are a high spender and previously spent $250,000 in a calendar year on your Amex Reserve. This would equate to 25,000 MQDs. You are still short 10,000 MQDs from Diamond Medallion.
These changes are going to accomplish what they want the changes to accomplish, thinning of the herd. The only solution to getting the status level you want is to spend more. Whether it's spending more with Delta and their ecosystem or spending more on their Amex card.
If you recall, Delta adjusted MQD thresholds for Gold, Platinum, and Diamond last year (for 2024). While I believe they hoped this would have fixed the issue they created with all of the rollover, but the reality is the Amex Boost Bonuses made this impossible since there are so many card holders.
Do you have a stack of rollover MQMs? You probably do if you have been with Delta through the pandemic. Delta will allow you to convert your MQMs at the start of the Medallion year (February 2024) into miles at a rate of 2:1 or into MQDs at a rate of 20:1. That stings.
Even if you are upset about all of these changes, it's tough to argue that Delta didn't need to make a major change to the Sky Club program. Lines to get in and no available seating is the opposite of what people want to experience with their lounges. A change was needed and changes have been made. People seem to be up in arms about the changes. Some rightfully so, but some are just being dramatic.
If you were a Delta Amex Platinum cardholder, I get it. You could previously use your card for access to the Sky Club at a rate of $50 per person. That is going away. Personally, $50 for lounge access seems steep, but I could see some cases where it would make sense.
For Platinum American Express cards, you get six annual visits now. I feel like if you needed more than this, then you likely had a Delta American Express Reserve card to get the other benefits as a Delta loyalist. Speaking of which, if you do have a Reserve, you now have 10 annual visits with it. To clarify, both of these provided unlimited visits before. So let’s talk about 10 annual visits. Again, I feel like the vast majority of people who are upset about unlimited turning into 10 visits likely would not even use all 10 visits. As a society, we love to complain about change before even thinking of how much the change will affect us. People in general dislike change and have more of a problem with the fact that it is a change than the actual details of the change.
At first glance, I was a bit irritated with the change even though I always was irritated that the Sky Clubs were so busy. I had also added 3 additional Reserve cards to my Amex Business Reserve so that 3 team members could participate in Sky Club when traveling. When I took a breath and thought about it, the team members were not going to need to use it more than 10 times in a year. You can still get unlimited access if you spend $75,000 or more during a calendar year on any of the eligible cards.
Now that Delta is getting rid of MQMs, the Million Miler program needs to be adjusted. It’s a very delicate surgery as members affected by this are likely your highest-value customers.
Starting in 2024, earnings will be based on how many miles you actually fly with Delta. While this is not as advantageous as MQM, it makes sense. If you were getting close to one of the milestones, I could see you being super irritated.
The silver lining is that they are moving Million Miler status up in the upgrade hierarchy into the 3rd spot, behind Medallion status and fare class. Long-time flyers with Delta should like this as it will help them beat newer travelers to those coveted, larger seats.
One of the best parts of Platinum and Diamond Medallion achievement is getting your choice benefits. Currently, Platinum Medallion members are able to select one Choice Benefit. Options include regional upgrades, bonus miles, gifting Silver status to someone, etc. When you reach Diamond Medallion, you get to select three Choice Benefits from a different group of options.
Supposedly, Delta will be rolling out some new options but they have not been disclosed yet. They will likely not be announced until the end of this year or the beginning of 2024. Assuming these will be for 2025 Choice Benefits. If you have already achieved Diamond Medallion for 2024 and go to look at your Choice Options you will see something missing. Sky Club Access used to be one of the options. You could use one of your Choice Options for a single membership or you could use two of your options for an Executive Membership (last year they coined it a Guest Pass but it functioned the same way). Oddly enough, the program outline on the Delta site says the Sky Club Executive Membership is available and costs all three of your Choice Benefits but it is not an option when I log in to make my selections.
Rewards programs change and get updated over the years. This is not the first and not the last rewards program I have been a member of that has seen change. More times than not, the changes come unrequested and normally end up resulting in a net negative for the consumer. While we can easily argue that the outcome here with Delta is a net negative for the consumer, the reality is that this was requested by the consumers. Customers complained about the Sky Clubs regularly and they complained about the abundance of Medallion status regularly as well. Delta listened to us and put out a solution to fix both of these. I do not believe there was a solution to either problem that the masses would like. The issue was exclusivity was not feeling very exclusive. When that occurs the only solution is to make obtaining exclusivity more difficult.