This from someone who also tweets, “I’m so loyal I have a delta tattoo.”
Most customers don’t pay close attention to their mileage programs. Four months into SkyMiles going revenue-based I saw survey data suggesting fewer than 1 in 4 SkyMiles members knew that had happened. So Mr. Brown is just now figuring out SkyMiles is playing dirty pool.
Though in fact what’s going on with upgrades is that Delta now monetizes 57% of its domestic first class seats and projects getting to 70% in 2018. When there are no more ‘leftover’ first class seats, that’s the end of first class upgrades. It’s a far cry from a decade ago when only 10% of forward cabin seats were purchased directly.
Delta’s President says, “What we would like people to do in the next few years is to pick the airline and the product that works best for them.”
American’s President Scott Kirby has the same view.
Instead of rewarding loyalty — a portfolio of purchases over the course of the year — for better or worse they want to drive towards a future where customers get exactly what they pay for on each trip. That removes any incentivize to choose an airline when they do not have the product a customer wants at the best price or schedule, of course.
If you’re a Platinum of course you earn more miles for your travel, which Delta wants you to use to buy extra legroom seats and overpriced drinks in their clubs.
You get waived checked bag fees and priority boarding of course, but you can get an airline co-brand credit card for that (and not put any spending on that card because it tends to be less rewarding than cards which earn points that can be transferred to a variety of miles currencies). And you get better positioning on waitlists which matters especially during irregular operations.
- If you’re going to fly enough for elite status, having it is better than not having it by a wide margin — not just for access to extra legroom coach seats (something Delta is even now limiting).
- American’s changes mean that the differences in elite programs are now sufficiently diminished that the programs themselves may no longer be the determinant of whom you ought to fly and thus earn status with.
- Airlines want a future where customers buy the product they want for a given trip, which means loyalty is less rewarded and thus less of a reason to choose an airline when it is less convenient or more costly — especially for someone like me who travels more than is required to earn the status I hold. I now give fewer of my incremental trips to American.
- This could all change when the economy turns, there are more empty seats on planes (versus over 80% load factors now), and airlines need to incentivize travel through their primary marketing programs.