When Delta announced its new-for-2014 policies governing elite qualification, it added fuel to the ongoing speculation that Delta is in the process of developing a revenue-based program that, like those of Southwest and JetBlue, will reward travelers according to how much they spend rather than how far they fly.
During Tuesday's quarterly earnings conference call for financial analysts, Delta president Ed Bastian made some impromptu comments that give further credence to that speculation.
Referring to SkyMiles, AP reports that Bastian said that Delta plans to shift the program "to drive the type of customer behavior that we would like to encourage." He elaborated as follows:
"I think before we didn't discern between a customer that was a high-yielding customer versus a low-yielding customer. I think that as we continue to evolve those programs we'll be continuing to favor the higher-yielding customers over the lower-yielding customers."
That is exactly what a revenue-based program would do, by linking earnings to airfare and pricing awards according to the cost of comparable paid tickets.
Although Delta still refuses to officially confirm plans to replace the existing SkyMiles program, Bastian's remarks make it pretty clear that such a move is in the pipeline.
Now that the "if" part of the question has been answered, at least tentatively, the only remaining question is "when?"
Reader Reality Check
If Delta were to replace the current mileage-based program with a revenue-based scheme, there would be winners (frequent travelers flying on higher-priced tickets) and losers (less frequent travelers flying on cheaper tickets). What would you be: a winner or loser?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.