Questioning, considering and rethinking my loyalty – My brain hurts!

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delta and AA jets LAX

Time for a very personal post. My head is just spinning and my brain hurts. Why? Let me “try” to explain.

Everyone knows Delta runs a good operation. They are scarily on time for a legacy airline (even if they do pad schedules a bit to accomplish this, that is OK by me). They just about never cancel a flight – EVER. Now sure, sticking to this plan can result in flying jets with, shall we say, some issues that can be a bit frustrating to passengers. But bottom line is they get you from A-B pretty darn well.

Also the Delta “experience” is normally good for a domestic airline. The Delta food is good or very good in fact. Wifi is consistent and reliable (even if a bit slow at times). When you are on one of the upgraded seat jets with new IFE it is an outstanding experience. DeltaONE or international business class is a nice product and service is excellent. The Skyclubs have been upgraded and improved across the board so much that they are simply CRUSHING the other airlines in comparison (not counting most AMEX Centurion lounges, clearly, as that is still the standard to beat).

Delta people are very good too. From airport reps to red coats to phone reps to digital support – all are, most times, just a pleasure to deal with and want to help.

The bottom line is all of the above is remarkable. They are just so far above the competition that it is not even a question who to choose. If you are a United flyer, and fly Delta, you will be in shock over the difference. Then there is the one teeny tiny little issue:

SkyMiles

It seems like Delta has one group running everything to do with Delta and are dedicated to unmatched excellence. They are willing to do whatever it takes to win, to win big, to build loyalty on so many levels, to just crush the competition. Then there is the other team running SkyMiles who seem to have the exact opposite goals. They want to mislead, confuse, frustrate and hide information from flyers. They update information and tell no one (because most of the time the updates are just nasty). They truly seem to want to destroy loyalty and show there is a sub-basement below the bottom floor you never knew existed (but will soon).

This complete disconnect between so many parts of Delta that are driven to #KeepClimbing and the other division that is equally driven to #KeepDescending is mind boggling. That is why my brain hurts.

Let me give you an example of excellence that literally moved me to tears. I was humbled and stunned.

Saturday I was flying home from LAX. I had a very early morning flight and all my segments had cleared to 1st class (it’s good to be a Delta Diamond). I gave up all those upgrades to be able to SDC or same day change to a later flight departing around lunch time so I would not have to get up in the middle of the night to make the “dark-30” flight. That turned out to almost be a huge mistake had it not been for Delta elite services.

I was changed from my confirmed upgrade on my other flights and placed back on the upgrade list as upgrades do not carry over when you SDC. No problem, sleeping in at the InterContinental hotel LA in a huge suite would be worth a coach ride, if necessary, from LAX to DTW. I need not have worried as a Diamond flying on a Saturday, I was cleared into first class as second on the list with four seats open. Then things started going wrong.

extra cooling unit in LAX for my Delta 737-900er

We had a gate change (no big deal as that happens often). But, the gate our 737-900er pulled into had a busted ground air conditioning unit (the pilot called it, I think, an APU). Anyway, the point was the jet got hot. Really hot. Almost intolerably hot. And then we were delayed. The captain told us that an hour and a half ago he had requested an external unit. At last we got some kind of a unit that would provide some cool air, but was not the right one to fully cool the jet. The captain was great with info and you could hear the frustration in his voice. He was on “our side”.

My main stress was not the heat but the rolling delay. You see I only had about an hour in Detroit to make my connection to South Bend and my flight was the last one of the day. Not good.

I was also having a rare, but really fun, twitter exchange with the Delta Assist folks about the situation. I was not mad as I know stuff happens. And while I really wanted to get home, worst case, I would overnight in Detroit and get home the next day. Not ideal as I had a bunch of things to do on Sunday, but also not the end of the world. I teased Delta Assist I may need a Porsche ride to make my connection depending on where my gate was and especially since the “express tram” is currently non-operational in DTW. Just to be clear, you can NOT reserve the car service from gate to gate. Delta decides when they will extend it. But unless things changed, and without intervention, it did not look like I would make it home Saturday night and would enjoy another stay at the Westin DTW (hey I need SPG stay credits to keep my Starwood Platinum so at least there is that).

