Why I love Delta’s new loyalty program – and why you’ll probably hate it

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By | April 22nd, 2014

Loyalty programs may be the single greatest scam pulled on the traveling public.

Want to segment customers into castes of “haves” and “have-nots”? Create legions of blindly brand-loyal passengers? Lift your profits to avaricious new heights?

Nothing does it like a clever frequent flier program.

Yet, as a consumer advocate, not a day goes by that I don’t receive a despondent email from a platinum cardmember who spent every travel dollar with a company, only to come up empty-handed, betrayed by a program’s vague promises.

Who wouldn’t be fatigued after hearing from thousands of unhappy passengers whose miles expired or were denied “elite” status or were banished to the back of the plane on a Transpacific flight? Who wouldn’t be furious at the travel companies whose adhesion contracts allow them to pull this barely legal bait-and-switch?

And that is why I love Delta Air Lines’ new loyalty program.

The nation’s number-three air carrier recently announced it would restructure its SkyMiles program in 2015 so that award travel would be earned based on ticket price instead of the number of miles flown. It’s the first legacy carrier to tie points earned directly to how much you’ve paid, and in doing so it’s incurred the wrath of many customers. But for the first time in decades, the cold reality of the SkyMiles program will send many of us into mileage-collecting rehab, where we can be weaned from our frequent flier addiction and finally make a more informed and rational booking decision.

It’s about time.

Let me be clear: SkyMiles remains patently unfair to most air travelers. According to its terms, Delta can change its program rules at any time without notice, confiscate your miles, or terminate your membership whenever it wants to. Don’t believe me? Read the fine print for yourself. Few air travelers actually do.

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Delta, no doubt, is licking its chops at all the extra money you’re about to fork over in exchange for the possibility that you’ll be treated with just a little dignity on its flights. Studies suggest loyalty program members spend roughly 40 percent more than non-members. I suppose the hundreds of millions of dollars Delta earned from its loyalty program last year — $675 million alone from the sale of SkyMiles to American Express — just wasn’t enough.


Delta apparently believes it can move the goalposts on its program again, and get away with it. Granted, the experience in the back of the plane is beyond awful today, from seats squeezed closer together to “you-get-what-you-pay-for” attitude from the flight attendants. I can’t blame anyone for playing the points game and trying to score an upgrade to an Economy “Comfort” seat, which has roughly the same amount of legroom as a pre-deregulation coach class seat, and at the same time, in an unintentional moment of honesty, admits the other seats in steerage class are uncomfortable (which they are).

But something tells me a lot of Delta’s passengers aren’t going to fall for it this time.

As America’s number-one critic of travel industry loyalty programs, I’m truly grateful to Delta. The days of casual mileage collecting could disappear after 2015, at least if you’re a Delta frequent flier. The new SkyMiles effectively clamps down on many of the mileage-earning shenanigans, such as earning “free” flights by collecting the sides of pudding boxes or U.S. Mint coins. It could also curtail mileage runs, the foolish act of spending your employer’s money to fly nowhere at the end of the year, just in order to become a preferred customer and have access to scarce space-available upgrades. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it ensures the biggest spenders get the best perks — not the fanboys who learned to hack the system.

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Maybe, just maybe, more customers will make a rational decision about their next flight itinerary, not one distorted by a pathological obsession with miles, but based on ticket price and convenience. A veil is slowly being lifted from the traveling public, and at last, they’re seeing loyalty programs for what they really are: as habit-forming schemes that impair your ability to make a clear-headed decision about travel and that almost always benefit the travel company more than you.

Programs like SkyMiles have deceived an entire generation of air travelers, and in its attempt to squeeze even more money from us, Delta has inadvertently confessed the truth about how companies feel about loyalty. It doesn’t matter how much you fly, but how much you spend.

And oh, by the way, the loyalty goes only one way. As a bonus, the airline has angered a small army of program apologists who lurked on blogs and message boards, quietly reaping six-figure referral fees by endorsing the loyalty lifestyle from their electronic perches. These unpaid airline employees once eagerly defended and rationalized even Delta’s most customer-hostile policies, but now they, too, see the folly of their misplaced allegiance.

Welcome to the club, guys.

So thank you, Delta. And here’s hoping American Airlines and United Airlines follow you down this flight path soon. You’ve done your best customers — the 99 percent who fill the economy class seats on every flight — a real favor.

Are loyalty programs a scam?

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  • Helio

    Sorry, but didn’t you post a very similar article few weeks ago?

  • Jim

    I’m not sure, but I am getting the impression that Chris does not like airline loyalty programs. I could be wrong… :-p

  • backprop

    Because there is no middle ground. You’re either a normal American, or you’re an airline apologist who slavishly shovels money at an airline and unfairly makes referral fees by sneakily persuading others to become single-minded frequent flier drones like yourself.

  • BillCCC

    Whenever I see the term “Studies suggest” in an article to back a certain point of view I stop reading because I pretty well know what the author is going to say.

  • Blackadar

    I like the change because it’s fair. I have to fly every week for my company. I live in a hub city, so most of my flights are direct and most are within 1 1/2 hours (flight time) from where I live. These direct flights aren’t cheap though – they’re often $800 or $1000.

    I get penalized in traditional rewards programs because I accumulate neither the segments (because I live in the hub city and don’t need connecting flights) nor the miles that other passengers get. They take a connecting flight in and then go to my destination. According to traditional rewards programs, they’re twice as “valuable” as I am as a customer yet my tickets are often twice as much! With a program like this, it just boils down to the dollars spent and that’s the way it should be.

    I think the perks are overrated for airline loyalty programs. Frankly, the only one I really want/need is the ability to get on the plane early enough to get some overhead space! But that one is pretty damn huge when you fly every week.

    And by the way, Chris, I’m one of those 99% who are sitting in economy even while having status.

