For all consumers, I hope that virtually everything I’m about to say will no longer be true within two years. For now, I really believe it is for Delta and what the airline just pulled off may be one of the master strokes of the decade in air travel.

People are emotionally lamenting significant changes to the Delta SkyMiles program, mainly around how people earn perks like upgrades or lounge access. Loyalty is now less of a fuzzy feeling and more of an absolute number. Scratch that — truly a number.

The reaction is amusing and even personal friends are hitting me for reaction out of sheer amusement for the exploding heads, talking heads and threats to never ever fly again. In one of those conversations I laid out what a business wide touch of genius this was, and how o-n-l-y Delta could’ve pulled it off. I think it’ll be wildly successful.

a hand holding a credit card

Multi Year, Multi-Phase Stickiness

Romantic ideas of loyalty are long gone in this house, though I yearn and lust for every gesture of old world hospitality and recognition still out there. Travel should be fun, it should feel personal and if you want people to really pull out their wallet, you gotta have rewards worth the squeeze.

What I believe Delta has proven, which I believe is the crux of this master stroke I speak of, is that building something superior does not need loyalty. If you have the best of the best with your products, loyalty is an icing and cherry on top of a Michelin starred dessert.

As I say, it’s always better to earn and participate in loyalty than not, but the master stroke here is that I think most of the negative reaction about switching airlines is hot air right now. People would be masochists.

Here’s why: for now, Delta is the best in the United States.

I am not even a Delta loyalist or regular, so just shut the f*ck up a bit before we start to march down the “omg paid spokesperson” stuff. I’m a mostly Oneworld frequent flyer who dabbles in SkyTeam via Virgin Atlantic. I don’t care about Delta’s bottom line or have any personal loyalty or business connection to the airline.

But — what I believe Delta has done is use it’s entire business to create a product people won’t leave. Not easily! Let me lay out why I think Delta is the best airline in the US right now.

  • truly good free WiFi on all flights for simply joins Delta SkyMiles
  • typically the best on-time performance of any US airline
  • currently the best business class experience among US airlines
  • world leading in-app capabilities for flight changes, upgrades and more
  • most choice in SkyClubs for personalizing experience (premium options)
  • competitive credit card program driving butt in seat benefits
  • economy offerings that don’t feel degrading or cheap
  • staff that feel empowered thanks to profit sharing
  • CLEAR airport security benefits for top tier elites

What I’m saying is that if every “big time” DYKWIA road warrior who thinks Delta is giving them the middle finger wants to leave, they can — but they’ve gotta check their ego versus what they’ll experience with other airlines.

None of this stuff happened overnight. WiFi rollout takes years. Seats take years. App investments and co-branded credit card deals are endlessly challenging. If Delta tried this at any time before now it probably would’ve failed. If another airline tried this now, they’d probably fail.

a man sitting in an airplane with a phone

Delta’s FOMO Advantage

There are people who will prefer experiences with the other big US airlines that offer competitive loyalty programs and some will enjoy dabbling based purely on the price of the ticket. But that in itself means Delta won. They made it clear their airline loyalty program is for wholistic loyalty. They’re not interesting in chasing cheapest fare.

I can’t think of another airline that comes near matching Delta’s wifi capability right now. That alone is worth actual money, if faced with the choice of paying for access on another carrier. My time is certainly worth a lot to me, particularly with the arrival of a new baby boy this month, and on-time performance is always going to win a share of my coin.

Whether it was always the plan or a fortuitous circling of events, Delta really picked a master stroke time to pull these changes whether you like them or not. I really don’t personally even have an opinion.

All that matters to me is that they picked a time when they had maximum advantage with their hand, when service levels were down on other airlines and when they had launched better products and customer centric offerings than their competitors to make the big, bold move.

I’d argue if American felt like they had nailed the flying side, customer side and tech side as well as Delta, they’d have gone further with their Loyalty Points status changes in the last year.

a large building with a roof and a bridge

I Hope This All Changes

I love free markets behaving properly and with all hope almost every bullet point of “why I think Delta has maximum advantage” to pull this sort of loyalty move will be challenged.

Let’s see all the other major players roll out truly fast, exceptional Viasat style wifi that delivers streaming speed to every seat. Bring on airlines racing to push out better in-app experiences. Gimme’ a US carrier launching a world’s best business class product rather than a North American best. It’s been a while.