my gift bag from dtw - thanks scott from Delta very much

The captain did all he could to make up time once in the air, but it was not looking good. Unless my departure gate was literally across from my arrival gate I would miss the flight. Even then, I would have, maybe, 10 minutes to make the flight. Not good. Delta Assist asked me to keep them up to date with my progress. I did just that and about an hour or so before the SBN flight I got an e-mail from Scott in Detroit that my gate in DTW would, in fact, be just about across from my arrival gate and he would even be at the gate to make sure I made the flight and to quickly say “hi” to a loyal Diamond Medallion. Oh, and would I like a window or aisle seat in 1st class as I would clear my upgrade.

Uh, WoW?

I did quickly meet Scott as he handed me the above gift bag on the way down the jet bridge. I was floored. I mean, yes, I did just this week make “double diamond” (not a real term, it just means I have over 250,000 MQMs) but I am no Delta360 flyer worthy of anything special like this. I was overwhelmed and truly still am.

This does go to show you what Delta is willing to do for loyal flyers. From Porsche rides to phone and digital reps willing to go out of their way to “fix things” when your travels go wrong – Delta IS doing it and not just for me in this instance. So beyond impressive.

Rene in SBN after mainline delta jet flight from DTW

I ended up, for the first time in my life, flying a “mainline” that is a “real” Delta jet into South Bend airport. I have never done that before. (btw this was due to Notre Dame traffic that would depart Sunday morning). That flight, by itself, was one of the reasons I booked the fights to begin with so that too was exciting on it’s own let alone all the other events surrounding it.

All of this gets me back to “Questioning, considering and rethinking loyalty – My brain hurts!” I am so impressed with Delta operationally. How can an airline “this good” and working so hard to be the absolute best airline ever take such joy in utterly decimating the frequent flyer program? It just does not make any sense to me. Why work SO hard to reward loyalty with one hand and then with the other hand crush loyalty? If Delta even put 10% of the same effort they put into making the rest of the airline great into SkyMiles, they would be the unquestioned best airline in the USA across the board – and yet they don’t.

My brain hurts! – Rene

 

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33 comments

  1. I agree with you. When Delta does it right they do well. The problem is the Sky Miles and other cuts. I don’t care that much about miles, but if Delta would give me eight global upgrade certificates (like American) and restore some of the rule changes about same-day change and stopovers on international flights I’d be perfectly content flying them. That and allowing me to book Air France first-class.

  2. BTW, it’s too bad that swag back isn’t an amenity kit on international business-class flights. I wouldn’t eat the snacks but the gadgets would be helpful.

  3. This post goes right to the heart of the loyalty issue that many of us currently face. I have continued on with Delta the last few years while many friends have changed allegiance all the while giving me grief for staying with Delta. I fly totally on my “dime” and always have and will continue to do so due to the fine people on the front line.

    Every time I contemplate the issues you raise I get stressed out about how the points I gave built up for the first class exotic vacation for my wife and I may never be enough. Then I get on a Delta flight and interact with the crew and it is a great time!

    Maybe the time has come as stated by a couple of the gurus of the Frequent Flier world – perhaps it is better to quit worrying about status and just pay for the better seats and have more free that was taken in the chase for points and miles.

    Also what do I do when I grow up?

    I am interested in what you decide to do …

  4. You have answered your own question, René; and it is something about which I have written in previous articles.

    Delta Air Lines is betting that their operations are so good that a loyalty program would not be needed to keep you loyal — ergo, your conundrum.

  5. Rene, That is a great story. But since you are a known delta blogger, I do not believe your experiences with delta are representative of what the rest of us can expect. As a quadruple Diamond (finishing 2015 with 500,000+ MQMs including rollover), I’ve never had that treatment, although there have been what I thought were coincidences when gates were close together on shot connections.

    Do not be seduced by the dark side with promises of honesty, integrity and respect. Delta’s been in the business of boiling frogs for a long time now. It has decimated the Skymiles program, and you can bet more enhancements are on the way. If you think you may have had enough, you’ve probably had enough.

