Warning! Soon, airline loyalty will cost you

By | January 27th, 2013

delta7Like many frequent travelers, Glenn Haussman recently received an e-mail from Delta Air Lines about an “update” to its SkyMiles loyalty program. It was so understated that some passengers didn’t bother to read it. But Haussman did.

“I was not thrilled,” says Haussman, who works for a hotel industry Web site in New York. “It made me feel less valuable to Delta.”

How can a loyalty program make passengers feel unappreciated? Delta is the first legacy airline to tie the value of its frequent-flier program to the amount of money you spend, as opposed to the number of miles you fly. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the airline’s frequent fliers will earn “elite” status, which gives them access to upgrades and other perks, through a combination of miles or segments flown and annual spending on Delta flights.

It’s the latest in a series of unpopular but necessary reforms that are leaving some travelers questioning the value of the travel industry’s rewards programs. “When they peg a dollar amount to my travel, it seems as though they’re penalizing me for planning my travel well in advance of others,” says Haussman.

The reason for the change is simple: The program as currently constituted is unsustainable.

Jim Knisely, Delta’s general manager for SkyMiles strategy and operations, says that the old rewards program worked when the distance flown aligned with the price of a ticket, as it did three decades ago, when loyalty programs were created. “But that’s no longer the reality of our industry,” he told me.

“The objective here is merely to try and keep a program successfully running as originally designed,” says Krista Paul, founder of UsingMiles.com, a loyalty Web site. Delta had too many elite-level fliers competing for a limited number of perks, and “something needed to be done.”

Airlines can change the terms of their loyalty programs anytime, for any reason, according to their program rules. They can even eliminate their programs, because the fine print says that the miles don’t belong to you; they’re the airline’s property. That may be why some Delta customers feel betrayed by this “update”: They say that the airline is breaking a promise to reward them for their business.

“It’s not a miles program,” says Nancy Dickinson, a Web site editor in Palominas, Ariz. “It’s a money-for-Delta program. At least they’re no longer hiding it.”

Air travelers should get used to it, according to airline loyalty expert Tim Winship. JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Virgin America already offer frequent-flier programs that reward air travelers based on how much they spend, he says. Delta is the first legacy airline to adopt a similar model. “There’s still some value to be squeezed out of the programs,” he says. “But it’s becoming increasingly difficult.”

Winship and others say that the idea that passengers who spend the most should get the most will be a standard for loyalty programs of the future. US Airways, which is considering a merger with American Airlines, is thought to be considering similar changes, says Winship.

United Airlines has made no secret of the fact that it thinks that its program is, in the words of one of its executives, “too generous.”

The revisions make sense, says Erin Raese, the president of Loyalty 360, a loyalty marketing association. “I don’t know a chief financial officer who would allow a company to give great value to a customer who is consuming a lot and paying less,” she says. “It’s not a profitable move for the organization.”

But how far will airlines go? In travel, prices change so often that it would be difficult to use dollars spent as the sole criterion for rewarding customers, says Raese. “For example, I know the value of the reward I’ll receive when I reach a certain spending threshold with Staples,” she says. And it’s consistent, no matter how many products she buys or where the purchase is made. “But can you tell me definitively what an airline mile is worth in dollars? Probably not.”

For that reason, experts predict that a hybrid model, in which loyalty is measured through a combination of miles flown and dollars spent, will be used. Such a program would most benefit business travelers who fly frequently; these are the so-called “high-value” passengers whom airlines like Delta want to recognize as elite.

But changes like this have a way of making other air travelers rethink their loyalty. Kim-Marie Evans, a Delta Silver Medallion frequent flier, says that this is just the latest in a string of disappointments from the airline. It recently took away her free checked bags benefit and her lounge privileges. “Even though I log a ridiculous amount of miles with Delta, I feel completely unvalued,” she says.

Other travelers, who won’t have a problem qualifying for elite status under the new program, don’t have any trouble with the changes. Bill Doran, a consultant based in Greensboro, N.C., who has lifetime Gold Medallion status, says that Delta will continue to get his business because it offers reasonable fares and generous upgrades, which are useful on long-haul flights. But on balance, he acknowledges, the updates “benefit Delta more than they do the customer.”