Please, pretty please let us see airlines race out with product updates, juicy card offers and fun loyalty opportunities that challenge the status quo. It’ll come — but I reckon Delta has a year to enjoy the fruits of this move.

The master stroke played by Delta here was putting years of product and tech work into creating the best product and sharing that vision with their loyalty and co-brand card teams. Once the flying side of the business was at optimal competitive advantage, Delta hit “go” on a loyalty program that won’t please everyone, but will almost certainly bring in more money which can be reinvested in richer benefits for those who Delta thinks deserves them.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. lmao, Best airlines? Not by a long shot.

    Best on-time perf? Does 1-5% really mean that much to everyone on every flight?
    Best credit card program? AA no AF cards earns LP, for Delta, you need to pay 250 AF to earn MDQ at a rate of 20:1.
    Free wifi? you mean that thing available to 1/3 of Americans who are customers of T-Mobile?
    Economic offering don’t feel degraded or cheap? Sure, it definitely is NOT cheap.

    Talk about a biased article.

    1. Lmao… the Internet is available to anyone who joins Skymiles… AND T-Mobile people.

      You argue about otp but only based on percentage. Winning is winning.

      It’s hard to find anything other than big whinging in your comment.

      1. Available to everyone, but that’s also largely depending on the route flown. For me, it is still mostly “WiFi is not available on this flight”.

        And then we’re not even speaking about the sheer number of older planes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still rather in D1 and sleep a bit when flying a 763 to and from HNL, but man is it outdated compared to business on a 787.

        That being said, I’m not likely changing my flying habits over these changes, but that’s only because of the better routes and shorter travel times. It really has nothing to do with anything else they may offer that others don’t, like Wi-Fi.

    2. Chris- I am not a Tmobile customer and I get free Wifi. and the numbers do not lie on ‘on time’ .. this is tracked. I have flown all US airlines and can easily agree that delta is above the rest.

  2. One would argue that if cabotage rules didn’t exist or if Americans were more well-traveled internationally, the US carriers would be pretty uncompetitive. But so much for our “free market” economy where protectionism and lobbying runs amok.

  3. I can only speak for myself & my family members with whom I’ve spoken about this but for us I can say you totally missed the point. I’m not leaving Delta; it’s their AmEx I’ll no longer pay $250. a year for.
    And btw their inflight WiFi does not work at all for me with Verizon.

    1. Incorrect. I have Verizon and it’s worked for me every time in the last couple years, including on my laptop. All you need is a SkyMiles number.

  4. Good analysis and viewpoint. Their Wifi is excellent. I do think their perceived dominance in their operations is a bit overrated though. 5% differential amongst the top 4 airlines does add up to a lot of flights annually but for any pax on any given day is negligible. That and Wifi aside they could have made this move at anytime give their strategies of hub dominance — the city of Atlanta is under their thumb for example. Same with MPLS. But it is all a steady creep to the erosion of loyalty benefits, and to your point by their own financial guru analysis the markets are allowing this, and they will pull back when the markets tell them to.

  5. I am not loyal to anyone but Delta is not the best business class experience. That title belongs to United.

    United – sit down dining at Polaris lounges, excellent updated aircraft/seats, great route network. Yes, catering needs some help, but that’s why you go to the Polaris lounge before or after the flight.

    Delta – buffet food at the Skyclub (no ordering), old aircrafts/seats (767-300s, 330s, ex-Latam 350s), small route network. Yes, seats on premium A350s, 330neos, and 767-400 are great, but that does not make up for the rest of the fleet. Also, a Skyclub doesnt even compare to a Polaris lounge. Oh and good luck using miles to book D1 (unlike UA which opens up so much saver space).

    1. I gotta say… you’re comparing deltas worst plane with united’s one good plane. You explain this, but I don’t think it’s representative of what most experience tatl or tpac.

      Sounds like lounge changes are imminent.

      1. “United’s one good plane” – you mean the 787/767/777? Not even a comparison between UA longhaul fleet compared to Deltas… what A350s, 330neos, and 767-400s? They still fly old 330s and 767-300s!!

        And only 2 new D1 lounges opening in 2024… hopefully. Compared to Polaris lounges at 5 of their hubs.