    I don’t know why people say the Skyclubs are so great. They have improved in some respects at the cost of guest access and inferior well drinks. Admirals clubs are just as nice IMO. At least one location has a fitness center and cooked-to-order omelets (for a fee) and AA top-tiers get access to Flagship lounges and first-class lounges of OneWorld airlines. The CX Pier in HKG is fantastic. Plus credit card membership still allows guests and family members free access unlike Skyclubs. Another neat feature of the Admirals clubs is any member travelling internationally gets two coupons for premium drinks, i.e. Luxury Bar for deltaphiles, at departure and connecting cities. No skunky beer, wine and booze on those trips.

  6. A few months ago, I booked my mom on a last-minute SkyMiles ticket from StL to IAH to see her dad, who had taken a very dramatic turn for the worse. We honestly didn’t know if she’d make it before he died. So, with that in mind, I booked her on a 37-minute connection at MSP — tight for even an experienced traveler and my mom isn’t, a couple of domestic leisure flights a year, and that’s it. And she has a knee that’s not great as well. I was looking at the gate scheduled for her flight that day (and for the same flights several days before) and it looked like she would have to walk from F-teens to C-teens — among the longest, least convenient walks at MSP.

    I was in touch with Delta Assist from the moment my mom got to the airport in STL (mostly needlessly, but in a vague effort to let them know that both my dad an I are elite delta flyers and would appreciate any special consideration for my mom on this very important flight.), and we talked about special services available. They wouldn’t commit to a car ride gate to gate (and to be clear, I knew it was an extraordinary thing to even ask for, but they said they’d keep an eye on her connection). And then something wonderful happened. Her gates started moving, even after her flight was in the air. What was supposed to be an F-teen to C-teen connection became a F-3 to G-teen connection, which is short and has moving walks the whole way.

    I don’t know for a fact that Delta did this to help my mom, but if you fly Delta often, you know the gate assigned in the morning is usually the gate it gets in the afternoon. My mom had an easy walk and even had time to use the bathroom — which I’d warned her would not be the case. And she made it in time to say goodbye to her Dad, too.

    Delta does a lot of really nice things for flyers. And while SkyMiles doesn’t live up to what Delta is as an airline, I fly to fly. And the loyalty scheme is just bonus.

  7. An APU is an auxiliary power unit. Most airframes have an internal APU.

    They need to replace the current Skymiles people with those that looked out for you on your return.

  8. @Brian Cohen – The problem is the tipping point. There are now HVC who spend a TON who are departing. They have pushed it too far with $kyRubles. They need to at least swing back a bit beyond the tipping point.
    .
    PS – for some reason your comment went to spam but I found it.

  9. @Mr. G – Delta people read the blog, and others, each day. RA also gets each day some snipets from media and blogs etc especially so when something new is out. While I don’t know if he saw THIS post, many at the mothership have (I would think).

  10. Who else would you use? American and United are terrible, and the others either do not have an international service or do not serve the entire US. Otherwise, I’d go with Alaska!

  11. @Colleen – AA and AS are both considerations yes. UA, no one should have to do that! Southwest would be a better choice 😉

  12. I believe you, René — and I agree that the decimation of the SkyMiles program went too far…

    …but for now, Delta Air Lines is experiencing record profits; and that airline will stay the course until the financial outlook becomes questionable — and only then will changes and “givebacks” be considered, in my opinion.

    It may already be happening. You have seen article after article posted on BoardingArea pertaining to low airfares on many airlines. As excellent an airline as Delta Air Lines may be, it is tough to compete with airfares as low as less than $100.00 round-trip between Atlanta and Los Angeles — and their Basic Economy E fares do not even come close to competing in terms of price.

