Delta Hates its Customers #742: Award Wallet Forced to Stop Helping Members Track Their Skymiles Accounts

Regular readers are familiar with Award Wallet, the service that helps you track all of your frequent flyer accounts — you enter your account number and password once, and with a single click you can update all of your account balances, see which ones have grown or gotten smaller, and also with one click log into your account.

I’ve found that this helps me be a more engaged member. I don’t have to keep track of all of my account numbers of sticky notes or e-mail folders, and I can easily stay up to date on my activity and relationship with each program.

And I’ve found that the programs I can’t track at Award Wallet (American and Southwest won’t permit access) I am less engaged in. I’m an American AAdvantage Executive Platinum but logging into AA.com is simply not a part of my daily routine. I don’t log in after flights. And I’m less likely to shop through their retail portal, since it’s harder to track whether I’ve gotten credit for purchases than if I could see the moves on one screen with my other account data as I can with Award Wallet.

Today, sadly, Delta joins the list of programs that won’t allow Award Wallet to access accounts on behalf the program’s members.

Already Award Wallet has made the change insisted upon by Delta’s legal saber rattling. When I saw the news I was nervous, do I even remember my Delta Skymiles number? Do I remember the account numbers of some of the other folks that I help manage miles for?

Fortunately Award Wallet still shows the account numbers and information statically — no more automatically updating account balances, no more auto-login however.

Delta’s lawyer letter to Award Wallet can be found here (.pdf).

They call it ‘computer trespass.’ Delta’ first cease and dismiss demand was apparently sent on August 23. Today they said that if Award Wallet didn’t stop allowing program members to use its site to track their Skymiles, that the airline would file suit.

Airlines clearly want to limit access rights to member data, including specifying how members can access their own data. They want customers using their own sites more frequently, maintaining those eyeballs is better for selling. And they think the data on their computers is valuable to other businesses like Award Wallet, so they want to be paid. But a service that’s generally free to members (and that takes voluntary payment starting at $5 for increased functionality) isn’t likely to be a deep pocket for such payments.

Instead, members suffer, they have a harder time tracking and wandering through the complicated world that programs present. And the programs suffer from less-informed and engaged consumers who become less active over time.

Instead of respecting their members’ and allowing them to access their information in the most convenient way possible, a useful tool is taken away.

And when the airline makes the preposterous claim, as it did last week, that when they increase the mileage price of award tickets without giving any advance notice to their customers that the reason they did it is that to do otherwise would have been illegal… one can only conclude that they have as little respect for their customers as the CEO of Spirit Airlines does.

Update: Wandering Aramean says this “is nothing more than reducing transparency and reducing the value of the program. Bad form, Delta. Bad form.”

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. […] I completely agree with Gary when he says that he is less engaged with programs when he can’t see the balances update regularly.  American Airlines is a perfect example.  I rarely check on the balance, and rarely do things to make it increase.  Multiply that effect out across multiple family accounts and it isn’t hard to imagine why the accounts that are easier to use and manage get more attention.  I still value my AA miles, but they just aren’t in the forefront of my mind since I don’t see them on a regular basis in Award Wallet.  Though perhaps that is the point…? […]

Comments

  1. Well, yet again airlines need to work WITH not AGAINST some of their best customers, ugh…….. I’m seriously going to just setup my own webscraping software to grab this data and store it in my own database at this point.

  2. Real shame. I will continue to look up my miles on Delta.com when I need to but why are Delta looking to make my life harder?

  3. As usual, a lot of complaining and not much action.
    Maybe we should tell Delta we’re not flying them anymore when we have a choice. You(Delta) don’t like us,so we will no longer support you with our money.

  4. This really will reduce the value of Award Wallet for me.

    I was almost used to having to check AA,
    but this doubles the trouble.

  5. First they take your currency and turn it into SkyPesos. Then, they take away your ability to easily access your SkyPesos balance… Just leads to lower engagement for me. Signed up for their card to get another bonus for $500 in spend, will be canceling very shortly and redeeming on Air France before ignoring SkyMiles going forward…

  6. Poor Amex.. Used to spend over 100k a month when skypesos were worth somthing.. Chase gets the bulk now.. They still get some with Starwood but they have to feel it.. Delta just stinks!

  7. Yet another reason why I’ve never signed up for a Delta Skypesos account…they just keep adding to the list.

  8. I am dying to hear what “the injuries already caused by [Award Wallet’s] illegal actions” are. Delta and it’s lawyers are beyond hilarious.

    And I will reiterate here the same stance I had when AA made this move – I hardly expect airlines to do anything for their customers these days, but if an airline is going to go out of its way to make my life more miserable, I am going to go out of my way to fly another airline.

