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.
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.
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.
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.