As painful as these changes are, they make sense. Air travelers who may be tempted to give their loyalty to an airline like Delta now won’t cling to an empty promise that they can reach elite status any other way than by spending their way there. Some will refuse to participate and will instead purchase a ticket that makes sense for them, and not for their loyalty program.

Also, airlines will no longer find themselves in the awkward position of having to reward customers who don’t deserve it. That includes travelers who exploit loopholes in loyalty programs by engaging in end-of-year mileage “runs” designed to rack up enough miles for elite status. Those customers contribute little if any real value to the airline and consume perks that probably weren’t intended for them.

One by one, airlines seem to be restoring a little reason to their rewards programs. What took them so long?

Should airlines base their loyalty programs on the amount of money a customer spends?

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Posted January 27, 2013
  • sirwired

    Will the changes hurt some people? Yes. Bargain-hunting leisure travelers (which bring in cash-flow but little, if any, profit), and those that racked up lots of credit card miles, but not using Delta’s Platinum AmEx.

    Speaking as someone who has never qualified for any loyalty level on any airline, the changes make total sense. If they jacked up the miles requirement again, they’d be penalizing people who make lots of profitable, but short, trips. Those are customers Delta wants a a heck of a lot more than Aunt Flo making a couple bargain trips to Europe, or Grandma hunting down the cheapest NY-LA runs to visit the grandkids.

    (P.S. Somebody who’s only Silver is not logging a “ridiculous” number of miles with Delta. If they were, they would be, well, higher.)

  • EdB

    “The objective here is merely to try and keep a program successfully running as originally designed,”

    Okay. So they want to keep it running as originally designed. That is why they are changing it from the way it was originally designed. Makes perfect sense to me. Right.

  • Adam1222

    Not surprisingly, this story misses one of the key issues with the change in the rush to judge certain customers in Chris Elliott’s opinion as “undeserving.”
    The change to the program greatly impacts those who fly on Delta’s international partners. The miles flown on those flights will still count, but the dollars will not. Book a $5000 business class ticket on Air France, which is part of a joint venture with Delta, and it counts as bubkes.

    Finally, an end of year mileage run doesn’t necessarily involve “loopholes.” I know Chris dislikes anyone who deigns to aim for status, but booking an extra flight towards the end of the year, and perhaps having a 0 night stay at the destination isn’t a “loophole” of any kind.
    It’s fascinating how Chris always takes the side of customers — even when they don’t read or follow rules — but uses this as an opportunity to cast aspersions, yet again, on people with elite status.

  • m11_9

    They must have meant “intended”. The original goal must have been to reward their best customers ($), not those who flew the most. The refinement apparently does that.

    Too many of the “little people” and grandmas are in the lounge, eh?

  • TonyA_says

    Heck just go shopping with your Delta Credit Card.
    Please note that if a customer does not meet the MQDs threshold, he or
    she can still qualify for Medallion status if he or she has earned the
    required MQMs or MQSs and makes at least $25,000 in Eligible Purchases
    within the calendar year on his or her Delta SkyMiles Credit Card.

  • Crissy

    I’ve never obtained status, I’m more of a heavy leisure traveler. I pick flights by what best fits my trip. A quick trip to Florida, probably Jetblue because the experience is better and my first bag flies free. Europe? Who has the best schedule at a reasonable price. But an airline with better service might win even if they cost more.

    Having said all that. I do collect miles and have on occasion redeemed for flights. As for this change. While Frequent Flyers all claim airlines make money off these programs and they likely do. It would be foolish if airlines are not thinking ahead about the best ways to keep the milage program and the airline self sustaining. Your miles mean nothing if there is no airline.
    While a revenue based and miles based program will hurt some flyers, if it will keep the airline and the program afloat long term, then it’s a no brainer.

  • Extra mail

    I see this as delta trying to max revenue. It began by charging for an extra inch in coach and found that it could make a boat load of money doing it. But, oops, they were having to “give” those seats to low revenue generating elite “cheats.” Take away some of those elites and make them pay for those seats and, hooray, delta makes a ship load of extra money.