        I know that Delta flies longhaul out of more airports than JFK and LAX. Flying longhaul out of Atlanta, MSP, Detroit, Boston, etc? Have fun shoulder to shoulder with the guys in free w/ credit card access. Which credit card gives access to Polaris lounges? 😉

        I ain’t even a Delta or United fanboy…

  6. While I might quibble with you as to how strong their product advantage really is, I think you’re spot on that this is what Delta *thinks* it’s doing.

    What seems far less clear to me is whether this will really work and whether it “almost certainly bring in more money”. The Amex / Skymiles ecosystem is so important to the company (if not the airline).

    But even if it does, if you’re right that their competitive advantage may only last a year or two, is this really a master stroke beyond the short-term? Because obliterating the middle-class of SkyMiles seems like a big problem when that competitive advantage erodes.

    1. This is an excellent comment! I agree – unless they roll out new levels of service, benefits and premium experiences crushing the “middle class” as you put it, may be really bad news. They’ve set a fine bar because they need to keep a flying experience advantage to justify the ballsy changes. Good thoughts.

  7. I was Platinum on Delta until last year. Watching how I got treated vs those without status was disturbing to me. Those without status were basically told “fu”. No help, no compassion, nothing. I watched my bro, who I was traveling with, get absolutely shit on by a Delta agent, until I came up and helped explain. After she looked me up, it was a different response. Almost a different person.

    I have stories like that for an hour. Status is a big deal. A very big deal.

    Delta doesn’t offer that much more than the other airlines. If I’m on a flight, im relaxing.
    Im not working. I don’t get time to myself unless I’m on a flight. So all the internet etc doesnt matter to me. Being on time does, but Delta isn’t significantly better than the others.

    I’m a Skyteam guy because I’m in Europe a lot. And I try to take AF as often as I can, since it is far superior to Delta.

    I don’t think it’s the end of the world as far as the status changes. But it’s going to make me be much less loyal. (No AA ever again though)

  8. You ignore that almost the entirety of Deltas profit is from their AMEX payments. If enough people drop those Skymiles AMEX cards for cards with much better return this experiment fails miserably.

    1. The loudest voices are rarely the most correct or most representative. On blogs you’ll see plenty of “I’m cancelling” but I think most people are hot air and the blog crowd fails to calculate how wildly small that contingent is compared to overall portfolio.

      1. I think you’re underestimating the overall portfolio’s potential resentment. Since you understand CC economics, let me use an example from banking.

        I used to work on a strategy team in a major US bank. One decision that had been made was to gut the various rewards of the “middle class” customers: those who had funds but weren’t 7+ figures. Top-end was fine, bottom end was fine. But they forgot that the bottom eventually becomes the middle and the middle become the top in a successful ecosystem. With no reason to add more business as their wealth grew, those former-bottom end customers went elsewhere. The result was bad enough that there was a massive restructuring of customer retention strategies. What you see across the more successful US banks are an outgrowth of those first mistakes circa the early 2000s.

        Delta is gutting their middle class of customer (not “middle class customers”, but middle-spend). I don’t know that it will work out for them any better than for the banks.

        1. Agreed. We definetely fall in the midddle. Lots of flights but not always enough to hit platinum status without the card spend. We have the reserve card but qualify for the Business Platinum Amex that will give us lounge access regardless of which airline we fly. No longer feeling the need to be loyal Delta customers.

  9. It’s a bit early to call Delta’s changes a master stroke. $30k in airfare spend is quite a challenge for most and I’m not sure what extraordinary benefits one gets. Most flyers want a (free/upgraded) first class flying experience however meeting the $30k in airfare spend, I’d say most flyers will have to outright purchase first class tickets. So what really are Delta high spenders earning? A lounge experience? (Most) people don’t fly just to have a good lounge experience. I do find their changes intriguing and it will be interesting to see of they’re successful in years 1, 2, 3 out from these changes. I think these changes are more about affording their new contracts with their pilots.

  10. Strong praise about how great Delta product is, yet the author admits to not flying Delta. So not very credible.

    Delta used to be a better product but has gotten alot worse over the last 12-18 months. Alot of “weather” related cancellation (when other airlines were not hit with the same). Raising the status threshold already then again for a total threshold 2 or more times higher.