  • sirwired

    I don’t think loyalty programs drive behavior nearly as much as you are suggesting. Perhaps loyalty program members record 40% more transactions because if a traveler gets the sense they are going to be traveling more, they go ahead and join for some eventual benefits. If a person doesn’t plan on traveling often, they simply don’t bother.

  • sirwired

    In a hub city, you are actually better off mileage-wise. In a non-hub city that is well served by different carriers, I can never accumulate enough miles on a single carrier to achieve status. Yeah, I may score more miles for a particular trip, but after a year of trips, I have a whole lotta nuthin, spread out on several different carriers.

  • John Baker

    I’m pretty indifferent to the change… DL is the first airline to align their interest with their FF program. Lets face it. They really don’t care how much you fly. They care how much you spend so yes a person that spends $800 to fly ATL to LGA is someone they would want to reward more than the person that spends $700 to fly LGA to LAX. They made a lot more money on the first passenger.

    As long as you don’t allow FF programs to change your buying decision, they work for the average consumer. As soon as you allow an airline, or any business for that matter, to change your decision and spend more, they’ve won.

  • John Baker

    FYI Blackadar the new DL program only changes the way that they award reward miles. It does not change how the reward MQMs / status

    https://www.delta.com/content/dam/delta-www/skymiles/2015-program/2015SMP-printable.pdf

  • TonyA_says

    For the World Smartest Travelers, the rational booking decision is to stay away from flying Delta. No 3 star rated airline needs this kind of attention. Sorry.

  • TonyA_says

    I don’t think I will use the word “valuable” to describe your business relationship. Maybe “captured” is apropos since hub city signifies some kind of monopoly status.

  • TonyA_says

    They don’t even care *if* you DON’T fly since they make so much money selling miles to credit-financial institutions.
    And they don’t really care when you do fly given the usual poor service you expect to experience when you fly with them.
    The real issue is improving service.

  • John Baker

    Unfortunately Tony… I think all the airlines are in a race to the bottom as long as the country as a whole continues to buy on price and not value… but that’s a discussion for another day.

  • omgstfualready

    Why the random slam against flight attendants?

  • John Baker

    Because most, not all there are still a few good ones, that I have run into in the past few months add to the “enjoyment” of the airline experience instead of trying to actually make the flight, I don’t know, enjoyable.

    One can enforce rules without being surly. It’s also possible not to attempt to live up to (or is it down to?) the caricature that SNL did of FAs so many years ago (Buh buy!).

  • Alan Gore

    Airline loyalty programs aren’t a ‘scam’ exactly, but simply no longer a good deal. We have always used the Amex Rewards program, which allows points to be applied to a whichever airline program looks good for a given trip. Recently the answer has been…none of the above! We end up spending the Amex points on merchandise.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Actually, I prefer Delta. My last commercial trip was on United and that was just plain miserable. Just for kicks and grins, I booked us on to Southwest for our next trip, since I was able to snag a fare that was in line with what United and the others were offering, so I’ll finally be able to see what all the fuss is about.

    Oh, and I signed up for Southwest’s “Rapid Rewards” program. :)

  • Helio

    Sometimes I have the same impression… ;-)

  • Ben

    “clamps down on many of the mileage-earning shenanigans”

    How so? I just read the program details on Delta’s site and it looks like the affinity credit cards still earn miles. It also doesn’t mention anything about ending referral bonuses or any of the the other things you have a problem with. The only thing that looks to be changing is the way that base miles are earned and based on price does seems like a more fair way to award them.

  • Southwest patron

    Tell me what is meant by “legacy carrier”??? Southwest Airlines ties in their reward mileage points based on the price of ticket.

  • MarkKelling

    “Legacy” seems to mean an airline that has 1st class seats on the planes, airport clubs, and has been around longer than Southwest even if only in name.

  • Southwest patron

    Thanks for the clarification…

  • MarkKelling

    Hope your trip goes well. Mine usually do on Southwest.

    I only fly Southwest for non stop flights. Their tight connection times can make life difficult. And once you get used to the stampede boarding process, it isn’t all that bad. :-)

  • y_p_w

    Amtrak does their rewards program like that – 2 points for every dollar spent on travel. However, there’s a floor of 100 points per “segment” (kind of a strange definition) and there are ways to increase the number of segments without spending more. However, it takes time and they have a daily limit for collecting minimum points. The majority of people collecting lots of points ride most days for their commutes.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    I used to ride Greyhound regularly and still do, if it’s the only mass transit I can get when in New England. So – I’m used to stampeding! :-D

  • Extramail

    But, delta isn’t truly rewarding butt-in-seat miles, because, as you stated, it is still selling miles to Amex. And, goodness knows, there are plenty of travel bloggers who will teach you how to game that system. But, I was reminded just the other day why I joined deltas frequent flyer program at virtually its inception. I travel on business and must go through the company travel agency. It only allows me to choose the cheapest fare for the trip I have to take. It happened to be on American this time so I selected the flight but then I had to pay for things that I would not have to pay for with delta. Once I added in the bag fee and a “decent” seat, the fare was only about $20 less than had I selected the delta flight. Now, if the airlines would scrap the frequent flyer programs and go back to treating ALL decently, then I’m all for it.

  • emanon256

    I still can’t get used to the boarding process, I think it brings out the worst in people.

  • emanon256

    Legacy carrier is an industry term used for any airline that was around pre-deregulation and still exists today.

  • MarkKelling

    I find it interesting that UA has adopted a similar boarding process with 5 lines set up at each gate where you now have people camping in the lanes as soon as the plane arrives and is emptied. This is actually more like the old boarding process that Southwest used than their current process where everyone has an assigned number in the groups. Sure you still have an actual assigned seat on UA once on board where you don’t on Southwest.

  • JoeRock

    Ok, so you like the program because you ultimately think it’s going to fail? That’s not “liking the program,” that’s “hopeful Schadenfreude.”

