Delta CEO says carrier went 'too far' in SkyMiles changes, promises modifications after frequent flyer backlash

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Delta Air Lines Boeing 717-200 airplane as seen on the final approach landing at New York JFK John F. Kennedy International Airport, NYC, USA.

NurPhoto / Contributor

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the airline will make “modifications” in the next few weeks to its loyalty program after a recently announced overhaul that would make it more expensive for many travelers to earn elite status and get into airport lounges was met with a backlash from customers.

“No question we probably went too far,” Bastian said at the Rotary Club of Atlanta on Monday.

The program changes, which Delta unveiled earlier this month, would reward customers with elite status based on how much they spent, a model similar to that of American Airlines, and reduce access to Delta popular airport Sky Club lounges for many American Express cardholders.

JetBlue Airways tried to capitalize on some customers’ anger over Delta’s changes by offering frequent-flyer status matching, saying “we’ve made it easy for you to cozy up to a new loyalty program and see where it goes. “

Delta is dealing with an increase in elite travelers fueled by post-pandemic spending and pandemic spending. This has led to a long line of customers trying to enter its lounges. The airline and rivals including American and United have been racing to build bigger airport lounges to cater to swelling numbers of big spenders.

Bastian said the airline will announce the updated program changes in the coming weeks. A Delta spokesman declined to comment further on the changes.

“It’s gotten to the point, honestly, where we have so much demand for our premium product and services that are far in excess of our ability to serve it effectively in terms of our assets,” Bastian said.

He said that over Covid, the airline has doubled the number of Diamond Medallion status members.

David Neeleman, CEO of Breeze Airways and founder of JetBlue, told CNBC on Wednesday that he has Delta Medallion status and that he tries to use Delta’s airport lounges but that sometimes “there’s a big line and it’s not worth it. Delta last year announced several measures to curb overcrowding in the airport lounges. These included a ban on employees using them while flying standby, even with company travel privileges. The Atlanta-based airline also increased prices for regular customers to join the club.