Delta SkyMiles Changes 2023 Series: Airline Loyalty Program Managers Don’t Use Their Own Programs

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Big changes to Delta SkyMiles are expected to be announced on September 14, 2023. The so-called Project Orion has not leaked beyond reports of significant training of Delta front-line agents on handling queries. Given how little Delta communicates to members on SkyMiles, that Delta feels the need to proactively communicate rather than stealth further suggests the changes will be noticeable to even casual members.

Consensus expectations are that Delta will ape elements of Loyalty Points, introduced last year by American Airlines’ AAdvantage, with a heavy emphasis on Delta’s Amex co-brand credit cards, and a further de-emphasis of flying, as elements of elite program qualification.

A decade ago Delta SkyMiles implemented revenue-based elite qualification. What comes next?

As a Diamond Medallion, 2-million miler, this series of quick posts explores the state of SkyMiles and airline loyalty programs.

Posts in this series:

Delta Million Miler welcome letter

How would airline loyalty programs would look if their managers used their own programs? Get assigned different status levels each year. Get a pool of miles to use every year. Be forced to engage with the program.

Instead, airlines have employee travel benefits that are entirely different programs. I’ve not encountered a flight attendant in the jump seat across my exit row who has the faintest idea about their airline’s frequent flyer program other than a belief that members get upgrades that should be going to employees (‘non-revs’). When Delta introduced Choice Benefits with upgrade certificates, I got an earful from a flight attendant on how much they hated seeing those upgrades clear from standby during boarding, taking the upgrade from a non-rev.

At industry events, I’ve met various airline loyalty program managers. They generally know little about the experience of using their programs. Those who are interested in travel know their employee travel benefits inside and out. Many seem to have little interest in travel at all and just happen to be at an airline on this career stop. Outliers are the managers such as at Air Canada Aeroplan that are passionate about loyalty programs. We travelers fixated on loyalty programs go home at night and think about loyalty programs. These managers go home at night and think about stuff they love, gardening, sports, and so on.

One time I had occasion to interview for a role at an airline where I had elite status. The ticket booked for me, like all other internal business travel, entirely excluded every status benefit. When our schedule for the day changed, even same-day changes were a totally different process than what any consumer experiences, needing to go through an internal travel department rather than the airline website or consumer contact channels.

When you think about a program designing program changes, give a thought that the decision makers (1) likely have little experience of the program and (2) the changes they make will be done to others, not to themselves. A different attitude than if they, too, used their own program.

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