  • Joe_D_Messina

    “Studies suggest loyalty program members spend roughly 40 percent more than non-members.”
    ________

    This is thrown into the article like it’s some sort of “gotcha”. But who signs up for loyalty programs? Repeat customers, that’s who. If you fly once every five years you’re not going to mess with joining a program and obviously will spend way less than a frequent traveler who will see value in the program. It’s actually amazing to me the figure isn’t higher than 40% given that not only do program members tend to fly more, they also probably tend to buy more last-minute tickets at higher rates.

  • emanon256

    Chris, I was a 1K (100,000+ miles flyer) on United for 6, years, Gold on Delta for 2 years, Ex-Plat on AA for 1 year and Plat on AA for another year, and am currently Silver on United because I cut back on my flying. Despite that, I just booked a flight on Southwest to save $30 over a flight on United, even though I receive perks on United. Not everyone lets loyalty programs influence their purchasing decision ;) Most of that flying was not paid for by my employer, and the two years when it was, I had to buy the cheapest flits regardless of route, connections, airline, etc. Some of us business travelers don’t have companies paying for all of our travel and when we do, can’t milk it. For those of us who pay our own way, the programs can and do work for us, and we get the benefits, while still bring price sensitive. (The only caveat is that I would pay more not to fly on Spirit).

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Well said. I’m actually quite surprised the number isn’t higher than 40%. That seems pretty low to me. I’d guess that says a couple things, like some frequent flyers don’t sign up for loyalty programs (possibly because they have to split flights between multiple carriers) and that some infrequent flyers sign up for the programs but get essentially nothing out of them.

  • emanon256

    Yeah, I am not a fan of the new UA process, it has changed so many times since the merger, drives me nuts. Anything that causes people to fight over boarding is a problem, and sadly, I have to fight too if I want overhead space.

    Colorado State University did a study a while back on boarding procedures and found the fastest zone method is widows, middles, aisles which surprised me. Because of the random order from front to back, it was faster because fewer people blocked the aisles in the same space. Back to front was actually the slowest of the type tested because an aisle person would show up before a middle and or window person 33%, a middle before a window 33%, etc, causing people to have to get out and block the aisle to let someone else in. Of course when over 50% of the plane can board first because they have a credit card or paid a fee (Or a a frequent flyer), then it messes it all up.

    The true fastest way in the study was to number people based on their seat and it was a hybrid of back to front, front to back, and window, middle, aisle, but everyone had to board based on their specific number for it to work.

  • omgstfualready

    It was irrelevant and unnecessary to a write up (or down) of the programs. The attendants don’t know what you paid to be on the plane (cash/points/whatever) nor would I think they would care.

  • omgstfualready

    I love my Amex Blue card. I get plain old cash.

  • omgstfualready

    I will never forget my first SW flight. I was weirded out. Getting on the plane and just being able to sit anywhere was a really odd feeling that first time. And the hokeyness (not sure if that is a word) grates on me but it seems most others like it. BUT, getting on/off is very fast and efficient (depending on the other traveler’s ability to pick a freaking seat). I think your first time will be similar in experience to mine but your return flight you’ll start to look forward to it (and begin to master the no eye contact so people don’t sit next to you).

  • g-man

    I tell every person working at Delta how I hate the 2015 rules. I don’t do all those shenanigans to get miles and just collect what I earn in my seat. next year even if I spent the same exact amount I will get half the miles. Now that is enough for me to look at other airlines.

  • omgstfualready

    I never had an issue with the boarding process? Most hold their numbers outward so you know where to get yourself situated. Most older gates it’s tight because of lack of space. Though I do at times purposely not hold my number visibly just to test folks. They ask what number I am and I say ’34’ or whatever and I am curious if they look for the paper to see if I’m lying. But I find people to be the best source of entertainment and I’m kinda mean sometimes.

  • omgstfualready

    JetBlue does a nice job with the back to front boarding. Makes a game of needing to be upfront for the connection vs needing to be sure you get overhead space, but at least it’s faster than the zone nonsense.

  • MarkKelling

    “spending your employer’s money to fly nowhere at the end of the year”

    No, that doesn’t happen in the real world anymore. If you are doing that, it is on your own dime. The tight grip most companies have on travel budgets means it takes several layers of management approval to get a necessary trip approved and paid for. I don’t know of anyone in any company who is flying mileage runs and having the company pay for it.

  • emanon256

    Last few times I paid for the lower number, and for example when I was A32, I had 7 or 8 people, all hide their number with their thumb and say they were before me. Upon boarding when I finally saw their number they were all in high 30s, some even in the 40s. I have a similar experience every time, and when I call people out they refuse to move. The employees never do anything about it. I also will try to take a free aisle seat, and almost always get told it’s being saved, or people will put their bag on a seat to prevent someone from sitting next to them, its really annoying.

  • ORguest

    “Now, if the airlines would scrap the frequent flyer programs and go back to treating ALL decently, then I’m all for it.” AMEN. It’s like grocery store loyalty programs, which I hate. If they (airlines/grocery stores/any business) would simply provide the product I want at a reasonable price delivered with good customer service, loyalty would be the natural outcome.

  • emanon256

    Agreed, though one year I was flying one-way from MSN to SFO, and both MSN-ORD-SFO and MSN-DEN-SFO were ~$700 O/W, while MSN-ORD-LGA:LFK-SFO was ~$300 O/W. My cousin picked me up at LGA, we had dinner, and he dropped me off at the AirTrain. I consider that a mileage run, and it saved me money as it was when I worked for the company where we had to pay for our own travel. I didn’t do it for the miles, I did it mainly to save money and see family.

  • MarkKelling

    Haven’t seen that on Southwest at the airports I fly from (DEN and HOU mostly). But then the gate agents there do pay attention to numbers and I have seen them send passengers to the end of the line if they are not close to their proper order.

    My worst complaint with Southwest is on connecting flights where people get to stay on the plane who are going to the next stop. So you arrive and have A 1 thinking you will get a great seat only to find the plane 3/4 full when you get on and then get stuck in a middle seat anyway. This is particularly annoying when you paid to get that A spot! .

