Is Delta Air Lines status worth it? What this disappointed soon-to-be-Diamond thinks

5 October 2023

Call me a disgruntled Delta Diamond … well, almost a Diamond.

For the first time this year, I’ve stretched to make Delta’s top-tier published status level. I’ve been doing irrational things like old-school mileage runs and buying upgrades on routes I normally wouldn’t just so I could, for the first time in my life, make it to Diamond. And I’m close. I expect to achieve my dream and enter the Diamond ranks by mid-November.

But now I feel like the rug was pulled out from under me, and I’m not happy. In fact, it has made me wonder if pursuing any kind of status with Delta Air Lines is worth it anymore, given how dramatically and quickly the rule book changes.

The huge new restrictions on club access and the increased status requirements — coming on top of dramatic negative changes to SkyMiles over the years, have me rethinking my Delta loyalty altogether.

Brutal Delta SkyMiles status changes

Delta plane at Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF). CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

As you have undoubtedly heard, Delta announced some brutal changes to several aspects of its program and partners last month. It will no longer be about how much you fly but rather all about how much you spend.

First, Delta is making status much harder to achieve.

Starting in 2024, you’ll need to earn 6,000 Medallion Qualification Dollars just to reach the lowest Silver tier. That’s about the same as spending $6,000 with the program. It’s a whopping 35,000 in MQDs for Diamond status. Just to give you an idea of how much that has increased in just a few years, it was just $12,500 in spend to reach Diamond status when Delta first rolled out spending requirements in 2014.

All in all, Delta is making achieving status almost impossible for most of us mere mortals. SkyMiles is now for the truly wealthy or those who can put business expenses (and a whole lot of them) on one of Delta’s credit cards.

Slashing the ability to spend your way to status

Now, there will be ways to spend your way to status on cobranded credit cards. However, it’s so much spend that you’ll need to be wealthy to achieve status that way — or at least have a small business with a lot of charges to put on Delta credit cards.

You’d need to charge $350,000 in a year on your Delta credit card to get Diamond status, and that’s only if you hold The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card or the business version of that card. If you have the Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card, you’d need to spend a whopping $750,000.

Platinum cardholders will also no longer get any club access, so that card is not really the right one if you continue to be serious about sticking with Delta.

Related: TPG’s guide to getting started with points, miles and credit cards

There’s an opportunity cost to consider, too, even if you could make that spending work. Most spend on those cards gives you just one mile for each dollar you spend. That’s a much worse return than you’d get by spending on even a middle-of-the-road cash-back credit card.

You’d get a better return on other cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, where you get 5 points per dollar on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3 points per dollar on dining and 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases. According to TPG valuations, the points earned via Ultimate Rewards are worth more, too.

Or, go even simpler with the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which gives you 2 miles per dollar on every purchase you make. Those miles are also each valued higher than Delta SkyMiles.

Cutting the number of visits to SkyClubs

New Delta lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). CLINT HENDERSON/THE POINTS GUY

That’s not the only way Delta’s changes are punishing those of us who can’t spend tens of thousands of dollars each year with the airline. They are also limiting entry to SkyClubs.

Even those who hold that high-end Delta Reserve card, which comes with a $550 annual fee, will be limited to 10 SkyClub entries per year. That is unless you spend $75,000 on that card or on The Platinum Card® from American Express, which has a $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Now, American Express Platinum cardholders only get six entries per year. That’s not all the negative changes either: There’s also no more club entry when flying on the least-expensive basic economy tickets.

The lounge crowding issues that likely led to this are real, but this seems like an overcompensation for the issue rather than a workable middle ground.

So much for the second JFK club meaning no more lines at New York Delta SkyClub.

— Clint Henderson (@ClintPHenderson) October 1, 2023

Cuts to SkyMiles redemptions

We also learned that Delta has shut down one of the last avenues to get greater value from your SkyMiles: positioning to Mexico City. Before this week, you could book business class to Europe for as few as 75,000 SkyMiles by beginning your trip in Mexico City. Seemingly overnight, even that niche approach to mileage redemptions was sliced. Now, that same itinerary costs 40% more miles.

We’ve seen similar devaluations of SkyMiles multiple times in the past few years.

During the pandemic, Delta dramatically increased prices on partner awards in February 2021 by some 160%. Just a few years ago, I could book business class on Delta using the Air France Flying Blue program for as little as 144,000 miles round trip. That same redemption now would cost at least 244,000 miles using partners, and if you book on Delta’s website, you are looking at 370,000 SkyMiles (and higher).

Inflation is a real thing in and out of loyalty programs, but the increases we have seen in SkyMiles need another word entirely.

Delta slashing earnings on partners

It gets worse. Delta is also making earnings on partner airlines much less lucrative. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, the amount of MQDs you can earn from booking on partners like AeroMexico is being slashed.

That will further reduce some of the shorter pathways to status I’ve used to get to Diamond status this year.

Vanishing benefits of status

At the same time that Delta is making it harder to earn status, the benefits of that status have also been diminishing. The biggest example is seen when looking at upgrades.

Getting a first- or business-class seat was the main reason many of us got involved in chasing airline status in the first place. Those upgrades have gotten harder and harder to get on all the airlines as they’ve done a better job of selling those seats to customers who don’t have status.

Here’s a recent example from my own travels. I was 23 out of 68 passengers on the upgrade list for a sold-out, first-class cabin on a flight from Salt Lake City to New York. I didn’t even get “upgraded” into Delta’s extra legroom seats that they call Comfort+. I was 18 of 45 passengers on that list.

