Is there any point to loyalty anymore? Are you loyal to Delta? Are they to us?

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The Freddie awards and all the buzz surrounding it has got me thinking today. That is not always a good thing! I fear for where we are going when it comes to ALL airline loyalty programs, not just our beloved Delta’s.

I think many will say I am waxing poetic over something that has been dead for a long time and I have just not opened my eyes enough to see it. You may be completely right.

The change to a revenue based rewards program is an airlines way of saying we are no longer loyal to you. What you have done in the past does not matter (just ask million milers). Loyalty from an airlines perspective is what you have spent this year. Really, to call it loyalty is an insult as you are simply buying favors not being rewarded for your years of brand choice.

So it begs the question, is it over? I still love being a Delta Diamond Medallion. I have already secured my status for 2015 and will end the year with enough rollover MQMs to be Diamond again for 2016 as soon as I meet either the MQD spend requirement or AMEX waiver in 2015. I guess I am still clinging to the past and like the “feeling” of being valued by Delta.

And that is what I think is the worst part of what is next and the path the airlines are now on. That “feeling” is something very special to airlines and air travel. This does NOT carry over to other areas of life. Take gas; you buy it often for your car. You may like one gas station over another for some program or points, but you do not have a “feeling” about the gasoline company. You buy what is cheapest and gets you where you want to go. Soon the special feeling we have for airlines may be the same way. Who cares as long as I get to where I want to go with as little pain as I can endure along the way.

What a dramatic shift and the airlines are to blame. To have something so amazing that it moves you to be brand loyal in your buying choices is something marketing experts can only dream to achieve and have fixed in a consumer’s heart. For a company to intentionally destroy that boggles the mind.

Tell me what you think. Am I living in the past or is there still any point to loyalty to Delta Air Lines in 2015 and onward? – Rene

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Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.

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54 comments

  1. I’ve already begun this process. I used to focus exclusively on Delta. From now on I will focus on Delta for my international flights and JetBlue for my domestic flights.

    JetBlue has so many more non-stop options for my home airport that the “benefit” of maybe getting an upgrade to a marginally better seat on Delta is no longer worth the extra 2-6 hours a trip will take me. I earn enough long-haul international to maintain my status so I still get some of the benefits for those domestic flights I do take on Delta but I am no longer a Delta exclusive flyer.

  2. What is your plan if Delta axes rollover miles? Seems like you are very exposed to that possibility by “qualifying” a year in advance.

  3. Rene, you are not living in the past. As a 3MM I feel your pain. Loyalty has been replaced by shareholder profit. When the cycle goes back down they will try and get us back. Ask Leo Mullins.

  4. @Tom – they can not change the program mid-stream. the miles I have will roll-over into next year. they can change so that in 2015 rollover ends and does not roll into 2016 but I will have qualified at that point for that medallion year. this is also one of the reasons i am not booking any mileage run for 2015 until i get more word about the 2016 medallion year. clear?

  5. Once I loose my status next year, I am done with my exclusive relationship with Delta. There are no other incentives to keep me “married” to Delta.

    A Revenus based program, increased costs of Club assess, loss of +1 acces, etc. etc. etc. are game changers for me.

    We cannot get a nonstop to most locations we want with Delta. While Club acess and status made up for a long layover, without it, we will skip the mandatory stop in ALT, MSP, or DTW.

  6. While I don’t care for the revenue based rewards program, I understand why DL is going that route. Why would any airline be more loyal to a passenger who travels on the lowest fares, than to the one who pays the premium fares? You may not feel “valued by Delta” anymore, but there are going to be others that feel that they are finally going to be valued.
    “For a company to intentionally destroy that boggles the mind.” This comment boggles my mind. I feel your pain and I understand how personally you take this. But DL is a business and it is about the $$.

  7. I will still be shooting for status this year. I am almost to my spending threshold with Amex and have a few more long mileage trips to get at least Platinum for 2015. Now in 2015 I will be enjoying status when I fly, but I hopefully will be requesting a status match from another airline and kicking Delta to the curb in 2016 only flying with them as an award flight. I fly USA to Asia several times in economy fare, so mileage reward is cut dramatically and doesn’t make it worth it anymore. For 2015 domestic flights are required by my company on Delta so at least those will come out about the same as far as mileage reward goes. It is all about the mighty dollar both ways now. They want all mine, but I am now unwilling to pay for an inferior product.