    This Delta loyalist has not become a Star Alliance loyalist overnight. 95% of my flying over the last decade was on Delta, will be less than 5% in the next decade.

    1. Ok sorry – I do fly Delta. I hold top tier status in both Oneworld and SkyTeam via Virgin Atlantic. I inevitably fly Delta once or twice a month across international or domestic. Random markets, mostly A markets. I was just trying to make the point that I’m not some exclusive Delta lover.

    2. Spot on there. Delta service has gone downhill while AA and United seem to be improving. I decided to leave my 1M miler and Diamond status on Delta before this latest news about the changes to Skymiles broke. Delta gate and phone staff all seem new and untrained, Often not being able to handle the simplest tasks. Their reliability has been off. Cancels, delays and other issues more common.

      I don’t give a damn about the SkyClubs, I just want to get from point a to point b as quickly and stress free as possible. AA has filled that niche for me with more flight options and better pricing.

      I was blinded by the faux image that Delta puts out there about being “THE premium airline”. I think they certainly used to be before the pandemic. Since then it’s just been a sh*tshow.

      Unless the author has the miles in the seats, he should keep his judgements to himself.

  11. So if the vast majority of travelers have no shot at getting into Medallion status, why are they going to do anything extra to try and earn it? All those who got AMEX cards and flew Delta when it cost more to do so have no incentive to do so anymore.

    Plus United has a Chase Visa program and since Visa is accepted so many more places than AMEX and one can bank and have their credit cards in the same place…

    I’m a frequent business traveler. And when I started flying Delta I got the Delta AMEX card.

    Now the Delta has told me that there is no chance whatsoever of me getting medallion status anymore I have no incentive to do anything extra to try and get it. My goal now is to close the d*** thing down after I pay it off.

    And I’m not the only one who feels and is reacting this way.

    And this is the same airline that had no problem taking public money from Uncle Sam during the pandemic, and now wants to turn around and remove people who stayed loyal to it.

    1. I 100% agree. Sure, I’ll still fly Delta if it’s convenient and priced right, but I’m cancelling my AmEx Reserve in January 2025 since there’s no longer an incentive to keep paying that hefty annual fee.

  12. I largely agree, if/once I have enough money to buy business class outright, Delta wins over American, United, and almost any European carrier. DeltaOne specific lounges coming soon which was prior the biggest hole in their premium cabin offering imo

  13. Seriously dude? You have a raging hard on for wifi as the selling point for delta? Really? This is your “master stroke”? You truly can’t be THIS ignorant.

    The in-app flight changes are broken, has been a widespread problem for a while.

    Delta doesn’t fly “business class” in the USA except for transcontinental routes. And their intl biz class is slightly below average AT BEST. If you misspoke and meant the domestic first class, it is maybe average (at best) IF you get a flight over 900 miles that has a meal.

    What choices are you taking about in a skyclub? No premium food. Maybe some premium booze, for a fee. Compare a skyclub to the virgin club house and then let’s chat.

    Economy offerings that don’t feel cheap? You mean the 3-3 config? The same config on EVERY airline? I’ll bring my own SunChips flying another airline.

  14. Two million miler, fly out of CVG which before NWA merger was Deltas second largest hub. I’m driving now if it’s under 8 hours. Connecting is awful, I used to fly 2 years without an issue, now it’s every second trip. Flying $ucks.

  15. Eh, can’t argue with this article. Delta is the best of the worst here in the US. They are catering to their most valuable customers and trying to shed the least valuable ones. The kids who signed up for an amex card just to get lounge access, they’ll probably leave but it won’t affect Delta’s bottom line. Delta is trying to be the Apple of airlines whereas the others are in a race to the bottom by offering the cheapest and lest desirable experience.

    I once flew AA because I changed flights on a business trip and that AA flight had the schedule I needed. The experience was terrible. Granted it was years ago, but they charged for headphones, charged to watch any entertainment at all. It was pretty terrible.

  16. One thing I can confidently say is United and American are worst in their order. An executive platinum in American and I feel like a loafer at times! United is a fraud airlines NR, once a premium customer; lost $2,000 in cancellation fees for a business class ticket in 2020 due to Covid trip cancellation. They are followers of all the rules, that works for them…

  17. I don’t agree that the Delta product is as good as the author says. A Diamond elite that calls the reservation line often has to teach the rules and regs to an inexperienced agent. Or simply hang up and call again. The international business product is not something to envy, especially the food. The 767 international fleet is worn out. AV often doesn’t work, seats don’t work.

