Delta's frequent flier program changes; rewards spending, not miles

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Delta Air Lines is changing its frequent-flier program to favor passengers who buy the priciest tickets instead of those who fly the most miles. The changes, announced Wednesday, will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015, the airline said on its website.

It's a move to attract higher-spending business travelers, who often book flights on short notice and pay higher fares than leisure travelers, the Associated Press reports.

Beginning next year, Delta will base miles toward free flights on the amount the ticket costs. Right now, members of its SkyMiles program earn miles based on how far they fly — it doesn't matter whether they bought an expensive first-class seat or the cheapest ticket in economy.

Under the new plan, each dollar spent on a ticket will earn five to 11 rewards miles, rather than a mile earned for each one that is flown.

The change is designed to reward Delta’s frequent business travelers and others who spend more for tickets, according to Business Week -- to make elite flying status more elite again. Delta’s SkyMiles program has 92 million members in total, and it's been hearing complaints from top-spending customers about fewer upgrade availabilities and fewer perks, as the number of members considered elite increased.

“We’d like to provide more benefits to our premium customers,” said Jeff Robertson, vice president of the Delta SkyMiles program. “A lot of our customers fly us 10, 20 times a year, and we should reward them for that.”

Business Week reports that American and United are likely to follow Delta's lead, so they can also trim the numbers of elite customers in their frequent flier programs.

“Elite status was always intended to recognize and reward customers’ contribution to an airline’s bottom line,” Tim Winship, editor of FrequentFlier.com, wrote in June when United announced a tightening of its frequent flier program.

Delta, based in Atlanta, is the major carrier serving the Minneapois-St. Paul International Airport.

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