Big Changes Ahead for Frequent Fliers on Delta

Aiming to reward fliers based on what they spend, rather than how many miles they fly.

Feb 26, 2014 at 11:02AM

ATLANTA (AP) -- Delta Air Lines is making fundamental changes to its frequent flier program and will reward those who buy its priciest tickets, as opposed to those who fly the most miles.

It will be the first major carrier to make such a change and other airlines will certainly be watching to see how travelers react to the change.

Delta said Wednesday that the 2015 SkyMiles program will better recognize frequent business travelers and leisure customers who buy premium fares.

It's a bid to lure the much-sought-after business traveler, but it will affect everyone who flies with the carrier and uses the program.

Delta had been moving in the direction of a revenue-based program. In January 2013 the company said that its 2014 frequent fliers would need to spend at least $2,500 to qualify for the lowest level of elite status. Previously, they could qualify on miles alone.

A revenue-based program generally rewards business travelers. Those fliers are critical to airlines because they book flights on short notice and buy more expensive tickets, versus the typical leisure traveler that plans a trip well in advance and hunts for the cheapest fares.

JetBlue Airways Corp.'s "True Blue" frequent flier program already awards points based on dollars spent, not on miles. And in 2011 Southwest Airlines Co. changed its frequent flier program to reward more-expensive tickets.

But the change by a carrier that has the reach of Delta could signal a more definitive shift in catering more to those sitting in the front of the plane, rather than the back-seaters.

Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, says it's making the announcement about changes to its SkyMiles program 10 months in advance so customers have ample time to make travel plans. The new program goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

Delta said that other program updates will include a new mileage redemption structure that will improve Award seat availability at the lowest mileage requirement levels; offering One-Way Awards at half the price of round-trip and providing additional Miles + Cash Award options.

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