Why I’m becoming more loyal to Delta — without even flying

Apr 5, 2020

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Update as of 4:00 p.m. ET on 04/05/20: United has now announced they too are extending status to all current Premier members through the end of the 2021 program year, which ends on January 31, 2022. Read more here.


My first ever airline top tier elite status was Delta Diamond in 2011. In 2010, I clocked 135,000 MQMs which qualified me to become a “Charter Member” of the exclusive Diamond Elite tier (though the first year of that program was actually 2010 and I think they just had leftover charter member cards left!).

However, by 2014 my relationship with Delta was on the rocks and I even wrote this post (replete with Honey Boo Boo gifs) on why I was breaking up with Delta — mostly around flyer unfriendly changes, like constant award chart devaluations (when they used to have one!) and decreased lounge access.

My hope was that by voting with my wallet and switching to AA, they would recognize their ability to differentiate and continue offering great value for redemptions and top tier elites.

Sadly, over the years, both United and American have followed in the devaluation game and added Elite Qualifying Dollars as key components of their programs and United went as far as to get rid of their award charts. American technically still has them, but due to their “Web Special” pricing strategy, you never really know how much an award flight will cost until you check online, which is the same as Delta and United, to varying degrees (United at least has an award chart for partner flights).

The key twist here is that while American and United have essentially copied Delta’s negative trends they haven’t copied the positive ones.

Like today’s announcement to extend elite status for a year and allow rollover of ANY MQMs from 2020 into 2021. Making such a move comes at a cost, but I applaud Delta for playing the long game here and putting consumers first. People have enough to worry about these days and Delta has assured their best customers that they are valued.

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While other international airlines have done the same, like Qantas and Singapore, this was a major pro-consumer move that I suspect the other major airlines will follow quickly.

It may seem trivial to worry about airline elite status during these times, but for people who have invested a lot of time and money to attain it for 2020, it’s stressful to watch days go by and not be able to use it — and at the same time worry about not being able to retain it for 2021. I appreciate Delta taking the lead to assuage those concerns and hope the other major US carriers do the same ASAP.

Here’s my elite qualification for 2020:

American
Status: Executive Platinum
EQM: 14,140
EQD: $3,267
Segments: 9

Delta
Status: Platinum (Complimentary from Amex Business Centurion)
MQM: 5,935
MQD: $1,707
Segments: 4

United
Status: Premier Silver
Premier Qualifying Points: 7,304
Premier Qualifying Flights: 10

For the last seven years or so, I’ve been an Executive Platinum with American, due to being based in Miami and New York and traveling transcontinental — I liked having lie-flat options from MIA and NYC to LAX. My last flight was March 1, 2020 (Miami-JFK on a sweet AA 777).

However, with more of my travel out of NYC and Newark being closer to my downtown apartment than LGA, I’ve been valuing convenience ( and the 787-10 to LAX and SFO) over loyalty and switching a lot to United (especially since LaGuardia has been such a mess, not just in flight ops and subpar terminals, but with chaotic ride-share lots to make sure your entire LGA experience is a dumpster fire from beginning to end).

But, I’m starting to think about shifting more of my travel to Delta since they’re a company I admire for their culture in the following ways:

A culture of service

While no airline is perfect, Delta has created an unmistakable culture of Southern hospitality blended with a global vision. Flight attendants are friendly, customer service agents seem empowered to help. Even throughout this coronavirus they’ve empowered customer service agents to issue cash refunds and pushed back the validity of vouchers for two years. In addition they’re waiving award ticket fees the same as paid tickets, where American is only waiving the fee for travel through May 31,2020 (United is waiving it for flights departing before May 31).

Talking Points podcast: Delta CEO Ed Bastian on growth, environment and Sky Club

A culture of valuing employees

Delta has a profit-sharing plan: they split a record $1.6 billion in 2019 profits among its 90,000 employees, the airline has announced. Each employee will receive a bonus worth 16.6% of their base pay — approximately two months’ salary. This is partly why Delta has such friendly employees and a tight operation.

A culture of operational performance

Time is money — especially for business travelers. And Delta’s maniacal focus on its operation (check out my podcast with Delta COO Gil West here), has paid off. For the last three years Delta has been the most on-time US airline — beating rivals United and American by a long-shot.

TPG founder and CEO Brian Kelly interviews Delta Air Lines Chief Operating Officer Gil West. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)
TPG founder and CEO Brian Kelly interviews Delta Air Lines Chief Operating Officer Gil West. (Photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy)

Delta’s commitment to sustainability

While many travel companies talk about sustainability and might take out single use plastics, Delta puts its money where its mouth is — with a plan to invest $1 billion to become carbon neutral.

To be fair, Delta isn’t doing everything right.

The airline’s award rates, especially for international flights in premium cabins, are outrageous in many markets and their premium lounge experience sorely lacks United’s Polaris lounges and American’s flagship lounges. They need to up their game from NYC — the Delta One Suites are great, but only on JFK-Mumbai and JFK-Atlanta (once a day). They need to up the premium experience to not just match, but pass competitors.

But one thing is undeniable: Delta has soul and compassion and that is what the hard hit travel industry needs to exemplify as we work our way out of the biggest crisis to ever hit the industry.

Soon enough, we will be back on planes and exploring the world with this virus as a distant memory. However, what will last longer than our current stay-at-home mandates is our memory of the companies that treated us fairly and openly throughout this stressful time.

Delta, you’ve passed the test so far and while you may have taken a short term hit in profit by being good to your consumers, I’m confident you’ll win in the long run. Heck, maybe 2021 will be the year I reactivate that Delta Diamond Charter status member after all.

Check our Talking Points episode with Ed Bastian here:

For the latest on elite status extension, check out:

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