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Delta Air Lines announced a major revamp of its frequent-flier program Wednesday, switching to a system that ties rewards to ticket price rather than miles flown.

The airline said the changes, set to take effect next year, would benefit "frequent business travelers" and those who pay more for their tickets.

Bargain-hunting passengers, however, will find it harder to rack up free trips.

"It's going to upset a lot of people but it's economic reality," said George Hamlin, an aviation consultant in Fairfax, Va. "Leisure passengers typically seek out price, and carrier loyalty is often a second priority."

The move mirrors the way hotels and credit cards structure their loyalty programs, as well as how relative newcomers JetBlue and Southwest and Virgin Airlines run theirs.

While the other legacy carriers declined to comment, Hamlin said he expected them to follow Delta's lead.

Information from Reuters was included in this report.