Delta fires me, opts for complexity and pissing off customers in new Same-Day Confirmed policy

This is the first time I have dedicated a post to a rant. Usually rants seem petty, entitled and hysterical. This is no better.

Delta SkyMiles is the laughingstock of US airline frequent flyer programs. Delta hardly gives lip service to offering value in the program. Statements from executives rarely touch on SkyMiles. Award availability is the most public issue: sure, flights are available, you just need to pay a multiple of competitors. At all levels of the program the benefits are same or worse than competitors, with the exception of Rollover MQMs for all members, and SkyClub membership for Diamond Medallions. I really liked the introduction of Rollover MQMs which brought flexibility to the program, useful for those with irregular travel patterns. It has been several years of eroding benefits since. Even systemwide upgrades that are so coveted by elites of other programs are worthless for many Delta elites because of fare class restrictions.

I am a Diamond Medallion with 153k MQMs this year which means I am already Diamond for 2014 as well. My travel is roughly 60% business (premium cabin international, economy domestic) and 40% personal (economy). I travel internationally a lot and often fly Delta’s SkyTeam partners, for which SkyMiles earning was seriously reduced for most airlines earlier this year. My wife is a Diamond Medallion as well. Our most convenient airport is currently Newark, and we have been quite tempted to make the switch to United and its Star Alliance partners. For the past year we have tolerated the premium we consistently must pay to stick with Delta/SkyTeam. I have not had a single business or personal trip the past year from LGA, JFK or EWR where Delta/SkyTeam was the cheapest option, which is especially challenging for business travel compliance.

Delta’s Same-Day Confirmed policy is the one thing that has kept us loyal. Any time the day of travel we could switch to earlier or later flights within 3 hours of departure as long as cabin (economy or first) was available. A simple phone call, seat confirmed, go to the airport. This allows flexibility and helped compensate for Delta’s uncompetitive pricing. We could change routing, or from connections to nonstop. And as Diamonds we could switch among the co-terminals of LGA, JFK and EWR. The unofficial co-terminal benefit was the ‘killer app’ for us to deal with the inconvenience of NYC travel.

Now comes an ‘enhancement’ which is MBA-code for ‘idiot idea.’ The new policy is effective April 23, a Delta representatives has posted on FlyerTalk and the follow-on fury is rapidly growing. See Points, Miles & Martinis and Delta Points for further analysis.

There are nuances to all this, but the crux of the policy is that same fare class as booking must be available. Unless you are booking the most expensive tickets, fat chance of ever coming across that fare class on day of departure. If you do somehow find that fare class, it must be within 3 hours of the original departure or even elites get dinged with a $50 fee.

If the fare class is not available you can Same-Day Standby for $50, with a fee waiver for Gold and above. Standby means having to go the airport and wait at the gate in the hope of getting a seat.

Delta obviously is doing this to increase revenue in three ways:

  1. Pressure ‘gamers’ to pay extra to buy the flights they originally intend to fly, rather than cheaper alternatives that they will later SDC.
  2. Pressure business travelers and premium travelers to pay for higher fare classes.
  3. Collect $50 SDC fees.

#1 seems the most viable. In my personal travel I am most certainly a ‘gamer’ in this way. There is probably a significant population that will shift their bookings.

#2 I am skeptical. Not every business traveler can book more expensive fare classes. My wife and I both work at companies that require booking the lowest fare class and require justifications for any deviation.

#3 I am most skeptical. Collecting $50 SDC fees means that fare classes must be available and I do not think that will happen much under current practices. Delta might collect a fair number of $50 Same-Day Standby fees, though.

How does this look for travelers and Delta employees?

For travelers this creates complexity and frustration. How angry do you think someone who purposely buys a much higher fare class in the hope of having same-day flexibility only to find that fare class not high enough? How frustrated will every traveler who must now Standby be who has to shlep to the airport and possibly not make it on the flight?

And why must customers be worrying about fare class codes at time of booking? Many websites and corporate travel tools obscure fare class. Then on day of travel travelers must be hunting around for fare class of available flights. The slow-loading, buggy new Delta website is difficult enough to search for a trip without having to look for fare class.

Delta’s employees must be dreading this. Call center agents must now deal with fare classes and explanations to confused and irate passengers. I called the Diamond line today with a few questions and the agent confided that “they are not looking forward to this.”

At the airport, the last thing gate agents want is more people pacing around the gate trying to standby for flights. Each standby passenger generally means time-consuming interactions as the passenger checks, rechecks, tries to sweet talk, gets angry, tries the “Do you know who I am?” tack, etc.

