Did Delta’s SkyMiles update for 2021 get lost in the mail?

Dec 18, 2020

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The holiday season is upon us, and Delta frequent flyers still have a big-ticket item on their holiday wish-lists.

The carrier has yet to update its Medallion elite-qualifying criteria in light of the depressed demand for travel.

Of course, the Atlanta-based carrier could deliver customers a last-minute holiday surprise, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

In fact, both American and United — Delta’s two largest competitors — have already reduced the qualifying thresholds by as much as 33%. That’s an apparent recognition that 2021 won’t be the year when we see passenger volumes return to pre-pandemic levels.

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Additionally, Delta’s Big 3 rivals have also made it easier to fast track to elite status in the new year. American will roll over all elite-qualifying activity earned from Oct. 1, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020 into 2021, giving flyers an early-year boost to achieving status.

United, on the other hand, is incentivizing first-quarter travel, with a promotion offering up to double Premier Qualifying Points (PQPs) for the first three qualifying trips of 2021.

Yet, without a peep from Atlanta, Delta passengers are left wondering if there’s any news coming before the end of the year.

Is Delta dropping the ball? Or maybe the carrier thinks that its most loyal flyers will take to the skies in pre-pandemic numbers, despite the raging pandemic?

For now, Delta says there’s nothing to announce regarding reduced requirements.

“We’re extending current Medallion Status through 2021 and rolling over 2020 Medallion Qualification Miles to 2021 to give Medallion Members a head start on qualifying for Status in 2022,” an airline spokesperson told TPG. “We’ll evaluate further adjustments to support the needs of our most loyal customers in the new year.”

Though Delta hasn’t yet reduced the qualifying criteria for earning status in 2021, it may not have much of a choice going forward unless it decides to significantly thin its elite ranks.

With international flying still largely off-limits for most Americans, earning 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and $15,000 Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MQDs) just isn’t happening for many current top-tier Diamonds.

What’s perhaps most interesting, however, is flashing back to earlier in the pandemic, when Delta led the way with elite status extensions for all its members.

In April, the airline extended all currently valid Medallion status through Jan. 31, 2022, meaning that flyers didn’t have to step foot on a plane in 2020 to keep their status through the 2021 program year.

As part of the news, Delta also announced that it would roll over all MQMs earned in 2020 to 2021.

Sure, this move definitely makes it easier for some frequent flyers to earn status in 2021. However, there’s still a large portion of the population that hasn’t yet flown since the pandemic hit. For those, rolling over MQMs is effectively useless and doesn’t make it any easier to requalify in 2021.

Even if you have taken to the skies in 2020 — and plan to fly enough in 2021 to hit the MQM threshold — you still need to hit the full Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD) requirement in 2021, which could be a tough task with fares at historic lows and business travel still largely off-limits.

While Delta was the first major U.S. airline to announce status extensions in April, it now appears to be the last to reduce next year’s qualifying criteria — if it ultimately does so at all.

Related: All of the elite qualification changes you need to know about for 2021

For years, Delta’s been a trailblazer in the industry. But it’s had a few recent stumbles, including a seemingly “rushed” decision to eliminate change fees and an usually poor operational performance over Thanksgiving, leaving at least some loyalists questioning what’s going on in Atlanta.

“While the challenges of COVID has affected every airline, Delta has literally had all year to think about what changes it’ll make to SkyMiles,” said Henry Harteveldt, president at Atmosphere Research Group, in an interview with TPG.

He continued to explain that “it’s almost like the wax is melting in the wings of Delta Air Lines. I’m not sure what’s causing this, but between the lack of transparency on SkyMiles, the Thanksgiving meltdown, the spartan inflight experience and the lack of creativity in the route network, something is not quite right.”

To be fair, Delta recently introduced a status boost offer for select cobranded cardmembers. Those eligible for the promotion can earn 25% more MQMs for all spend on the eligible cards in 2021.

Still, — like Delta’s MQM rollover — this promotion doesn’t help make it easier to earn MQDs, nor does it help those who earn status with butt-in-seat miles. Note that there is an MQD waiver based on eligible cobranded spend — $25,000 for Silver, Gold and Platinum and $250,000 for Diamond — but Delta hasn’t lowered any of the thresholds for 2021.

So, with the holidays right around the corner, Delta frequent-flyers may be left hoping for a last-minute turn of events.

If not, many will enter 2021 with a fully reset status tracker — and a really far goalpost that likely won’t be achievable for most.

Featured photo by Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

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