(Rant): Delta Stealthily Changes Some Mid/High Tier Award Levels

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Delta recently made changes to some of its mid- and high-tier awards without giving its SkyMiles members notice of the alterations. I’ll highlight the specific changes to Delta awards below, but let me get something off my chest first… /Rant on

For some reason, the Delta SkyMiles program rarely communicates important changes to their members and that really bothers me. From my perspective, loyalty should go both ways – especially for a program that generates as much revenue as SkyMiles does. However, all too often SkyMiles changes happen with no announcement and savvy members are left to pick up the pieces and figure out whats going on, while Delta remains silent.

We saw this with the drastic increase in price of gift cards in the Delta Medallion Mall, pricing of  awards last year, the change in voucher usage policies and the list goes on. Heck, for a long time they never even provided award charts for members that lived outside of the US! I know many of the people on the communications team at SkyMiles and Delta and they are all consummate professionals, so my bet is that the silence on these changes is not incompetence, but more of a direct order from those in leadership positions.

I don’t understand this strategy, since eventually people will find out about the changes and word will spread very quickly. People are skeptical of frequent flyer programs to begin with and when you get a reputation for not trusting your members enough to disclose material changes to the program and how they can redeem their miles, you plant seeds of mistrust. You may get away with a couple of them, but as time goes on those seeds begin to grow and smart members begin to re-think their participation in your program.

I struggle with my Delta loyalty. On one hand, domestically I believe they are the best legacy airline with the best elite program. I feel at home on Delta planes and I love knowing that I’ll mostly likely get upgraded and will have WiFi on almost every domestic flight. I’ve been taken care of in bad situations and overall I like front-line Delta employees.

On the other hand, the value of SkyMiles has deteriorated over the years and it is much more difficult to use SkyMiles at low levels than with almost any other airline. Some areas where Delta awards are much worse than their partners like United and American: SkyMiles one-way awards are not priced at half of a roundtrip, you can’t book international first-class awards with SkyMiles and Delta levies special fees for originating awards in Europe. Seriously- you tout a global airline and loyalty program, but you’ll punish those members who want to start an award trip in Europe?

No airline is perfect, but as I spend more time on other airlines and earn and redeem miles and points with other programs, I’ve come to realize that my honeymoon with Delta is over. Even though the secret change that prompted this post isn’t a huge deal in the scheme of things, it’s  made me realize that the SkyMiles program is sorely behind its competitors in the most important category: trust. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. /Rant off.

Award Level Changes

Per this Flyertalk thread, Delta randomly increased the price of some mid- & high-level awards between the US and Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and South America that went into effect September 1, 2012:

Delta’s new award chart with the changes highlighted.

Between the US & Europe in coach:
Middle tier: Used to be 45,000 each way, now it is 47,500
Peak tier: Used to be 62,500, now it’s 65,000

Between the US & Caribbean in coach:
Middle tier: Used to be 25,000, now it is 27,500
Peak tier: Used to be 35,000, now it is 37,500

Between the US & Mexico in coach:
Middle tier: Used to be 25,000, now it is 27,500
Peak tier: Used to be 35,000, now it is 37,500

Between the US & Southern South America in coach:
Middle tier: Used to be 45,000, now it is 47,500
Peak tier: Used to be 62,500, now it is 65,000

They also decreased the cost of peak awards to Southeast Asia in business:
Peak tier: Used to be a staggering 185,000, now it is 175,000.

Are these major changes? No, but they do affect frequent flyers’ overall points-earning and redemption strategy – if you want that roundtrip Europe award, you’ll have to find a way to bank another 5,000 miles total, and that’s a consideration. I’m not hanging up my Delta Medallion yet, but would it hurt the airline to have let its flyers know these changes were coming ahead of time?

What do you think – will this affect your decision to fly Delta in the future?

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