Reading various analyses’ the only passengers it seems this will consistently benefit are  low-level elites who book the flights they intend to take and will have a better shot at upgrades. Anyone who uses SDC loses.

The conventional wisdom on these kind of revenue-enhancing, customer-unfriendly policies is that they maximize revenue from the premium/business traveler. This assumes that travelers are uni-dimensional. Many business travelers though, like myself, are also leisure travelers with families. We tend to stick with the same primary airline for business and leisure. Business earns the status and miles, leisure enjoys the benefits and awards. For every $50 fee that I may be able to expense on business, there is a $50 fee that will infuriate me on leisure. By spiting the ‘leisure me’ you lose the ‘business me.’

I hope Delta will have second-thoughts when they see the customer and operational results. Probably they won’t. I have a few months before targeting a United 1k status match challenge in July to earn status through 2014.

I have been stupidly loyal against my current interests. Delta, do you really want to fire a dupe like me?

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  • As far as I know, 1K status match ends 4/30, as long as you meet the mileage requirement after 6/30 you get it through Jan 2015.

  • Rob

    Amen

  • @Kris Ziel – thanks for that, I need to see if I can map out my travel in time to make sure I can make it work.

  • PedroNY

    It’s hard to make a switch, but sometimes change is good, I say let go of your nostalgia for NWA days and make the jump!

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  • matt

    Does not seem like a particularly useful policy move at all. The revenue gains seem iffy and the complexity and loss of “get me home” awesomeness of the old sdc seems like a bigger hit to me.

  • Kyle

    Completely agree. Delta is removing all rare parts of their Skymiles program that is actually worth while. I jumped ship to American in January after the MQD news and have been much happier.

    Jump ship, it’s worth it!

  • Breathe Stefan. Breathe. Releasing your anger is good for. Don’t bottle it up, and I’m sure another carrier would love your business

  • MarkJ

    As a Delta Diamond I am pondering the same things as you are.

  • jason

    I don’t understand how you can choose Delta over United when you have Newark as your main airport. I avoid Delta like the plague, simply can’t stand them.

    The decision is clear, buy a couple of tacos with all of your skypesos and then choose United! Skypesos, what a worthless program.

  • Scott E

    As a Diamond since the inception, This year I have moved to United. Did the match and so far Delta has lost 25K of my business. Constant improvements like this latest SDC reminds me that I did the right thing. Treat your loyal customers with respect and they will in turn continue to be even more loyal.

  • ikonos

    Stephan I am one of those DM’s that has been considering the jump because of the difficulty to book award tickets using SkyMiles while at the same time how easy it has been to book award tickets using United and AA. SDC is one benefit I have used consistently to get home early on business trips. Even if not intentionally I do buy higher fare classes and have seen numerous times DL zeroes out all fare classes including Y few hours before a flight. DM agents cant see the Y availability so they could not SDC me but when I get to the gate, the gate agent sees more than enough empty seats to get me on the flight. For me this might be the straw that broke my loyalty to DL and push me to it competitors. Good luck on your jump.

  • OldManPeabody

    Couldn’t agree more. You hit the nail on the head. I think the most amazing part is that Delta genuinely, honestly and truly does not seem to give a hoot how terrible their service and FF program is. When they came in last place in the availability survey by IdeaWorks last year, they just didn’t care. When USA Today ran a great article (http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/flights/2013/03/04/delta-frequent-fliers-complain-about-redeeming-miles/1963057/) recently about how lousy they were they didn’t seem to care. It’s incredible. Heck, my home airport is ATL and even I’ve given up on Delta…

  • Yay! United availability is amazing. I started out on United, and I just get confused with other award program. What do you mean there’s availability for the next 12 months? I’m working on spending the rest of my Delta miles (mostly via Pay with Miles and AeroMexico), and finally quitting my least favorite carrier.

    The main problem with United is the lack of biscoff cookies.

  • Texasyankee

    Makes me want to vomit that much more every time I am forced to watch that Anderson puke video about caring for or comfort … Of course the 5 commercials afterwards are so comforting. Hmmm, to challenge or not to challenge? Shakespeare = tragedy?

  • Gene

    Good luck getting free upgrades on United as a 1K. If you are going to jump ship, you should seriously consider AA instead.

    Until DL destroys mileage upgrades (soon), I’m sticking with my K or higher fare class + 12.5k miles each way for transcons. The miles are useless otherwise, so I might as well cash them in for upgrades. As long as I can cheaply upgrade and keep my upgrade percentage at 99%+, I’ll stick with DL. The biggest loss for me under the new policy will be the ability to re-route via JFK, where no upgrades are cleared until the gate.

