UPDATE: This change is now official.

The Points Guy scooped the world yesterday on news that Delta is raising its Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirements for 2016. According to TPG you’ll need to meet the following spend requirements in 2015 for the 2016 status year.

  • Silver Medallion MQDs increasing to $3,000 (Currently $2,500)
  • Gold Medallion MQDs increasing to $6,000 (Currently $5,000)
  • Platinum Medallion MQDs increasing to $9,000 (Currently $7,500)
  • Diamond Medallion MQDs increasing to $15,000 (Currently $12,500)

You’ll still be able to waive the MQD requirement by spending $25,000 on your SkyMiles Amex cards.

MJ’s Take

We’ll have to wait and see if this actually happens because there is no official word from Delta as I type this post. I never expected MQD requirements to be static over time, but I will say that I had not been looking for a 20 percent increase the year after first implementing the requirement. Either the initial amounts were too low or Delta thinks they can get away with this. They can. Notably, the $25,000 MQD waiver remains in place. I’d pontificated that I might blow off card spending requirements next year and just take what I can get in the elite status world. This news may or may not impact my decision on that.

I’m going to make Platinum Medallion again this year, and I’m certainly going to spend $7,500 and hit $25K on my Amex. Hitting $9K in spend on Delta airfare is not something that I’m going to be able to do consistently, some years yes…some no. My ultimate decision likely depends on how much I love my second year as a Platinum Medallion. For sure, this is one more indication that Delta sees itself as something different. Whether they should feel that way or not is a question that will only be answered in time. Maybe we’ll hear something today from Delta on the MQD change. Monitor the discussion Milepoint here, and FlyerTalk here.

MJ, October 10, 2014

MJ Logo5



#InsideDelta – A Look Behind the Scenes at Delta Air Lines (Part 1)

#InsideDelta – A Look Behind the Scenes at Delta Air Lines (Part 2)

#InsideDelta – Two Questions I Wish I’d Asked Delta CEO Richard Anderson (Part 3)

In my final piece on the #InsideDelta event I attended last week, I’m going to share some details of our chat with Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson. Our meeting with Richard was the last thing prior to dinner. We were slightly behind schedule, but he spent quite a bit of time with us. Frankly, he seemed to enjoy talking with us. He greeted each of us individually, then sat down to chat. We went through our day’s events, and I immediately caught on to something – he knew the names of the individuals we’d met with from the tower manager to the engine shop supervisor. What I write below is taken from my notes of the conversation. I may paraphrase a bit based on my handwriting, but these are the highlights as I recall them.


On Seattle

  • Delta’s desire in Seattle is to build a hub.
  • Seattle has a bigger local traffic base than Minneapolis, and Minneapolis has great local traffic.

On SkyMiles 2015

  • Miles are no longer an effective measure.
  • Bank cards pioneered what they are doing.
  • SkyMiles is incredibly valuable to Delta and American Express.

Delta Culture

  • Delta’s culture is remarkable. “I hope you can feel it when you walk around here.”
  • Really about making this a place where people want to be.
  • He was personally involved in plans for the Delta Flight Museum.

On Operations in Atlanta

  • 80 percent improvement in baggage numbers since 2007.
  • Replaced bag system.

On Time Management

  • I’m pretty efficient. There are only 12 emails in my inbox right now.
  • Stay on top of homework.
  • Never touch paper twice. (MJ notes – I may have heard angels sing after that remark. Wish more managers lived that way)
  • Sometimes you have to say no to calendar events.

Advice for Our Youngest Group Member Looking for an Airline Career

  • Complete your studies with a focus on finance.
  • Take every internship opportunity you can get.

He was already late for an appointment, and probably stayed longer than intended, but I’m not exaggerating when I say he seemed to enjoy talking with us. That said, if I had the time back, I would have found a way to ask two more questions.

  1. What long-term structural business problem was Delta attempting to solve with a switch to a revenue-based SkyMiles program?
  2. If you had to pick the single most important aspect from legacy NWA and legacy DAL to preserve in a merged airline, what would they be?

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get an answer after the fact. :) What question would you have asked?

Parting Thoughts on #InsideDelta

I think Delta was pretty brave to host a bunch of aviation-enthusiasts with smart phones and Twitter accounts. On the other hand, even some of their staunchest critics would agree that Delta is running the best big U.S. airline from an operational and product perspective. This event showcased what it takes to deliver that kind of product to its customers. You know what? It takes a heck of a lot of work, and a lot of moving parts have to work together to make it happen. My thanks to Delta for letting me tag along.

