Does Today’s Mileage Crediting Glitch Offer a Glimpse into Delta’s Future Revenue-Based Frequent Flyer Program

Earlier in the year there were significant rumors that Delta would be moving to a revenue-based frequent flyer program.

There have been job postings describing positions to drive a change to a revenue-based program, and a leaked memo about no longer displaying distances flown on trips and replacing it with a calculator of how many points a customer would earn based on the price of their ticket, along with eventually aligning the mileage cost of award tickets with the price that the tickets are selling for on a given day.

I understand that when word of these potential changes leaked, that a firestorm was let loose in Atlanta. They were freaking out at Delta headquarters.

And then things went silent. The rumors were that they were going to be releasing details on the new program early in the calendar year, but that didn’t happen.

As we know from Delta’s changes to its award chart this week, they don’t believe they owe their customers explanations of changes they’re making, or advance notice of those changes either. Delta still hasn’t posted any sort of notice that they’ve changed the cost of some awards, they simply changed the award chart for a handful of award routings as though no other pricing previously existed.

Today it seems that the Delta website was showing reduced mileage and elite qualifying mile earning on discounted tickets. The bottom fares, and mind you this is on domestic flights were earning displaying that they would earn 25% of flown miles and just 25% of those miles being elite-qualifying (in other words, 25% of 25%).

Now, last month (and they did give two weeks’ notice!) Delta announced that certain unpublished fares would no longer earn full mileage although it’s not always made clear which fares those are.

So reducing earning on inexpensive fares is hardly new for Delta. It’s something they tried to do back in 2003, and gave up on — in part due to a customer revolt that included roving billboards outside shareholders meetings declaring that Delta stood for “Driving Every Loyal Traveler Away.”

Delta apparently says that what’s been going on with mileage crediting is incorrect. It seems there’s an IT error, but no word exactly on what that error is. It could just as easily be that something like this is rolling out early rather than that nothing is happening at all. Put a different way, they could have tested changes on a live site by mistake (and still gotten it wrong, I really don’t expect lowest fares to earn 25% of 25% of mileage flown towards status).

At this point we don’t know what’s going on, there’s only speculation. But I’m willing to speculate that something is up over at Delta, and that a majority of customers will not like what it turns out to be.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community Milepoint.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Well, several months ago I started liquidating my Delta mileage account, and have about 90k to go. Peso’s, no one-way, frustration with award opportunities, website irritation, I’m concentrating my mileage accumulation on other carriers. I’m under no illusion that other carriers “love” me more, but post-Northwest, other carriers at least show a little leg…

  2. Gary, your post has raised a question I would love for you to answer, especially considering JetBlue and Virgin America recently introducing frequent flyer/loyalty programs which are revenue-based.

    If you were running a airline would you advocate a revene-based program? Are revenue-based programs the future of all legacy airlines?

    It seems this might earn an airline more money. As a frequent flyer who mostly benefits on the margin I do not like revenue-based programs but don’t know if I can argue with the business case.

  3. If what it happening at Delta is just an IT error, then would an organized customer boycott be just a customer error?

  4. I’ve had a problem with Delta for awhile simply because it’s impossible (almost) to find low level awards. Advertising that they have 25k round trips when there are only one or two of those seats on an aircraft is wrong. So, if moving to a system where miles are worth a fixed value means more transparency and more availability, I’m all for it. A lot of people stopped flying Southwest when they went to the current system, but I love the new system simply because there are always seats available for the flights I want. You no longer get killer deals like flying transcon for 16 short California hops, but there is more availability. And if delta moves to this, I’d be happier since I only fly coach and most of it is in the US. So I’m not getting those killer deals anyway. I’d rather have more availability in coach than cheaper business international awards. I can understand why delta would want to change so that they aren’t paying more out in miles than they are getting back in loyalty. And if the new system is more honest and transparent, I’ll be ok. But I don’t like them treating us (the customers) like leaches when they wouldn’t have a company without us.

  5. I remember when Delta did this, earned 50% for low fares; I was a Gold Medallion for 6 years, it happened, moved to UA and have been a 1K for 9 years now.

    Bottom line is, you may even alienate a GS member whose wife/husband flies cheap fares to see him/her at their job. If it happens many of us will just be done flying, I fly on my own dime and at the point this change occurs they lose my $10K+ a year plus all the people I travel with.

  6. Shades of BA, they are lying about things on the FT board. It’s in the thread on this subject, but they claim they weren’t allowed BY LAW to announce the award chart changes prior to the change. Can’t believe how many Delta flyers accepted that explanation.

    I have 300k miles, was hoping to use them to PPT, but now I can’t even book anything on Air France.

  7. If this does turn out to be the plan for Skymiles in the future, then I’m done with them as a loyalty program. 25% of 25%… so 6.25% would be EQ miles- embarrassing, insulting.

    Is this a sign that all my future Skyteam revenue tickets should be credited to Korean Air instead? I’ll still fly Delta, since they took my family and myself out of a tricky situation last year, product is good, and being in a Delta hub city…

  8. As far as their credit card goes at least, I’ll work to hit $25k in spend on the Delta Platinum Amex this year to collect on my 10k MQM bonus but will then drop it. To me, getting a straight up 2 cents on every purchase with my Capital One Venture is a better deal anyway. Especially given the plummeting value of Sky Pesos.

  9. It’s really sad b/c imo Delta has great potential to be a great airline but they keep stabbing themselves in the artery with stupid decisions to slowly kill long-term loyalty. After they took away free Toblerone bars in first I really don’t have a need to be loyal anymore :/

  10. I got the email of reduced mileage (w/the new policy) on a previous flight- they said it was an unpublished fare but I had booked it on deltavacations. I still haven’t received a response that makes sense after 2 emails. How are we to know when we book through their own sites?

  11. they loaded the fares like the unpublished fares that earn less mqm’s

    simple coding error.

    the rest of the speculation about fare based miles is horsepucky for now

  12. The bigger question is, if and when Delta makes a change, will United and American make a big play for their Elite’s?

    Like offer status match with no conditions? Have to admit, this is what I am looking forward to, as I will drop Delta so fast your head with spin.

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