Are “serious” frequent flyers IDIOTS for flying Delta and collecting Skymiles?

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Ben from OneMileAtATime yesterday said: “…I think that anyone that cared about the value of their miles likely left Delta a long time ago…”

Gary from ViewFromTheWing said:  “We already knew we could not trust what Skymiles leadership said about their program, and what changes meant. We were assured that ‘high’ award pricing would only happen during extreme demand dates like the Superbowl. It turns out it is common.”

These are two of my trusted and fellow BoardingArea brethren. They have stayed in more 1st class rooms, flown more first class seats and in general know more about frequent flying than anyone reading these words. However they are both flat out wrong in this case. Why?

First, neither one of them fly Delta often. Sure, they spend too much time trying to find seats on Delta and Skyteam jets with their booking services HERE with Ben and HERE with Gary, but that is my point. Most of the criticism about Delta is how hard it is to find saver or low level seats. If that is all you judge an airline on then YES – as has been shown TWICE this year – Delta is the scum on the bottom of your trash can.

However, again, they do not spend time flying Delta. I do. I will have 100 segments on “our” airline this year. I had a Rookie post about why Delta is the best airline in the world a while ago. But let’s review why I love Delta.

1) They were almost ALL on time and worked
2) Almost all of the reps I interacted with were TOPS
3) The wifi worked on almost all the jets
4) The seats were comfortable
5) The Skyclubs are fine and reps are good there
6) When issues came up I was taken care of well
7) The phone app, while slow, works
8) The seats are being upgraded to nice full-flat seats
9) The food is good
10) The drinks are good (if they get rid of Woodford I will cry)
11) With work I 99.99% of the time find SAVER seats
12) The partners are good
13) The routes and frequency are good
14) Elites are treated very good
15) Elite phone reps are good
16) Pilots are well trained and professional
17) HUB airports flow well
18) Credit card gives perks beyond other airlines
19) @DeltaAssist works and works FAST
20) Compensation for issues that do come up.
I could go on and on…

But how much of this list really ties in to the quotes from Ben & Gary? They are talking about the award program. I earn a TON of Skymiles each year. I earn a ton from flying at a Diamond as 125% bonus is sweet. I can and do earn 200,000 each year from my spend on Delta branded AMEX Reserve cards. I earn with both of these a bunch of elite qualifying points as well as exemption to the very top elite level with the airline. So, if you like what is in my list above, and fly more than just on points, and like earning points, then you see the value of Skymiles and are sticking with Delta. Can you trust Delta? I trust that anyone who redeems at high level is a fool and just does not understand the value of Skymiles. I do and enjoy amazing trips, all at SAVER level, each year. Yes they make it hard, but I find value.

Now one thing I do agree with that I do find utterly idiotic and insulting is the complete and utter cop-out that the airline can not alert us in advance. If this were against the law other airlines would be sued for giving their flyers time to adjust to a change. I agree Delta is not being honest about this fact and this is sad and upsetting. It is also insulting to us as Skymiles members. Long term this IS hurting Delta.

The way I see this all play out is simple. The airline is a GREAT airline. Flyers like what they offer. They dislike the changes to the program but so far they have put up with this as the other good parts out weigh the drawbacks of the frequent flyer program. I think Delta is nearing the tipping point here. At some point, if more harsh changes are made, the scale will tip the other way and the pain of the rewards program will push flyers away to what they see as a better airline. The only problem here is – where will they go? United is a joke and their product is unreliable. AA has potential but so many feel the merger with US AIR will drag them lower than United is now. Who is left? Southwest? Good airline but not the same as the majors. Alaska? Just too small. Jet Blue? Too regionally focused. You see my point. Where does a flyer go?

I still love my Delta and I think most frequent flyers agree this is a great airline. I am also afraid Delta does not understand where the line in the sand is for their most loyal and that they will go that one step too far one day (I just hope that day is not one day soon)!- René

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44 comments

  1. As someone who will make Platinum Medallion tomorrow, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    I travel a lot for work. And the airline I fly is either dictated by my job or the places I go. I’ve flown almost 400K miles on AA and am a million miler on United. Those were mostly years full of terrible customer service, maintenance issues, and delays.

    In 2013, the year I started with Delta, my list of good things is the same as yours. Helpful agents, nice clubs and SMILING flight attendants. (This is a huge point to me.)

    So yes, at times it can be hard to find low awards, but I don’t recall it being so much easier on UA and AA.

    Also, one of the commenters on Ben’s blog said he had 1 million Skymiles and couldn’t find anything to do with me. Um, ok – transfer them to me. I’ll gladly accept them.

    Next year? Diamond!