    There are always unforeseen consequences when developing such programs and the frequent flyer idea has had to adjust as they go. I’ve been a member of deltas frequent flyer program since its inception and have close to 2 million miles flown with delta. I’ve endured various changes in usage of those miles but, being a captive of delta because I live in Atlanta, I’ve stayed with delta. It will be interesting to see how the AirTran/southwest merger affects travel in Atlanta. Delta may lose customers from that fact alone.

  • Jack Jackson

    I am “elite” because my company spends a bunch of money flying me, often at the last minute, all over the country, never internationally. I enjoy the fewer and fewer times I get bumped up to first class because I do spend a lot of my time in airplanes and I’m not going to feel bad about it. Given that the airlines now charge bag fees and have reduced the seat size in coach so only small short people are comfortable in them, the only perk for that elite status is no bag fee (which my company would pay) and room for my legs while in the air. I don’t get better food because there is none and I don’t drink alcohol at 8 a.m.

  • SoBeSparky

    These programs, like almost all marketing efforts, try to induce certain specific behaviors.

    The airlines always have tailored the airline loyalty program carrot to meet its needs: Double miles for new routes. Credit card bonuses (paid by the bank which charges you 18.9%). Better rewards for higher BIS (butt in seat) mileage levels. Generous bonuses during slack seasons. And so on.

    So apparently Delta is now trying to induce more revenue in addition to frequency, the initial objective of the programs. This is just another facet on meeting the marketing objectives of an airline. Soon, I am sure, passengers will get double and triple revenue miles for certain behavior.

    My poll response is, “both.” I prefer the first, but the second seems to make more sense.

  • NakinaAce

    This whole discussion is ridiculous. No one at Delta or any other airline ever cared about your loyalty except to the extent that it put dollars on their revenue line. Why would they? Don’t get me wrong I was an avid supporter of Delta back when they had a corporate culture that was truly Southern in nature, mannerly, honest, and seemingly caring. I became a million miler many years ago and would go out of my way to fly Delta because of their attitude if something went wrong (lost luggage, etc).
    If the airlines insist on competing on price then I say let them compete on price and stop all this subterfuge about loyalty. I don’t believe much in regulation but fair pricing would say to me NO LOYALTY PROGRAMS. A discount for bulk purchases maybe but associated with an empirically based spend account.

  • TonyA_says

    Agree that this makes [some] sense in the meaning of achieving “elite” status.
    I actually hope all the airlines do this so there would be less and less people who earn elite status through mileage runs and shopping with affinity cards. I like this move. Hopefully, it will get even more stricter. Maybe someday we will go back to the real meaning of ELITE. There are just too many wannabes.

  • TonyA_says

    If you buy your Air France flights through Delta, the purchase will count as a Medallion Qualifying Dollar (MQD).

    Flight spend for travel on other airlines ticketed through a Delta channel (featuring a ticket number beginning with “006”) will also be included in MQDs.

  • First, a little context. The “MQD” threshold for Silver is $2,500. That’s basically 8 roundtrips at $300 apiece. So, for those who really do fly a lot, or take one business class trip to Europe courtesy of their employer, this isn’t a particularly difficult threshold to meet. I suspect the main objective is to kill off those infamous year-end mileage runs, where the FlyerTalk crowd you hold in such disdain shops for those infamous $400 day trips from ATL to ORD with 6 stops in between, and to close the “connection loophoke” where people ring up a bunch of segments through connecting flights that bring in no extra revenue for the airline. For example, DFW-JFK and DFW-ATL-JFK cost about the same, yet I’d get status twice as fast by taking the connection because you get 4 segments instead of 2 for a roundtrip. Makes perfect sense to me that the airlines want to equalize that.

    Now, the part of the new policy that is troubling is that MQDs aren’t awarded for SkyTeam partner flights, unless under a DL flight number or ticket. This is a major devaluation of SkyTeam for Delta customers. The way I understand it, if you fly Air France from Atlanta to Paris, Delta really shouldn’t care who operates or tickets the flight because of the revenue sharing arrangement, but DL is now telling the biz class traveler who just paid $4,000 for that ticket “sorry, but your business really isn’t important to us”. You’d figure that’s exactly the sort of customer that DL would want to reward. But then again, Chris, I’d expect you of all people to cheer this change, since you hate alliances and code sharing, anyway.

