More Ways That Delta Has Gutted Their Program, And Why You Shouldn’t Fly Them Unless You Live in One of Their Hub Cities

Jeff Robertston, who runs the Delta Skymiles program, posted on Flyertalk that as part of integrating Northwest into Delta, Northwest Platinum elites will earn a 100% mileage bonus instead of a 125% bonus, and Silver elites will earn a 25% bonus instead of 50%.

Losing benefits is unfortunate. This one doesn’t surprise me. First, because it’s an area where Northwest remained generous compered to competitors (Continental made a similar move, but then allowed their elites to earn at the earlier more generous levels if they held Continental’s premium co-branded credit card>) and that just doesn’t fly under the new leadership, and second because my working model has been that where the features of the Skymiles and Worldperks programs were different, the default would be to opt for the less generous benefits. So far that assumption has proven out quite well, for example as Northwest’s award chart now requires more miles in many cases for awards.

Mr. Robertson also reported that Platinum elites would no longer have fee-free changes to awards (and free-free award cancellations/mileage redeposits).

He claimed that it wasn’t for the fee revenue, but rather as a deterrent to making reservations that Platinums will not use — which he claims accounts for 10% of the awards Platinums claim. In other words, taking away this benefit from Platinums would, in theory, make more awards available for everyone else.

Here’s the problem, though — awards with Delta can be very hard to book. Platinums have been able to grab awards that were available and make changes to improve their itienraries later when seats opened up. That was a huge benefit that offset some of the negatives about Skymiles (and in fact, Skyteam) redemption compared to competitor programs in oneworld or Star Alliance.

The difficulties in claiming awards or in improving awards were only exascerbated by Delta’s decision to shorten the hold time on awards reserved online to 24 hours, and to disallow any holds whatsoever on awards booked over the phone (and some awards can only be booked over the phone).

Now Delta’s (and Northwest’s) Platinums will have to book their awards right away without opportunity to continue to work with Delta’s agents to improve their trips — because in most cases grabbing the right award is not at all easy on the first attempt. This makes Delta’s award redemption completely uncompetitive.

First, Delta and Skyteam availability is on the whole inferior to award availability on oneworld or Star.

Second, competitor programs still allow much more generous award itinerary hold provisions prior to ticketing.

Third, competitor programs permit their top tier elites to fee-free changes to awards.

So the Delta is inferior on all three levels. They just keep making this program worse and worse.

If you’re hub-captive to Delta or Northwest, in many cases it makes sense to continue to fly them. Other than living in a Delta/Northwest hub, one really ought to at least consider another airline. But even those living in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, etc. should only accrue Delta/Northwest miles when the offer is so generous that it dwarfs that available in competitor programs.

Now that the Delta co-branded American Express no longer gives “always double miles” on ‘everyday purchase’ categories, the only reason to put any spending at all on (or even carry a) Delta Amex is for those hub-captive flyers who need spending on the card in order to earn bonus elite qualifying miles.

Do I participate in Skymiles? Sure. When they’re giving out 10,000 miles for a cheap one-day Avis rental. Or when I can earn 20,000 miles for a Bosley hair-replacement consultation. But not for credit card spend, everyday hotel or car rental transactions, dining for miles, online shopping, or the myriad other things I do that earn a mileage return.

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, 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. What you say about this plat benefit is very true. I’m a CO plat, and I value the ability to change or cancel my award reservations without fee very highly. Indeed, it makes me more eager to accumulate OnePass miles than I otherwise would be.

    I am curious what the general change rules on Delta awards are. Once ticketed, are you allowed to make ANY free changes? I know at AA, cancelling your reservation is very onerous. I think it’s $100/ticket to redeposit. But changing your days (but not your city pairs) is still free! I recently found this very helpful when dealing with their partner LAN, which was very scrooge-like in their advance award inventory. If Delta allows free changes to “better” flights, some of the damage will be mitigated.

  2. I hope Delta is listening. You make a cogent argument for maintaining or switching loyalty to another carrier.

    I enjoy Delta’s service and the planes are competitive with other domestic carriers, but redeeming miles for the travel award I want, when I want it, is a major factor in my loyalty choices.

    I see dollar signs going on my credit card if I have to pay for award changes to get the flights I really want instead of the flights I can get on the first try.

  3. iahphx-

    Unfortunately the folks at NW/DL are NOT exempting their Plats from these fees… a date change, even a class of service ( wow it’s 3 days before the flight and biz award seats opened up coz they couldnt sell them) and you will get dinged with the $100 fee… this is how they treat their “best customers” with the new “Best in class FF program”… NOT

  4. I agree with iahphx, there should be a distinction between fees to change flight times and dates and class of service, vs cancelling a trip altogether and redepositing the award. As you point out, changing dates may not be because the traveller simply changed his mind, but instead that the flights that he wanted all along are newly available. There should be no fees for this – for any level of flyer. You focus on only the top level elites, but all flyers face the same challenges.

    AA does offer free date changes to all fliers, though they do charge for class of service changes.

    On the other hand, charging someone to redeposit seems reasonable, and sufficient to prevent abuse, where folks might book trips on a lark, consuming the award seat, all while knowing there’s a good chance that they will end up canceling. If that’s a challenge the airlines face, then I have no issue with them charging the redeposit fee, even to top level elites.

  5. Interesting discussion. So its DOES sound like DL plats are hosed by these changes because they can’t wait (fee free) for better flights to become available. Given how stingy SkyTeam is with award inventory, this will be extremely problematic.

    I know this summer, I was booking award travel on NW and DL through my OnePass platinum account and I changed a double connecting int’l itinerary into a much more desirable single connection by waiting for them to load more award seats. I would not have paid $100/ticket to do so.

  6. I happen to live in Minneapolis. I am trying to decide which alliance to jump to. Factors that would contribute to my decision would definitely be award inventory and schedule. My only problem is that I’d prefer to avoid ORD if at all possible. With that aside, which alliance has better availability – OneWorld or Star? One of the intriguing factors for me is that Star Alliance will have 3 US domestic carriers by the beginning of 2010. This would help me avoid some connections as I primarily travel to large US cities like Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. The other requirement I am trying to factor in is that I have a large balance of SPG and amex points that i’d like to use on an around the world trip in the next 3 years. So do I go Star Alliance, Oneworld, or stay with Skyteam?


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