  2. Scum is gonna sue for defamation of character!

    “Delta is the scum on the bottom of your trash can.”

  3. Excellent post. WIthout hesitation I will say that Delta is my favorite domestic airline. SkyMIles is certainly not my favorite award program, but it’s not like the miles are impossible to use.

  4. I assume that there are plenty of people in my situation – where Delta is the only bird flying within hours and hours of my home.

    So for me and mine Delta is just fine! Sure Southwest sounds like somewhere I’d like to earn & burn hundreds of thousands of miles, but it is nearly impossible for us. Delta is the only game and town so we are happy with a skypeso when there is no other peso for us.

  5. The mere fact that I live in a Delta hub city makes it virtually impossible for me to shift my loyalty to another airline without accepting limited flight options and multiple connections.

    Would I be loyal to another airline, if it was prudent? Sure, why not. For me, it’s all about collecting miles so my family and I can enjoy vacations and achieving status so when I do fly, it is a more enjoyable experience for me.

    And right now, for me, Delta delivers both of those benefits far better than any other airline.

  6. I think it depends on personal situation – whether hub captive, corporate contracts, desired routes for redemptions, etc. I’m still a believer in diversification across FFPs. While I wouldn’t lean heavily on DL miles per se, they certainly can be a part of one’s toolbox of award resources.

  7. Ben’s comment was about the miles; Rene is talking about the flying. Which noun you value depends on the individual.

    I flew a million plus on UA when I lived at their hubs, and about half a million when I didn’t. Now I live at a DL hub and mostly fly them.

    For the years I was in an out station, flying UA was fine, and earning was better than average. (The feeder to the hub meant an extra segment and 500 miles — got extra SWUs on segments a couple times.) Now on DL, the flying is a little better (wifi, PreCheck, bigger F cabins) and the earning is a little worse (qv everyone else’s comments, plus zero value SWUs).

    I still earn enough to bring MrsLincoln and JrLincoln along for free from time to time. I know I will be able to work in the air. I save an hour of transit by not connecting at O’Hare in each direction. Down side, I also don’t get Tortas Frontera every week.

    I walked away from UA in late 2011, about six months before the integration debacle began in earnest, so I don’t have much experience in the cabin for the last two years. But I wouldn’t say the soft product is all that different than what I experienced with sUA. Some good days, some crabby days.

    One’s opinion on this is determined by his goal. Can you get what you want from the airline? Satisficers are probably fine with DL. Maximizers have probably been happier with Star… Until now.

  8. JP Traveler is spot-on – if you live in a hub city, it doesn’t make much sense to switch to another carrier without some significant downsides to travel time, service, etc. Honestly, I wouldn’t care so much about the devaluations if DL had the same award availability as UA or AA and they fixed their award engine. The fact that they devalue my miles and force me to waste a lot of time searching for the saver levels is just salt in the wound. To be fair to Gary Leff, he has always said that DL is a well-run airline but Skymiles is not a very good loyalty program.

  9. If you are flying for work your analysis make sense, if you are flying for pleasure then not so much. It will be nice if you do the analysis on how good Delta/Skymiles is for your target audience. In case you don’t know, your audience are not very advanced. Most of your posts are not about those details that you highlight about Delta, most of your post are about selling the dream that you do a lot with skymiles.

  10. I think the division here is between those of us who fly because we have to (and like it) and those who mostly fly because they want to. For those of us who are going to be flying someone no matter what, the intangibles Delta offers (reliable WiFi, on-time flights, convenient connecting airports, incredibly friendly airport and onboard staff) make it the premier airline for us. I came to Delta two years ago and the difference in experience is clear. I’ve flown AA, US, MU, WN and OU. And while those each had things I liked, Delta came out on top each time.

  11. I fly Delta largely because I live in Atlanta and Delta practically owns Hartsfield airport. For the most part, Delta is fine in terms of getting me from point A to point B. I travel purely for enjoyment and at present have squat in the way of status with Delta or any other airline. The newest devaluation will be an asset to me when I call Amex in January and tell them I’m thinking about dumping my Delta gold card. If they don’t give me a good deal on renewing the card, I’ll be flying the friendly skies a lot more.

  12. Well said, Rene! As a loyal DL FF I have found them to be the best for me in many ways. Routes, frequency, staff in general, upgrades, etc. They may hit the point where they will lose frequent flyers but what I have found is the grass is always greener… At the Chicago conference the Delta bashing was relentless but I always smiled knowing that the others (AA, UA, etc.) will be much worse in the long run. The complaints I hear from my coworkers about the other airlines is amusing. When they fly DL they see the difference. There is a reason why I am loyal DM, 3MM

  13. @ MJ and Delta Points very well put but the President of Delta can not be trusted. He reminds me of Mr. Smith on the Matrix always changing and never to be trusted.
    I too like a lot about flying Delta like DP and MJ said. I just can’t stand the mangement and get nauseated listening to Mr. Anderson on the preflight.