  18. You call yourself “… one of the world’s leading travel experts..” If that is true, how in good conscience could you go “ga-ga” about Delta’s Skymiles without mentioning their absolutely obnoxious level of business award tickets?

    I live in Atlanta, and I used to be a loyal Delta customer. About 4-5 years ago, that brain-dead Bustian decided to completely overhaul the award program: it used that one-way business class award ticket from Atlanta to any place in Europe would cost 50-75K miles. Almost overnight, Delta under Bustian, had decided to increase the award requirement first to 250K, and now it’s about 400-450K (one way person)! Try to get enough miles for a decent family travel to Europe on Delta–for a family of 4 for round trip, you would need almost 4 MILLION MILE ! Would you, as”… one of the world’s leading travel experts…” call this normal?

    Not to mention that Delta has a stranglehold on the Atlanta airport, especially in terms of international travel. (FYI: ATL has only 13-14 international carriers that fly from and to–Atlanta: MIA, a much smaller airport, has 29, and ORD has 34). And why? Because Delta has incestuous, corrupt relationship with Atlanta City Hall, buying influence there right and left (when a couple years ago, the State of Georgia feebly attempted to exercise a little more control over ATL airport in terms of international travel, Delta has threatened to leave the Atlanta area. And guess what? Delta got a 30 years lease on highly favorable for it terms.

    You claim that you don’t receive any remuneration from Delta for posting highly favorable reviews of that airline. Nobody can verify that, but we, miles/points enthusiasts who read your blog, have to take your word for it. But why on earth would Delta need to pay anyone, if they have somebody like yourself who is ready to foolishly praise their so called “loyalty program” ?!

    If you’re indeed an independent miles/points expert, as you claim to be–why wouldn’t you run a post covering the information that I have mentioned above? All of it could be found in public domain: you just need to do a little research on it.

    I bet you wouldn’t dare ( like the rest of miles/points bloggers—at least most of them acknowledge that they have some kind of monetary relationships with the airlines and/or with the credit cards partners).

    Miles/points enthusiast from Atlanta

  19. I live in Minneapolis, if I have to pay for seats, I’m going to save my cash and fly Sun Country if it’s cheaper all in. Good news is I expect Delta will have to lower fares. Not sure they care since they’ll make way more on CC revenue, but good for everyone who wants to fly them.

  20. The part where I differ from you — and that kind of scratches the whole theory for me — is that the product is of such high quality. Yeah, by low bar, domestic standards, it may be, but Delta is falling fast in my opinion. I have been inconvenienced multiple times with problems on their older aircraft. Delay, cancel, amenities, like reading lights didn’t work, and in general not good. I just flew them halfway across the country domestic last night, confirmed first, and believe me it felt like anything but a first -class experience.
    So, since high-quality is such a part of your argument, I take an offramp. And yes, I am not happy about this weeks changes.

  21. Congrats on the newborn, utterly irrelevant to the article other than defining your age and experience. However, that was the highlight of the article. The remainder is a mish mash of business ineptitude, inexperience and dribble masquerading as journalism. Let the real world catch up with you before you write another amateurish attempt at strategic business strategy.

  22. “currently the best business class experience among US airlines”

    Really? Have you flown on the 763? I don’t think so.

    SC which are packed to the maximum. I don’t see nothing premium about it. Delta sky club is on for domestic flights, but customers who flies business class on AA or UA at least has s dedicated and exclusive business class lounge. Delta doesn’t.

    1. If we’re doing a worst company experience to worst company experience, that’s a different article. Delta is better in most ways in business and every airline has a sub-par cabin. Heck, Emirates 777 business sucks!

  23. Well done. The changes are highly emotional for many but it comes to numbers for Delta and for consumers.
    The only thing missing is how much Delta’s market share has increased in major high revenue markets such as NYC, LA and Boston even as other airlines have lost share in part due to those own airlines’ strategic mistakes.
    Delta did what they did from a position of strength.
    In the year that other airlines are trying to match what Delta offers now, Delta will be rolling out a new set of services.