  • Southwest patron

    Thanks for this additional clarification… ;-)

  • emanon256

    DEN is where I usually see the issue, I guess it depends on the agent. Fortunalty I have neevr boarded a fligth taht had very many through passangers on it. On a DEN-LAS flight, I think I was one of maybe 3 people leaving in LAS, everyone else was going to MCO.

  • MarkKelling

    I find the puffer fish approach works well to keep that seat next to you open – spread out as much as possible and make yourself look as big as possible like you need 2 seats. But that can backfire on you when the last person getting on the plane is a sumo wrestler and the seat next to you is the only open one! ;-)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Hmm. I paid for the “Early Bird” seating, because my husband has flown Southwest a number of times (for work) and always ends up in the middle seat. I figure with the two of us, at least one of us can score an aisle seat (and he’ll take it). Now I’m wondering about checking our carry-ons (not duffel bags LOL) or if there will be available bin space, what with all the cheats out there. Omaha’s Eppley is terribly slow to return checked bags; don’t know about ABQ. I absolutely hate waiting to see if I even have a bag to claim.

    Oh, and @MarkKelling:disqus, we’re traveling through Denver, so yeah, I can see where that would be a problem for you!

  • emanon256

    The good news is I have never had a problem with overhead space on WN since bags fly free. Many people check their bags when its free, so hopefully it will be easy for you to get overhead space. I too hate waiting for a checked bag.

    If you don’t get an aisle seat, you can always move to one in DEN depending on where the departing passengers are sitting. On one flight my wife and I got the aisle and middle in an exit row and no one else sat in our row, for some reason infrequent flyers hate the exit row, then took a middle seat over a window in the exit row. Now that we are three, we can no longer sit in the exit row. Then I took the window and my wife took the aisle and we were both happy.

    For years my wife always insisted on dragging a duffel bag on flight until I finally made her switch to a roll-a-board. It was a carry on, not a personal item :)

  • MarkKelling

    Always have plenty of space for carry on items on Southwest flights I get on. There is no need to sneak on your entire worldly possessions when you can check your bags for no extra charge.

  • Airline programs have simply returned to their original intention– to reward truly frequent travelers, those who travel by air 10+ times per year. If that’s not you, don’t bother.

  • SoBeSparky

    Chris has a really strange dictionary, the way he describes “free” and “scam.” Unless we enhance a merchants profits with no competitive edge, we are being scammed for getting something for “free.”

    Think of going to a grocery store. One has a BOGO (buy one, get one free) on your favorite spaghetti sauce and greek-style yogurt. The other has the roughly same prices, but no BOGO. So you go to the former, and get your “free” sauce and yogurt, yet Chris says this is not free. Someone pays for it. OK.

    Go to the second store and buy at regular price, paying roughly twice as much, nothing being free. You just lined the store’s investors with windfall profits, but weren’t scammed getting something for free.

    Your choice, a free scam or fat profits for the 1%.

    Same thing for airlines. Quit those loyalty programs and just buy on price and convenience. Ditch those loyalty cards. Let others claim those first class seat upgrades and free trips. Not for you, you don’t want to become a victim of a scam, defined as getting something for “free.”

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Thank you! I don’t take my entire worldly possessions, but shoe changes get to be problematic. My husband and I are very active when traveling and hiking shoes (mountain trails) plus walking shoes (10K on city sidewalks) plus a pair of dressy sandals for church or going out always gets me past the point where a “personal item” will suffice. :)

  • IGoEverywhere

    Vote – absolutletly – loyalty programs are a scam! Delta appears to be alligning it’s program to the same way that several of Capitol One cards do frequent miles. There will probably be no blackout dates, no sold out of frequent flyer space, no excuses for the milage collectors. If you have a ticket from $0.00 -399.000 it may be 30,000 points 400.00-600.00, 50,000 points as an example. This is a fair way of issueing a frequent flier ticket. The earlier that you book, the fewer mailes that you will have to use. The only error that is see in your article is the quote “that you’ll be treated with just a little dignity on its flights”. What airline do you use?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    The only reasons I sign up are that I get the notices about air fare sales and I (theoretically) have a special way to contact the airline if there’s a problem and I need to resolve it. Seems to work with hotels – I never stay at any one chain enough to qualify for upgrades – but problems seem to get ironed out more easily if I’m a member of whatever program they’re hyping.

  • Fishplate

    “Six-figure referral fees”?

    I’m a chump for working for a living, when I can start a blog and begin to live like the 1%…

  • emanon256

    I was thinking that too, I really need to start a frequent flyer blog, then I could afford to pay for first class.

  • UAPhil

    Chris’s viewpoint is far too one-sided. If you want an example of a straightforward, honest program, check out Southwest (where benefits are based on ticket price on both the earning and redemption sides). You know the value of your points, and there are no availability challenges. The program delivers on its promises with no “bait and switch” or other shenanigans. And – huge benefit – points bookings are fully refundable with no fees for all members, so they provide members with tremendous flexibility.

  • TonyA_says

    Well our long string of family trips has just started.
    I just came back from White Plains airport. Booked my wife on UA ERJs to Little Rock and back (with mother with hip and knee replacement) on DL M80/CR7. You know those crop dusters well, right?
    (Note: I got reminded on how I’m just a normal poor American as I drove past the Netjets hangar. It had at least 5 personal jets parked there.)

    I’m gonna ask my wife which airline’s service she hates worse.

    Then to take MIL back to Arkansas, I booked on Southwest. But that requires me to drive to Queens and through many potholes.

  • Travelnut

    Are you sure? Did you measure it? lol

  • Travelnut

    I miss the good old days of Membership Miles. I got several “free” flights on Continental (which I also miss).

  • TonyA_says

    I miss those days when the FAs actually looked at you, greeted you, and smiled.