  • TonyA_says

    Meanmosh, it (the ticket) just has to plated 006. In other words it must be ticketed by Delta regardless of what airline is in the itinerary.
    I will soon fly an Inter-Asian flight ticketed by Delta with segments on JAL (no codeshare). That purchase will count according to the rules. But I really don’t care since I do not have elite status with Delta anyway since I would rather fly an Asian airline anyway. I just had to be on the same flights with others on this journey. My Trans-Pacific flight from JFK will be on Cathay Pacific. It was cheaper (and obviously a better deal) than Delta.

  • John Herrmann

    Aren’t there credit cards that reward holders of the cards on a dollar spent/dollar earned basis for the company to buy them an airline ticket? You buy two years of groceries and perhaps a couple of vacations with the card and get a free trip? Maybe rather than loyalty to any airline, it makes sense to be loyal to a card of this kind. Aren’t there such cards now?

  • Bill___A

    I’ve just read up on this. Air Canada last year imposed a minimum amount of “Air Canada” mileage so that people were not flying only on other Star Alliance airlines. This makes sense. Now I have checked Delta and the amount of spend is not unreasonable. Furthermore, the “roll over” feature is quite generous.
    Redeeming miles in some programs seems to be a lot more of a problem than it used to be, so the actual accumulated miles seem to be almost useless as far as flying is concerned. However, in exchange for loyalty, one does get quite a few benefits, such as lounge access, upgrades, etc. One has to realize that any loyalty program is primarily intended to benefit the business or businesses offering it. They want to know what their customers do and who is loyal to them. They do give certain perks and that’s fine. I happen to have elite status with Air Canada. I have made several trips in business class that I would have otherwise had to pay a lot for and this is a big benefit. As far as mileage runs are concerned, it is up to the airlines to set the criteria for loyalty status and however someone wants to earn it is up to them. If you find it worth your while to fly to Hong Kong for one night to keep status, that’s a personal decision.
    The only issue I have with “mileage runs” is that they are not very “green”. Flying causes pollution, uses up energy and really should be done for some sort of reason.

  • Durant Imboden

    I’m not thrilled by the change, but I can see why it makes sense from the airline’s point of view.

    Also, while every cloud may not have a silver lining, I can see one possible benefit from a Delta Medallion member’s POV: If elite status becomes harder to earn, some of the perks that come with elite status (such as upgrades) may become easier to obtain.

  • LFH0

    But also look at exactly what Delta Air Lines said. Its general manager for SkyMiles strategy and operations says outright that airline fares do not relate to the quantity of transportation provided, and that how far one travels is not related to how much one pays for a ticket. While many of us may have known this to be the case for years, a system in which all the prices are completely arbitrary cannot be one which inspires any confidence.

  • Guest

    Actually @tonya_says in the fine print they exempted those with the two top levels of the DL Amex card

  • Adam1222

    If all you care about is a bag fee,then you should just get a credit card. I’m not sure what routes all over the country you’re flying that have no food in first class. They must be short and on regional jets. (And even then, you’d get the deluxe snack basket.”

  • Adam1222

    You may also pay $1000 more for buying it on the Delta website. Not all Air France (or other skyteam) itineraries can even be booked through Delta.

  • Barfeld

    FWIW, it costs Delta an average of about 11 cents a mile to fly people around. In order to gain status, the airline is making us pay, at a minimum, 10 cents per mile.

    Obviously, there’s more to it than that. For example, if a loyalty program helps fill seats that would otherwise fly empty, that improves the financial results of the flight. But the fact remains that Delta’s minimum dollar spend is still less than the average cost per passenger of flying people arround.

    The new rules will complicate my life, but as currently cast it’s hard to say they’re unreasonable.

    Source: http://www.airlinefinancials.com/uploads/Delta_2002-2010__mainline_ops_.pdf

  • y_p_w

    I’m taking Amtrak a lot these days, and their loyalty program is based on price paid, but with a catch. They give 2 points for every dollar spent on travel. If a ticket is purchased with a discount (AAA, senior, etc) the points reflect that discount. The catch is that there’s a 100 point minimum per “segment” such that any segment under $50 gives the same amount of points, with a max of four minimium point trips per day getting points awarded.

