When we're planning to take a trip, the first thing…
Frequent flier programs have historically been based on how many miles you fly, so someone making semi-weekly round trips from LAX to IAD (Washington Dulles) racks up 2,288 miles each way and banks tons of points that can be used towards free flights and airline upgrades. It makes sense to reward travelers who spend a lot of time on planes, using the airlines services. But as air travel has gotten more competitive, prices have dropped and frequent fliers are often the savviest when it comes to seeking out low priced fares. Frequent travelelers want to get the most miles for the lowest price possible, and if you are diligent about checking and cross-checking airfare sites, it is possible to fly very far for very little.
Rewarding high-mileage, low priced flights isn’t in the airline’s best interest. People paying full price for tickets – business travelers, business class travelers and first class passengers – are paying two, three or ten times as much for a ticket as bargain-hunters in coach and Delta has decided to reward the passenger who pays $19,000 for a first class ticket a little more than the person who paid $350 for a cheap seat on the same trip. Their frequent flier program is getting a makeover as of January 2015. From that point on, miles will be based on how much you pay for your ticket.
As of January 2015, when you fly from New York to L.A., for example, on Delta for that rock bottom $129 price, you may earn not the usual 2550 or so miles (based on the actual distance), but rather five miles per airfare dollar (or a paltry 645 miles). You’ll earn two more miles per dollar if you charge your fare to a Delta credit card, but that’s still only 903 miles. If you’re an uber-frequent flyer (a “diamond medallion”) in Delta’s program, you’ll get 11 miles per dollar on that $129 fare, but that’s still only 1419 miles, 1000 less than in the old program.
Of course if you’re flying on a $2500 business class fare you’ll make out like a bandit [with 12,500 miles, almost five times more than the old program]….
The only good news is that the new rules don’t affect qualifying for Delta elite status (silver, diamond, etc.), which will still be based on miles flown… [after] new minimum spend requirements introduced by both Delta and United (starting at $2500 per year to achieve the lowest status) [are met].
Bargain hunters – like Rob and I – can still seek out those low fares, but there will be fewer airline rewards to gain from sticking with bargains only, even if you mostly travel on one airline because other airlines are likely to follow in Delta’s footsteps. That said, we can use the money we save on tickets for the occasional upgrade, lounge access or our own additional perks (like hotel upgrades) and still come out ahead on our travels.