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

by on September 5, 2012 · 49 comments

in Delta

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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?

Disclaimer: The responses below 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.

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  • http://twitter.com/Goat__Rodeo Goat Rodeo

    SkyPesos.

  • Sarah

    Couldn’t agree with you more! Transparency is one of the top ways to keep your customers loyal. Delta is putting its brand image in jeopardy by failing to communicate changes to their consumers. I am also a loyal Delta flyer…but these sneaky changes make me think about switching to another airline.

  • David

    Hahah, great post Brian. Well said.

  • Frequent Flyer

    Well said!! I’m a loyal Delta flyer and will reconsider now that all of these little things are adding up!

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    I might not want to make Plat Medallion this year

  • Alex

    Yeah it sucks that the awards level changed but really, you would consider “not making platinum” because it costs an extra 5,000 miles? Hmmm, with all those miles being banked as a Platinum I’d figure it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Yes, the principle sucks but hey, airlines are businesses and they will take us for every cent (or mile) that they can take us for. That being said, if you have a choice and can easily switch airlines- go for it! If you don’t have a readily available substitute then just suck it up and figure out a way to get those 5,000 miles!

  • Rpirkle

    Delta has been hiding things from us forever! For example: If you search the same itinerary over and over again Deltas search engine will up the miles on you. I didn’t believe it was true until I had my IT guy check the code and sure enough he found it! They are some sneaky bastards but it makes no sense why. I mean the better you treat your customers the more likely they will keep using your service and better yet tell other people about how great you are. Delta= Greedy Idiots!!

  • Shorty

    Couldn’t agree more Brian. With skypesos constantly falling in value, and an airline that is not straightforward with it’s best customers, it’s no reason why I will continue to avoid Delta. Southwest, although not perfect, has about the most simple and reasonable miles program, so I will continue to fly with them for this reason.

  • Lucy T

    I give you credit for the restraint of your rant. After years of loyalty to Delta, I have seen the light (partly as a result of your blog.) I always knew that Delta sky pesos were difficult to redeem. I had no idea how horrible they were in comparison to programs like United and American until I started accumulating miles with those programs via credit cards. My current attitude is “Delta is dead to me.” I closed my Delta Amex account, and I don’t expect to be flying with them too often in the future. In short, the Delta “loyalty” program does not inspire any loyalty in me.

  • Phil

    I stopped flying Delta years ago because I just couldn’t get the low level rewards I wanted. Delta had no availability over the wide range of days I wanted for a family vacation, while United had multiple flights on multiple days available right on their website – no tricks or gimmicks required. I have never looked back.

    In fact, I don’t understand why more of the miles and points blogs aren’t much more negative about the Delta program. It is by far the worst of the US programs, but a casual reader would not realize this. The in-flight experience is certainly a consideration, but these blogs are about acquiring and using points and miles, and the Delta program is by far worst, especially when it comes to using them. Besides, the in-flight experience at United (and I am sure AA and US Air) is pretty good too.

    Delta keeps having the worst program and doing these sort of customer unfriendly practices because people keep flying their airplanes despite them. If the points and miles community consistently and unanimously railed against the Delta program at every opportunity, that would go a long way to getting the message out and possibly getting Delta to put a competitive, customer friendly program in place and prevent the other carriers from adopting the Delta model.

  • YYZ_TRAVELLER

    Yes, I have stopped flying and accumulating Delta altogether , just like what I did with Air Canada….

  • LivelyFL

    Mileage inflation.

  • John

    Delta is BY FAR THE WORST freq flier program of any major U.S. airline. Award travel is nonchangeable nonrefundable 72 hours before departure. With American and United you can change tickets or redeposit miles right up until departure! And yes like you stated no one way awards. No first class int’l awards on partners. And it is an absolute bitch to try and get low level mileage redemptions. Even medium level mileage redeptions are getting harder and harder on delta. Like I said the WORST freq flier program of any major U.S. airline. They don’t call them SKY PESOS for no reason!

  • Erik

    For the past 10 years, I’ve had the Medallion top-level status, first Platinum and now Diamond since that level was created. Unfortunately, I fly out of Cincinnati so I’m somewhat of a captive customer – even though DL has severely de-hubbed CVG from the peak glory days of 2005, they still operate the most non-stop flights from the airport. Even with the supposed increased availability at my status level (I accrue 150K-200K MQMs annually), the availability of awards at the “low” level is appalling when compared to competitors like UA or AA. You really have to be extremely flexible in your dates and choice of destinations. And some destinations like Hawaii are nearly impossible to find at the ‘low’ level. Before the creation of the middle tier, the ‘low’ availability wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. I would argue that it was better than the situation today. In my opinion, DL has pulled off award inflation by creating the middle tier but is still able to dangle the “low” award possibility to the unknowing public in their marketing. I don’t know if DL will ever change their recent ways. I’m like you in that I have a love/hate relationship with them. DL does seem to have an ear to social media, so widely publicizing any negative impacts to the SkyMiles program may help our cause, especially if the topic gets picked up by national media i.e. USA Today.