  9. @Matt I feel the same way, but I just found myself in the interesting position of writing complaints to US, DL, and AA about different issues in the scope of about a week… I worry soon that there will be no other airlines to fly except ones that are going out of their way to make our lives more miserable.

  10. I’m totally against this move as a customer. However, DL and AA may have a point that has not so much to do with security but with proprietary information. AwardWallet (and other sites) may not make money directly through subscriptions, but maybe in a position to track airline customer account activity, and thereby compare number of customers, miles, etc for different accounts. That information potentially has huge value for competitors, investors, analysts, etc.

  11. BS. AW did a work-around for AA that meant it no longer stored passwords – it just made our lives a bit easier. Even that wasn’t good enough for them.

    There has never been a time when “earn em and burn em” meant more. I see the end in sight!

  12. @Julian… and? I think the point here is whether customers can access their account data in a manner most convenient to them, or whether we have to use Delta’s clunky systems? If someone can somehow somewhere make money by solving a market failure in the process, helping Delta’s members become more engaged and active in the program (helping Delta’s own bottom line in the process), that sounds great.

    Unfortunately Delta doesn’t see it that way and would rather threaten.

  13. If I had to guess, I’d guess that they ran a computer regression and found that the customers who use Award Wallet are unprofitable. Therefore, they cut access to try to drive them away. That’s what I’d do.

    Just because frequent flyer programs are profitable on the whole doesn’t mean individual customers are (isn’t the point of travel hacking to be an unprofitable consumer?).

  14. Bad trends…increased difficulty to manage mileage accounts that are less and less valuable. Won’t be long before the credit card companies refuse to buy airline miles due to poor value. But they’ll find some other outlet to attract new business, just won’t be airlines!

  15. @Gary. And.. Awardwallet maybe tempted to sell or leak that information. Let’s say they notice over a few months an increased amount of customer activity for AA and a decreased amount for DL, or something else that is private information. If that gets leaked, it will lead to a stock price drop of DL. DL management may want to have control over that information until it’s time to be released to the public. So it’s a tradeoff between keeping customers happy by not having them log in multiple accounts, and having a potentially negative impact on stock price or revenues by the (mis)use of private information.

  16. @Adam k – I am quite certain that is not what AA did morning reason to think it is what Delta did. And I would imagine only a small percentage of the 100K Members are as you describe. Who would hack Delta??

  17. The miles may not expire, but what about the airline?

    My inner cynic says that Delta does not want any third party to have the ability to measure accurately the average damage done to customers by each devaluation of its program.

    At some point along the devaluation path, won’t it make more sense simply to end the entire program? For example, if Amex were to convert all its DL cards to 1% rebate cards a la CapitalOne and stop buying miles from DL, that would mortally wound SkyMiles, wouldn’t it? No other company would pick up even 20% of that slack.

    Maybe our future with DL holds bigger changes than we expect.

  18. Just more garbage from Delta. 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 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!

    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??

  19. “Airlines clearly want to limit access rights to member data…” I ‘spoze, but what they REALLY want is to encourage customers to be LOYAL and to not use multiple loyalty programs, as supported by Award Wallet. I can see their purpose (I guess) but in today’s fractured market, I don’t see this as realistic. Delta certainly has some clout in the loyalty program market, but in the end, I suspect that this will hurt them more than is improved their customer loyalty. Truth is, none of th e major carriers want you to use their loyalty program’s benefits because it costs them big bucks. I have a Delta account, although it is not my principal account. I already avoid Delta when possible, but for other reasons. I, for one, am going to raise hell with Delta about this change and I encourage others with Delta accounts to do the same. If they don’t ‘smarten up’ a bit, in 95% of cases, we DO have other options. Use them and to h ell with Delta!

  20. People will continue to lose interest in Delta and will move more and more credit card spend to Chase. Two years ago I burned all my Delta miles and have never looked back.

  21. Sadly too many businesses earn money from taking advantage of people. The auto renewal for your convenience which just squeezes extra money from people who forget to cancel.
    The airlines certainly would prefer people to forget about their miles and let them expire or squeeze money from customers for reactivating the account.

    I don’t have a Delta account but I don’t care for the trend where companies claim they own the miles that the customer actually earns and being able to change instantly mileage redemption rules.

    Even items such as fuel surcharges which seems to only go up and not down. I don’t care for a lot of gov intervention but too many companies have no interest in being fair and ethical with consumers.

    Why when I have to cancel, reschedule, etc. I have to pay fees but when the airlines screw up they make things difficult or try to avoid taking care of their customers?

