Delta to change how it calculates frequent flyer program

WASHINGTON D.C. - Delta Air Lines this week announced that it would be making some changes to its frequent flyer program.

And the way many travelers see it, they will not be positive changes.

At Reagan National Airport passenger Rana Boone was not happy about Delta's changes.

Rana Boone CBS News

"The idea that you have to spend "x" number of dollars and it's not based on miles anymore is ridiculous," she said.

But in a statement, Delta said it was responding to feedback from customers.

Beginning next year, the airline will revise the formula it uses to award frequent flyer miles. Instead of giving credit for the number of miles flown, it will reward flyers for how much they spend.

Delta will reward travelers based on how much they spend, not how many miles they fly CBS News

Currently, a $700 ticket from New York to Los Angeles would earn almost 5000 miles. The new formula would qualify for nearly 1500 fewer miles.

"It's not like these programs are costing the airlines," said Brian Kelly, who follows the travel industry. "It's the exact opposite. They're making a lot of money. So I don't see why they need to continue to drastically devalue the frequent flyer programs."

Brian Kelly CBS News
Delta has 90 million SkyMiles members across the world. Under the new program the business traveler, who typically spends the most, will fare the best.

Transportation expert Ken Button says that's key for the airline, which felt compelled to change the rules.

"In many cases this has attracted low cost fare travelers," he said. "Those at the front are finding the lounges are crowded, they're finding it difficult to get seats up front because passengers at the rear use their awards to upgrade."

Not all of Delta's passengers are happy with the changes to the frequent flyer program CBS News

Airlines also make money by linking rewards programs to credit cards. Experts say hang on to those cards, but consider diversifying. It's still unclear if spending more will translate into more miles.

"These credit cards allow you to accrue points into central pools, and then you've got numerous different transfer partners, airlines, hotels, even Amtrak, to take advantage of," Kelly said. "So if one program changes and makes really negative changes, you can always transfer your points to another."

Delta is the first to go this route, but other airlines could soon be heading in the same direction.