  8. Delta, has just piled on too many hits to the customer at once; dramatic club price increase with reduced services like increased guest fees, fare based loyalty program. More redemption hurdles on what was a terrible system that penalized loyal Medallion members attempting to redeem what they had earned. I am switching to Southwest (easy redemption, added an international partner and have the best companion program, which is my new goal to earn) who at least know how to spread out their pain to loyal customers.

  9. I flew Delta out of convenience because I’ve been living in Atlanta for several years. I’ve got about 100,000 Sky Pesos to burn off, and then I’m back to United, which has a hub in my hometown of San Francisco. I’ve not had elite status with any airline, so this isn’t as painful for me as it is for you, Rene. United and American will switch over to the revenue based system all too soon.

  10. I think we are at a tipping point and the next year or two will tell. If DL does not devalue their miles (esp the BE low level awards to EU) and keeps at least as many of those low level award seats around, I will be OK and stay loyal. It is interesting that a good friend who works for Delta interfacing with customers every day questioned why I remain a loyal Delta flier and put so much emphasis on maintaining my status. That should tell you something. He sees the value diminishing from his end.

  11. After being a GM for several years, I retired and now have no status. I flew Delta almost exclusively. Now I get to queue up with the herd for the few flights I take for pleasure. Loyalty? I was loyal but I understand the business side too. Loyalty on Delta’s side ends when you stop paying.

  12. Capitalism reigns supreme. Like all publicly traded companies, management owes their stockholders a business model that throws of the highest returns. As long as mega mergers are approved, nothing will change – or is it, everything will change. It is a bitter pill to have the rug pulled out from under you and I suspect it won’t be long before there are no loyalty programs remaining. That way, no one losses customers over it. I can’t think of another industry that routinely gives away it’s goods or services. I’m PM now for 2 yrs and will be into 2015 but after that I have no expectations regardless of my spending or loyalty. 5 years ago DL traded at $6.96. Right now it’s at $37.18 and the executives get to keep their jobs.

  13. Right on Rene! The re is no point to loyalty to delta in the futre. They think emulating hotel prigrams makes sense, but airlines are not hotels for many, many reasons. There will be a lotlittle less flying in the future if this stuff keeps up.

  14. I’m a Delta platinum which was earned all butt in seat so 75000+ miles last year. This year I’ve not flown Delta even once. Im done. I love Delta but it is a one sided relationship. My wife an I are going to burn thru our 700k skymiles and thats it. I’ve status matched to Turkish and will status match/challange to American or Alaska or both. But im just going to fly whichever airline works best for me. No more mileage runs. No more Delta shopping mall or Delta dinig program.No more extra effort. Im done.

  15. @Joseph – thank you for this. this is what I am talking about. the “machine” that drove us to make choices was loyalty to a brand. that brand has told us to “kiss off” we only care about the 4% (oh and not the top 1% as they don’t earn on tickets over $6819). if no one wants a delta amex, to do things to earn points, and only flys the cheapest fare when they MUST, how much money will Delta see go away? time will tell. again, my HUGE thanks for your comment Joseph!

  16. Just to add one more thing – It was the changes to club access that pushed me over the edge.

  17. Rene, I don’t think DL is deliberately destroying loyalty. They just don’t care that that’s the result of whatever it is they’re doing. In the end, it may have the same effect, but it’s an important distinction.

  18. I will start by saying I’m pretty much stuck being “loyal” to Delta. I’m based out of MSP, so I’m pretty much captive to Delta. I also suspect that many people are in this same boat, be it with Delta, American, etc. As much as I like Delta, if I were to ever move to Chicago I’d have a hard time staying “loyal” to them in an American hub. So, in effect, I believe many of us don’t have a big choice in who we are loyal too.

    With all of that said, I’m still not completely against some of the recent changes made. Sky Clubs have certainly gotten crowded, so I applaud their effort to weed out the crowd and make it a more exclusive experience. Will this suck when I travel with my wife from now on? Certainly. But I’m ok with paying $29 to get her in on the few occasions that we travel together. I nice consolation prize would be for Delta to include a couple skyclub passes with their GM/PM/DM mailings each year. That would be more than enough for me.

