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Delta walks back some changes to Sky Club access, loyalty program

Delta’s new SkyClub at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Leslie Josephs/CNBC

Delta Air Lines on Wednesday walked back some of the broad restrictions it placed on access to its popular airport lounges and trimmed thresholds to earn elite status after complaints from customers.

Delta last month first announced sweeping changes to its loyalty program so that it is based solely on how much customers spend, and announced dramatic limitations to entry to its Sky Clubs for customers with certain American Express credit cards.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in late September that the airline went “too far” with its changes. Delta has been grappling with how to handle swarms of elite frequent flyers and high-fee credit card holders that caused long lines and crowding at the clubs.

“I have read hundreds of your emails, and what’s been most clear to me is how much you love Delta and the disappointment many of you felt by the significance of the changes,” he said in an email to customers announcing the tweaks to the programs on Wednesday. “I appreciate your opinions and understand your disappointment. Your voice matters, and we are listening.”

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines have grappled with how to best reward frequent flyers who returned in droves after spending heavily and racking up miles on rewards cards, even when they weren’t traveling.

Carriers and credit card companies are racing to build bigger lounges to fit more people.

“We very much believe in never causing a situation where everyone has a premier status which obviously results in no one receiving an adequate level of premier benefits,” United Airlines chief commercial officer Andrew Nocella said on an earnings call Wednesday.

Sky Club entry changes

Delta CEO Bastian said access to the airline’s airport lounges have been a top concern for customers, many of whom had unlimited access to Sky Clubs through credit cards.

Starting Feb. 1, 2025, cardholders of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Business American Express Card will get 15 visits to Sky Clubs per year, up from a planned limit of 10 per year. Another change is those cardholders will have unlimited visits for the entire day. For example, a traveler could visit lounges in multiple cities, or twice in one day.

They will also be able to buy Sky Club day passes for $50 a day after they have used up their days.

American Express Platinum cardholders will get 10 visits a year, up from a planned limit of six, starting February 2025.

However, Delta SkyMiles Platinum cardholders still won’t get automatic Sky Club access through the card starting next year, a change Delta announced last month. Customers can buy a membership or enter if they meet loyalty program spending thresholds for elite status.

Earning elite status gets (slightly) easier

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