Delta Increasing Spending Requirement for Elite Status By 20%

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In January 2013, Delta declared that 2013 flying for 2014 status would require a minimum ticket spend in addition to minimum miles flown. The revenue requirement was essentially set at 10 cents per mile — e.g. $2500 for 25,000 mile status, $5000 for 50,000 mile status and so on.

I considered the introduction of revenue requirements for status a big conceptual move, but one with limited effect in practice. At current ticket prices, it’s hard to spend less than 10 cents a mile on average for tickets.

And when Delta introduced revenue-based mileage earning which goes into effect this year, something else underscored just how low the threshold was set for status: the “break-even” fare to do as well next year earning miles under a revenue-based system as from earning one mile per mile flown was set at 20 cents a mile.

The ticket cost needed to earn as many miles was 20 cents, but the ticket cost needed to spend enough for elite status and upgrades was just 10 cents. You just knew Delta thought that was out of whack.

So here it comes…

Delta is raising the minimum spend requirements for status by 20%, the amount you’ll have to spend in 2015 in order to qualify for 2016 status.

  • Silver status will increase the spend requirement from $2500 to $3000
  • Gold status will increase the spend requirement from $5000 to $6000
  • Platinum status will increase the spend requirement from $7500 to $9000
  • Diamond Status will increase the spend requirement from $12,500 to $15,000

You can still get avoid the spending requirement entirely with an account address outside the United States or by spending $25,000 during the year on a Delta co-brand American Express card.

They really want to make sure they aren’t giving any of their flyers a good deal — no more elite upgrades even for high revenue customers when flying on the cheapest fare; a cap on partner points transferred into Skymiles; hiding vital flight information from informed customers; limitations in booking partner award tickets; restrictions on upgrades for the ‘good’ domestic routes.

They think they have the best product and fares are up. They don’t need to be generous with their loyalty program right now (so much for the slogan that ‘loyalty programs should be loyal).

Instead we get a new system that is, in total, mind-numbingly complex since you separately earn:

  • Qualifying dollars towards elite status
  • Qualifying miles towards elite status
  • Redeemable miles based on the cost of a ticket

Three separate things, in different amounts.

As soon as the economy turns, or the industry starts getting more fiercely competitive, it will get even more so — because Delta will again need to leverage a loyalty program to convince customers to buy their commodity seats. And we’ll no doubt see bonus qualifying dollar earning, or promotions that waive the revenue requirements.

But for now they’re sailing high, and want to fire their customers who are buying the fares Delta offers but that aren’t deemed good enough.

(HT: Brian)

Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.


About Gary Leff


Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel – a topic he has covered since 2002.

Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the “World’s Top Travel Experts” by Conde’ Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I would put money on the fact that there are business travelers out there who intentionally spend more on flights to meet these requirements. It’s a smart move my DL, and may cause an increased need for corporate travel audit. The credit card spend waiver does makes me wonder how much they make off of that card.

  2. @Gary,

    You may as well duplicate the post, and then do a find on the word “Delta” and replace with “United.” You’ll get a jump on the competition, and be considered a prophet.

  3. I am stunned by the complexity of most modern-day USA frequent flyer programs. What percentage of members have even a basic knowledge of these rules (beyond the idea that you somehow earn miles by flying, and you try to later redeem those miles for free trips)? Maybe it doesn’t matter.

    I also wonder how many USA travelers have suddenly “moved” overseas. Are there reports of anyone getting audited — kind of like people taking too many hidden city flights? It’s probably not a huge number, though, given: 1) the complexity of figuring out this loophole; 2) the relatively modest threshold for meeting the spending requirements; and 3) the relative unattractiveness of gaming the system for skypesos.

  4. Hola from Mexico my American Delta friends. I just “moved” tonight. Maybe I should open a mailboxes facility in Mexico for Delta customers. I could charge a small fee and reward you with AA miles for your business 🙂

  5. I am SHOCKED that they haven’t increased the credit card spend requirement and/or tiered it. I guarantee that will be coming eventually.

  6. As someone spending 2-3x the diamond requirement who will barely make platinum this year, I welcome this change.

  7. Moving to Mexico tomorrow
    Love loopholes
    There is no one I would rather fly
    from word class customer service that rivals Emirates and Singapore and robust availability of award seats it can’t get any better than Delta
    Besides I like to be forced to find award inventory both outbound and inbound
    It’s just to easy to book one ways on other airlines !
    Where’s the frustration if it wasn’t for Delta?
    I like a challenge that can’t be finished!
    No one rewards me like Delta and I like all my colleagues and friends thinking money doesn’t matter to me and being screwed is the best way to be thanked for my loyalty

  8. I’m just waiting for them to start charging YQ on their own award flights. THAT will be the final nail in the coffin I think.

  9. I’m curious, what does this really matter?

    IOW, how many people who fly 50K miles or more a year on Delta do NOT have a Delta Amex card?

    It’s easy to be under the MQDs limits, I’m at 100K MQMs and < $5300 MQDs right now, but I have the Amex card and hit the spend wavier, so couldn't care less. So what are the getting by doing this?

    Oh, and @Gary, this won't help @Kyle S become Diamond, but if it makes fewer other people become Diamond, he wins, because as a PM with higher costing tickets, he'll win the upgrade lottery against them.

    A large part of airline status IS a zero sum game, after all.

  10. @kyle s, My guess is your are not spending a dime. You are getting your company to pay for your travel. Is your company as happy as you are about these changes?

  11. I agree with ncsam. This change only “enhances” the conflict of interest between companies and clients who pay and those receiving the ff benefits.

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