  • calbear77

    I’ve been trying to figure out a trip to Africa like what TPG talked about for much of last year. I can’t find *ANYTHING*. I also seem to be constantly encountering mileage costs as high as 325K miles for trips to Europe. That isn’t even on the mileage chart! The flights that do have awards are often ridiculously long trips that fly to pointless places (found an LAX to NRT award that routed through Detroit last night while playing around).

    But I really want to go to Tanzania next year and am trying to learn patterns and about how to have the best chance of booking my trip. I’ve got the 120K miles for a low business class award (luckily many of them are still Amex MR points). I’ve tried the airfrance.us trick, but even on flights where they have awards, I can’t find the same award on Delta.com. It’s as if the flight doesn’t exist.

    Question: Can I book low-level awards through Delta reps by phone? I honestly wouldn’t mind paying a fee to do this, as it’ll save me from suicidal depression about all the useless miles I have.

  • John

    I absolutely avoid buying revenue tickets on Delta because of their stupid freq flier program. I DO NOT want Sky Pesos. Absolute draconian freq flier program. Hey Delta do you think your customers are just stupid??

  • thepointsguy

    If you find classic awards on airfrance.us write the flight numbers down and then try to replicate them on delta.com using the multi city search or simply call. You can definitley book low level awards over the phone but every single leg needs to be at the low level.

    Its easier to do this when you are flying completely on partner flights.. but Air France has recently cut back a ton of their business class availability. It’s a big challenge, but can be done. good luck!

  • Euro

    Credit all points earned on Skyteam airlines to Korean Skypass or Alaska from now on?

    Don’t have too much of a choice here as I live at a hub of Delta. Love their product, not their FF program. I will still fly them but will probably dump the points elsewhere.

  • thepointsguy

    The only issue crediting to Alaska is that you don’t earn MQMs/elite status. If elite status doesn’t matter to you and you are serviced by Alaska or a partner, then crediting there might make the most sense

  • Paul

    I am currently a Diamond Medallion and live in New York ( Manhattan) and I have two questions for the forum

    1) What airline is better to fly out of New York? American doesnt have the direct flights like Delta and I don’t want to go to Newark to fly United.

    2) What would you all do with the 804, 292 skymiles I have on Delta?

  • Guest

    My Delta rant is: From my home airport (GRR) I have not been able to find a domestic coach flight within the continental US for less than 40,000 miles since the Delta/NWA merger. As a former NWA elite flyer, I redeemed 25,000 for domestic flights, and 35,000 miles for international flights, consistently for round trip coach seats. With Delta, I have had to use 40,000 miles for a domestic coach flight every time–or 50 or 60K, if I want to fly at peak/desired times.

  • http://twitter.com/stiffem Bob

    OMG…Brian is now a beleiver that this airline is the worse case of handling customer loyalty in the world.

  • http://twitter.com/stiffem Bob

    Brian, I have dissed you for taking freebies from this airline because I think it cannot help but modify your behavior, even a little. Now even with the freebies you see that this airline is the worse amongst the legacy carriers for the way they treat their best passengers and their infrequent passengers. They represent the worse of big corporate greed and dishonesty…and in the end how can any corporation succeed when your best customers hate your tactics. Can another bankrupcy be far behind.

  • http://pointstopointb.wordpress.com/ AKold

    The newest news on FT: DL IT recently “accidentally” implemented 25% mileage earning for low fares and 25% of THAT for MQMs. It shows transcons as earning 100 MQMs and 400 miles. Someone from Delta posted that it’s a mistake (thank goodness) but acts like these are making me reconsider my loyalties.

  • Ahcampb

    Give them to me? :)

  • FDJ

    1) There’s no malicious intent behind price changes – airfare and mileage requirements change by the minute. You’re not the only person trying to book award travel on a certain flight at any given time. As soon as someone books at a certain award level, that inventory is filled and isn’t available anymore. You snooze, you lose.
    and
    2) I highly doubt your IT guy was able to find some snippet of code somewhere. Even if there was such a piece of code and if it was publicly displayed, it’s not going to be right out in the open. Nice try, though.

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  • http://pointstopointb.wordpress.com/ AKold

    Regarding #1) This happens REPEATEDLY. It isn’t a coincidence. The award calendar is broken, and low-level redemptions often shoot up to high-level when you try to book. If another passenger books an award, the system should no longer display availability.

  • http://pointstopointb.wordpress.com/ AKold

    Delta seems to have taken a certain ad off their YouTube page, but I was able to find it on another site: http://www.adstorical.com/commercial/5150/delta-loyalty-is-a-two-ways-street

    “If you go out of your way to fly with an airline, does that airline go out of its way to reward you? It should. Because loyalty is a two-way street. And when one side gives, the other side has to give back.

    “This isn’t benevolence, this is our business. And the next time an airline asks for yours, ask them first, ‘what they’ve done to deserve it.’” “

  • Allen

    Delta has in the last 12 hours increased a flight from DUL to PBI by $73. United their only competitor and UA/AA combinations are $100 cheaper albeit Chicago with a UA flight requires a very ong walk for mthe end of Terminal 21 to the far end of Terminal 2. A pox on the house of Delta

  • shawn88ob

    Do all classic awards work or just the ones at 25K assuming a US-Europe route?