  24. Interesting food for thought. Disagree, though. Business loyalty isn’t just a “romantic” notion. General rule of thumb: It is 5x cheaper to keep an existing customer than to attract a new one. Any good business person knows that customer loyalty pays. Delta has just mightily f’d with that.

    As well, since I fly on business a lot and since I fly out of Atlanta, I’ve flown Delta a lot this past year. My assessment of Delta based on multiple personal experiences is that it is not the airline it used to be. You can talk WiFi and apps, I can talk abuse by Delta staff (yes, abuse), egregious mishandling of luggage, underwhelming airport lounges, and — even before this revision — the worst customer loyalty program of the major airlines.

    We agree on this: O-n-l-y Delta could have done this. Yup! They are the only ones of the major airlines full enough of themselves to think they can get by with this. This is the worst strategic business decision since “New Coke”.

    (P.S. I’ve notified my company to please not schedule me going forward on Delta if at all possible. Multiply me times the many, many people ticked off from this decision. How can that possibly not negatively affect Delta’s bottom line?)

  25. Sorry but you couldn’t be more wrong! When an airline stops tracking and rewarding loyalty for the ppl who actually use their product (assuming the product is actually flying and not spending on CC) then IMHO they are not worth flying. I’m a 2MM Diamond with Delta and been loyal for the past 10years and although I can requalify with these changes, I’m not going to. I cancelled my Reserve and will finish couple of upcoming reservations and that’s ot. Delta and Amex won’t see a penny from me.

    Delta doesn’t even compare to European / Asian or Middle Easter airline. Neither their Soft or Hard products measure. Even if they refresh their seats, service wise can’t and won’t change. It can be good at times, but not premium, not luxurious.
    I collect now generic points, booking international with European/Middle eastern J class or Prem economy and upgrading. Domestically I can fly whoever but will credit miles to one of the international programs.

    1. Always respect people who actually make changes when they don’t like the changes their given. I raise these points about not just leading in the US but the world. I’ve always been a fan of transferrable bank points and always prefer spending on flights with a UR/MR/C1 etc card.

      Glad to see someone making changes to fit their feelings.

    2. Very telling that he talks about Middle East carriers. Very telling.

      I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that he either works for or lives in Qatar.

  26. I was a Delta loyalist until about three years ago. Sure they had the best domestic product but their advantage over United is marginal these days. Delta has really slipped in the post-pandemic.

    I came over on a status match, and United matched my DM to P1K. That makes me a pre-board on United; Delta demoted the DM‘s to after first class now.

    United gives CLEAR to its top tier, same as Delta. Or you can get it via AMEX platinum.

    and need we talk about alliances? Star Alliance whomps ass over Sky Team.

    One place United got a head of Delta was in the premium lounge category. The Polaris lounges are wonderful. Delta has yet to role out a single Delta One lounge. And they have nothing like United’s “Classified” in Newark. Compare that to a lounge you can’t use because of overcrowding, and now you’re probably going to get excluded from anyway.

    So, yeah, it was fun while it lasted, but I’ve moved on. And now Delta is moving on from many of its elites. Not sure that is a plus move.

  27. The one thing I can’t understand (perhaps the Delta bean counters did) is this: Under the old rules, I would reach Platinum next year; under the new rules I will also attain Platinum status. However, with the new system, I can stop the spend on my reserve card at $75,000 and switch to a better card for the rest of the year. Under the old system, I was incentivized to hit $120,000 – a difference of $45,000. Further, if they had retained “rollover” I would have used my card for the entire year (roughly $200k in annual credit card spend).

  28. Delta is lazy AF they don’t want u to fly so they can hire less employees yet they want to make the same money so they’re going after us loyalty suckers who will fly less but swipe more. Thats their plan sir.

  29. My amusement in reading another analysis of this change was a travel “expert” who felt “liberated” by not having to chase Delta status. Well, that is one way to look at it. You’re also free to enjoy lots of less friendly, less comfortable experiences on other airlines. I don’t love Delta, they still screw me several times a year, but they’re the least awful US airline right now. AA still has the award for grumpiest employees in the sky. United is one step away from Ryan Air in my book – they’d charge for the crapper if they could. And I still believe they’d call Chicago PD to drag me off a plane by force if I look at them the wrong way. Delta is winning overall because they have an experience that’s maybe 20% better than the other majors. That’s not much, but I’ll gladly pay extra for it and put up with their “we’ve ‘simplified’ our SkyMiles program to help you see that it’s really and truly only ever been all about the money” changes.