  • TonyA_says

    A legacy carrier is one that is too big to fail.

  • omgstfualready

    Agreed, if we try to book outside of the approved rates we are flagged as an exception and it goes right to the department head.

  • TonyA_says

    Smart man! You make decisions on what is best for YOU!
    Now I wonder, how many travelers are the blind followers that Chris describe they are? I actively participate in a crowd source travel site and from what I see, most people buy based on price. Only a few have blinkers on, and when the do, they are usually idiotic.

  • omgstfualready

    Oh my, the staff where I’ve flown between have always asked people to step aside if (grossly) out of order. One woman had a meltdown and frankly it was pretty funny, but I’m sick like that. I think it was in Baltimore (back in Feb so too long ago to really remember) and the man she was with had his high A# and she wanted to board with him and they said no. And they did so nicely, explaining the process quietly and with no tone. But she lost it. I was right behind her and the man (wisely) stood quietly. She then conceded she had to wait but tried to give him all her bags and they again said no, he cannot take on more than his allowance of bags. So the man finally walked down the jetway, with me behind him, and I kept a keen eye on the row he picked and sat well over 5 rows back. My only real takeaway was that guy’s day is now RUINED and everyone will have to hear her rant about this for most of the flight and I wanted no part of it having already lived it.

  • sunshipballoons

    I still do not accept that “bad deal” = “scam.”

  • bodega3

    Does a frequent flyer program cost you money to join? If not, they can move the goal posts all they want. It is a consumer incentive and as a consumer, you can participate or not. If all the carriers did away with the programs people will still fly.

  • emanon256

    Thank you, thought I do take frequent flyer programs into account when I do my math. I was going to fly on another trip recently and DL was the cheapest, followed by UA, but I knew I would need to check bags. Once I took the fees into account UA was cheaper, so I paid more for UA to avoid the DL bag fees, and I get “free” bags on UA from their loyalty program. It’s all about doing the math and knowing what you want. I also sometimes pay more for a direct flight, even if its not on an airline of my choice. I paid $200 more recently to fly on an F9 flight because it was direct, had a much better departure and arrival time, and I didn’t want to connect in ORD during storm season. So I paid more to fly on an airline I don’t have frequent flyer status with (Anymore, I did at one time, but sine the moved a lot of flights to MKE F9 is usually not on my list).

  • bodega3

    Yes, there are many factors to making the decision to which carrier to use and smart travelers, like yourself and many others aren’t the lemmings Chris thinks they are.

  • emanon256

    Ant then she e-mailed CE asking for a 100% refund because of the way she was treated no doubt :)

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    At least the cemeteries in Queens will be pretty this time of year.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe you can help me understand what this article is all about.
    I have re-read 3 times already and I can’t seem to get the main idea. Maybe you too, bodega.

  • emanon256

    Chris says he likes Delta’s new frequent flyer program, and then says he hates all frequent flyer programs, and then he hopes AA and UA do what DL did. I don’t really get it either.

    Personally, I hate the new DL program. The old program rewarded you with redeemable miles based on how many miles you flew. Basically, the more you were stuck on an airplane, the more you earned. So people who flew as cheaply as they could, but flew a lot and flew long distances, got free trips. The new DL program makes it based on what you spend, not how much you fly. So rather than rewarding the poor people stuck in economy for 10 hours a week, it’s now rewarding the people who may (or may not) fly less frequently, but buy full fare tickets or fly in first class, etc. Now the old program gave bonuses to full fare and F, but it was still based on the miles flown.

    So the new program that Chris likes, is actually substantially devaluing the program for normal business travelers who fly all over the country or world in discount economy, and making it far more valuable for the “Business travelers on expense accounts” and rich folk. I think Chris likes it because it will get the normal folks to like it less, and then stop using it, or so he hopes. However I think DL likes it, because normal travelers are going to want to pay more to get more miles, when they didn’t have to pay more to get more miles before. It’s a big screw you to the road warriors stuck in coach on discounted fares, and a big we love you to people who spend money. The program used to give the economy road warriors (Have Nots) a bit of the “Haves” perks. The change is now giving more perks to the “Haves”, and taking them away form the “Have Nots”.

    Using Deltas comparison calculator on their website, and my 2012 flight data (I drastically cut down in Oct 2012), under the old program I would have earned 357,795 redeemable miles in 2012, and under the new program I would have earned 123,750 miles in 2012.

  • Jim

    Actually this format makes sense. I get over on Starbucks with a similar format. You buy 12 drinks and you get a free one.
    I’ll be damned if I will spend $4-$6 on a grande, soy, chai, espresso, chilled, mixed, cream, sugar, whatever it is, so I pay $2 for my plain coffee. But when I get the free one, I get the $6 drink for free. At the same time some slob is spending $6 each time and getting the same for free.

  • TonyA_says

    Here’s what I understand with Delta’s 2015 plan when it comes to earning miles.
    You are going to earn a lot less for the same distance if you are NOT an Elite and if you DON’T pay with a Delta (Amex) credit card.
    Elites will earn a lot more compared to non-elites (more than 2x more for Diamond Medallions) for the same distance, but get this, the actual miles earned by even the most elite of the elite can and usually be LESS than what they earned for the same trip prior to 2015. Meaning – everyone gets screwed other than Delta.

    Now remember those earning miles using Delta’s credit card are still earning the same miles (if I am not mistaken) per dollar spent with the card. Maybe they are not as screwed. But the only way to tell is when we see the REDEMPTION plan for 2015. Only then will we know what the Skypesos are good for assuming there is award seat availability. Don’t hold your breath.

    Now since this seems to be an every way you loose deal, why would CE love it? Maybe he has nothing to lose and this article is purely about schadenfreude.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    The 40 % number is meaningless.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Same here. Once I stopped consulting for a truly crappy law firm, I paid for my own travel expenses.