  • Twsaving

    We the frequent flyer community should really organize a campaign to let Delta know how we feel about its program. A side effect of this campaign would be make more flyers aware of this.

  • Confused AP

    TPG I’m confused. You say”you can’t book international first-class awards with SkyMiles”
    But the chart shows First/BusinessElite Redemptions to all over the world.

    Am I missing something?

  • cristy

    Personally, I’d do a Round-the-World! Bring along family and it would quickly consume your miles.

  • Micedp

    I flew them in coach to MSP because I did not want a stopover. I haven’t flown them in years. I was not impressed. Their seat pitch seamed worse then most airlines. And the flight attendant that narrates their in flight safety demonstration video has way too much botox in her face and lips. I mean come on they want someone like that to represent the company??

  • Dan

    Check that – you will earn status on Alaska, which has reciprocal benefits on Delta (Gold)

    http://www.alaskaair.com/content/mileage-plan/partners/delta.aspx

  • Mark

    I’m a Delta Diamond and have tried to stay loyal to them. I get upgraded on every domestic flight. But while there are many times I remain satisfied, there are also many times where I am not. As others have said, I have a love/hate relationship. Recently, I went round with them about a seat that would not recline more than half way on a transcontinental flight in Business. They gave me a small voucher and their Customer Service rep was rude when I called. And then there’s the flight delays, and most recently, I purchased a multiple leg trip to Dublin from JFK in Business class. The segment home from Dublin to Amsterdam didn’t even have a Business cabin; yet I paid for it.

    When I see that they are raising the thresholds for awards, I cringe a little more. But I’m not sure there’s a much better alternative. If enough examples are posted on the blogs, facebook, twitter and elsewhere, then maybe they will get the message that in order to keep customers, they need to really put an effort into improving.

  • toonus

    It’s not only award tickets. Even when purchasing regular fares, the Delta website does not always show every available itinerary, so if you check multiple times to find a better schedule, it will automatically increase the fare for the trip; even on mostly empty planes on the original itinerary.

  • toonus

    I’m a Platinum Medallion and over the last two years, I’ve been receiving the Systemwide One Way upgrade certificates as a gift. I have yet to use any of them as I cannot find a single M, B, Y fare to Europe (the only ones you can upgrade) that is not more expensive than simply buying a Business class ticket. I do still love that I get upgraded on most domestic flights but I agree that their awards are simply useless.

  • toonus

    I miss NWA!

  • Robert

    I’ve been platinum for several years, flying delta for two decades. I already made the decision to switch to another airline, it’s just a matter of timing and the status challenges available. If United offered a card that allowed earning of a good amount of elite status miles I would not be hesitating to make the switch.

    So does anyone have suggestions about how to get elite status miles on other airlines without flying?

    Thanks for the recent post about timing for a status challenge.

  • GEH

    Try talking with the VP of the Skymiles program and you will realize they don’t really care about keeping their loyal customers. After many rounds of discussions they basically told me to go to another airline. Are they too big to fail?

  • Sal

    I have been a Delta skymiles member for many years & I am considering deleting my membership. The award redemption chart is a joke. I have been trying to redeem 1st class tickets from the US mainland to Hawaii as I have done before several times in the past. The miles are much higher on every flight that I have looked at despite what the redemption chart says. Also, the flights for redemption require 2-3 stops verses the 1 stop that they USED to have. I also believe what was written here by Rpirkle about how searching the same itinerary results in mileage or fare increases for that flight. I’ve seen it for myself, so I always search for a few days before & after. Its not a far fetched idea to believe that they can see search criteria from the internet.

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  • Ian

    These useless award comments get tiring to me. This is the first year I made DM, due to an excessive amount of travel as compared to other years. I have been delighted that this year I could give back to my wife who puts up with my absence by taking her on the the following trips entirely on award travel. Every EU transatlantic leg, knock on wood, we were Op’d up. Last summer NYC to SFO in coach. Fall 2011 JFK – LHR – MUC – JFK with the transatlantic in biz and then most recently we went to Nice for two weeks at the end of July in biz. And in early December we have tickets to Tokyo. To me those are perfectly pleasing benefits from the flying I do.

    If delta has to slightly raise a few random fares for whatever reason I think that’s fine. Would I qualify looking at a single chart as picking up the pieces. No. I am sure folks on here have been flying much longer than I have and their expectations have increased but once again, to me Delta is doing just fine.

    Btw I love this blog and have recently been taking advantage of SDC’s on delta thanks to the rundown on that here! Thanks points guy!

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  • Timetoagain

    It hardly matters WHAT they put on their chart since it’s a joke anyway! The reward calendar is designed not to work – still doesn’t and hasn’t forever. In the past two years a “low category” flight from our local (medium sized regional) airport has NEVER come in at anything less than 20,ooo points and –even though it doesn’t show in the “new” official chart – that figure has now been raised in the “low” category to 25,000 points. I’m talking inter US flights of even as little as 350 miles.

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