For several years now, there have been rumors that the airlines would change their frequent flier programs to focus more on dollars spent than miles flown. After all, statute miles are a largely arbitrary unit of measurement, especially since pilots use nautical miles and most everyone else in the world uses kilometers.
First, we saw upstart carriers such as jetBlue, Southwest, and Virgin America roll out revenue based frequent flier programs that only took into account dollars spent for point accrual and award redemption. That is to say that the miles or points that travelers earned in these programs was directly proportional to the dollar spent, not the distance flown. Likewise, awards were redeemed based on the current sales price of the ticket, not a fixed number of miles for flights within a region.
Delta becomes the first major legacy carrier to implement a revenue based program, but only partially.
In mid-January, Delta announced, that travelers would need to qualify for elite Medallion status based not just on their Medallion Qualifying Miles(MQM) or Medallion Qualifying Segments (MQS) flown, but on a new criteria as well, Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD). To retain Silver status in 2015, customers would need to spend $2,500 on Delta purchases. Gold would require $5,000 in spending, Platinum $7,500, and Diamond $12,500.
But here is where this gets interesting. Elite fliers of all levels are exempt from these requirements if they spend $25,000 on any one Delta’s SkyMiles credit cards that are issued by American Express. In addition, those outside the United States will also be exempt.
Delta is cracking down on travelers who earn status by booking discounted tickets, but this is not that harsh of a policy. Delta essentially requires that travelers purchase tickets at 10 cents per mile flown in order to have their fare count fully towards elite status. For example, imagine a traveler purchases a ticket from New York to Miami, a distance of approximately 1,100 miles. So long as that ticket costs more than $220, round trip, then the traveler will earn more than 10 miles per dollar spent, meeting the MQD standard.
It is primarily on longer flights where travelers might find fares below 10 cent per mile flown. For example, New York to Los Angeles is about 5,000 miles round trip, yet there are some discounted tickets that sell for less than $500. Likewise, discounted flights to Europe in the off-season often sell for between 5-8 cents per mile flown.
But by signing up for a Delta SkyMiles credit card, and using it to spend a reasonable $25,000 during the 2014 calendar year, travelers can re-qualify for Medallion status just as easily as they did before. Until Delta really changes its system and goes to revenue based rewards, most frequent Delta travelers will have little to be concerned about.