    I am also happy that they will be rewarding those of us that actually spend a boatload of money with them. The only way I come out behind on this deal is for long haul international flights. I’ve taken one of these flights in the last several years, so this isn’t a big concern for me. Domestically, I am going to start having so many miles I don’t know what to do with them all. Lots of free trips coming up under the new structure.

    I’m still not a fan of the new SDC rules. That really stinks because it always seems that the same fare class is never available.

    Long winded I know….but I just took a bump in SLC on my way to MSP, so I’ve got some time to burn (and extra delta dollars in my pocket, and a drink in hand). Thanks Delta!

  19. As a GM flying mostly out of EWR and SLC i have only had 1 or 2 up grades in the past year. i’m usually 15 – 20 on the upgrade list. Almost never even close.

    So being GM does get me E comfort seats. But that is all it really does. Is it worth it?

    I fly 10 trips a year. All purchased.

  20. Hey jacob is it “Packed” in the SLC lounge. It’s been so bad i dropped my Plat Amex card. That lounge is always a Zoo.

  21. It really should be called the Airlines/CC loyalty program. Because now a days you can’t have one with out the other. I think the CC companies are running the Airlines?

  22. @Jim – I hate to say it but the airlines I think are being just as bad to the CC company’s. Look how blindsided AMEX was over the loss of the +1 in the Skyclub.

  23. What about us loyal Silvers that fly 30+ miles each year but cannot attain Gold or higher. Are we less valuable. Probably so. Time to change and just fly the best value on any given airline instead of being loyal to Delta exclusively.

  24. Hey Rene,
    About “that feeling”. When i was walking into the clubs at both SLC and EWR i almost had a dread overcome me. “Not this crowded again”. I wanted to feel “fhew” i’m here in the club and can chill a bit before my flight, but it never felt that way. So last month after 2 years of Delta lounge access. I kicked it to the curd via Dropping Amex Plat. Waiting near the terminal or in a restaurant is just as good if not better. I never felt good in either of those lounges.

  25. @Michel – i hate to say it but FO’s or Silvers have not been viewed as valuable to Delta for years. GM+ is what it takes to be noticed.

  26. With all the changes, and with all the people reassessing everything I’m going to sit here and wait (i.e. keep doing what I’m doing–stay with Delta). I’m taking the same approach to the stupid AmEx Platinum charge card in my wallet. We’ll see how things end up. If enough of the elites jump ship on Delta, they will feel like they’re getting a better deal, and those of us left will also. Win-win if it happens.

    Let the dust settle for a year or so and then make moves. Meanwhile, I’ll be feverishly pawing at Chase Ultimate Rewards just in case 😉

  27. Hi Rene
    Even as a little gold, I’m still loyal and here is why:
    I enjoy being addressed personally, I like being upgraded on low cost seats for free , I like the dedicated phone number and better service , I like being driven on the Tarmac by delta 360 to catch a flight, I like boarding earlier, I like Delta for SO many years , I’ve “grown accustomed to her face….” If I randomly flew another airline outside of the sky team I’d be a nobody
    I like having seats assigned on sky team flights by delta before they are available for the choosing I like their routes I plane on maintaining gold for 2015 but beyond then, I truly don’t know which way the winds shall blow I switched away from Loews hotels due to their limited locations despite being a red carpet platinum who’s to say what will happen down the road
    Perhaps I’m stupid but I still
    Love delta, and it’s nice to hear a lovely “thank you” for being medallion gold upon ending phone calls. I’m stuck upon getting to million miler I’m in the Mid 800 thousands now – perhaps I’m illogical but matters of the heart are not always able to be analyzed
    Besides if all airlines are following suit where then am I going and why?
    You are SO fabulous
    Thank you

  28. @e – SLC seems to be very sinusoidal. When I got here it was busy (not sure I’d call it packed compared to what I’ve seen previously) and now it’s very minimal. Time will tell, but I was in the SLC club again on Wednesday (4/30), and it was MUCH busier then. Absolutely insane I mean. All I thought the entire time was “I can’t wait until after tomorrow to see if this dies down some”.