  13. Fantastic write-up, Rene, thanks for sharing. Wonderful that they gave such good contact and assistance.

    So many of us share your dilemma. I was traveling recently on a RTW award ticket (I so miss that award option, one example of the SkyMiles degradation we mourn), and I wanted to do a same-day confirmed change to get to NYC earlier. Over the phone, I was told it couldn’t be done as the low-level award space required wasn’t available – and to be fair, SDCC isn’t applicable to international flights according to the fine print, so they were correct. I was hoping a supervisor would waive things for me – there was plenty of space available – but no go.
    But he did suggest I grab a redcoat at CDG. That redcoat took care of it, no muss, no fuss, no ‘you can’t do that’; took 20 minutes – it was a complex ticket – but I got my earlier flight on what turned out to be a completely full Delta ONE cabin at take-off. That kind of service and assistance makes it hard to drop my loyalty. Many other airlines would have stuck to the award space rules and made me keep my original flight.

  14. @Brian – Yep agree on all your thoughts. Plus, I think E is a mistake unless they DO match. An example is ATL-MCO when DL is $60-ish in BASIC-E and Spirit etc are $30-ish. If they are going to play in the gutter get down to gutter prices. If not, forget them and say the flight is worth the extra money (I think so as I don’t buy BASIC or Spirit Air tickets – but that is me)!

  15. I also think Rene might have received special treatment. I’ve done 33-35 minute connections in Atlanta before — running — and never had a car or any attempt by Delta to help.

  16. @FNT – I have never had car in ATL (2x in LAX however) and have had similar similar connections and it is a doable most times.

  17. Delta is counting on people’s willingness to pay for quality. In bad times, it doesn’t work, but today enough can afford it. Plus they have some pretty solid hubs and a lot of us have very limited choices. I detest the way they treat me with Skymiles, but it’s hard to get in and out of ATL without them. I do try, though. My last two flights were aa, and I am trying to use DL less. They show me no love, I don’t feel any obligation to be loyal to them.

  18. Your article hit the nail on the head for many people. Not myself, as the kindest way to refer to my last several Delta experiences would be mixed. Numerous personal debacles aside, I recognize that Delta is a good fit for many people, and don’t begrudge them their choice.
    That said, I think there are a couple of considerations to include. I think that your experiences are not remotely representative of what happens to most people. It’s not out of any bad intent or wrongdoing on your part, it’s just that not only are you a top tier elite, but you are a, if not the, leading outside expert on Delta and Skymiles. That’s not the case for most people. They just don’t have the knowledge that you do, and lack the time, money, ability, and inclination to get it. That means that you get treated differently. When Delta lost my checked bag with all of my clothes for 4 days on a trip to Crete, I got a form letter email apology and that’s it. You would have known what to do and who to contact to at least get compensation. When something goes wrong, status and knowledge help.
    Another point that you briefly touched on is integrity. If you’re young and single, and get hit on by a cute girl at a party, then learn that the girl is in a relationship, that’s a pretty clear message to stay away at all costs. If she’ll burn her current guy, what makes you think the same won’t happen to you? Delta has gone very far out of the way to burn credit card partners, other airlines, and every Skymiles member. This provides no basis for any trust at all. You’ve documented this many times. You have to do what you’re going to do, but ultimately do you feel you can continue a relationship bereft of trust?

  19. Rene, Delta folks know exactly who you are. They will look out for you. That’s a great thing, really. Just don’t be fooled that what assistance is given to you is offered to others. It’s not.

  20. @Dale – I have flown with a number of Delta360 folks. Your mind would be blown if you knew what they did for them. I am nothing compared to those who spend HUGE with Delta!

  21. René,

    Let me apologize for those who don’t understand that just because you blog means you get anything…

    I’ve personally been picked up in ATL twice (2xs more than you) and that’s 2Xs more than a 360 member I know who lives in Myrtle Beach.

    The sad part is all people have to do is read your blog to know as much as you.

  22. @DR John – My thanks for your kindness. BTW my wife reminds me she met you before I did and how great a person you are. #Respect

  23. Hi Rene I was awaiting your post. I continue to be a loyal delta customer because I have had such positive experiences with them . I am approaching my MM status and even though it doesn’t get me Anything it’s a nice milestone and recognition. I have been driven from gate to gate ok not in a Porsche but still been well taken care of. I am a PM and trying to continue for 2016 totally enjoying the perquisites up from gold -so now I’m spoiled ! Perhaps that’s the plan ? I love the friendliness of @delta assist and the CS phone people . I had an icky experience and made delta aware of it and they took care of me! I had a tight connection
    And a representative walked my to my next connection . I enjoy their reliability and for that I choose Delta
    So sorry to the many who are angered
    But I have chosen to keep my STATUS because it works SO well!
    Thank you Rene !

