Delta Introduces Rollover Miles

Delta, Frequent Flier Programs

I’ve decided to put a very early Tuesday post out this week. In fact, it’s still Monday here on the west coast. But since Delta took the time to brief me about their 2010 SkyMiles changes, I figured I’d put my post out the second they lifted the embargo. So here we are.

Besides adding a new Diamond tier for super cool, awesome frequent fliers (comes with knee pads to give to customer service employees to use when kissing your butt), they’ve done something pretty interesting. They’ve become the AT&T of the airline industry by adding rollover elite qualifying miles.

So how does the rollover game work? Well, any miles you fly above and beyond the threshold for elite qualification, you get to use to qualify the following year. For example, let’s say you flew 40,000 miles in 2010 – not quite the 50,000 you need for Gold status, but far more than the 25,000 you’ll need for Silver. With other airlines, those 15,000 extra miles don’t do anything for your elite status, but now Delta’s program lets you start off your 2011 qualification efforts with 15,000 miles in the bank.

This only works if you reach that 25,000 level. In other words, if you had a total of 10,000 elite qualifying miles in 2010 (which gets you absolutely nothing), you can’t carry those over to 2011 with the hope that after a couple years you’ll eventually reach Silver. That’s smart for Delta to do that, because otherwise they’d end up with way too many Silver members and that dilutes the benefits for those who actually are frequent fliers.

This development makes for some interesting choices for frequent fliers. Currently, when frequent fliers hit the highest mileage threshold that they expect to be able to meet, they often shift their other travel to other airlines in order to try to qualify in other programs. Now, the higher mileage earning level and the ability to roll those miles over makes for a very compelling reason to keep flying Delta instead. Very interesting move on Delta’s part. I like it.

But these aren’t the only changes coming in 2010. Looking through the list that Delta sent me, SkyMiles members don’t seem to be losing anything this year. It’s still a 24 month mileage expiration policy, upgrades are still free for elites within North America and northern South America, and everyone still gets 500 miles minimum on every flight. There are, however, a few new things this year besides the rollover.

  • Gold, Platinum, and Diamond elites will now get complimentary upgrades on award tickets as well as on paid tickets. (I believe Northwest already had this benefit.)

  • Gold, Platinum, and Diamond elites will have fees waived to book through the phone reservations line. (Another Northwest benefit.)

  • Platinum members get to choose one of the following – 4 systemwide upgrades (less than last year’s 6, but now redeemable on day of departure), 20,000 bonus miles, Gift of Silver elite status to a friend, 4 Sky Club day passes, Travel/retail gift cards

  • Diamond members get to choose one of the following – 6 systemwide upgrades (now redeemable on day of departure), 25,000 bonus miles, Gift of Gold elite status to a friend, 6 Sky Club day passes (which would be a dumb choice since they get complimentary membership), Travel/retail gift cards

So, it’s another day of good news for frequent flier mileage junkies. I’m happy to see Delta incorporating some of the benefits Northwest frequent fliers were already enjoying, and I think this rollover idea is pretty cool. Nice work.

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41 comments on “Delta Introduces Rollover Miles

  1. As a current? Diamond (at around 150K MQM’s) I think I can speak for the majority of FlyerTalk members (at least based on conversations last night) and say I’m underwhelmed.

    The only new benefits were ones that were removed from DL or NW Platinum members over the past 3 years or so.

    – Free SkyClub access used to be a DL Plat benefit until (I believe) 3 years ago.
    – 125% bonus mileage for Plat was a NW Plat benefit until 1/1/09
    – 6 Systemwide Upgrade Cert’s were a DL Plat benefit until this year

    The ONLY real change is the removal of ticketing fees for Gold/Plat/Diamond and, IMHO, doesn’t distinguish Diamond very much.

    Additionally, the systemwide certs only change is day of departure upgrades. No use on less expensive fare classes so, on average, the difference between an M fare (lowest to use PMU) is ~$1,000-1,500 more than a K fare.

    I can’t see any reason to fly 66% more on DL to achieve Diamond over Platinum and will likely consider status matching over to UA/AA at some point this year to build up mid-tier or top tier status since I see no incentive to achieve Diamond.

    Instead of going ahead and adding a tangible benefit (maybe redeem 2 awards at “low” regardless of “cost”) that meant something to travelers, they’ve just put lipstick on the pig.

  2. Delta needed to do this because they have too darned many Platinums.
    – You can earn 70k qualifying miles a year based on credit card spend if you’re a high enough charger using the right combination of cards.
    – Add in a handful of Hilton stays and you could make Platinum without ever stepping foot on a plane.
    – Combine all the DL/NW elites, and their route network, and you have a ton of Platinums. Failing to be upgraded.

