Delta Air Lines appears to have taken the gloves off in its ongoing campaign to degrade its partnership with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines.
The latest blow comes hidden in an announcement March 10 that the airline is making changes to its 2015 SkyMiles program. The changes come amid complaints about new rules requiring frequent fliers to spend at least $3,000 annually (called Medallion Qualifying Dollars or MQDs) with Delta to maintain their elite status, and difficulty using miles for free flights.
Delta is relaxing the MQD rule, saying that customers can now earn MQDs, regardless of ticketing carrier, for travel on most of Delta's airline partners, a move which will help frequent flyers achieve Medallion status faster. Note, Delta says "most.''
Not included is Alaska Airlines. Alaska has been bumped down from a Group 1 partner, whose flights are eligible for full Medallion Qualifying Miles (Delta requires 25,000 annually) and now full MDQs, to Group 4 status, lumped together with the likes of bit players such as Great Lakes Airlines, Hawaiian Air, Korean Air and Westjet.
While most flights on Alaska will qualify for Medallion Qualification Miles (albeit fewer than before on some economy class flights), none will count under the new relaxed rules for MQDs. No Alaska Airlines marketed flights, even if ticketed by Delta, will qualify, Delta says. The changes are effective April 1.
Meanwhile, Alaska threw a punch of its own today, saying it will add nonstop service between Seattle and New York JFK. The carrier will fly one daily round-trip flight on the route starting Sept. 16.
The new route comes amid an ongoing turf war between Alaska Airlines and Delta over Seattle which Delta is attempting to transform into its West Coast hub. Seattle is Alaska Airlines' biggest hub as well as the location of its headquarters. New York JFK is one of Delta's most important hubs.
Delta said SkyMiles members will receive retroactive credit of MQDs on eligible partner flights dating back to the beginning of the qualification year, Jan. 1, 2015.
The other big change to Delta's SkyMiles program is that new one-way mileage award tickets will begin as low as 10,000 miles plus taxes and fees, through Dec. 31, 2015 for travel in select U.S., Mexican and Caribbean markets. Delta’s previous starting rate for one-way flights was 12,500 miles.
The trick is to find a route where Delta charges only the minimum number of miles.
Last month, Delta removed from its website the charts that show customers the rates. Instead, frequent fliers can view an award calendar while searching for flights in the booking engine.