  • TonyA_says

    Agreed, too. I’m seeing corporate accounts (customers) in fare hacking sites.
    Many looking for hidden city bookings since they don’t need check in luggage.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Perhaps that slob likes a grande, soy, chai, espresso, chilled, mixed, cream, sugar, whatever.

  • $16635417

    I recently learned that you don’t need to disclose the measurements if it fits under your seat. (Duffel bags not backpacks, etc.) ;)

  • y_p_w

    If you fly across the ocean, you qualify almost immediately for award travel. i remember flying United to Asia. about 13K round trip. I was able to turn that into two domestic flights for the $25 fee.

  • $16635417

    I had that yesterday with jetBlue. Even heard a guy boarding complaining about the TVs and how “i’m not paying for those, everyone is going to have to find a way to entertain themselves.” I mentioned that there IS no extra charge for TV as long as you have a headset. Then he still complained that he couldn’t smoke on board. The FA heard me, smiled and and gave me the “can’t please everyone” shrug.

  • TonyA_says

    Find a way to entertain himself (wink wink) – ROFL

  • emanon256

    Amen!

  • $16635417

    Wasn’t that the topic of a column awhile back. Entertaining yourself while a seatmate slept?

  • AUSSIEtraveller

    but most people earn frequent flyer points/miles from credit cards not actually flying !!!

  • Jim

    True, but it’s the same idea. I pay less and get the same perks. The other guy (who is the better customer) pays more and gets the same. That’s not fair he should be rewarded better.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I’m confused. He’s not being rewarded better.

    Edited. And besides, he spent 3x what you did. He’s a more valuable customer, if Starbucks wanted to give him more, what’s wrong with that

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Those are two independent and unrelated issues. We are treated like crap because we buy the cheapest ticket regardless, so there is little incentive to improve service. Just think Spirit airlines.

  • 7 in 10 travelers say loyalty programs are a scam. I rest my case. Hey Carver, isn’t there a Latin term for that?

  • bodega3

    Yes, caca. I don’t believe the numbers.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Agreed. I only know two people who used to do such things. One is now in the federal penitentiary, the other is about to lose his license to practice.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Respectfully, frequent flier programs, like all major loyalty programs, were and remain intended to incentive customers to choose your business over your competitor with the promise of freebies.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Virgin is similar. Very transparent, very easy to understand. No shenanigans so far.

  • Actually, the Latin term for that is merda. Close, but no cigar.

  • The great Chris McGinnis, commenting on my site? Hell has frozen over.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    lol. Yes,it called argumentum ad populum. Basically, if 75% of people believe the world is flat, then it must be so. It’s how PT Barnum made his money.

  • Well, your post seems to have riled my Delta-heavy frequent flyer fan base, so it was necessary! :)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Actually its stercus, Merda is too polite. Doesn’t convey the same level of vulgarity.

  • TonyA_says

    So 3 out of 10 must be the smartest travelers since the 7 subsidise them?

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    LOL.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    7 out of 10 people who voted does not equal 7 in 10 travelers.

  • TonyA_says

    Are you sure of your math?
    There’s plenty of scenarios where even a Diamond would get less in 2015 compared to 2014.
    So this seems to punish even the most frequent of travelers.
    They might be affected less but they still lose.

  • There are plenty of scenarios where they would get much more, too. For example, look at ATL-Nashville. There lies a bounty of miles (even tho they should now be called points) due to the short haul, high fare nature of the market. In the long run, I think Diamond level members will likely be happier with the new system.

  • Gee man, when you don’t get something, you REALLY don’t get it. “Earned based on ticket price” is a veiled attempt to steer business fliers into buying an UNNECESSARILY expensive ticket on their employer’s dime. Are you trying to tell me that you applaud the program that is encouraging people to rip their employers?

    Next, if you think that new Delta program will curb what you perceive as “abuses” from folks who know how to game the system, it won’t. It’s only half revenue-based. The redemption remains region-based, at least for now. The game is still on.

    “SkyMiles effectively clamps down on many of the mileage-earning shenanigans, such as earning “free” flights by collecting the sides of pudding boxes or U.S. Mint coins.” Really? The first trick ended over 10 years ago, the second, I believe, in 2011. Delta would be a little late for the party, don’t you think? Mileage Run is/was NOT about flying on your employer’s dime. Wrong again!

    Seriously, i respect you for helping people. If only you could stick to something you know…

  • You would have to decide between “slavishly shovels money at an airline” and “sneakily persuading others” because you are not describing the same person.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    How exactly would someone perpetrate this buying unnecessarily expensive ticket? As several commenters have pointed out, most companies with substantial employee travel keep close track of travel spending. As I stated elsewhere,

    This reality is very different. The entire purpose of a loyalty program is to convince people to spend money at your establishment, either money that would have been spent at a competitor, or not at all. The more money you spend the happier the business.. But we’re-geared-to-the-1% program generally doesn’t have the same marketing power as loyalty or frequent flier or other such moniker, except in places like Casino where you’re recognized for being a big spender.

    The idea in travel is that all things being equal, a person who travels more miles, rents more times, etc. spends more than someone who traveled less. However, that metric is becoming less aligned with spending realities. For example, if I spend seventy-five $100 nights ($7,500) at the Courtyard by Marriott I’m a platinum member. But if I spend fifty $400 nights at the Ritz-Carlton ($20,000), I’m only mid-tiered, i.e gold and have lower status through spending almost three times as much; thus the misalignment.

    Hilton was the first major brand to admit this misalignment and allow guests to make top tier based purely on room night spending. Thus having benefits be tied to spending habits skews towards higher spenders.

  • Jim

    That’s what I’m saying… We both get the same rewards, even though he’s the better customer. That’s why the new Delta loyalty system is better than the old, because they reward higher spending… it still sucks, but it’s better.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I see. I misunderstood what you were saying.

