(NEW YORK) -- Delta Airlines announced a change to its SkyMiles frequent flier program that will require customers to spend a minimum amount of money in addition to flying a required number of miles to earn status in the program and thus get seat upgrades and other perks.
The so-called Medallion Qualification Dollars will be required to qualify for status in the 2015 Medallion program based on the price of tickets purchased, the airline said Thursday. The change will be effective Jan. 1, 2014 for 2015 and will not affect customers this year. Medallion Qualification Dollars are in addition to the existing Medallion Qualification Miles and Medallion Qualification Segments already used to determine status in the SkyMiles program.
- Silver status: $2,500 and 25,000 miles or 30 flight segments
- Gold status: $5,000 and 50,000 miles or 60 flight segments
- Platinum status: $7,5000 and 75,000 miles or 100 flight segments
- Diamond status: $12,500 and 125,000 miles or 140 flight segments
Delta has posted a FAQ page on its web site.
"These changes are a result of considerable research that we've conducted including conversations with hundreds of customers, many of whom expressed a desire to see the Medallion program truly target our best customers," Jeff Robertson, vice president of SkyMiles, said in a statement. "Adding a revenue component to the SkyMiles Medallion program ensures that our most valued customers receive the best program benefits and a more exclusive experience."
"More exclusive" means it's harder for the average person to reach the thresholds, thus freeing up premium seats for upgrades to the top-tier passengers, typically business travelers who fly on someone else's dime, book at the last minute and pay the most for their seats.
Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com, said those are the travelers who will benefit. But plenty won't. Among those who will be hurt by the new rules, according to Seaney:
- Those who achieve elite status solely through mileage running (buying cheap tickets on long flights to rack up miles).
- Those who mostly fly Delta partners where the spend may not be counted toward status.
- Those that don't spend over $2,000 per month on their branded credit card.
Government taxes and fees, often a hefty component of the price paid for a ticket, will not count toward earning Medallion Qualification Dollars. Neither will checked bag fees or any other ancillary fees, like priority seat purchases or in-flight meals.
There is one bright spot. "Whatever one thinks of the new rules, Delta has given their elite travelers a year's worth of notice," Seaney said. "Which has not been the case in past changes."
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