New Elite rules, challenges coming for Delta frequent fliers

5:18 PM, Mar 12, 2013   |    comments
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Grieving family fares?

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Starting this January, Delta Airlines will change its rules when it comes to earning elite status.

Under the new plan, earning elite status will require both miles and money. To reach the lowest level of silver, for example, you have to earn 25,000 miles and spend $2,500. That means travelers who now get elite status through cheap flights or credit card programs may find they no longer qualify.

With his home in Willmar and his business in Ireland, Ron Sette put the travel in traveling salesman.

"I probably fly 20 times a year," Sette said.

But he says he's not sold on any airline or their frequent flyer programs, saying elite status is not what it used to be.

"It doesn't mean very much," Sette said. "We're not getting anything more than we did before."

"Every seat is a dollar amount," said Andrea Wallace with Midwest Travel Service in St Paul. "And they want to fill those up with revenue passengers."

Many of those passengers want elite status for the elite treatment: free bag checks, upgrades and priority boarding, and to get it, they'll fly with one airline.

"I typically always fly Delta when I can," said Amy Ristvedt of St. Louis Park.

But flyers may not get the perks they expect. For example, while airlines like Delta say it only takes 25,000 to book an award ticket, many travelers and experts say that's rarely the case.

"If you're flying, and the minimum level is 25,000, it's rare that I would ever find any space available," Wallace said.

Instead, travel agents like Wallace say most domestics seats go for 40, 50, or even 60,000 miles, and even then, they may have connections and long layovers.

"A lot of the ones I've been looking at lately are 12 hours or 14 hours," Ristvedt said. "It almost doesn't seem worth it to book an award."

But Delta disagrees. It says its program is among the best in the industry with three redemption tiers and no expiration of miles. It says seats for 25,000 miles are available, urging travelers to book early and be flexible.

That's advice experts say is wise, saying both elite status and reward tickets have changed to stay.

"I think it's something we all have to accept," Wallace said. "I don't think it's something that will go away."

Many local travelers fly Delta since it's a Minneapolis hub, but travel experts say similar changes are affecting nearly all the airlines, including Minnesota-based Sun Country airlines, which is also switching its frequent flier program.

For more information on Delta's new requirements, go to www.delta.com.

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