    It’s also possible to game it by combining segments. One could split up a fare into multiple segments, which actually cost the same. As long as you get off and take another train/bus, it also counts as an additional segment with the 100 point minimum. I could theoretically turn my single ride into four segments and collect 400 points instead of 100. It would be a huge time waster, but some people might actually do that since there are also “tier levels”.

    They also have 10-ride tickets with a substantial discount. Those points are solely given based on price paid. I’ve calculated the one I usually get, and I calculated about 4-1/2 times as many points if I purchased them individually (which would cost 60% more). Of course the real calculation is how much are the points worth? Amtrak’s loyalty program is different in that they divide the country into 3 zones and most reward trips are based on how many zones of travel. Within the same zone, one could go a few miles or 1000 miles using the same amount of points.

  • Jen

    Does this mean just the dollar value of the flights you are buying, or can you also include the value of purchases you make with an airline-branded credit card (or card registered with your loyalty progran’s account)? If you can shop your way to a higher status, I don’t see this being as much of a problem as if you have to buy higher fares in order to earn the perks.

  • Cybrsk8r

    “Maybe someday we will go back to the real meaning of ELITE.”

    My, aren’t we snooty?

  • Carrie Charney

    So, why does a trip between New York and Los Angeles cost less than a trip between NY and St. Louis? Why don’t they just price according to miles flown?

    I wish they would have an incentive program for the CEOs. Their salary should be reduced by how many complaints are received and how much revenue has been lost. Instead, the worse they are to customers, to their own employees and to their own company, the wealthier they become. It’s the new work ethic example.

  • Jack jackson

    My point exactly. Being “elite” hasn’t offered me much except for the bigger seat. I’m still not going to feel bad about it. And, yes, I got an Amex card shortly after delta instituted the baggage fees and, yes, my trips are at least two short hops to one destination since I was transferred from Atlanta. Whoopee, the deluxe snack basket is so much better than mere peanuts.

  • y_p_w

    I think it depends.

    I’ve got a credit card with special privileges. I get a point for every dollar spent and any airline miles booked with the credit card also count for one additional point for every mile. However, I did have one heck of a time trying to get miles when booked as part of a package tour from a travel agent. When I booked travel directly with an airline, the travel itinerary showed up on my credit card statement, but the travel agent payment didn’t show anything. I kept on trying by they didn’t accept it and I gave up.

  • Janice

    I’ve often wondered if the airlines regretted ever having started this loyal stuff. I know it’s been revenue generating for selling miles, etc. but I wonder if the hassles merit the revenue as they have to keep changing the rules to meet their objectives.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    The miles someone flies should be the bigger factor than how much they spent on their ticket.

    Business travelers are the targeted audience with the walk up fares airlines have, but in today’s economy, even business travelers are being forced to cut back.

    I’m sure there’s a “real” reason for this and I’m sure it has nothing to do with what’s best for the customer, but the airline’s bottom line. However, in a world of spin-masters, we’ll also never know the truth.

  • TonyA_says

    Well, then become an Air France elite instead. Unfortunately, I think that gives you less perks.

  • y_p_w

    The problem is that often a dozen or so passengers start arguing about who is “elite”. I’m not, but it seems like the floor is way too low.

  • TonyA_says

    You expect to fly coach and be called “elite”?

  • TonyA_says

    If you can [consistently] afford to pay high 4 figures for international business class then none of this discussion should bother you.

  • TonyA_says

    Then you will hate MQDs even more.

    Certain specialty tickets, including but not limited to unpublished,
    consolidator, group/tour and opaque fare products will not count toward

  • TonyA_says

    Why is it a racket any more than your employer’s product or service? Isn’t it simply responding to supply and demand?

  • TonyA_says

    One word: competition (as in supply and demand)
    You will pay about twice the price per mile for NYC-STL compared to NYC-LAX. But don’t be too unhappy, the price per mile of NYC to PAR (Paris) is more than that of NYC-STL.

