Delta Air Lines last week announced drastic changes to its frequent flier program (read more here) that weren’t well received in its Medallion community.
I was chatting about these changes with a friend of mine who has held a top-tier status first with Northwest and then Delta for some 20+ years, and asked him to write an opinion piece.
You can access Delta here.
– Guest post from Neal, a long-time friend of Loyalty Lobby
Delta’s recent decision to “streamline” their loyalty program is a slap in the face to many loyal travelers such as myself.
While the SkyMiles program has never been the reason to fly Delta, their reliability, generally better service, innovative lounges and willingness of their staff to make things right when something does go wrong has always been the reason to stick with Delta. Before the pandemic, the Diamond Medallion phone line was a wonderful resource and empowered to help, even bend rules here and there.
Not anymore. Last week’s change was sudden and drastic. Instead of incremental changes, DL announced exorbitant increases in the requirement to attain elite status as well as how you can earn it. Delta also made dramatic shifts in how you reach Million Miler levels as well as Lounge access – together a huge hit.
In my opinion, this is an overreach and pure greed on behalf of an executive team that seems to have grown more arrogant and cocky in recent years. Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s President, self-labeled Delta “America’s First Class Airline”. Sure Mr. Hauenstein deserves credit for Delta investing big money (far more than UA and AA) in its people, product and facilities – but he’s also been relentless is getting every last dollar out of customers, at the expense of it’s loyalty program.
For example: In August 2023, Delta had a domestic paid first class load factor of 74%. That means on average, 74% of first class seats were sold, and not offered as upgrades to elite members. In 2011, Delta only sold 14% of its first class seats and offered the rest as upgrades to elite members.
Such success is clearly loved by Wall Street and an ego boost to Mr. Hauenstein. But on the customer side, he is known as the architect of “SkyPesos”, a term popularized in recent years due to his push to change SkyMiles from a program that awarded miles based on revenue rather than miles flown along with the elimination of award charts, and no-notice rule changes all leading to this week’s loyalty-shattering changes.
Sure that 74% of First seats sold, shows why Delta has commanded a Premium over other US based airlines and has been getting recognition for being above average, but Mr. Hauenstein is just gaslighting customers and himself with this “America’s First Class Airline” nonsense and spin on jumps in spend required to attain elite/Medallion status without much in return to customers.
For example: this is the second year in a row that Delta raised status thresholds. Last year, they increased the spend requirement 33% for most tiers; and this year the increases are even more extreme: a whopping 75% – that is almost 133% in two years. Delta has not done anything meaningful to reward Elite members for that increase with additional perks or benefits, and as mentioned above upgrades are few and far between due to the push to sell upgrades to First/Business/Premium seats.
The jump in required spend from $20k to $35k for top tier status is just plain greed to me. But it’s a relief to jump off the Medallion hamster wheel in 2024, drop that DL Amex and become a free agent.
I won’t ‘quit’ Delta, in fact I estimate DL to get about 40-50% of my spend. But is that what Mr. Hauenstein, Amex and Wall Street really want?