  29. As you and I have discussed before, the meaning of loyalty in airline parlance is changing. While I penned “Make Loyalty a One-way Street” on my own blog, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the perspective of others. Many of us find ourselves wishing for days gone by. On the flip side, I have to wonder why a business relationship with an airline should be any different than your relationship with the corner gas station? Airlines provide a service – safe transportation between two points on a map. That is all. One thing I rarely see mentioned is the absolute fact that the mileage programs we have today were created in a time when 65 percent load factors were considered a banner year. The math no longer works.

    I am of the opinion that if an individual is not being reimbursed for a significant portion of their travel, they should not care about elite status, or the fallacy of being loyal to anyone other than themselves. Fly what makes sense. That isn’t always the lowest price, but more often than not includes product, schedule (the amount of your time spent), and then price. For others, that order may very well be different, but that’s how I look at things. Living where I live and traveling the way I travel right now, it absolutely makes sense that I unapologetically fly Delta.

    The “romance” of all this is long gone. Do what’s good for you.

  30. Rene’, I am loyal to Delta because I fly a lot of international routes. They go to about 95% of the places I go. The alternative is to take one of the other legacy carriers – AA or UA. As AA is going through its pains with USAir and UA may never recover from the merger with CO, it leaves Delta as the only choice for international travel.
    The GAs and FAs are certainly doing their best to keep us coming back – thanking us for our loyalty and being Diamonds (or Platinums, etc.) but I think in the Board Room, we are just another traveler
    I think as long as Delta is making the very large profits that they are making, they feel that they are doing the right thing. They may very well feel that they have no competition – wrongly, of course.
    Let’s see how things play out over the 12 – 24 months after SlyMiles2015 starts.
    Mr. Anderson and the management team might find things a little different. Money definitely talks!

  31. Just a note about the Sky Club this morning at ATL Terminal ‘F”. It was much less crowded at 0600 this morning when they opened than it has been over the last year or so. I am there 6 or 7 times a year to OPEN this SkyClub so I have a bit of history.
    When I left at 0730 I commented to the agents at the desk about the number of people in the Club. They, too, thought it was less today than other Friday mornings.
    I have to say it was very nice not having so many people in the Club.

  32. @Andy – VERY unpopular at United and they are really not doing so well. It would REALLY be an IN YOUR FACE at AMEX if they do.

  33. At its very core, a revenue based Skymiles program equates to “You get what you pay for.” Divorcing the elite benefits from the redeemable miles aspect, Skymiles are essentially a fixed rebate on the amount you spend with Delta and I would simply prefer to not receive any Skymiles at all and just have a lower fare upfront.

    Simply put, there is absolutely no loyalty left in a revenue based program and you are not rewarded for choosing Delta over another airline anymore

  34. I for one am happy that Delta is moving to a revenue based model. This is similar to the Southwest model, which people love. Give it a few more years when qualifying for status is based on revenue… It’ll be even better.

    I never understood why flying long distances equated to achieving the highest honors from an airline? They don’t make money on distance, they make money on the dollars spent. This is a logical change to any loyalty program. Do you see Hotel giving points on number of stays? No, it’s dollars spent. Same goes for Credit Card points… it’s all revenue based.

    Everything that is talked about on this, and other FF blogs, is about gaming the system… Getting status and perks without putting in all the effort. I spend over $30k a year with Delta, and travel nearly every week with them, and I’m only a Platinum? How is it that there are Diamonds who spend a fraction of that? Who is more loyal? The person spending %5k in mileage run errors or the $30k constant traveler? Obviously the later. You can complain all you want, but SM2015 is the smartest move they can make. All it does is correct an issue where a small minority were exploiting the system… tough on you guys.

  35. I go out of my way to be loyal to Delta but I now feel slighted as they keep
    taking away,I’ve been retired for 3 years and am still a DM Million Miler
    For the first time I just booked my first international flight on AA as
    The new AA gives me more options from my home airport MDT. I was
    Loyal to Delta as soon as they took over The Eastern route to ATL I
    Paid top dollar for domestic flights as I flew no International now they
    go to revenue based system which would have benefited while I was
    Working but now penalizes me for being retired. I will look for a loyalty
    Match by AA.