  30. I am a Delta Loyalist but that will likely change in 2025. First lets list the Medallion Qualifying Dollar increases over a 3 year period.

    2023 MQD Qualifiers
    Diamond = $15k
    Platinum = $9k

    2024 MQD Qualifiers
    Diamond = $20k
    Platinum = $12k

    2025 MQD Qualifiers
    Diamond = $35k
    Platinum = $18k

    I am a business traveler who typically spends just over $15k a year on flights. I use my corporate credit card, I can choose any airline I like but I have to book main cabin.

    For several years I was Delta Diamond and recently could only qualify as Platinum but that is ok as the #1 perk of both statuses, is I can book main cabin and then immediately go back into the app and choose comfort + seats for free.

    Even though I fly a couple of times every single month, in 2025, both Platinum and Diamond will no longer be within my reach.

    If I can no longer receive this perk, there is no reason why I wouldn’t explore changing programs to Jetblue, AA, United, Alaska,etc. Perhaps they don’t offer a similar perk, but if I am not getting it from Delta, why not check out those programs out. Luckily my home airport is LAX which has tons of competing airlines.

    Keeping in mind that I was Delta Diamond for years. I haven’t slowed my frequency of flying and my dollar spend has slightly increased with the times. How many former top tier customers will Delta lose due to the ridiculous increases of MQDs year over year? I don’t mean that in a threatening or complaining tone, I mean it as a logical conclusion. Former top tier customers that haven’t changed their patterns, but now you take away the perks that previously made them loyal. There is no incentive to prevent us from exploring the competition.

  31. Very interesting contrarian article. It seems to me that Delta has decided that having a competitive airline is more important than having a competitive loyalty program. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. Their early adoption of basic economy fares and dynamic award pricing were unpopular but ultimately successful business decisions. Will this be successful too? I’m not exactly rooting for them but I wouldn’t bet against them either.

  32. Didn’t JetBlue have fast and free WiFi well before Delta, and continues to do so? Even the old E190s have gate to gate WiFi. Last time I travelled Delta despite being a silver medallion I was not able to get anything other than messaging for free. Also I’d argue B6 mint is still above Delta for both domestic and their limited international routes for business class, and have won awards as such. They also have better legroom which for those who don’t fly up front so often is important and crew are generally friendly. Granted there’s downsides such as their OTP and lack of lounges, though I have priority pass through a CC anyway. I have AA Gold and currently have always got extra legroom (MCE/Exit row seats) yet I have Silver medallion and get no extra legroom seats at check in. Each has its good and bad points but I wouldn’t necessarily say any time I’ve flown Delta it’s shone through as much better than the others. As for their reliability, it might be good for domestic but at the expense of international. Both times I’ve flown out of JFK lately nearly all their European flights were running 2-4 hours late, mine was 3 hours late with 2 hours waiting for bags to be loaded! Just the other day all of Deltas cancels were international and mostly to cities they fly to once a day. Not great if you’re stuck with no options until the next (or several days later). The best food I’ve had on a plane was in AF J and friendliest crew were on KLM J and some BA flights. There seems to be this similar hype with Virgin yet my experiences have been subpar both in terms of how they dealt with a short notice cancellation and trying to change reward tickets which took several hours of trying to get through on the phone and chat for something that ought to be able to be done online. The crew were pretty average at best and the food wasn’t that great, certainly down on where it was a few years back. Certainly none of my flights with Delta have been memorable, maybe I just got unlucky?

  33. “What I believe Delta has proven, which I believe is the crux of this master stroke I speak of, is that building something superior does not need loyalty. If you have the best of the best with your products, loyalty is an icing and cherry on top of a Michelin starred dessert. . . . But — what I believe Delta has done is use it’s entire business to create a product people won’t leave.”

    Not only are you are mixing apples and oranges, Delta’s revenue structure is built on a house of cards, predicated on zombified status-chasers putting otherwise non-market driven spend on AMEX co-branded cards. Even though “status” has been substantially devalued the last 10 years, folks chased it anyway because of (1) of odd physiological behavior, and (2) the ability to achieve it through gaming the MQM rollovers and boosts, MQD waivers and mileage/MQD runs.

