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Delta Air Lines’ bid to reduce the benefits of its SkyMiles loyalty program has faced a wave of negative public reaction, with the airline’s CEO acknowledging that the company “probably went too far” with the proposed changes announced in mid-September.

The airline unveiled a major change for 2024 to how elite status in SkyMiles is determined, making it based solely on how much money customers spend rather than including miles traveled in the calculation. Delta also plans to raise the threshold for achieving premium status for SkyMiles and reduce how many MQDs are earned on flights with partner airlines, airline awards experts noted.

“Beginning January 1, 2024, all SkyMiles Members will earn towards their 2025 Status and beyond only through Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs),” according to Delta, which pitched the new formula as a “simpler and more rewarding” SkyMiles program.

The airline also moved to restrict access to its Delta Sky Clubs. Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, Delta SkyMiles Platinum and Platinum Business American Express Card holders will no longer get access to the airport lounges and access to American Express Card members traveling on basic economy tickets with Delta partner airlines (Air France, KLM, Westjet, and others) also will be barred.

Delta’s Answer to the Backlash

In late September, however, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told the Rotary Club of Atlanta that “there will be modifications that we will make, and you will hear about it sometime over the next few weeks.”

“Our team wanted to kind of rip the BandAid off and didn’t want to have to keep going through this every year with changes and nickel and diming and whatnot, and I think we moved too fast,” Bastian said, according to published reports.

Rather than prompting a wave of copycat changes by other airlines, the Delta announcement gave its competitors an opportunity to tout the benefits of their own loyalty programs and attempt to lure Delta loyalists to their own programs.