  14. As a rookie Medallion member who is going from Skymiles member to Diamond in 83 days (Sept 28th-Dec. 19th) and currently in Gold territory bordering Platinum I can sincerely say that Delta has provided me with excellent service in all Skymiles tiers, all counters and all cabins. I am based in MIA and I do 1 or 2 connections mostly and can honestly say I have yet to be disappointed. All staff are always very polite and attentive to one’s needs and requests.

  15. We all have our opinions, but IMO DL is a joke compared to even a devalued *A or OW when it comes to award redemptions. Stop pretending that a few flights found by an elite to Scandinavia or perhaps the Caribbean during a year generalize to a valuable program for reward availability for the average flier anywhere else during a typical year. Availability is atrocious!

    Now, I agree I like DL – if you fly for work or are captive, DL is just fine and probably one of the better US choices these days in terms of service and hard product.

    But I suspect your list of reasons for liking them would be echoed by elites of all the other airlines, so it really is meaningless. Especially when you include comments like: The seats are comfortable; The phone app, while slow, works; The pilots are well trained and professional etc.. Come on let’s be realistic…your are reaching here 😉

  16. Rene, Your penultimate paragraph best summarizes the dilemma for dissatisfied ffs. Where will we go? With the pending AA/US merger, there will be only three US carriers with routes covering the entire US and also offering international service. There simply isn’t enough competition. Do you not think this portends only fewer flights, higher prices, and additional onerous FF program rule changes and devaluations in FF program benefits (all under the guise of program enhancements) by our beloved airline?

  17. @Stephan – normally I would dump a comment with a personal attack like yours will let this one go to update readers. You have no idea what you are saying. I have been redeeming at low level for years both as an elite and non-elite. I include stopovers to city’s all over Europe all in business class and all for low level points. Domestic trips all of the USA word great. As far as reaching – sure Delta has a ways to go, but when you are the Best airline in the world it is hard to go too much higher (oh fixing award site would to that in fact)! 🙂

  18. I have to agree with Stephan here…

    The ONLY value I have found for SkyMiles is with Virgin Australia. Easy to book to J class tickets while DL was holding out for 2x the miles on a cabin where NO tickets were booked.

    Admittedly, I will have to pay to get to LAX because there is zero domestic low availability to get to the VA flights.

  19. SkyMiles stinks but DL is decent operationally and in terms of guest experience. I’m not a DL captive, but when I do fly DL I earn in Alaska’s Mileage Plan (and thus receive more valuable miles that can be used for awards such as first class EK and CX flights, one way segments, access to American’s saver award inventory, etc.)

  20. I would say that DL is decent, but certainly not “the best airline in the world” especially when compared to international carriers like Singapore, Cathay, Emirates, etc. Domestically, B6 and VX are great and have economy products that match or exceed DL. VX has a great F product that DL only competes with domestically with BusinessElite on transcon routes, and it sounds as though B6 will have something along BusinessElite for transcons with their “Mint” product. So, DL might be good in terms of major U.S. network carriers, but not best in the world and best in the U.S. is even a bit of a stretch.

  21. The problem at SFO is that Delta is only a connection out of here……….from SFO it really is a toss up between United and Virgin……..and neither are an attractive choice for various reasons………And the American planes are so so old out of SFO………

  22. I don’t think Stephan’s comment is a personal attack. We all know Delta rewards Diamonds, but to infer that your audience will benefit from skymiles program is far fetched. Most people will only have certains days they can travel, so they can’t go browsing for low level awards or even do 3 connections to get that award. It is a great airline but skymiles is really really bad.

  23. @Nic – if you can plan far enough out, you can get a schedule change every time and pick much better routes. I do each time I fly but I do book as far out as I can. That DOES help.

  24. Rene – one more benefit is that it seems to be far easier to earn miles on delta as well, both flying or not. Elite bonuses are hefty relative to most all other carriers, and also available more frequently, in effect, through the rollover MQM program.

    Credit card options are abundant with DL and variety of benefit packages varies greatly with each type of card so that there is a “right” card for everyone. Do agree with a lot of the rest of your list as compared to flying UA/AA both intl & domestic.

