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Keep Climbing and Descending: Our Look Back at Delta in 2020

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


This year was difficult for almost everyone — and the travel industry was no exception.

Delta Air Lines is the preferred carrier of most of this blog’s readers. While Delta certainly is not perfect, there are reasons most of us keep doing business with them.

With that in mind, let’s take a look back at this past year from a customer’s perspective and see where the mothership truly excelled — and other instances that weren’t so great.

Quick Caveat

The pandemic forced a lot of health-related protocols. We’re not going to ridicule Delta (or any private company) for trying to keep its passengers safe by doing things such as voluntarily closing airport lounges, temporarily cutting back on buffet and bar offerings, suspending some meal and beverage services, and stuff like that. We may be critical but we’re not monsters. 🙂

Prague, Czech Republic - August 30, 2016: Delta Airlines Airbus A330-300 lands at PRG Airport on August 30, 2016. Delta is one of the biggest airlines in the world. (©iStock.com/rebius)
(©iStock.com/rebius)

Keep Climbing

Many of us fly Delta Air Lines because they generally provide great service and have an excellent onboard product.

The airline uses “Keep Climbing” as a slogan. So with that in mind, here are several ways we think Delta ascended this year.

Status and Perk Extensions

Delta announced in early April several SkyMiles program extensions for all members. Everyone’s MQM would rollover to 2021, regardless if they hold Medallion status or not. Plus, they granted a one-year status level extension for Medallions.

They also extended most Delta Amex companion certificate expiration dates to December 31, 2021.

Delta told the blog that Diamond and Platinum Medallion members would get to select Choice Benefits again sometime in 2021. Frankly, that’s a really generous move.

No More Change Fees

Delta eliminated change fees for most flights — international and domestic US — in Main Cabin and higher fare classes.

Keeping Middle Seats Blocked

Unlike most airlines, Delta is keeping certain capacity restrictions in place — along with blocking middle seats until at least March 30, 2021.

Starboard-side view of the Pacific Ocean, as seen from a Delta Air Lines Boeing 737 shortly after taking off from San Diego International Airport (SAN).

86ed the 72-Hour Change/Cancellation Policy for Award Trips

Since August 15th of 2011, Delta restricted changes or cancellations within 72 hours of a SkyMiles award trip. That, almost a decade later, is thankfully no longer a thing.

Movin’ On Up

Global Upgrade Certificates can now be used to jump from coach to business class on Air France and KLM.

Delta Amex MQM Boosts for 2021

The four Delta SkyMiles American Express cards that earn MQM are bumping up their bonuses by 25% during 2021. Those cards are:

Delta Reserve American Express cardDelta Reserve Credit Card from American Express

Delta Reserve for Business American Express cardDelta Reserve for Business Credit Card from American Express

Delta SkyMiles Platinum Card from American ExpressPlatinum Delta SkyMiles Credit Card from American Express

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum Business American Express CardPlatinum Delta SkyMiles Business Credit Card from American Express

Accelerating Construction Projects

When the pandemic hit and air traffic plummeted, Delta didn’t necessarily slam the brakes on their big construction projects.

Take, for example, their $1.9 billion remodel of terminals 2 and 3 at LAX. Instead of its original completion date of late 2024, the project should be ready by mid-2023.

An exterior view of the Delta Sky Way project as seen on the departure level of a nearly empty Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during to novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic in Westchester, California, on Friday, June 5, 2020.

Yes, that’s still a couple of years away. But consider that Delta, their airport partner, and construction teams used the travel decline to speed up a major construction project by 18 months. That’s impressive.

More A220s!

Delta is phasing out some aircraft (more on that in a few minutes) and introducing more Airbus planes into their fleet. Despite some early hiccups and its not-first-class first class seats, many travelers seem to enjoy the A220.

San Diego, California – April 13, 2019: Delta Air Lines Airbus A321 airplane at San Diego airport (SAN) in the United States.
(©iStock.com/Boarding1Now)

Keep Descending

For as many positive moves Delta made this year, there were several that were disappointing or head-scratching.

The SkyMiles Mortgage

Delta certainly isn’t the first airline to leverage a loyalty program. But it mortgaged SkyMiles — and then went back for more financing. Our concern isn’t necessarily that our SkyMiles will disappear. Rather, its value might become volatile.