    The rollover benefit is smart. The rest is unimpressive.

    Delta’s new 125,000 mile top tier is far less rewarding than United’s and American’s 100,000 mile top tiers which offer confirmed domestic and international upgrades from most fares.

    Delta’s upgrade instruments are next to useless, one can usually buy a discounted international business class seat on another carrier for the price of Delta’s upgradeable coach.

    Brett, when you say “it’s another day of good news for frequent flier mileage junkies” that really only applies here to rollover, unless by “I’m happy to see Delta incorporating some of the benefits Northwest frequent fliers were already enjoying” you mean we should all be grateful that Delta hasn’t gutted the program EVEN FURTHER….,

  3. I’m a UA Global Service 1K member and I think DL has some pretty sweet options. I’d certainly consider switching more of my flying to DL if they offered more nonstops to more cities from where I live.

    First, the “confirmed” upgrades on UA (and AA) aren’t always available – the inventory has to be there, and even in this recession it’s not always possible to get the “confirmed” upgrades. I’ve had pletnty of flights where my so-called “confirmed” upgrade is cleared at the gate. DL also tends to have larger premium cabins on its domestic fleet than UA.

    UA does not give free RCC access to Global Services members. The new Diamond tier will.

    UA requires upgrade co-pays off certain economy fares, and it looks like DL does not require that. Even though Global Services members may be exempt, the fact DL doesn’t do this to anyone is nice.

    DL also maintained the 500-mile minimum credit. They could have dropped that, as other airlines have. But they kept it.

    The rollover MQM component is excellent.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that United’s financial position is far from stable. Delta appears to have a more stable financial footing.

    Is the DL program perfect? No, but show me an airline program that is.

  4. Delta are going out of their way to brief you prior to the embargo release…. sounds like PR people are beginning to notice you !

  5. When will the airlines learn to start rewarding people who spend the most money and not just those that fly a lot. Business travelers usually work for a company large enough to have discount contracts with the airlines so the traveler must travel on those airlines. Why reward them so much when most don’t have a choice who they fly, so it’s not that an airline needs to woo the people they are giving contract discounts to, that’s why there’s a contract.

    Why should they treat the guy in seat A who travels alot and who’s company got a 50% (or more) discount better then the person in seat B who pays full price but doesn’t travel as much.

    Since so much travel is by eticket and more and more people are booking online or going online to print a boarding pass, every traveler should be given a account type number and the airlines could then track and see who spends the most and start rewarding them also.

    1. Actually, I work in consulting for a huge firm and they don’t direct us which airline to fly, car rental company to rent, or hotel at which to stay.

  6. As a NW Gold right now, I’m pretty pumped about this. Most of the things that folks above are complaining about dont’ really affect me. I feel that the rollover will give the most assistance to Silvers and Golds who fly quite a bit but not a ton. I’ve gotten Silver this year, but I’m not sure I’ll get to Gold. The rollover will surely help me get gold next year if I can’t get it this year.

  7. David — Its probably a matter of each airline is not wanting to be the first to make that happen. A per dollar spent option makes some more sense than per mile flown, but the industry is now wed to miles.

    If you look at all the newer FF programs, none of them are mile based.

  8. @ Gary Leff: recent Delta flight from La Guardia – Atlanta: 69 people eligble for upgrade (you can see it at the gate screens) and 3 seats left for upgrade… Nice! Comment from the gate agent (and to your point): “so many new Platinum Elite members due to the merge with NWA”.

    Personally, I can’t wait for my Diamond card. And will wait and see what they will offer once I break that ceiling…

  9. @David SFeastbay — that account type number you’re talking about, that would be your frequent flyer number, no? Surely UA can determine *exactly* how much revenue I brought in this year since each of my flights was credited to MP.

  10. Lots of harsh words for the enhancements here. I suppose it just shows that airlines will never be able to please everyone (as if we needed proof of that). I still like what I’m seeing here, for the most part, but I’m primarily pleased with the rollover mile idea. I would have liked to have seen a complete revamp, but I have to be realistic, sadly.

    Chris – I think the benefit of Diamond is really one thing – priority upgrades. As has been noted, there are a million Platinums out there now, and Diamonds will get upgraded before all of them, assuming they’ve booked 5 days in advance. That alone would be enough of a benefit for me to strive for Diamond.

    Yes, a lot of the benefits that are being added are things that were removed before, but why is that a bad thing? It’s an improvement over where things are now, and that should always be welcomed.