-MJ, June 28, 2014

Travel Company Disclosures Updated June 28, 2014


I’m frequently accused of a lot of things when it comes to Delta Air Lines. Words like apologist, misguided, and Kool Aid consumer are used. I suppose if a mileage program were the only reason I traveled, those words and perhaps a few others might be on target. A look at the top 3 reasons I fly Delta are in order.

# 1 – A reliable airline matters.

# 2 – I continue to be pleased with the level of care I receive as a SkyMiles Medallion.

# 3 – I’ve never walked off a Delta flight and said “wow, I can’t wait to fly someone else.”

There’s a bit of unrest surrounding SkyMiles 2015. For sure, it will be different and some customers will leave if they haven’t already. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again. If you fly Delta, you need to have a backup frequent flier currency. Ultimate Rewards work nicely, and I enjoy a rather healthy balance of AA/US miles too. On the other hand, if a frequency program is the only reason someone is flying a particular airline, that needs a second look.

Airlines are for profit companies in the business of transporting people and cargo between points on a map. Yes, they sell miles too, and we are right to expect something in return for those miles we accrue. Will SkyMiles 2015 correct some of what has been wrong with SkyMiles? I hope so. Will it matter in the end, I don’t think so. In reality, most people pick an airline based on convenience and price, not on the quality of the frequent flier plan. Based on recent financial performance, I’d say that Delta has invested in providing a product that people are willing to pay for. As long as they keep doing that, SkyMiles 2015 will arrive and not that many people will notice. And I’ll keep drinking the Delta Kool Aid because they get me where I want to go comfortably and reliably.

-MJ, May 30, 2014

About a year ago, I wrote Santa and asked for just three things from SkyMiles. It wasn’t that I did not desire more, I just thought it best to pick three improvements that Delta could make to the program and hope for the best. For posterity’s sake lets review my wishes.

  • One-way Awards
  • A Working Award Calendar
  • Improved Systemwide Upgrades

In late 2013, Delta actually announced improved SWUs (Regional for Platinums, Global or Regional for Diamonds). Of course, they took away complimentary upgrade eligibility on their Business Elite transcons which really hurt some fliers. In announcing the 2015 SkyMiles program, Delta committed to one-way awards and an improved award calendar. Further there is at least some evidence that their award availability has already improved a bit. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

While I’m disappointed that we have to wait until 2015 to get one-ways and an award calendar that works, there is a tiny bit of promise in SkyMiles 2015. Admittedly, I haven’t talked about redeemable earning yet. I am one who will be slightly better off under the new rules for earning so on the whole, assuming Delta executes, SkyMiles will be a better program for me. Delta seems to have the market cornered within the airline industry on executing things well. Am I wrong to be a tiny bit hopeful about the future?

-MJ, May 19, 2014


Lucky and this FT thread have the specifics of the most recent adjustment in the Delta-Alaska codeshare relationship covered. The cities dropped are by no means all of the two carriers’ codeshare markets. I do not think the end of this relationship is near, but that does not mean it isn’t coming.

A Few Speculative Thoughts

I’m fairly confident the idea of buying Alaska Airlines has circulated around Delta HQ for a while. Believe me, that idea has circulated around the offices of another airline I know too. I’m also pretty confident that there is not a snowball’s chance in hades that another big airline merger gets approved in this country anytime soon. Delta has made a point of building an operation in Seattle that meets most definitions of a hub airport, all the while piling into many of Alaska’s core markets. The frequent flyer poaching competition going on between the two is well documented. In what remains a relatively low margin business, each customer taken away from another airline has to hurt somewhere. Delta is a really big and well-run airline, but Alaska is no slouch. They are extremely well managed, and I expect enjoy some intense loyalty in the Seattle market. It’s an interesting dynamic to watch for this #AvGeek.

When Delta announced its changes to SkyClub membership options and access, many touted Alaska Boardroom membership as a way around increased fees since it still included guest access. Alaska MileagePlan is frequently mentioned as a solution to SkyMiles’ difficulties by many (even me). Whether a financially significant enough number of Sky Club and SkyMiles members would actually act on that or not remains to be seen. In the end, little things like a few club memberships and mileage credit may only add up to a rounding error in the value of the partnership. Airlines are now managing to make money by moving people between points on a map. (le gasp)

Apparently, Delta has concluded that they are better off financially by feeding themselves rather than paying Alaska to do so. In the end, Delta is going to do what it thinks is good for Delta. Does that mean this partnership is on the ropes? Time will tell. Things sure have changed since the good feelings of this October 2012 press release, huh?

