Having had the better part of the day to review the changes to Delta’s Medallion program announced today, I thought I’d take a moment to share some thoughts.  I feel like I should preface this with a statement you’ve heard from me before.  I like Delta Air Lines.  While American and AAdvantage are my preferred airline and program, I’ve always found Delta’s service and people to be, with few exceptions, better than most.  SkyMiles on the other hand, has not been among my favorite mileage programs.  While the program is not without some good points, including complimentary domestic upgrades, I’ve found SkyMiles to be lacking in terms of the ability to use your miles in a few key areas that are important to me.

In any event, I was pleased to read Delta’s announcement this morning regarding updates to the Medallion program.  The changes include:

  • A fourth elite tier, Diamond Medallion, which will be awarded at 125,000 Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) or 140 Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs).
  • Rollover MQMs.  Any MQMs earned beyond the requirement for your elite status will be rolled over to the next year, giving you a head start on the following year’s elite status.
  • “Choice Benefits.”  Platinum (75,000 MQMs/60 segments) and Diamond members will have a menu of benefits to choose from including Systemwide Upgrades (that are finally usable on the day of departure (big improvement)), bonus miles, Sky Club one-day passes, and the ability to gift Medallion status to a companion.
  • Fee waiver for direct ticketing.  Gold, Platinum, and Diamond members will enjoy waivers of the agent assisted ticketing fees at the airport or via 800- reservations.  (I really like this one even if I typically buy on the website)

While I generally don’t condone complicating things with a fourth elite tier, overall, I like what I see.  Club memberships seem like the least an airline could do for a Customer that spends 125,000 miles or even more so, 140 segments flying with Delta, but I like the gesture.  The most positive change is making the systemwide upgrades usable on the day of departure.  Previously, the upgrade had to be confirmed in advance, and if it did not clear 24 hours out, you had no chance of sitting in a premium cabin, but non-revs standing by at the airport could get the premium seat if one was available at departure.  Diamonds will receive 6 systemwides and Platinums, only 4.  This is a reduction 2 upgrades for Platinum fliers, but hopefully the ability to use them on the day of departure will help ease the pain.  And I really like the ability to rollover excess MQMs to the next qualifying year.  That’s a real incentive to keep flying Delta once you hit your elite tier.  There are a lot more details about the 2010 Medallion program on Delta.com and on Delta’s blog, so I won’t review them all here.

I will offer that Delta could make the Medallion program even better if the systemwide upgrades (or at least a portion of them) could be used on any fare instead of the YBM fares required now.  SkyMiles remains uncompetitive with AAdvantage in this regard.  Another suggestion for improvement would be to allow elite members the ability to upgrade with miles from most paid domestic or international fares.  I don’t think this is too much to ask given that Delta’s 2 biggest competitors, American and United, allow this for all members, not just elites.  I’d speculate that part of  the reason (at least domestically) behind Delta’s refusal to allow mileage upgrades from a broader array of fares may be related to the domestic complimentary upgrade program for elites.  However, I think a nice compromise would be to allow elites to use miles to upgrade from any airfare, including LUT fares.

In summary, there isn’t a lot to get uber-excited about in today’s announcement, but there are more positives than negatives.  And nowadays, that’s a better deal than most.