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Does Delta's revamp of its frequently flier program signal the end of the mile runs?

Frequent_flyer_airport.jpg

AP

I’ve never done a mileage run. 

For those of you who aren’t in the know, that's when an airline airfare “geek” or frequent flier buys a really cheap airfare, such as New York to LA for $129, and flies not to get somewhere but simply to earn airline miles and obtain status in a frequent flyer program.  See more about these zealots here.

Seems like torture to me, but lot of people do it.  When I was a kid flying on a TWA 707 circa 1965, sure, flying was a blast and I loved it. That was then, this is now. I’m not a kid anymore and flying isn’t as much fun. I only fly to get somewhere I need to be.

But now, for many mileage runners flying is even less rewarding, thanks to changes in Delta’s frequent flier program, which American and United are likely to follow, eventually.

As of January 2015, when you fly from New York to L.A., for example, on Delta for that rock bottom $129 price, you may earn not the usual 2550 or so miles (based on the actual distance), but rather five miles per airfare dollar (or a paltry 645 miles). You’ll earn two more miles per dollar if you charge your fare to a Delta credit card, but that’s still only 903 miles. If you’re an uber-frequent flyer (a “diamond medallion”) in Delta’s program, you’ll get 11 miles per dollar on that $129 fare, but that’s still only 1419 miles, 1000 less than in the old program.

Of course if you’re flying on a $2500 business class fare you’ll make out like a bandit, which is the whole point of these changes. Delta wants you buy their more expensive fares rather than the crazy low ones that we love so well to post on Airfarewatchdog.com.

The only good news is that the new rules don’t affect qualifying for Delta elite status (silver, diamond, etc.), which will still be based on miles flown. So in that sense, mileage runs will still have value. Just not as much value as before because the miles you earn for award travel will be based solely on your spend.

Even so, combined with new minimum spend requirements introduced by both Delta and United  (starting at $2500 per year to achieve the lowest status) it will be harder than ever for many people to attain status in frequent flyer programs.

Further reading: Is frequent flyer status everything it used to be?

George Hobica is a syndicated travel journalist and founder of the low-airfare listing site Airfarewatchdog.com.