-MJ, March 11, 2014


Yesterday, I penned my “last word” on SkyMiles until we see the new award chart post. I might have provided a short opinion piece on the history of the domestic airline industry too. Sorry. :) Hey…it’s my name at the top, but on to our show. When I typed that on Tuesday night, I had no idea that I’d be writing on SkyMiles again so soon. As I wrote here earlier, Delta actually decided to go ahead and release its 2015 award charts. Now that I’ve had a little time to soak things in, I wanted to offer some additional commentary.

There is good news in that there was no bloodbath as a few had expected. Delta says that “of the 44 Award level pricing changes, more than 95 percent of the changes reflect a decrease in the miles needed for Award Travel redemption.” As far as I can tell, that’s the case. I rarely redeem for coach travel, so I focused my study on first class and Business Elite where the news is mostly OK.

Screen Shot 2014-03-06 at 5.12.53 PM

Your bread and butter domestic first redemptions remain unchanged, save two extra tier options (Level 2 and Level 4) at 65,000 and 90,000 roundtrip respectively. The former mid-tier price now known as Level 3 actually dropped to 75,000. Redemptions to Europe remain mostly unchanged as well, with reductions at the former mid- and top-tier prices. You can click on the image for an excerpt of the chart, or here for all of the new U.S. and Canada originating award charts.

Why Did They Wait?

I have my suspicions. While I’ve never agreed with the argument, I really do believe that someone at Delta convinced themselves that an early release of this information was tantamount to price signaling. In fact, they’ve said as much in the past. While no one resorted to violence that I am aware of, I believe the emotional reaction to the announced changes without inclusion of an award chart might have been loud enough to convince someone at Delta to take a second look at their conclusions. Believe me, I’m only speculating here. Nonetheless, I commend Delta for being willing to not just bury its head in the sand on this one. As I said yesterday, not releasing the award chart was the wrong decision. Correcting the mistake, the right thing to do.

What Does it Really Mean?

In my opinion, not that much. I think it’s great that Delta released the 2015 award chart so we can now make better informed decisions. In the end, a lot of SkyMiles members are going to be earning fewer miles than they have been so just because there’s no disaster on the redeemable miles side does not mean that you are not negatively impacted. Remember – you have to do what’s good for you.

The Real Test is Yet to Come

I’ve already written that these changes are not a bad thing for me. They are not a bad thing for many. In my mind, the real test will be in 2015. We have a promised award calendar repair on the way. We have promised better availability at the lower levels on the way. Color me hopeful that Delta will keep those promises.  Right now, I have a Delta flight to book.

-MJ, March 6, 2014

The 2015 SkyMiles award charts are now appearing on Delta.com. My first impression is that these aren’t bad, but I have not done a complete analysis. I am expecting some sort of announcement from Delta very soon. In the meantime, have a look at the new award charts for yourself.

Edited: Here is the complete text of Delta’s press release. I will have some thoughts on this development in a post later today.




Mar 6, 2014

ATLANTA, March 6, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) released the 2015 SkyMiles U.S. Award redemption charts today as part of its commitment to inform members of upcoming SkyMiles program improvements. Of the 44 Award level pricing changes, more than 95 percent of the changes reflect a decrease in the miles needed for Award Travel redemption by SkyMiles members.

Delta recently introduced a new mileage earning structure and redemption options for SkyMiles members. Today, members can access U.S. Award chart online at delta.com/skymiles2015 which will be effective for new Award Tickets booked beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Customers will continue to have access to every seat on every Delta flight as an Award seat with no blackout dates.

“The most consistent feedback we received from our SkyMiles members was a desire to improve their ability to use miles and provide more access to Awards at the lowest levels,” said Jeff Robertson, vice president – SkyMiles. “The changes in our 2015 SkyMiles program will give our members more access to lower priced Award travel, the ability to select a seat on any Delta flight, with no blackout dates and new options such as One-Way Awards and Miles + Cash. All of these changes demonstrate our commitment to making mileage redemption better for every SkyMiles member.”

The new SkyMiles U.S. Award chart is available at delta.com/skymiles2015.

With the release of the U.S. Award chart, members can learn even more about Delta’s 2015 SkyMiles program including how the new five-tier Award structure will be implemented. The lowest level for SkyMiles Saver Awards will remain at 25,000 miles plus taxes and fees for an Economy Class Award ticket for travel within the U.S. andCanada excluding Hawaii. The introduction of two additional redemption tiers will offer members more price points for Awards and is designed to complement new features such as new One-Way Award tickets which will start as low as 12,500 miles plus taxes and fees within the U.S. and Canada excluding Hawaii and the ability to redeem Miles + Cash Award options. In addition, members will experience significant improvements to award-redemption functionality at delta.com and Delta reservations in 2015.

