Is Delta’s Crackdown on Award Wallet a Step Too Far to Take?

Randy Petersen and I have an ongoing disagreement over whether it’s reasonable for American Airlines and Southwest to block Award Wallet from helping members track their accounts. (Randy even devoted his September editorial in Inside Flyer to refuting my arguments.)

See, I believe that making it less convenient for members to track their account balances doesn’t help a program, it makes those members less engaged and ultimately less profitable. And I don’t believe excuses over security, since having more engaged members seeing changes in their balances each day is the best way to notice quickly when an account has been compromised.

But now that Delta has jumped on the bandwagon and blocked Award Wallet as well, it may be a step too far.

Delta miles are already the least valuable among major US frequent flyer programs. Making Skypesos even less convenient for members isn’t helpful to the program.

And now Randy seems to be coming around a little bit, his October editorial chides Delta’s tactics.

Delta SkyMiles hired either a second-year law student or a pre-law intern to draft up their cease and desist letters. Not trying to be too cute, but stating the reason for the cease and desist as being, “This activity directly affects the stability and performance of Delta’s information technology systems,” is simply out-of-touch, unrealistic and a joke. Are they saying that if members should look up their account themselves it doesn’t do the same? What we are talking about is simple access to a member’s account, which the member has approved of as a limited power-of-attorney, for the member’s convenience. Frequent flyers are busy people. They share many loyalties in travel to Delta and their partners such as hotel and car rental companies. I can defend the thought that there are security concerns and similar concerns with the data, but sorry Delta SkyMiles, you are on your own with this one. And really, who could not have seen this move from Delta coming? In a Wall Street Journal article from last October, a Delta representative was quoted as saying, “We do not support these sites as they do not adequately protect the customer and tend to cause a great deal of confusion.” Confusion? I guess. We don’t know if Delta’s information technology systems can handle their members’ interests in their account balances. Delta, either refuse to pay the legal bill for the cease and desist letters you authorized or don’t invite them to your company Christmas party this year for making you look … not so good.

..And Delta, please get your story straight … and find new outside legal counsel.

And now even Randy is saying that the programs need to find a way to work with sites like Award Wallet, resolving any true security concerns that they have.

For some suggestions on how they might do that, see previous coverage from TechCrunch. And there I mean creation of an API, not the “suggestion to the airlines about building brand loyalty: stop sucking so much.”

Airlines, you’re taking things too far here, and losing one of your staunchest defenders. Time to take note!

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. The security issue is obviously silly. My reaction to not be able to store my passwords (for myself and three family members) semi-securely on Award Wallet is to store them in plain text on my laptop. Hardly more secure.

    Equally obviously, the issue is money. The airlines have invested in developing their frequent flier programs and if other companies want to make a profit by aggregating and reporting the airlines’ data then the airlines (not unnaturally, if we want to be totally honest about it) want a piece of the action.

    At some point, it will strike one of these frequent flier programs as a good idea to develop and market an API that gives access to this information (and more — like how often you fly, city pairs, etc) to various “partners”. The biggest users of those APIs will probably turn out to be marketing companies. Those frequent flier programs that don’t already have it will suddenly sprout language like “By joining this program you agree that we may share information about your travel and purchasing habits with our partners”.

    Whether the API will be affordable for aggregation services like Award Wallet that try to offer their service to end users for free is still to be seen.

  2. Honestly, I have been moving away from Delta for a while (Mainly because of moving from MR to UR). This is another nail in the coffin. I do a lot of paid travel on Delta, but it is becoming harder and harder to justify flying Delta (for me). Ironically the same happened to me last year with AA. I have a few hundred k miles in AA and never even think about them (or paying to fly on AA) because they are not in front of me. I txfred all my small business spend (~100k/mo) away from MR as well. If companies make it harder for us to use our miles or make our miles we simply move elsewhere. I can tell you from personal experience that Chase and UA have been rewarded by me for making it (relatively) easier to use their programs. I don’t think dropping AW is the cause of me not using AA or DL but it sure made it easy for me to switch!

  3. I also like how AW sends me flight notifications among other things. not just a reward balance service. Very comprehensive.

    so why doesn’t AW tell them to bug off? Is there legal merit to their claim?

  4. I am new to miles/points game (10 mos). I have not joined AA or Delta or SW or other reasons, mainly my location does not have very good service to anywhere I need to fly to w/o stops and plane changes. This is just one more reason that I WILL NOT join and use these airlines. They want to control their mileage programs. So they can control their miles programs w/o my support. I go out of my way to not fly with those 3 airlines. I will also go out of my way to fly with outher airlines that follow these 3. I may end up taking boats & trains everywhere, if this trend continues. I look at my AwardWallet balances every day. I’m not against what they do except that I won’t participate with their businesses because of their actions. Thanks for letting me vent.

  5. so true. If i can’t track it on award wallet, i dont use the program. Award Wallet will alwalys be my “go to” site.

  6. Airlines have much bigger fish to fry then restricting members seeing their accounts in one easy to access platform/forum
    If they would spend one tenth of the time building better websites that were indeed sticky and functional they would need much less legal threats as they would create better revenue streams and happier more engaged customers.
    Airlines are sadly the most monkey see monkey do business models out there
    They spend far too much time in negative controlling mindsets
    Imagine if they combined all that negative behavior into something truly positive and compelling what their industry might really be like and how satisfied and more loyal their customers might be

  7. Would you be willing to write a sample form email or letter that your readers can send to these 3 airlines?
    I frequently fly delta and AA and find it very frustrating, and would be happy to complain to them both, and I am sure others would too.

  8. Delta? The company that uses a four-digit PIN as its security? They are concerned about security? Really?

    I really do my best to fly Delta, because they have a decent domestic first-class service at a reasonable price. But what are they thinking?

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