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On Wednesday, Delta Airlines announced a major change to its SkyMiles frequent flier program.

Instead of rewarding one mile per mile traveled, travelers would earn between five and 11 miles per dollar spent, depending on their elite status. Those who hold no status would earn just five miles per dollar spent, while those with top-tier Diamond Medallion status would earn 11 miles per dollar with other elite members earning miles at rate in between. All Delta SkyMiles cardholders would continue to earn two miles per dollar spent on Delta.

Fewer Miles Earned for Most Fliers

This change clearly rewards business travelers who are more likely to pay high prices on non-refundable fares for last-minute travel. This especially includes business travelers to and from cities that are only served non-stop by Delta. These travelers can pay as much as $1,000 for a 1,000-mile trip, and may only receive 1,000 miles for the flight, and perhaps another 2,000 miles for charging the ticket to one of the several Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express. Now they can receive 5,000 miles if they have no status, and up to 11,000 miles if they are Diamond Medallion, plus another 2,000 miles if they use a Delta credit card.

Yet those who travel on discounted tickets, purchased in advance will earn far fewer miles. Such a traveler might pay $500 for a 5,000-mile, roundtrip, advanced-purchase ticket between New York and Los Angeles, but will no longer earn 5,000 miles. Instead, such a traveler will now receive just 2,500 miles if he or she is not an elite level flyer. With this new system, only the most elite, top-tier members of Delta’s SkyMiles program will earn more miles from his or her travel.

Delta is also changing the way that travelers redeem miles, perhaps for the better. In addition to other program changes, the airline announced that “Delta is investing in the Award calendar infrastructure to improve the reliability and accuracy of the search results.”

Furthermore, many rewards travel users have reported dissatisfaction in the number of award seats available at Delta’s lowest mileage levels, and the airline has now promised to improve this. Nevertheless, it is also going from a 3-tier award chart to a 5-tier award chart, so we’ll have to wait and see how Delta will offer “more award seats at the lowest level” than before. The changes will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2015, and Delta promises to release its new award chart later this year.

How Credit Card Users Could Come Out on Top

Delta will be the last major airline to start offering one-way awards, which helps credit card users who might prefer to book one-way awards with miles from one program, and the return with miles from another program, or just use cash. This lowers the barrier to award travel for many infrequent fliers who might not earn enough miles from their credit cards and travel.

Furthermore, it is possible that the new mileage chart could be more generous for redemptions than the old one. Since credit card miles are being earned the same way as before, this could be a win for credit card users, who earn more miles from their credit cards than they do from travel on Delta.

In fact, many credit card users can benefit, even if they don’t hold one of the Delta SkyMiles cards from American Express.  Those who have rewards from a card that earns American Express Membership Rewards points or Starwood Preferred Guest points can transfer these rewards to Delta SkyMiles at any time. With one-way awards and the possibility of awards at lower mileage levels, these new changes may actually benefit those who just earn the most miles from their credit cards.

Note: It’s important to remember that interest rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products frequently change. As a result, rates, fees and terms for credit cards, loans and other financial products cited in these articles may have changed since the date of publication. Please be sure to verify current rates, fees and terms with credit card issuers, banks or other financial institutions directly.

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