    Data as of 27JAN for Delta:
    Route LowR/T Fare Miles (1Wy) Price per Mi.
    NYC-STL $231.80 882 0.1314
    NYC-LAX $317.80 2461 0.0646
    NYC-PAR $1044.10 3635 0.1436

  • TonyA_says

    Extra Mail,
    I do have quite a number of clients who live in Florida and travel to the Far East. The fact is that Delta has the most routes from the Southeast USA to Asia since they have a hub in Atlanta. The one that comes close is Korean Air because they have a flight(s) from Atlanta to Seoul. They are in the same alliance (Skyteam) so it is a no brainer who my clients are supposed to be loyal to.
    Those who prefer to fly a Star Alliance or Oneworld airline have problems finding flights. I think that for many people, there really is not that many options to choose from. Sure you can take AirTran but they only go as far as Mexico (I think). I think airlines know this (they are dominant in some airports). And this loyalty thing is getting less and less important while Ca$h is getting more and more important.

  • Daisiemae

    Why does Amtrak have a loyalty program? Who are they competing against for your business? Aren’t they the only game in town?

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Excellent point. This nonsense about loyalty needs to die a quick and horrible death. Its all about incentivizing certain behaviors with rewards. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it has absolutely nothing to do with loyalty.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Loyalty programs have nothing to do with rewarding customers for loyalty. Its 100 percent about driving revenue to the company through perks to incentivize profitable behaviors. Its always been about how much money you spend with the company. The difference is that the former assumption was that more miles meant more money spent, so miles was a reasonable metric. As that becomes less true, using mileage as a metric becomes less accurate.

  • y_p_w

    It was an international flight on United. I got a MileagePlus account and United had no problem applying the flights to my account. All I had to do was give them info from the boarding pass stubs. They didn’t care how I paid for it. However, on the credit card statement the itinerary showed up as XXX-XXX and I FAXed copies of the boarding pass stubs. In the end I was told they weren’t satisfied that I paid for the flights with this credit card.

  • MarkKelling

    United has been rewarding its customers for spending more for years — they call it “Global Services.”

    They won’t tell you how you get into that level other than it is by invitation and it is higher than their highest published frequent flyer level, but it is based solely on how much you (or your employer) pays for your flights each year on actual United planes. My boss was in that group for a few years because he flies around the world 4 times a year (literally he will fly around the world visiting our scattered offices), but no longer because the past couple trips were on partner airlines.

    United also has a requirement that you fly a set number of actual flights at each level before you can move up to the next level. So even if you have the necessary number of qualifying miles, if you have not flown enough flights (4 per level) you won’t move up to the corresponding FF level. But not really sure how you could get 25,000 50,000 or more qualifying miles on fewer flights (except if you have the former CO credit card you can get around this).

    I think Delta is at least being honest with its customers. The ones who will jump ship are not the ones Delta wants in their program any way. Like the silver level flyer complaining about flying “ridiculous” number of miles. I had to laugh at that one. Try flying over 100,000 miles BIS just on Unites plus enough on Frontier to hit their Ascent level — that’s ridiculous!

  • bodega

    If the air was part of a package or a consolidator ticket, you might have only paid by credit card to the company and they paid the air by check, so then the carrier wouldn’t have the credit card information showing for payment in the PNR.

  • y_p_w

    I tried several times. I had the itinerary showing the locator number and tried sending a copy to the credit card company. I gave up since I didn’t get much cooperation from the travel agency and the credit card company said their hands were tied.

    I did get over 12K miles, as did my wife from United. We used those together to get four tickets on a United partner airline. However, that would have meant an additional 25K points our credit card, which would have been the equivalent of maybe $250 in merchandise like gift cards.

  • bodega

    So you didn’t book the air via the GDS with the agency, therefore the company that issued the ticket showed up on your credit card statement. You get the points for the cost of what you paid for to your UA FF account and the miles for the flight, but not the extra points or benefits that your card would have given you if you booked with UA either with your TA and their GDS or with United directly, either by phone or online. UA has the card that lets you get a checked bag for free if the card is used to get a UA ticket. The clincher is that UA has to be the one charing the ticket, not a consolidator or a wholesaler that puts together packages.

