Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian said earlier this week that the airline plans to walk back some of the controversial changes coming to its rewards program.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday, Bastian said the Atlanta-based airline had received "a lot" of feedback on the changes announced Sept. 13 that essentially made achieving status through the SkyMiles program harder while also raising the threshold for accessing its airport lounges.
"No question, we probably went too far in doing that," Bastian said. "Our team wanted to kind of rip the Band-Aid off and didn't want to have to keep going through this every year with changes and nickeling and diming and whatnot, so I think we moved too fast."
Consequently, Bastian said the airline will re-evaluate the overhaul, which aimed to base status solely on the amount of money flyers spend with the carrier, or via their SkyMiles American Express credit cards, rather than miles flown.
For example, Delta announced plans to raise the threshold for its lowest status level, Silver Medallion, from $3,000 to $6,000 spent in 2024 for 2025 status.
"We're still assessing what we do, but there will be modifications that we will make, and you'll hear about it sometime over the next few weeks," Bastian said.
Bastian explained the intent behind the program alterations was in part because of the rapid increase of status holders through the pandemic. Like many travel rewards programs, Delta made it easier to maintain status — and even earn a higher level — to account for the limited travel due to COVID-19.
But that meant the number of Diamond Medallion members, SkyMiles' highest tier, "almost doubled," he said.
"We need to make certain that we can serve our higher tiers with a level of premium experience that you deserve and you expect," he said. "... It's just way in excess of our current asset base, and it's unsustainable where we're at now."
When Delta announced the changes, it was the latest example of the airline's broader move toward reserving its most desired benefits for an increasingly exclusive group of cardholders and flyers.
As a result of the changes, SkyMiles members would need to spend more on Delta travel and/or charge much more to their Delta credit cards to earn perks such as first-class upgrades, complimentary airport club access and more.
Delta, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, has slowly shifted its frequent flyer program away from rewarding miles flown in favor of higher spending or "Medallion Qualifying Dollars." One would have to spend more than $6,000 on Delta or — without spending a dollar on the airline — $120,000 on a Delta SkyMiles credit card next year just to earn the lowest status tier.
Delta also confirmed this month it plans to cap the number of entries to its Sky Clubs starting Feb. 1, 2025, for premium card holders.
The moves outraged many who've been loyal to the carrier for years.
Patrick Cool, who stands to lose his Platinum Medallion Status in 2025 based on the changes earlier this month, hopes any shifts to come will help him earn status of some kind.
"It leaves me optimistic that the status program will be usable for the retail consumer vs. simply being usable for the business travelers," he said.
At the time of the announcement, the Edina man called the changes terrible and asked for suggestions on Facebook for another rewards credit card.
"I think the outcry was inevitable," Cool said. "But I think they were hoping the outcry would be a vocal minority instead of the majority of their consumer base."