It’s truly surreal that just three years ago Delta was paying for this ad:
What does it mean for a loyalty program to be loyal? Here’s a few things.
- Once they decide you are a valuable customer, whatever the metric, you should be treated just as well every time. IHG Rewards Club, which doesn’t require hotels to honor upgrade benefits on award stays fails this. American doesn’t upgrade on award redemptions. But United and Delta don’t dance with the one that brung them at all — a given silver customer (shows a little skin) buys a full fare ticket and they are more important (higher on the upgrade list) that day than 100,000 or 125,000 mile customers buying mid-priced tickets.
- Loyal programs don’t retroactively devalue your points. Make changes to the value proposition going forward. But the miles you already earned, they should be loyal to those and maintain their value. You had to be loyal up front and buy your tickets. You made your travel choices. The travel provider reciprocates later. Since earn and burn is inherently intertemporal there is a trust factor required. Members need their loyalty program to be loyal, not to ‘DK‘ them when it is time to use the miles.
- Loyal programs tell it to you straight. Loyal programs give advance notice of changes, and are honest about what those changes mean. They help members to know what the changes are, and even understand how changes affect them. And if you’re making a change, a loyal program wants members to have time to adapt and even earn more miles and then still be able to take advantage of the awards they’ve been dreaming about — rather than pulling the rug out from members.
- Loyal programs empower members with information, they don’t thrive on keeping members in the dark. United, Delta, and Southwest don’t allow members to track their miles with Award Wallet. Making it easy to check and track miles in one place helps engage a program, stay on top of it, and even know if your account has been compromised (since you see any change much more quickly). Expert Flyer is a tool that lets you search flight availability and award and upgrade space. And Expert Flyer can email me space opens. United and Delta both block Expert Flyer from searching special classes (although Expert Flyer has a new workaround for Delta award seats only but not awards or even revenue flight availability). Are your best customers well-informed customers, or ignorant ones?
You choose your travel provider on trips where they are less convenient or even a bit more expensive. Some people will say you are foolish for doing so. That’s only because the cynics are being proven correct by the likes of Delta who aren’t loyal to their SkyMiles members, who disrespect them through:
- Lack of information
- Disingeuous communication
- Devaluation without notice
If you were designing a fictional airline that treated its customers with the most contempt possible, a caricature that couldn’t possibly be real, you would sketch out the past several months of the SkyMiles program.
- They put new award charts in place for January 1
- They were charging more miles for many itineraries than the award charts promised
- They eliminated award charts, and said it was because you would always know how much awards cost based on the website’s pricing
- Even though the website pricing was frequently wrong
- And you couldn’t price out many of their partners online, even though they tout you could search more partners than before
- And they made upgrades more expensive than award tickets even
- Except that now award tickets could cost 800,000 miles
- They communicated this big increase, in effect immediately, ‘to give you the most notice possible’
- Only they didn’t even tell you there was a big increase. Or the price of upgrades (which can’t be found on the website).
Delta has apparently decided to do this because they can get away with it, because there are no external constraints — business-wise they are filling planes and even selling premium cabins, and in terms of risk the Supreme Court said that you can no longer sue a frequent flyer program for bad faith and unfair dealing. All that is left is character.
You may be able to make money in the short run through dishonest dealing. One hopes that you cannot in the long run. I won’t claim that’s true but it would be nice if it were.
Still, you get up in the mirror every day and ask what kind of person you want to be, what kind of company, and you behave accordingly. It’s perfectly reasonable to offer a value proposition that you’ve decided (rightly or wrongly, even) is best for your business. It’s dishonest to make an offer, have consumers respond to it and earn their miles, and then change the offer after they’ve done it. And then deceive your customers about what it means, tell them you’re giving them notice when you aren’t, and offer implausible excuses why it’s someone else’s fault (the government) why you don’t.
We all reveal our character each and every day. And loyalty programs should be loyal. Delta used to say that. Maybe they even used to believe it.