  25. I can see where Stephan is coming from. We all know each airline has their most valuable/available redemption options and you have found the niche for sure. As such, trips to Sweden are the majority of the evidence we see herein for low level availability. Maybe you could run swag Saturday where we accumulate some good data/evidence/and examples so that we can all learn or spark idea for next trip. Could collect the best user submission low-level “finds” (or current reservations) that help everyone see evidence of the potential of these miles.

  26. For those of us loving in a hub city that is not NYC, it’s pretty hard to get on board with anyone but Delta. I don’t dislike the program, though I recognize others have a superior reputation.

  27. Good post. But living in HNL, no elite upgrades to the mainland just doesn’t work for me, even if they are a better carrier. Of course, we’ll see how much longer the others continue to offer elite HNL upgrades. UA already turned off the ex-Guam upgrades last week and i am actually surprised UA and AA continue to offer them ex-HNL.

    By the way, what do you mean by schedule change in post 26?

  28. Thanks Rene, that makes sense. How do the Delta credit cards offer better perks than their competitors? Most of them seem to offer a free bag and priority boarding, some a companion ticket, what sets the Amex branded cards apart?

  29. I’m Gold this year and will be Platinum next year. I, too, fly a lot for work. I knew that this day would come way back when Delta eliminated the expiration date on SkyMiles. The continued devaluation is difficult and I make no excuses for Delta. However, I offer that, if we must fly, as many of us must for work, let’s keep some perspective. If we want better cabins, such as lie-flat seats and seatback monitors, then, Delta has to offset persistently high oil prices somewhere. On-time service is one of the most important attributes for me and Delta does well. Baggage handling ranks high, too. 20 years ago, the very first time I flew United, they lost my luggage. I still haven’t recovered. Of course, a few months ago, an athlete paid $200 to Delta for oversized luggage for his pole jumping equipment which the airline proceeded to lose. The poor guy had to forfeit the match and still was out his $200. Nobody’s perfect but Delta definitely is the least evil of the carriers which cover the whole world (including small regional airports such as Bangor, ME).

  30. Rene,I could invent a reason or parrot one of the previous posters. But I already have a good travel speaker, so I’ll pass on this Swag Saturday and just say thanks for all the good information you provide!

  31. I hit my tipping point with Delta. This last announcement did it. I’m stopping short of Diamond / 125k miles and will fly as Patinum next year, which is very decent. And I get to rollover enough to almost qualify for Gold.

    My long term plan is NO LOYALTY, at least, not the kind where you put all your miles in one basket. I’m spreading my flights with USAir/United and American. That way I guarantee myself to have miles in the big three alliances. I know I can achieve mid-tier in at least 2 airlines and low tier in the third. Hedging bets, flying comfortably.

    Delta lost a big fan in me, and it was all about trust.

  32. I live in Detroit, and while not “captive”, it is certainly more convenient to fly Delta.

    Delta’s flights are professional. Clean, on-time, quasi-friendly.

    But the Sky-peso program kills them when I choose my flights. Here is just one example:

    I have started flying regularly to Hong Kong, and have flow 6 times in the past 18 months. The first three where on Delta, with the intent of consolidating miles, I the owner of my company, and cannot bring myself to paying the $150 per hour premium for business class. So I thought I’d consolidate with Delta, use Amex membership miles, spend smart, and be able to get a biz seat once a year.

    That is, until I accumulated several hundred thousand sky-pesos and looked into using them.

    There is no reasonable availability to Hong Kong, EVER. I can maybe find something for 170,000 miles… If I am willing to travel for 36+ hours to get to a destination that is 15 hours away.. I can get their DTW-NRT-HKG flight (the shortest DL option at 18 hours) for 240,000 sky pesos. And that is for a search 6 months out! Short notice flights (<2 weeks) is 340k pesos/miles!

    Meanwhile, I can fly Cathay Pacific biz DTW-ORD-HKG for 145,000 miles, with reasonable availability, both 6 months out and <2 weeks out. (American partners with CP).

    Three paid trips on Economy Comfort/Premium, plus other domestic flying, plus $100k spend on cards will get me free biz ticket once per year on other airlines… And it would take two years on Delta.

    So to the point of your post, I'd say you AND your antagonists are correct. Paying customers with corporate reimbursement probably find Delta to be a great choice because of it's professionalism. Those looking to maximize rewards for business or personal use (especially international flyers) find it a poor choice.

  33. Agreed on Asia availability with Gongzuokuang! Similar itins. easy to get to NRT (but not as easy on LOW as other carriers) + DL services beyond legs to MNL, HKG, TPE, ROR, etc and finding availability on these legs is tough. Not only chearper on other airlines but easier to locate/secure.

    Compared to AA/UA availability is a challenge – when you consider Asia is a weakness for AA…

    On the other hand, have searched many itineraries where DL is a strength…

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