    These new changes are finally drastic enough to snap a whole bunch of folks out of this irrational status-driven trance, and back into reality.

    So folks may very well continue to fly Delta on a regular basis because of the “product”, but without chasing the worthless “status”.

    So the artificial, zombie-induced AMEX spend revenue takes a substantial hit, which then undercuts the ability to actually pay for the “superior” product going forward.

    IMO, they should have kept the status-chasing zombies churning their AMEX spend and continued denying them any tangible benefits for reaching “status”. People will do very irrational things that line Delta’s pocket as long as they can call themselves as DM or PM. But when those levels simply become unreachable and beyond what the zombie can actually do, the zombie wakes up. You are now hearing a very loud chorus of Delta status zombies snapping back into reality.

    Hence, I suspect the very profitable Delta/AMEX revenue model is now on the way to a significant decline, if not a collapse.

  34. I think the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

    The changes are undoubtedly a huge slap in the face and a message that they don’t care about the average traveler. As much as most of us would like to see delta face consequences, it’s not likely from a bookings perspective.

    Continued “loyalty” is probably going to come more from market power than marginally better experience, but yeah, they’re not likely to suffer in bookings in the immediate term.

    What I don’t understand is how this is going to help them meet their goal of doubling AMEX spend. The value proposition for the average traveler is nonexistent. The $250 card is now worthless -Yes it still earns SkyMiles but that is that worth more than cash redemptions on a travel portal? And getting status on the $550 card requires basically putting all your spending on it and the opportunity cost is huge.

    Either you pay a lot for the privilege of earning worthless currency or you pay a ton for the privilege of hoping for an upgrade and getting some free cheese and crackers a few times a year.

    Basically they made a statement that they don’t need to offer anything extra for the average traveler. That probably won’t affect bookings, but you’d have to be crazy to invest in the CC.

  35. Interesting opinion, what you and Delta don’t consider, understand or respect is the thousands of business travelers out here that use the program day in and day out and many of us have guidelines to follow including reasonable priced fares. Not first class! Or premium Delta One, many using these closely monitored systems adjust for the business incentives, Deltas not often the least expensive. Now you’re choosing to remove let’s call them perks, incentives and offers that make Delta more attractive.
    Then you’re likely to see a drop in that middle, business travelers segment that use booking such as Concur etc. it’s not always smart to nip a hand that feeds you, many of us continued in your most trying of times businesses as usual with the Pandemic, I’ve held top tier status but this was not well thought out. Like every one we all have opinions. Happy flights.

  36. Spirit, etc. wants to be profitable by filling as many seats as possible while minimizing expenses as much as possible.
    Delta wants to be profitable by maximizing revenue from their best customers rather than by minimizing expenses. They prioritize their customers by revenue:
    (1) rich people who purchase the best seats, want the best service and don’t care about price,
    (2) business frequent fliers who care more about good service and convenience than about price because their company pays for the seat,
    (3) upper-middle class people who use AmEx cards (with kickbacks to Delta) and who aspire to be rich someday, and
    (4) price-conscious people who are stuck with Delta due to geography, and everybody else.

    During covid, Delta tried to fill as many seats as possible and expanded profitable partnerships with AmEx, etc. in order to stay afloat. When things started getting back to normal, (1) and (2) customers started complaining that their experience was eroding because there were too many (3) customers taking up forward seats in planes and space in Sky Clubs. In response, Delta calculated that it would be better (more profitable in the long run) to risk some of their AmEx revenue and their lower-priority customers by kicking them out of Sky Clubs and making it harder for them to get good seats up front without paying for them like (1) & (2) customers.

    Also, Senior Management did not wake up one day and say “Tom Brady is smart. Let’s hire him to advise us”. More likely it was something like “Our marketing people think we will get more $$ from rich Alpha types if Delta is associated with Rich Winners. Tom Brady is a Rich winner, available, and not too expensive. We can trot him out for publicity events and show him off when it suits us.”

  37. DL was hands down better than UA pre-pandemic, except on routes with guaranteed Polaris. Now that the rollout is complete, UA has the much better route network, biz class lounges, and seat.

    On the domestic front, DL is losing its edge as UA improves Club lounges and Wifi. Who wants to connect in ATL? It’s not on the way

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