    Gary – Where does it say that Delta needs to be competitive with American and United? The reality is that for most of the airline’s frequent fliers, American and United aren’t really great options. Is someone in Atlanta going to fly American? Is someone in Detroit going to fly United? This only really falls apart in New York, where there is significant competition from American, but they aren’t going to lose more people than they’ve already lost. Nothing in here degrades benefits except for the minor reduction of upgrade certs for Platinums. If they were going to flee to American, then they would have done so by now. Will this woo people back? We’ll find out.

    But the rollover mile idea will keep people flying so that they can help ensure they’ll reach their status level the following year. I tend to think this could have a material impact, and it’s going to be good.

    David – Yeah, this was the first time that DL has actively reached out to me. I get that often from other airlines, but it’s a first from these guys.

    David SF – Yes, and that’s a can of worms I didn’t even want to open here. I know we’ve discussed it before here on the blog, and there’s no doubt that the airlines, Delta included, are rewarding the wrong type of behavior. The mileage runner who buys really cheap fares and flies around just to collect miles is not the person who should be rewarded for being a loyal customer, because that’s not a profitable customer.

    But I decided to be realistic and review the changes here based upon what was out there, not what I would ideally like to see. That’s a whole different story.

  11. Actually, UA, CO, and AA all track a passenger’s financial value, at least to some degree. That’s the underlying basis for the UA Global Services, AA Concierge Key, and CO COSTAR programs.

  12. OLIVER – Not everyone has a mileage number, but if you want to think of it like that fine. It would just be a number everyone who books would have for them to track whatever data they wish including to see which people spend the most money.

    Even amount frequent flyers with high mileage, should a person who travels 70,000 miles a year be treated better then someone who flys 40,000 but who actually pays more money for those trips?

  13. I am old enough to remember when we actually paid for FC and appreciated the cabin/class and service. Now it is all so diluted with upgrades and freebies and as one post said earlier, way too many Platinum Level fliers now to accomodate even a fraction. Diamond Level is Great and Delta is indeed doing the right thing….

  14. Last year I qualified for NW Gold. This YTD I am at 60+ segments and I fly in first class over 90% of the time. I fly in first class while 25 or more elite’s file to the back on sold out flights.

    I still think the airlines reward those who are currently flying with them every week. I am proof.

  15. CF,

    In response to your comment to Gary, if an airline doesn’t want to offer a competitive frequent flyer program, then it shouldn’t bother having one in the first place. You ask when a person living in Detroit is ever going to fly United, and likewise, living in Atlanta would fly American… the answer is: When those airlines go somewhere that Delta doesn’t, or AA’s FF program provides the passenger more value.

    Delta needs a strong frequent flyer program to compete in the major markets where another carrier doesn’t dominate. When I lived in Los Angeles, United *didn’t* fly non-stop to the markets I traveled to the most. (No single carrier did.) But for putting up with a connection on Northwest for two flights a month, I almost always got upgraded to first class. (While paying T or K fares — bottom of the barrel — for the privilege.)

  16. Dan – What exactly are we calling competitive here? The big issues here are that the highest United/American levels are 100,000 miles vs Delta’s 125,000 and that Delta’s upgrades aren’t valid on cheap fares. I would be surprised if the mileage difference really pushes someone from one program to the other, especially since the previous Delta level of 70,000 is still around – this is just above and beyond what was already there.

    The upgrade issue is the one we should probably focus on, right? Well, domestically, you get free unlimited upgrades on Delta and you don’t get that on American or United. For international, you can’t use the Delta certificates to upgrade on cheap fares but you can on other airlines, right? I imagine Delta is actually trying to get people to pay for its premium cabin on international flights – something most airlines should try to do if they can.

    So who is going to leave Delta over this? People who exclusively fly internationally (since Delta’s domestic policy is looser than American/United) and those who buy low fares.

  17. @ CF – Agreed, this is not DEGRADING benefits. But if we’re getting excied about THAT then we really have been taken over by the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. Hah!

    Rollover is smart.

    And differentiating 75k eqm’s from 125k eqm’s makes sense, when Delta lets you earn 75k without even stepping on a plane and when they are having huge problems consistently delivering upgrades to curent top tier elites (and thus many of their uber freuqent flyers wind up in back).

    I’m not saying Delta has to compete with United and American. Just that it’s hard to get excited about a program that has so clearly chosen not to. 125k eqm top tier on Delta is far, far less rewarding than the 100k tier at either of those carriers.

    This isn’t BAD. It isn’t a degradation of benefits. But it’s not revolutionary, either.

