Platinum bind: Elite stragglers get a reprieve from ailing airlines

You’ve probably heard about the extraordinary mileage promotions being offered by many legacy airlines in the United States. Earlier this week, for example, Delta Air Lines offered up to triple flown miles toward elite status on select fares purchased for travel through the summer. But that isn’t the only way in which air carriers are being more generous with their frequent fliers.

Some customers who can’t quite make elite status this year are also being allowed to squeak by. That’s what happened to Glenn Chapin, who found himself about 3,000 miles shy of qualifying for Platinum status on Delta recently.

The airline took a hard line when he asked for mercy. It sent him the following cut-and-paste rejection letter:

Please know Delta appreciates your loyalty, and we’re honored that you have chosen to fly with us so frequently over the years and we welcome your continued support.

Elite status is based on Medallion Qualification Miles flown within a calendar year. Your year to date MQM balance was 70,534.

We strive to provide equal consideration to all of our members with similar circumstances, and we receive many inquiries from customers who are unable to reach the required qualifying mileage. In fact, this year,

Delta did make an exception for members who were close to the next Medallion threshold and lowered the amount of miles for Platinum Medallion to 73,500 Medallion Qualification Miles, instead of the required 75,000 MQMs. Unfortunately, we are not able to offer an exception to this exception.

Your selection of Delta is appreciated, and we will always do our best to merit your confidence and support.

For the record, I think this would be a fair response during normal times.

But these aren’t normal times. The airline industry needs all the elites it can get, so an “exception to an exception” might make some business sense. In fact, the reason Chapin didn’t fly the miles needed for Platinum status is that he was, as he delicately puts it, “between opportunities” for three months.

So he appealed directly to Delta’s chief executive, Richard Anderson. I list all of the known executive contacts on my site, although Delta’s remain elusive (in fact, Delta rarely responds to queries from me — but that’s another story).

And guess what? Delta changed course.

Thank you for your recent e-mail to our Chief Executive Officer, Richard Anderson. I’ve been asked to respond on his behalf.

We work hard at Delta to provide you top-notch customer service and we thank you for taking the time to share your kind comments with us!

Our Elite Team Desk has granted you complimentary Platinum Medallion status that has been extended through February, 2010, as a one-time exception. You should receive your updated Platinum credentials by mail within 4-6 weeks.

We appreciate your business and trust your future flights will be enjoyable. We hope you will continue to make Delta your airline of choice.

I have a feeling he will.

I think there’s a lesson in here for all of us. At a time like this, it may not be entirely unreasonable to ask for something that under normal circumstances would be totally unreasonable. The free roundtrip ticket. The first class upgrade. A bump in elite status.

Airlines are in a generous mood. Why not be on the receiving end of their generosity?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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