    Airlines and many other companies (Verizon FIOS especially) are horrible. Their employees don’t understand their own rules and getting a human on the phone can take forever.

    I hope things improve one day soon but I’m doubtful.

  22. This is terrible not for the miles tracking, but Award Wallet does a great job of informing me when Delta jacks up my reservation!!!!

    I bought tickets back in June, and since then had four messages from AW saying Delta was at it again. This was great piece of mind, as I didn’t feel the need to hover on delta’s website just to see what they did to my reservation.

    Now, I may have to.

    You know, if I want to get kicked in the teeth by airline policies, I should go to United or Spirit, where they are consistent at it and it is expected (vice the sucker punch).

  23. Luckily for me I never earn (because I’m not interested) or redeem (because there’s never any space) any SkyPesos. This change is irrelevant to me because my SkyPesos stay the same all the time anyway. I’m sorry for the actual people stuck using Delta’s system though.

  24. I’m done with Delta. So MANY reasons why not to fly with them. As consumers we have a choice so I’ll avoid them on my future bookings.

  25. This is not a good thing, but it’s funny to hear all the complaining. What domestic full geographic coverage airline is better? US or WN, maybe? What’s more important, info access or product in the air? Because of where I live, my only real choices are AA or DL regional jets, and hands down DL staff is nicer to me on the ground and in the air, where it counts, with less connection problems. Plus, with DL I don’t have to go through ORD. I get it that the programs have redemption value, but the value of getting home on time has a real dollar value to me, also.

  26. I would be STUNNED if we don’t see at least 5-10 more airlines doing the same thing within months. As much as I LOVE awardwallet, I can’t see the airlines willing to let it exist, as they LOVE closed systems. I think its going to take a court case to settle this, until then, its going to be more of the same. 🙁

  27. What we really need is someone to just organize an Award Wallet type service from overseas, in a jurisdiction where they are immune to legal threat from US entities…not that I use it but hey, that’s why Pirate Bay is overseas and not in the US…

  28. I had a long term vision of flying for free to Tahiti on credit card churn, perhaps accumulating those miles on Delta. But with all the negative publicity about Delta lately I’m not going to do that. Looks like Alaska Airlines is probably a better choice for those miles…

  29. Really sad day for AwardWallet. I’ve def become less engaged with AA after they left. Don’t even know what my AA balance is anymore.

  30. Nothing wrong with airlines that want to protect their customers from hurting their eyes while looking at other screens for miles balances. Afterall, every customer needs to have their eyes soothed by the appealing adds these airlines run on their pages. Either you voluntarily look at those ads and love them or the airlines will be forced to reach out and pull a Clockwork Orange number on you!

  31. If you have an Amex MR account & and Delta Amex, Award wallet appears to be posting Delta balance via that Amex account, in the credit card section now… wasn’t there yesterday…

  32. My love/hate relationship with Delta grows ever more complex. Love: 1) I’ve used Skypesos to fly to LGW, PRG, MUC, and CDG in Business at “low” levels. 2) Skypesos have been easy to get (Amex bonuses, Suntrust!)
    Hate: Lousy, lousy award engine. 2) Lousy, lousy treatment of members.

    …but, I’m trapped down in DL territory. Delta, I wish I knew how to quit you!

  33. Oddly :-/, my Delta and AA accounts are still working on Points.com and Yodlee.com. So their “user security” story is BS.

  34. Delta, if they’re concerned about security, could make your data available. My banks do it (and I have several). In particular, ING Direct has a great system where 3rd parties gain limited, read-only access to account and transaction information. That’s how ING deals with the likes of Mint.com.

    Why couldn’t Delta offer that? Because Delta isn’t concerned about helping customers. Delta didn’t make suggestions to improve things. That’s not AwardWallet’s problem… I’m sure that given the opportunity, AwardWallet would happily make use of an API. Delta has chosen not to offer that.

  35. American Express or Chase should make an offer to buy Award Wallet for the technology. Since AMEX and Chase already have a trusted relationship with the airlines, they could partner together to bring the security standards (or whatever the issue is) to a satisfactory level for everyone. I find Award Wallet an EXTREMELY VALUE asset in my day to day life. Losing this one stop shopping for my miles balance would be a travesty. I think our “points” community should be stomping our feet harder to find an amicable resolution. I think we owe this to our friends at Award Wallet.

  36. OK, fine, Delta. I’ve just redeemed the 40k points that have been sitting untouched in my Skymiles account for the last decade, and now I don’t have to worry about it.

  37. points.com has the exclusive rights to this data for most loyalty operators. it also has a superior interface so i don’t see this as a huge loss. using points.com is a better solution and they facilitate miles exchange in addition to tracking balances.

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