  36. For years I was loyal to NW and DL. Platinum for as long as I can remember and Diamond since they rolled it out. I would fly DL (and their partners) even if the times and — more likely — the prices were out of line.
    I don’t anymore. Last year I hit 1k and EXP (maintaining my Diamond status due to rollover)…. AA treats me better.
    Who know whether that will last…. now I fly who has the best price and schedule…. no loyalty left.

  37. As a 1.8 million miler, captive Atlanta flyer, I believe “loyalty” is nebulous, at best. It was a fine idea when it started but it became a victim of its own success. I don’t think the airlines could have predicted how the program took off and how they have had to adjust because of that success. I remember the days when the government was trying to think of a way to tax “free” flights. Government accounting standards had to devise new rules to account for all of the unused miles. I remember when companies’ were trying to confiscate the miles for use by other employees instead of allowing the flyer to keep the miles for himself. And, yes, I know some do but every company wanted to take them. My point remains that i think airlines, hotels, etc. have been adjusting on the fly more so than just about any business and not always for the customers benefit. I’ve often wondered if the airlines could go back and do it again if they would never have gotten into the “loyalty” business. I think they certainly wouldn’t have called it a loyalty program. And, yes, I believe it won’t be long before there will no longer be any loyalty program.

  38. I am loyal to Delta. I think it makes sense to depending on your factors. How I became a Delta Flyer was that they Flew CRJ’s (and now a couple mainline jets) while US Airways flies prop planes.

    The on time rate and the cancelation rates are much better at Delta.

    I only can choose US Airways Delta or Allegient Air. Thus my original decision was made on product and service. It would still rule.

    I consider skymiles a nice perk that I use as soon as I get them and I don’t worry about best value.

    I like that I can always get economy comfort for free. I can get my plus 2 at the Club until March 2015 as a Diamond and if I want I can continue to get that perk (if I decide it is one that is important to me) for all of 2015 in a club not so crowded by all the credit card holders (I use to love that perk though when I did not fly as much).

    I love that I can make one phone call and get my issues resolved and make changes easily.

    To those that talk about loyalty programs ending. I do not see that happening anytime in the near future. The reason being the airlines make money on the points side of things selling them to credit card companies etc. until that changes no way are they going away.

    If I move or another airline gives me a better deal I will move but until that happens as a someone that flies a significant amount it makes sense to stick with the airline that gets you the best service for the price no matter what the airline is.

  39. DL will do just enough to give it’s “best” fliers enough benefits to keep them flying DL. When competition stiffens, they will do more. If other airlines had much better benefits they would lose fliers, but the other US airlines are just as bad.

    Where they are “up against it” are on international trips. DL tries hard, but doesn’t compete well with the best international carriers. Their lack of intl upgrades on any fare (except for Diamonds) hurts them big time.

  40. You nailed it. Dawned on me the other day for those of us in frequent flyer programs for primarily upgrades, as airlines discount first class, there maybe even less incentive for annual loyalty. Seems airlines are succumbing to rest of public business world, live for the quarter and we’ll worry about year later.

  41. I just finished a painstaking exercise to compare my 2014 mileage accrual to what it would have been under the 2015 rules. I’m primarily a domestic traveler, but am DM now and will likely be again for 2015. Using the DM accrual rate of 11 points per dollar, I would have received 35% fewer miles than I did under the current rules.

    That is 35% reduction in my reward for being loyal to Delta. They tout the increased availability of award seats and “lower” award prices…that is BS. The new aware flight chart has just gotten more confusing with two more tiers to deal with. Only the long haul internationals got a reduction of 5,000 miles – which equates to less than 5% of the total cost. So they reduce the fare needed by 5% but reduce my accrual rate by 35%. Seems this program change is really only benefiting one entity…and it isn’t me.

    I have done some extensive research. Now that United, and US Air/American are going to essentially the same model – the big carriers are just out as far as I’m concerned. I’m going to consider JetBlue and Southwest for my business travel. Neither is a hub at my home airport (IAD) but they present the best value in my mind for a frequent flier.

    It’s sad, because I really love the Delta team at IAD – they are a fantastic group of people who always treat me well…but I can’t abide by continuing to reward a company who views me 35% less valuable than today.

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