  • y_p_w

    Actually – it was Citi PremierPass, although they’ve changed the terms. It was really generous too. 1 point for every mile in addition to 1 point for every dollar. For an international flight that turned out to be really good. I think we could have gotten the miles to count if the TA had worked with us, but they didn’t seem to care after they’d already taken our money. All the flights were properly booked, all the hotels were handled by local tour guides, and it generally went smoothly. However they didn’t seem to care when we were trying to get this additional benefit.

    When I made inquiries to Citi’s ThankYou program, they said that they could give us the points if we could work with our TA to show that the travel was booked with this credit card. They didn’t really care about the particulars, but wanted to trace the purchase to the travel. We also had several overseas domestic flights booked on this trip. I think they would have had a field day trying to figure that out, so we didn’t bother.

  • y_p_w

    Of course they have competition. They still have to compete against air and bus travel. It’s also an incentive to spend or at least buy individual tickets. They also have partner agreements with hotels, car rentals, retailers, and even airlines. However, their deal with United only earns points for using Newark and an Amtrak connection to three cities. This may be the most convoluted partner agreement I’ve heard of. They also require booking the flight via phone, which I believe requires an additional fee compared to booking online.



    When you fly United, take Amtrak to connect to or from Newark Liberty International Airport and either Philadelphia, Wilmington, Stamford or New Haven and earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points on the whole trip, including the flight.

    Book your Amtrak segment when you book your flight with United at 1-800-UNITED-1 and provide your Amtrak Guest Rewards member number to earn Amtrak Guest Rewards points for your flight. You will earn 1 point per mile traveled (a minimum of 500 points) plus a 25% point bonus for travel in United Business class and 50% bonus for travel in United First class, in addition to the points you earn for your Amtrak travel.”

    It did work out pretty well when I booked a car via Enterprise. I got 50 points per day of my rental (didn’t matter how much I paid) and two times more during a promotional period. That was in addition to my Enterprise points.

    I noted that I buy 10-ride tickets for my occasional commute. I get a certain amount of points, which are more than the minimum floor. However, If I ride any three segments on an individual ticket, I get more points than for that 10-ride because of the minimum point floor per travel segment. I worked it out, and I can spend one-tenth the amount on one trip to get more points than I get for a pricey multi-trip ticket. However, it would be a silly exercise, even though I’ve heard people discuss doing just that. I think it might make sense in some cases to attain tier levels before the end of the year, which mean bonus points.

    I never really got caught up in loyalty programs, but I started thinking of all the mental gymnastics. It doesn’t really seem like it makes that much sense to chase down rewards points, but it seems like a lot of people do this just for entertainment purposes. I could either spend $124 to try to get from the SF Bay Area to Chicago, or figure out how I’m going to get 8000 points on Amtrak Guest Rewards. Some people have gone nuts trying to figure out how to take advantage of their special promotions such as double points, or when they might want to buy individual tickets that amass more points than buying discounted multi-ride tickets.

    In the end it’s really irrational. It generally doesn’t make financial sense unless you’re already traveling. I tend to book based on price. I travel so little on any one airline that I probably can’t get anything. The only time I’ve actually gotten any reward trip was when I flew internationally and had enough miles to book a short domestic trip (inter-island in Hawaii).

  • Miami510

    As a retiree with the ability to fly out on any day and return any day (plus or minus a day or two from an intended stay), I look through the airline’s Website for less expensive flight days and times. I’ve taken early morning flights and
    frequently fly on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursday for the same reason, BUT I always look first at airlines with whom I have a frequent flyer program and also one with international partners that go to places I frequent.

    On many occasions there is another airline I would prefer, but I’ve been sticking to (I don’t want to mention their name, but their initials are D.E.L.T.A.) one airline because I use the domestic miles to fly to Europe on their partner’s planes.

    I’m a bit relieved to hear this. Now, for a few bucks more I can fly their
    competition, who has a non-stop to the same place, which saves three or four
    hours. The “savings” by being “loyal” has shrunk. So here’s the deal Delta (Woops! I mentioned the name) this is a win-win situation. I can get where I’m going faster and easier, and you lose me; who you obviously don’t care about. It’s a deal… and thanks.