In 2013, frequent flyers redeemed more than 271 billion miles in the SkyMiles program for more than 11 million Award redemptions.

Delta and the SkyMiles Program

Now in its 33rd year, SkyMiles is one of the longest-running and most successful loyalty programs in the travel industry. Delta is the only major airline that offers elite perks such as unlimited complimentary upgrades, no mileage expiration, no Award fees, a published Diamond Medallion tier and rollover Medallion Qualification Miles. The SkyMiles program offers many ways to redeem frequent flyer miles, including airline tickets on Delta and 28 partner airlines, mileage upgrades, car rentals, hotel stays and Delta Sky Club memberships. For more information on the SkyMiles program, Medallion status and mileage-redemption options, visitdelta.com/skymiles.

Delta Air Lines serves nearly 165 million customers each year. This year, Delta was named the 2014 Airline of the Year by Air Transport World magazine and was named to FORTUNE magazine’s top 50 Most Admired Companies in addition to being named the most admired airline for the third time in four years. With an industry-leadingglobal network, Delta and the Delta Connection carriers offer service to 324 destinations in 59 countries on six continents. Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta employs nearly 80,000 employees worldwide and operates a mainline fleet of more than 700 aircraft. The airline is a founding member of the SkyTeam global alliance and participates in the industry’s leading trans-Atlantic joint venture with Air France-KLM and Alitalia as well as a newly formed joint venture with Virgin Atlantic. Including its worldwide alliance partners, Delta offers customers more than 15,000 daily flights, with hubs in AmsterdamAtlantaCincinnatiDetroitMinneapolis-St. PaulNew York-JFKNew York-LaGuardiaParis-Charles de GaulleSalt Lake City and Tokyo-Narita. Delta has invested billions of dollars in airport facilities, global products, services and technology to enhance the customer experience in the air and on the ground. Additional information is available at delta.com, Twitter @Delta,Google.com/+DeltaFacebook.com/delta and Delta’s blog takingoff.delta.com.

Terms and conditions:

For full terms and conditions, please visit delta.com/skymiles2015. All SkyMiles program rules and membership guidelines apply. To review the rules, please visit delta.com/skymiles. Other restrictions may apply. Offers, prices, rules and benefits subject to change without notice.

2015 Award chart prices are compared to current Award chart prices for travel on or after Jun. 1, 2014.

I’ve been thinking about this since Delta first announced its transition to a new revenue based program last week. I really can’t fit all the words describing this post inside the space of a reasonable title. With that, let me try a full description – My Last Word on SkyMiles Until We See the New Award Chart and Three Reasons Why I Am Staying For Now Other Than I Live in Atlanta.” There, how’s that?

Let’s start with a few facts. First, SkyMiles is evolving and I don’t think there is a single thing all the noise in the world can do about it. Like it or not, Delta Air Lines has a different vision for their loyalty program. Many do not agree with that vision. Who is correct remains to be determined, but I do not think that any of the airline programs are immune from change in the long term. I’ve said this before, but the real contribution to the bottom line of an individual customer is going to figure heavily going forward, and a “mile” is no longer the measure of value it once was. I am under no illusion that I am all that valuable to Delta. That said, I’m a Platinum Medallion who spends more and costs less than other Platinum Medallions, and no doubt some Diamond Medallion members. Tell me I’m just doing things wrong if you want.

Second, whether I think Delta is right to consider spend as the primary (but not the only) factor in value or not (and for the record, I do think they are at least partially right), they haven’t done the best job of rolling out a change in the world of airline loyalty that is so different than things have been for so long. Introducing change so drastic without the complete picture, the award chart, was the wrong decision. I actually asked a Delta spokesperson about this, and the response was that “we’re looking at this feedback now.” Perhaps the yelling has been loud enough. We will see. Finally, Delta did not just make up something this huge overnight or on its own. Rumors and innuendo have been rolling around for years about concerns with ballooning amounts of outstanding miles, and I assure you that this is not just a Delta issue. I have no idea if the industry has been “over rewarding.” I’m pretty sure the balance of miles outstanding has grown beyond an ideal level, but that’s not entirely our fault, is it?

