October 29, 2014

The global economy is up and business travelers are back in airplane cabins. Most major airlines are posting healthy profits and airlines are scrambling to score lucrative premium-cabin travelers. Just look at JFK-LAX: lie-flat beds in business class are the norm and even JetBlue is getting in on the action with its new Mint service. (I'm actually writing this post from a Mint seat with blazing fast Wi-Fi!)

So with the cash rolling in, airlines are getting stingier when it comes to leisure travelers and the perks bestowed by elite status. Starting January 1, 2015 Delta and United will stop awarding miles based on how far you fly—it’s now all about how much you spend. 

But Delta hasn't stopped there. It recently announced that the cheapest economy fares won't be eligible for elite status upgrades. So far, no other carriers have matched this move, but I'm sure they are taking note to see if fliers revolt or simply take it in stride. This news comes along with a host of other negative changes to the SkyMiles program, like increasing revenue thresholds to maintain elite status, limiting the amount of miles you can transfer in from partners, and even nixing the round-the-world awards that many frequent fliers love.

In my opinion, the sky is not falling, but it's definitely getting harder and harder to justify elite status, and I'm certainly happy that I've switched most of my loyalty to American Airlines. With the merger of American and US Airways frequent-flier programs that will likely happen in 2015, I'm bracing myself for negative changes—just hopefully not as bad as what is going on at Delta!

Brian Kelly is the founder of ThePointsGuy.com. Follow him on Twitter @thepointsguy and Facebook.

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