  18. Gary – Ok, I get it. I’m with you on that – I do think the rollover stuff is pretty innovative, but on the whole, I agree it’s definitely not revolutionary. Thanks for chiming in here.

  19. I see upgrades for reward tickets. What about pay with miles tickets? Will pay with miles tickets be eligible for upgrades?

  20. After 4 years with Platinum with NW and my fears have come true — Delta stripped away my 125%, waived unlimited mileage ticket changes, GREATLY reduced inventory on low-tier mileage tickets. Miles worth less, harder to get, and have to pay more for changes…

    A fair compromise would have been Delta put their top tier at 100K and kept all the NW Platinum benefits from last year. Oh, and give me back some of those PerkSaver seats — you’re killing me with a lack of inventory!

    I’ll give’em the rest of the year to fix or I’m jumping ship to Star Alliance.

  21. I am not happy with Delta ever since they merged with NW. Northwest FF program my award year started and ended on the anniversary of when I signed up which meant I always achieved at least Gold with NW. When Delta merged and started implementing their own take on the FF program they changed it to Calendar year not Anniversary year, which meant I was cheated out of 20,000 miles because they ‘reset’ the FF award clock on Jan 1st and my Anniversary was Feb 20th and I alway travel the first of February.

  22. Joe wrote:

    Where did my miles go.
    Had 36K NW miles and now I have 3K skymiles.
    Can someone help?

    Delta apparently flipped the switch on combining the programs last night. I don’t know the exact details, but I’ve already alerted someone at Delta to your comment. There may be some hiccups here, but I’m sure they’ll get them worked out. (I hope.)

  23. @ Chris:
    I too am totally underwhelmed by the “new” Skymiles program. There is nothing to differentiate the DL program from any other. Yes I will be Diamond when it launches but I need that just to get priority upgrades because of the million Platinums Delta has. For the first time in a while I checked a bag on my business trip today and found out that Delta has even removed priority tagged bags. Me thinks I will take Continental up on their Platinum match and switch. At least I feel Continental appreciates my 200K miles each year.

  24. CF and Joe:
    I noticed the date as Oct 2nd and that hopefully Delta will get the hiccups out of the system…I don’t think so. I have been communicating via email (no phone number) with the SkyMiles program (not the SkyMiles reservations) and I have not been successful in resolving the mysterious disappeance of 150K miles. All I get is “we are working on reviewing all of the NWA accounts”. Oh we’ll get back to you…right. Since I had a SkyMiles account, I thought that when they merged the two programs that it would be a simple A + B = C. This is not the case. Even though I would have preferred to stay with NWA (which I thought to be a customer conscientious airline) I will try to give Delta some more time. Being in IT, I understand the complexities of merging two entirely deferent program platforms; however, as of today my online account still doesn’t reflect the reality of my account.

  25. So… I assume this is NOT valid for the recent new year? ie, if I went over in 2009, I’m not getting any rollover for 2010?

  26. Tyrell Takeo wrote:

    So… I assume this is NOT valid for the recent new year? ie, if I went over in 2009, I’m not getting any rollover for 2010?

    Actually, you should get rollover. From Delta’s FAQ:

    When will the Rollover MQMs be deposited?
    The MQMs will be deposited into members’ accounts in early 2010 to add to the 2010 MQM balances for 2011 qualification.

  27. Tyrell,
    To be honest with you, I don’t really know what Delta is going to do. I sent a registerd handwritten letter to the director of the loyality program explained my concern. After approximately 3 weeks I get a response back from someone else via emai. Hmmm? Looks like her mail was screened and a staffer responded. Of course same answer, sorry for the inconvience…and no re-capture of my miles…sometime during this 3 week span the FAQ’s on the merger were updated and clarification was added to the merged miles with regards to the MQM. I guess they didn’t realize how many NWA members could qualify for the Million Mile status. I’ve been told this does nothing for upgrades. Finally, since I went over the 125K mark last year, I was wondering if Delta will give me Diamond status for 2010 when they launch in the 2 nd quarter. With the way things are going…they probably won’t. Tired of fighting “the establishment”….

  28. Hello fellow travellers.

    I earned 129,804 MQMs last year, but was only awarded 4804 rollover MQMs for 2010.

    So looks like they used the Diamond level to subtract from my last year’s MQMs. But this does not make sense to me since I am currently only a Platinum for 2010.

    I figure I should have got 129,804-75,000(platinum)=54,804 rollover MQMs.

    Any thoughts?

  29. Just rcvd my Crown Club Lifetime Member replacement card…Skymiles member card has no mention of Lifetime Membership….?why? Is this a segue to abolishing lifetime status??

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