  • Paul Heymont

    I’d like to suggest that there’s another entire segment of the loyalty industry that’s being overlooked here. Paradoxically, while it has been very good for me, it’s probably of very little use to the airline industry, except their sales of miles. That segment is those of us for whom AAdvantage is NOT an American Airlines loyalty program–it’s a Citibank loyalty program. Chase, not United gets my MileagePlus loyalty, and so on.

    I’ve managed to be loyal enough to these and similar masters that my wife and I have been able to travel to Europe two to three times a year on award tickets alone (in the back of the plane, of course) for almost 15 years. Almost none of the miles come from flying; nearly all come from paying for everything with loyalty-linked credit cards and then paying the cards with the cash we otherwise might have spent in stores. We’ve also strategically shifted cards when bonus offers were good.

    Thus, for those of us in the card-loyalty and coach-seat worlds, Delta’s program changes have meant little. I suspect there may be many more of us than there are people deeply affected.

  • So we are mostly in agreement, I see?

    In regard to buying an “unnecessarily expensive ticket”, you’re making a good point, but it’s been and is being done. Let’s just say that some companies are better in shutting down loopholes than others. The new SkyMiles is a powerful incentive for employees to try some funny things with their travel departments, and you can’t seriously tell me that Delta did not have it in mind when they were working on it.

    Chris is giggling because he’s hoping that Delta changes will help bring downfall to loyalty programs in general. He’s wrong about that, of course, but it was a nice try anyway.

  • SmartDoctor

    Okay, I’m an amateur travel agent and love flying – it’s about the last remaining vice my wife has been unable to deprive me of. I live in Atlanta. Guess who I’m married to? No, I am not employed by Delta, although I might be willing to give it a try if they would have me. Skymiles member almost from the beginning. I’m Platinum Medallion for 3 years running, and will be again next year. A few anecdotal points, in my personal case. Most of my air miles come from flying internationally, and I REALLY like flying business class. Most of my Skymiles come from American Express. Yes, they are very highly inflated, and having read several very recent articles, it seems the other airlines charge much, much less for an award ticket. I cannot remember the last time I bought an economy ticket and actually scored one of my “unlimited” upgrades. Although I was #27 on an upgrade list for one of 3 seats to West Palm a few weeks ago. I didn’t make it. So here is why I am, and remain loyal to this “terrible” airline. First, I live in Atlanta. My airline choice to anywhere is severely limited. United has 2 flights daily, non stop to San Francisco, at really god awful times. Much as I would love to be Platinum with Star, they won’t let that happen. Fly American? I really don’t want to have to make domestic connections in Dallas/Miami/Chicago/Newark. Yes Delta is more expensive, but that expense eliminates almost all connection hassles. Like missing flights, weather delays, 3 hours of additional travel time. So here is this guy’s travel strategy: I don’t fly on awards tickets. My wife, however, does, and getting to Europe or Domestically, we rarely have a problem. Yes, I just paid 80,000 highly inflated skypesos to get us from Atlanta to SanJose, and home via San Francisco this past weekend. Would I have preferred a 25,000 mile First Class ticket? Of course. But I’ve got miles in the bank, lots of miles, and they do no one any good unused. Result? For my purchased ticket, we got 2 first class tickets to California on the days and flights of MY choosing, for less than the price of 2 economy tickets. Same with Europe. I buy either a reduced business fare or upgrade an economy ticket with miles, and the Mrs flies on an award ticket. Result: 2 (Relatively) inexpensive business class tickets, I still am awarded my regular miles for the flight, I still accumulate a few miles from my credit card for her “freeby” and everyone is happy, and I keep my status. And where Delta may be stingy with international business awards, invariably we get to fly Air France, usually out of Dulles – great lounge, great food, and I love the shopping at CDG and the AF lounges. Another point, which no one mentions. As a high medallion member, I have great access to customer service phone line, and Delta has been spectacular over the years, both when I’ve run into travel trouble, or my kids or family members have needed assistance – weather cancellations, equipment breakdown, general grief. I have never had anything but exemplary service from the Delta people who if they really don’t care a whit about me, sure can fake it very nicely. Perhaps that alone keeps me loyal. Now what works for me may not work for someone else, but my bottom line is that it does work. Conclusion, IF I had a travel choice with my travel pattern, I would prefer to be Star Alliance. That won’t happen out of Atlanta. Delta has been good to me in the past, and continues to be. And frankly, they are out to make a profit, and if giving seats away in the back of the plane is “subsidized” by us fools who value our comfort, it’s nice that they are recognizing the fact. If Delta were to go out of business, it doesn’t help the frequent or infrequent flyers very much, does it?

  • TonyA_says

    But why would you use ATL-BNA as your example. Its TPM is only 215 miles (one direction) so Delta gives you the minimum 500 mile guarantee. Surely, a 215 mile trip is not what the average Joe Blow flies to make super duper elite. How many of this short trips will you need to get to Diamond Medallion? You picked a sample the greatly skews the numbers. Why not run your model on the top 10 origin-destination routes or corridors? You can even add in some of the most traveled international routes like NYC – LON. I bet you will see a different picture.

  • TonyA_says

    And you know what, this article has really nothing (no data, no numbers) to help us understand the Delta 2015 plan. It’s really just a rant.
    Anyway I run some numbers and entered them in Delta’s 2015 calculator.
    Here’s one for Miami-New York, the USA’s busiest corridor.
    As you can see, everyone gets screwed if they buy a cheap fare.
    Shame on you Delta.

  • TonyA_says

    Are you saying employees will simply buy nearer departure date since typically those fares are more expensive?

  • TonyA_says

    Are you the same NYC guy who posts in the Frommer’s blog?
    Anyway welcome and you make a great point.
    I guess you still earn a mile a dollar spent on the card.
    Hopefully they wont devalue redemption further.

  • TonyA_says

    I have a question. What is an amateur travel agent?