A couple of cases in point:

Massive SkyMiles Devaluations on Business Class Award Tickets

Delta cranked up business class award redemption costs. Big time.

SkyMiles Marketplace Redemptions

Delta seems to have recently brought back the option to redeem SkyMiles points in exchange for a Delta Air Lines gift card. But the point redemption value of 9/10th of cent — i.e., 5,600 SkyMiles for a $50 gift card and so on — aren’t really worth it compared to other redemptions.

Operational Problems During Thanksgiving and Christmas

The mother ship made news twice because of flight cancellations during some days across the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Suspended Job Well Done Certificates in Medallion Packets

This bugs me. Delta suspended the Job Well Done certs we can give to the amazing, hard-working, and friendly Delta employees who help us in person or on the phone.

Delta Platinum Medallion JWD or Job Well Done certificates.
Job Well Done (JWD) certificates

In the good old days when COVID was still just an epidemic, I argued that Delta should give all Medallions — not just Diamonds and Platinums — JWD certs to give Delta staff members.

Now, Delta does have an email address where you can drop a line about someone special. But two different Delta employees told me they’re sure the airline doesn’t pass along those messages or deposit any awards for those staff members.

Honorable Mention: Service Suspensions

Boy, this post really made some people mad at René and me. (Hey, we don’t create airline schedules or routes. And the bad news isn’t our fault. 🙂 ) Just after Delta was granted over $5 billion in taxpayer-funded aid, the airline filed to suspend flights at nine US airports.

Opportunities Missed

A few moves we wish Delta didn’t make but, darn it, we wish they did include:

Ditch the $250,000 Delta Amex MQD Waiver

Wouldn’t it be nice if Delta reduced the Diamond Medallion MQD waiver from a quarter of a million dollars to something that’s not so laughably ludicrous?

Hundred dollar bills money pile.
(©iStock.com/solvod)

Reintroduce Award Charts

Hey, we can dream, can’t we?

Allow Stopovers

We’re approaching the sixth anniversary of Delta not permitting stopovers on award travel. If Delta were to reintroduce stopovers, we think SkyMiles’ value would at least double for some people, if not triple.

End DieMiles

As René succinctly put it, “SkyMiles…never expire – until you do.”

RIP someone and their SkyMiles
(iStock/Rene’s Points composite)

During the COVID pandemic, so many of our fellow world citizens have died. So did their hard-earned SkyMiles. It would be nice if Delta allowed families (or other designated people) to absorb a deceased’s SkyMiles balance. (If there’s a way this can be done, I’d love to hear from the Delta corporate employees who read the blog!) At least now, as talked about above, in a pinch you can burn then buying Delta gift cards from the Skymiles Marketplace before the account is closed down.

Things We’re Thankful For

Howdy, Partners!

We love that Delta is continuing its great SkyMiles earnings on trips booked with their partner airlines. We look forward to traveling not only on Delta but its partners later this year (please let it be this year!) for our mileage runs.

Aeromexico MQD runs to Europe — in business class? Yes, please!

We’re guessing China Eastern runs might be off the table for a while. But Aeromexico sure looks promising!

Don’t forget that Juicy Miles can help you build some insane mileage runs. (They helped an 8-year-old got from zero to Diamond Medallion status during a single mileage run.)

Satan’s Chariot Getting Retired?!

In paperwork filed with the SEC, the airline said that it will retire all of its system’s CRJ-200s by December 2023.

An Endeavor Air CRJ-200 (tail number N8891A) operating as a Delta Connection flight is seen from the Delta Sky Club at Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD).
Bye(?)

I originally had this in the “Keep Climbing” portion of the post. But we’ve heard for years that Delta is getting rid of the CRJ-200. Yet, the darn things are still part of Delta’s operations. So we’ll believe it when it actually happens.

What Do You Think?

Is there anything you think belongs in the Keep Climbing, Keep Descending, or Things We’re Thankful For categories? Do you have a comment about our choices? Please share your thoughts in the below Comments section! – Chris

 

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

4 Comments

  1. Rene what about the poor in-service food and beverage service in F since covid?

    • @Frankie – As Chris mentioned, we are giving Delta a wide pass for COVID and COVID-ish bits as they are temporary and I understand (even if I don’t like it).

  2. Do you know when they will introduce drinks in First Class (that is not beer or wine) ?

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