Delta Airlines announced major changes this week to its SkyMiles frequent flier program, starting in 2015. The biggest: Instead of earning mileage points based on the number of miles flown, awards will be based on the ticket price. For many of the 92 million SkyMiles members, that means a decrease of 60 percent or more in points earned.
Delta has published a mileage comparison calculator to make sense of it, and for many travelers the news is not good at all. Consider an economy class round trip between Los Angeles and New York, costing $408. Under the current program, a general SkyMiles member (one with no elite status) would earn 4,950 mileage points based on flight miles. Come next year, the award will be five times the fare, or 2,040 miles.
If that seems drastic, consider passengers with Diamond Medallion status, the airline’s best customers, who fly upwards of 125,000 miles per year on Delta. They currently receive a bonus of 125 percent for each mile flown, which comes to 11,137 miles for that same LAX-JFK round trip. Starting 2015, they’ll earn 11 points per dollar spent, which sounds like a lot but comes out to just 4,488 points. That’s about a 60 percent drop from the current award, and less than a passenger with no elite status would earn under the current program.
Delta says it is still working out the details of how SkyMiles members will earn points for tickets booked on its SkyTeam partner airlines, but expect some combination of mileage and paid fare.
So starting next year, it looks like the best way for travelers to earn miles is to spend more, on more expensive routes or business or first class. You can read the full details here.
Although other airlines have similar mileage programs to Delta’s new plan (Virgin America, JetBlue and Southwest, for example), Delta is the first of the so-called legacy carriers in the U.S. to go this route. I wouldn’t bet that the others, American and United, will wait very long before doing something similar.