  • Paul Heymont

    That would be me, although most of my time these days is on my TravelGumbo.com.
    So far the cards are still mostly $1=1 point/mile, although there are some that offer 1/2 mile and lower fee, and some offer more than 1 for some transactions. The bonuses are a big factor, too…

  • Shhh! Did you have to spell it out for everyone? Just kidding…

    In the interests of full disclosure, I don’t do these “shenanigans”. Since I run my own business, that would be stealing from myself. But for folks who fly for living (no, not pilots) earning miles is a big reason why they don’t mind spending a good part of their life up in the air. Those who can do something about not losing out–will, and Delta is banking on it.

    Your NYC-MIA is a good example, btw. As you eloquently noted, “everyone gets screwed”. That’s why Chris is happy.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I guess if someone works for a company with poor compliance procedures. Of course when everyone in the department is averages $1000 per ticket, and I’m averaging $1800 per ticket, no one will notice.

  • SmartDoctor

    Simple. An amateur travel agent is someone who thinks like a travel agent, acts like a travel agent, knows lots and lots of things travel agents know, memorizes airline schedules and frequently prices, knows how to get upgrades, but pays the rent and his airfares by being a physician. Clear? (Oh, and staying in a Holiday Inn Express the night before helps, too.)

  • TonyA_says

    Clear :) Just as clear as my choices now after obamacare.

  • TMMao

    It’s a step towards transparency so why not go all the way like Air Canada does? When booking, there is the option to save $20 or more if the passenger clicks to refuse frequent flyer points. Or pay the discounted fare and get 50% points, or the full fare for full points.

  • TonyA_says

    You call Aeroplan transparent? Have you looked at the amount of fees AC charges for international award ticket?

  • Travelnut

    Wink wink, say no more!

  • bayareascott

    Some people just like standing in lines. I don’t get it.

  • bayareascott

    Why tell every person working at Delta? Those people have nothing to do with the decisions. You are directing your ire to the wrong people, and certainly not making anyone want to assist you.

  • BMG4ME

    They are not a scam. Frankly we shouldn’t expect to get anything free in return, but we do, and that has enabled people like me to take trips that would never have been possible. I’ve visited Australia, flown on Concorde, for almost nothing. This is not a scam. And if I feel it is, I have a very simple option – don’t join the program (although that would be a terrible waste of money, almost like tearing up dollar bills).

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t see how loyalty programs are going to matter once all the legacy carriers merge into one domestic airline.

  • Cat

    Congratulations, you are one of the “haves”. For the rest of us those trips WILL NEVER be possible.

  • BMG4ME

    Sorry, maybe I should have been more sensitive but I assumed that the people reading this article were frequent travelers that had similar opportunities to me to earn miles.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Quite frankly, they don’t need your loyalty as much if you live in a hub city, because for most flights they offer you a better option (direct) and you have limited other choices.

    Assuming the airline’s pricing algorithms are working properly… and really, we know those things are magic, then on average each seat-mile you fly is just as valuable to them as someone else’s. Sure it is frustrating that ticket pricing creates crazy scenarios like it being cheaper to fly through a hub city than to a hub city, but that’s just because Delta wants to squeeze every possible dollar out of you, and they still do, SkyMiles changes notwithstanding.

    Crediting miles based on spend makes it clear that you are just overpaying for tickets by a percent or two… and Delta is keeping that for you to spend at the “company store”. Crediting miles based on distance encourages those who choose less convenient routing, those who go out of their way to fly an airline, and those with flexibility. Yeah, it can be deceptive and frustrating, but it is a marketing tool for an airline, so no surprise.

    But maybe Chris is right… traditional mileage programs have created some very disfunctional behavior (mileage runs where flyers just hang out at the airport, crazy zig-zag routes to exploit oversights in fare rules, and complicated rules based on things like fare class). Perhaps Delta’s changes are a needed rehab… their just not a very good loyalty program.

  • Marcin Jeske

    No argument that an $800 ATL-LGA ticket is more lucrative than a $800 LGA-LAX ticket… yet in Delta’s new scheme, they are rewarded exactly the same. (I assume you noticed that issue and notched the ticket down to $700 to make your point seem strong.)

    Clearly, Delta is still not rewarding customers based on how much they profit from a sale, but how much revenue it brings. This makes sense in businesses where each sale has similar margin, but not as much in a time-limited inventory business like travel. You would want to use a loyalty program to encourage customers to use capacity that would otherwise go to waste.

    That’s what award travel encourages… and by awarding miles based on distance, it gives people an incentive to fly more and longer, using up inventory. I would be foolish to say I understand their business better than Delta, but I do think they are mistaken in the way they changed the program.

  • Marcin Jeske

    The thing to remember with boarding processes is the dwell time in the aisle… if everyone just walked onto the plane and immediately sat down in their seat, then an ordering of back to front, with window/middle/aisle order for each row, would be ideal and quickest.

    In reality, people walk at different speeds, miss their rows, and when they do get to their row, need to stow carry-ons and slide in. That means that a person generally spends more time standing in the aisle at their seat (or waiting on someone in front of them) than actually walking down the aisle.

    The windows/middle/aisles method works well because it almost eliminates people needing to back out of their seats, while the row randomness as you point out spreads out the people dwelling in the aisle. Apart from the strict ordering, the only optimization I can think of it to have multiple lines (front, middle, back of plane) and interleave them as they enter the aircraft, guaranteeing that the back of the aircraft won’t get starved if a bunch of fronters board in a glob, maybe sending a bunch of tailies on occasion to clear the aisle… ahh… back to the simulator.

  • gracekelley

    I miss the days when people would listen to the automated announcements and not one person employed by the airline had to directly ask anyone to comply with the rules because they’d already have done so by listening to the first three automated announcements the airline paid thousands of dollars to have played before shutting the aircraft door

  • gracekelley

    They don’t care. In fact it is obvious that the people who paid the most make the least amount of noise.

  • disqust101

    What an odd and woefully incorrect post. Delta makes it easiest of all the airlines to get status without ever stepping foot in a plane.