New York (CNN) – Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the company probably went “too far” in its controversial changes to the SkyMiles loyalty program and said there are plans for modifications.
“We need to make certain that we can serve our higher tiers with the level of premium experience that you deserve and you expect,” Bastian said at the Rotary Club of Atlanta earlier this week. “No question we probably went too far.”
Bastian did not confirm what changes are coming. Delta confirmed Bastian’s comments.
“We’re still assessing what we do but there will be modifications that we will make and you’ll hear about it sometime over the next few weeks,” Bastian said.
Bastian said a jump in the number of elite status holders turned into too much demand for Delta’s premium services, such as airport lounge access. It got to the point, he said, that the company couldn’t effectively serve those elite status holders, including upgrade certificates and agents on special phone lines.
During Covid, the number of diamond-levelmembers almost doubled, he said, after the company allowed status and miles to roll over while customers weren’t traveling.
“Our team wanted to kind of rip the Band-Aid off and didn’t want us to keep going through this every year with changes in nickel and diming and whatnot. So I think we moved too fast,” Bastian said.
When the moderator asked Bastian about the rewards program changes, the audience at the Atlanta Rotary Club booed.
In September, the company implemented changes that would make it more difficult for American Express cardholders to access Delta Sky Clubs and earn Medallion elite status, taking effect in 2025. Those with premium American Express cards would have lounge access cut from unlimited to as few as six visits per year.
For frequent fliers, the airline will also change how it awards Medallion elite status starting in 2024. There will only be one metric — Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQD) — and requirements are higher than what they are today. It’s also getting rid of the MQD waiver that popular Delta credit cards offered.
Rewards programs are an important tool for companies to acquire customers, learn more about their preferences, and promote brand loyalty. But while rewards members may love freebies and other perks, they’re equally quick to criticize companies for any tweaks.
Brands from Best Buy to Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks faced quick backlash when they implemented changes to their loyalty programs.