Delta overhauls its loyalty program as more Americans splurge for status in the skies

Friday, September 15, 2023 by Snacks
When the buffet is already empty (Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images)

When the buffet is already empty (Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images)

Clutch your Biscoff cookies… Delta announced drastic changes to its loyalty program, upping the criteria for elite status and lounge access. Previously, Delta fliers could join its “Medallion” program ranks by flying a set # of miles, booking a set # of flights, or spending a set amount of $$. Beginning next year, only the third metric — which Delta calls “Medallion Qualifying Dollars” or MQDs — will count toward fliers’ status (silver, gold, platinum, and diamond).

  • Easier earning: More purchases will rack up MQDs than before, like car rentals, hotel stays, and getaway packages booked through Delta Vacations.

  • Steep ascent: For the second year in a row, Delta is raising the bar for how many MQDs fliers must earn to climb the Medallion ranks. In that time, it’s jacked up the entry requirement for diamond status by 133%.

  • Lounge layover: Delta is also limiting the # of times eligible cardholders can visit its Sky Clubs, and barring anyone in basic economy (even Amex holders).

Crowded lounges… it’s not just your imagination. More travelers are signing up for rewards programs. Enrollment in American Airlines’ AAdvantage program was up 60% earlier this year from 2019, while United said its cobranded-card signups jumped 30%. In response to the surge, American upped its requirements to join AAdvantage, while American Express started charging platinum cardholders $50 per lounge guest.

  • “Downgrade apocalypse”: what one expert called the first quarter of this year, saying about 20M US travel loyalty members had their status downgraded.


If everyone’s special, no one feels special… one of Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s favorite sayings. As more folks sign up for rewards programs and credit cards to gain perks, airlines want to make exclusive, well, exclusive again. By centering its loyalty program on dollars spent, Delta is focused on catering to its biggest splurgers, rather than growing loyalty members.

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