(Photo: Carlos Osorio AP)
(USA TODAY) Delta, which announced major changes to its frequent flier program last week, on Thursday revealed the new award tiers that it says will make it easier for travelers to redeem free trips.
Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the airline's roughly 91 million SkyMiles program members can use two additional miles tiers.
Currently, fliers wanting a free trip in coach within the continental U.S., or to Alaska or Canada, have three levels of miles at which they can redeem an award: 25,000, 40,000 and 60,000. Next year, they will also be able to cash in 35,000 and 50,000 miles.
Those extra tiers, coupled with other program changes, such as Delta saying it will make more seats available for redemption at 25,000 miles and the introduction of one-way rewards, will collectively give frequent fliers greater access to award trips, said Jeff Robertson, Delta's vice president of SkyMiles.
"It's creating greater utility as well as lower pricing,'' Robertson said.
Last week, Delta announced that it would become the first major network airline in the U.S. to award miles based on how much a flier pays for his or her ticket rather than the distance flown, a significant shift to its decades-old frequent flier program.
Members who book a flight taking off after Dec. 31 will accrue miles according to the new model.
Some have criticized the change, which means that a passenger who pays the cheaper fares will no longer earn the same amount of miles as a fellow passenger who bought a pricier ticket.
Corporate trekkers are more likely to have to fly at the last minute, which usually means paying higher fares. But Brian Kelly, founder of thepointsguy.com, said that many business travelers are in the same boat as leisure travelers who have to stick to a budget.
"People say the new earning (model) is great for business travelers,'' he said, "but a lot of business travelers have to choose the cheapest fare.''
Kelly added that he wasn't certain that five redemption tiers instead of three will be better for consumers. "Delta has made the program exceedingly complex,'' he said.
Robertson said that many fliers have said they appreciate, or at least understand, the change to how they earn miles.
"While we know there's a subset of customers who receive fewer miles and who are disappointed, they also understand . . . the fairness of the model and why customers who pay higher fares should get more,'' Robertson said.
READ MORE: What you need to know about Delta's frequent flier changes
By Charisse Jones, USA TODAY
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