While those are two Delta hubs, that’s still incredible to see as a Platinum Medallion — and that’s no longer unusual.

This isn’t just about there being “too many elites.” It’s about Delta getting better at selling its first-class seats. That’s good for the bottom line but bad for elites hoping for some nice benefits for their loyalty.

As Gary Leff reported in View from the Wing, Delta has been selling three-quarters of its first-class cabin and wants to sell even more. Complimentary upgrades are increasingly becoming out of reach for most elites. Even Delta Diamond members complain about the elusiveness of upgrades.


Another thing I’ve realized as I have been pursuing Delta status is that even when upgrade space is available, Delta doesn’t always process the upgrades. I was shocked when I saw the first-class cabin go out with seats available on several Delta flights I’ve taken this year. I was so shocked that I raised it with Delta customer service.

Customer service note to Delta. DELTA.COM

Apparently, it’s a well-known issue on Delta flights where, sometimes, the gate agents won’t come onto the plane to upgrade passengers on the list even if seats are available.

Other recent negative changes for Delta elites include access restrictions to partner clubs when flying internationally. Delta SkyMiles Diamond and Platinum Medallion status holders can no longer access the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow’s Terminal 3 unless they fly with a Premium Select or Delta One fare. There go my fun London Clubhouse visits.


Certificates are harder to use for elites these days

Another problem for Delta loyalists is the difficulty of using any of the certificates that come with holding a Delta card or the choice benefits you get to pick each year once you earn Platinum or Diamond status.

I have had several companion certificates expire because they are not easy to use. They don’t work on flights to Alaska or Hawaii, and two seats must be available in certain fare buckets for you to use them.

Expired companion certificate. DELTA.COM

Many Diamond members share similar frustrations with the GUCs (or Global Upgrade Certificates) that come when you earn Diamond status. Once you earn Diamond Medallion, you get to choose three benefits. For each choice, you can pick four global upgrade certificates. In practice, however, many members have had a lot of trouble getting those upgrade certificates to clear.

Delta Global Upgrade Certificate selection. DELTA.COM

Not only do they not regularly clear, but you could previously use the upgrades to jump from Main Cabin to Delta One on any international route. Now, though, you can only upgrade one category. So you would need to book a much more expensive Premium Select seat in order to use them to upgrade to Delta One. That’s another major devaluation.

Related: The ultimate guide to getting upgraded on Delta

I’ve had better luck using my RUCs (or Regional Upgrade Certificates) that I got as a Delta Platinum, but I haven’t tried to maximize them on long domestic flights either.

Related: How not to ‘waste’ your Delta Regional and Global Upgrade Certificates

The continued devaluation of Delta SkyMiles

Finally — and perhaps the most disappointing part for loyal Delta customers — we’ve seen devaluation after devaluation of SkyMiles. There was a time when you could fly to Europe from the U.S. in business class for as little as 75,000 Delta SkyMiles one-way. Those days are gone. Now, you are much more likely to see business-class redemptions around the half-million-mile range.

Here’s a very typical example. A Delta One seat from New York City to Rome will cost you 460,000 Delta SkyMiles round trip (plus more than $63 in taxes and fees). That’s mindblowing. That used to be what it would cost for a family of three.

Delta One redemption July 2024 to Rome for 460,000 SkyMiles. DELTA.COM

Bottom line


In the hours and days after the Delta changes were announced, the company faced a major consumer backlash with a ton of negative publicity; some consumers were even calling in to cancel their American Express cards. It’s the most upset I’ve ever seen the frequent flyer community.

It certainly got Delta’s attention. “No question, we probably went too far,” CEO Ed Bastian said. “Our team wanted to kind of rip the band-aid off.”

Bastian said Delta will backtrack a bit in the weeks ahead.

But no matter how Delta softens the changes, the writing is on the wall. Bastian didn’t say the changes were wrong; he just said they may have rolled them out too quickly. I think these changes are coming even if they aren’t all happening next year.

For me personally, I’m mad as a hornet at Delta Air Lines. I finally will earn Delta Diamond status, only to have the loyalty rug pulled out from under me.

In any case, I’ve found that the benefits of chasing status just don’t really make financial or emotional sense for me anymore. It’s not just the lack of upgrades and the loss of value from SkyMiles, it’s also a drop off in Delta’s once-vaunted reputation for customer service and the deterioration in its on-time performance. Delta is as prone as any other U.S. carrier to delays, cancellations and even total meltdowns.

Next year, I’m stopping all spending on my Delta Reserve card and telling my family members to no longer use the authorized user cards I got for them. I will enjoy my first and last year as a Delta Diamond, but I’m switching my future loyalty back to American Airlines.

I’ve been enjoying Executive Platinum status via a Status Match challenge for the past year, and I’m going back “all in” on American. I’ve already opened the Citi Advantage Executive World Elite Mastercard and received 20,000 Loyalty Points. The next step is to switch my family’s spending 100% to that card and kiss Delta goodbye come 2025. Or you could do like my colleague David Slotnick is doing and go airline free-agent.

Something’s got to give.

Related reading:

The best credit cards for airport lounge access
The ultimate guide to American Airlines Admirals Club access
The 7 do’s and don’ts in an airport lounge
The best credit cards to reach elite status
7 domestic lounges that are worth going out of your way for
Best credit cards for American Airlines flyers

Need Help?

If you need support, please send an email to [email protected].