    I hold out some hope that DL will bend the rules for DMs, as they currently do for many other things.

  • Gene

    To clarify, no upgrades are cleared for JFK to SFO and LAX (and maybe SEA now??) until the gate.

  • Gene

    On more thing, apparently when traveling on tickets purchased prior to April 23, 2013, you can request that the current SDC rules be applied.

  • JB

    I status matched to American/USAir! See yah Delta.

  • >>>>>Delta, do you really want to fire a dupe like me?

    They don’t care, DL thrives on enough dupes already:-)

    I said bye bye, glad you can join me.

    By the way, you should rant more, you are great at it;-)

  • IdahoSt

    Wonderful post/rant, better than Delta Points being Number 1 Delta apologist. I also status matched to American after MQD and have now spent 29k…Delta will lose in the long run, no business can continue to be prosperous when most customers find you reprehensible

  • LARandy

    I haven’t been above Gold on United for years, and I get free upgrades just over half the time.

  • Michael

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been a Delta PM for 6 years running, and this move really bothers me.

  • Noah Kimmel

    My DL medallion is nearly worthless, and as a business traveller, I am always struggling to fit delta into policy as it is usually $20 or more over US/AA/UA.

    Unfortunately, with US/AA combining, I dont really want to switch before the integration (and I want to see if US mgmt Out-Delta’s Delta), and EWR is less convenient than LGA for UA.

  • Frequent traveller

    In a free market economy, we can choose which companies to give our business. Vote with your wallets and feet. Otherewise, your threats are hollow and meaningless. Many airlines know you’ll blindly give loyalty because you’re handcuffed to an alliance.

  • @jason – I have stuck with Delta by intertia/sentimentality from my MSP NWA roots, and because of the several places and countries I have lived and most likely to live in the future, Delta/SkyTeam have always worked best. If I expected EWR to be my primary airport long-term I would be quicker to jump to UA.

    @Kay – excellent point that AeroMexico is one of the few uses of SkyMiles that has somewhat consistent availability.

    @Gene – I did get verbal confirmation from a Diamond agent that the pre-April 23 tickets will be grandfathered under the old policy and I will be testing that on April 26! As for AA, they have scaled back in NYC so much, their international network is mostly the Americas where I have the least travel, and OneWorld is so limited for my travel patterns that I am not sure of the viability of AA for my current profile.

    @TravelBloggerBuzz – do you have rants that you can package into affiliate ads for me? 😉

    @Frequent traveller – absolutely right, threats to move are common and often empty. I have been wavering for some time against my rational interest. I am trying to plot out travel that would work for a status match that would cross 35k just after July 1. That may involve flying UA to SIN instead of my first time on Singapore Airlines. Ah well, last year I flew Kenya Airways DXB-NBO-JNB roundtrip rather than Emirates DXB-JNB for Delta MQMs so I guess I can trade down for United now.

  • It almost feels like Delta is slowly getting rid of their frequent flyer program. For the last year and a half I never understood why people were loyal, and finally those people are starting to jump ship. You’ll be better for it.

  • Rick Albert

    The same day confirmed program at Delta is the main reason I stay with Delta, as a Platinum Medallion. I am able to change flight times for flights from LAX to JFK, and still make the airport First Class Upgrade list. With this new policy starting April 23, 2013, it will be IMPOSSIBLE to ever get on the Upgrade list since I will have to stand by at the gate for one of the remaining economy seats (probably a middle seat in the rear of the plane). I fly 80,000 miles a year, and I too will look to switch my loyalty to United.

  • That was an awesome Rant. I agree with earlier posts. You should do it more often.

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  • MaryE.

    Thanks for the rant. I’ll be moving internationally from Seoul to ?, and was considering the best hubs to move to… wherever my new job lands me… it won’t be a Delta one.

  • @MaryE – I am envious you have gotten to live in Seoul, I have only spent time there once and would love more.

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  • Not sure how I missed this one…but very nicely done. Living in Atlanta, I’m not flying anyone else. But it does seem things like this are punitive, and only a cone-headed bean counter who does not have to actually travel like the rest of us could love them.

    Good luck with your switch to UA. I’m guessing AA would not work with your travel patterns?

  • @Marshall Jackson – perhaps I am biased because I do not think I have been on an AA flight in the last couple years that was not severely delayed or canceled, I had a string of AA flights where I ended up on Delta, WestJet, anyone but them. Anyway, OneWorld is quite limited, and AA is really just Americas and Western Europe, plus I reside closer to EWR.

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