In the end, a lot of the drama surrounding this change will turn out to be nothing more than noise even if it could have been managed better. That’s not to say that I do not think Delta will lose any customers over this. I certainly think they will, and they will not all be “low value.” I just don’t know if the customers they lose will be missed all that much within a restructured Delta, and more importantly, a restructured industry. It is easy to say that this is just the result of too many mergers and a lack of competition. Surely, competition has been reduced in the airline industry, but has it been reduced that much? Right here in Atlanta, I can fly at least four carriers, and sometimes more to just about anywhere I want to go. Is that enough? I think so, even if I could once choose from 10. Given that I really do like my miles and elite status, all things being equal, I don’t look at making a connection as a deal breaker.

I can think of no other industry where so much wealth has been transferred from the pockets of shareholders, the companies they own, and the people they employ into the pockets of consumers than that of the U.S. airline industry in the last 30 years or so, especially since 9/11/01. What is happening now is merely one piece of the end game of a great balancing act, and if the pendulum ultimately swings too far I have a bit of faith that the market will correct things over time.

Now that you are good and exercised, I’ll share three reasons why I will continue to fly Delta. While a loyalty program can no doubt be leveraged to purchase customers, I have to wonder if the underlying service a company provides shouldn’t matter more?

# 1 – A reliable airline matters.

# 2 – I continue to be pleased with the level of care I receive as a SkyMiles Medallion.

# 3 – I’ve never walked off a Delta flight and said “wow, I can’t wait to fly someone else.”

In closing, do not call me a Delta “apologist” even if you want to. They absolutely can do enough to send me away. I’m just waiting for the mileage program end game to play out. In the end, I’ll do what’s best for me. As I’ve always said, that’s what you should do too.

-MJ, March 5, 2014

Well, what a week this has been. I think we all knew it was coming, but when the Delta hammer finally came down, it still took a lot of people by surprise. I’m not surprised by the reaction from most quarters. You know my thoughts on this specific action by Delta, and on mileage programs in general. I by no means think “the end is near,” but things are probably going to change for all of us eventually.

Other airlines will be watching the developments with great interest. I do not expect any drastic changes from American or United in the near term. We all know that American is at the beginning of its integration with US Airways. In short, they’ve got bigger fish to fry right now. That said, I expect the consumer reaction to Delta’s move to figure into planning for the new combined AAdvantage program. It’s generally known that there was some interest in moving to a revenue based program in Tempe. It’s hard for me to imagine that thinking has changed very much, bigger fish to fry or not. As for United, I doubt they are technologically capable of such a project at the moment. Further, they recently made some big changes with their program, and it might be a little soon to rush out with a brand new revenue based MileagePlus.

As for my unsolicited advice – Delta has changed the equation without giving us all the factors. I “get” the argument of releasing the award chart in advance being tantamount to signaling pricing, even if I do not agree with it. One wonders why Delta’s lawyers have reached a conclusion that no other airline has on this question. Rolling out such a big change with only half the picture was bound to be troubling for many. Conspiracy theories abound. My unsolicited advice for Delta would be to make darn sure the new award calendar really works, that availability really does improve, and that improved availability not all be at stratospheric levels. And give us the darn award chart already.

-MJ, March 1, 2014


Did time just stop? For some of us, perhaps. I’m speaking, of course, about yesterday’s announcement from Delta Air Lines about changes to its SkyMiles program coming in 2015. I can’t say I’m surprised. You might remember a couple of pieces from me revolving around the idea that the dog is finally starting to wag the tail, and not the other way around. Whenever I hear that airline frequent flyer programs are profitable on their own, a fact that is no doubt true to a point, I’m reminded of a saying we used to have during my airline manager days when we were under the hammer to cut costs – Think about how much money we could save if we just stopped flying airplanes.

It was easy to become addicted to an industry living “paycheck to paycheck” with a short term focus. In the end, we wound up with too many miles chasing too few seats. Capacity discipline and managing real businesses for real profit have brought us here. However, we didn’t create the system, the airlines did, and they own part of the blame for where we are. That said, things were bound to change, and now they have.

While I’m not surprised Delta moved forward with the inevitable, in truth, I have no idea if the program they introduced on Wednesday is exactly where things are headed. Will this spread to the remaining big airlines? Ultimately, I think the answer to that is yes though there is room for each airline to put its own stamp on things. Southwest, which carries more domestic passengers than any other airline by the way, made the move and last time I checked they still had customers. I think it’s not a matter of if, but when the others move forward with some level of change.

Without a doubt, this was a big move by Delta. Risky? Indeed. Only time will tell if it works. Here’s a question for you? With a move this big, how would you undo it if you wanted to? No matter what airline you fly, it is not likely that your loyalty program remains untouched forever by Delta’s latest move. Maybe that was the point.

-MJ, February 27, 2014

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