  • Chasmosaur

    Hopefully *fingers crossed* my husband will have a new job soon where travel isn’t necessary. I will miss being perq’d travelers, but I’m not sure he would be able to sustain Gold if it comes down to money + miles. He might – a lot of his flights are last minute, but they’re certainly not first class. Such BS.

  • Jo

    Chris – I’m curious why you say that delta has taken away her checked bags benefit and lounge access? Lounge access has not been granted to lower tier (silver, gold) for years and only diamond members receive skyclub lounge membership for free.

    With regards to checked bags, silver medallions still receive one 70 lb bag for free with domestic flights and more on international.

    I also have a hard time understanding a silver medallion saying the “log a ridiculous amount of miles”. Silver medallion is far from “ridiculous” levels of miles, that’s why there are 4 tiers above that! Diamonds and those flying several hundred thousand miles a year are “ridiculous levels”. 25,000 miles a year isn’t “ridiculous” by any means.

  • Philip Brown

    As a businessman; I realize that you need to make a profit for your services/time. If that requires a modification of a loyalty/rewards program – this should be understood by the customers. What is the saying about “killing the golden goose”? If airlines don’t receive a reasonable ROI (return on investment); they will be out of business – quickly…
    Philip C. brown

  • Adam1222

    You’re missing the point. Currently, Delta and Skyteam market themselves based on the idea that you don’t have to choose between them. You’ll earn MQMs on Delta for Air France flights, and your Sky Priority status will be honored across both.

  • TonyA_says

    Adam, are you joking? I’ll believe you when KLM/AF releases more Business Class (and above) awards seats to Delta Skymiles. There really ain’t that much reciprocity in Skyteam as they want you to believe. So what are you really fighting for – a chance to get an Economy Comfort upgrade? Just get a Delta credit card and charge $25k a year. You’re done.

  • Adam1222

    Thanks for that perspective, although not really responsive to my point about earning MQMs. And I’ve booked business class awards to Europe on Skymiles both of the past two summers, using Skyteam partners.

  • jim6555

    Without a mileage program, there would not be airline credit cards. The card programs are very profitable for the airlines.

  • Christopher Cuciti

    From what I read on consumerist, and excuse me if this was already mentioned, they will not include the government fees/taxes toward you MQD, so that means it is more like eight 500-600 dollar tickets, since 200-300 may be taxes. I am flying from Europe to the States to get most my miles (I live in Germany) and the fees and taxes are often over 50% of the ticket cost. I would have to fly Gold level mileage to get Silver level dollars, likely. I’m afraid this will knock me out of the program all together unless I take four to five trips “home” a year.

  • BMG4ME

    As much as I hate the change, it makes perfect sense, the only reason it didn’t happen earlier was because they were scared to lose customers. Of course the most valued customers are the people who spend most. Now finally elite status will reflect that.

  • bofdem

    Honestly I agree with Delta. Based on my spend, I would have blown through their requirements each of the past ten years (even when I was not traveling for work). So those who are complaining about this – and making a bigger deal/stink about it – are either budget/leisure travelers who shouldn’t be Medallions in the first place, OR people who haven’t run their OWN numbers. If you don’t like it, don’t fly Delta. Or like me (as a Platinum Medallion who stopped flying after I hit 90k flight miles in 2012), be disloyal and spend the big bucks with airlines who treat you better.

  • Randy Rub

    well I think Delta get’s way to uggly, having a super lausy equiped Lounge, even are reckless enough to chatge for a glas of wine 9+ USD !!!!! now they come up with the next dirty trick against the loyal customer.

    It’s time to change the airline and think about the loaylity programms at all. Just fly less will be the first Step i will do for myself. Thanks fu…. Delta

  • gracekelley

    They have been pretty clear. “Doing what makes the most sense for the business” to me means that they are doing what is best for the business not necessarily customer.

  • gracekelley

    This model of business is rampant in corporate America not just the airlines. Corruption and has been for decades only now for about 2 decades Congress has been bought too. Broken