  24. Rene, Some of the photos you’ve posted, the swag you give away, stories like this, and common sense about how the world works lead me (and probably more) to think that from time to time you get “special” treatment from delta because you are known to them as a blogger with a large following of delta elites. Others seem to think you get no special favors.

    What do you think? I know delta reads this blog, but I’d be interested in your honest assessment.

  25. @John – You have to understand, most day to day Delta folks, have no idea who I am other than that I am a Diamond. Now, having said that, I “do” play the DM “card” now and then as I want to see what a DM can get or ask for. I often do MRs with other DMs and they get stuff done that blows my mind. Sure some things (aka access to something like an event etc) I can ask the CORP folks for but often the answer is NO or we will get back to you.

  26. Gone are the days of Ron Allen. For the Delta employees who are glad about that, I remind them of the fiasco of Leo Mullins; laying off 30 thousand Delta employees, leading Delta to bankruptcy and getting a 16 million dollar bonus for his failure. Frank Lorenzo predicted in a speech which included the closure of Eastern Airlines, there will be only five major airlines in the US. Of course, he was wrong…there are three.
    At one time, I held top tier status on three airlines due to my extensive business travel. With changes in the various programs, some very challenging, I placed most of my travel with Delta. From Royal Medallion to Skymiles Platinum to Diamond (when that level was added), I have been “loyal” to Delta with a year after year top tier status in its frequent flyer programs.
    Yes, I do agree that most of the Delta employees with whom we deal on a regular basis are wonderful. Eager to help and most graciously recognizes our loyalty to Delta. Those are the front line folks who realize that traveling is, perhaps, the worse part of our jobs. If memory serves, Paul Horning once said, those who think that traveling is exciting, interesting and adventurous are the ones who don’t do it!!! I couldn’t agree more.
    Our enemy, if you will, is the people at Delta who never travel; those sitting at computer terminals and “crunching” numbers. I am told by a Delta representative that “Hartsfield” has dictated to upgrade the Gold Medallions ahead of the Diamonds. I questioned that decision from a business stand point. Hum, let’s see. The Gold spends $5k per year and the average Diamond spends $30,000+ per year.
    But, Delta isn’t alone in this rather strange business approach. In protest, I place some of my travel funds in the hands of United and American (very little). With only member status now in both airlines, I have been “upgraded” on United about 50% of the time, and offered upgrades for a small fee on American. I can only wonder what the United and American “elite status” members in coach are thinking.
    If you are a non-frequent flyer or a not so often frequent flyer, this all may seem trivial. Perhaps. However, for those of us who place our posteriors on countless Delta flights, displaying extreme loyalty, it’s no less that a slap in the face. Delta’s policy of alienating and insulting its most frequent flyers is just beyond logic. If you treated your best, reoccurring clients with such disdain, well, you get the picture.
    In my opinion, the IT department is at the root. If left unchecked, it could be the downfall of many corporations. Don’t agree? Read up on Black Friday in 1986 when, if the reports hold true, computer programs were allowed to make unchecked decisions leading to a massive drop in the Market.
    All in all, Delta’s Skymiles program, as well as the other airline’s programs, belong to them and we are just along for the ride, so to speak. Those programs are under the airlines’ control and they can do what they want. It’s my guess the frequent flyer programs will be discontinued in the not too distant future. We are a mobile society and will continue to be with or without frequent flyer programs.
    Oh, one last thing. The fellow with 500,000 MDM’s in one year!!! My hats off to you, sir. I hope you never see a coach seat again!!

  27. Okay – I know this is an old post, but no wonder you’re a Delta Flyer! I didn’t know you were from South Bend??? After meeting you @ Chicago Seminars last year I actaully took Sunday to drive to SBN to see my dad who lives there. Would love to get together next time!

  28. @Kira – You bet just email me. Or let’s chat at this years Chicago Seminars. Even if you just swing by the bar as I will be around!

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