Delta Announces Changes, Mostly Positive

Delta announced some changes today that will affect you if you’re a member of their loyalty program.  Some of them are minor, some of them are “undetermined” since they involve facts not yet in evidence.  On whole, though, I don’t think the changes are that bad compared to where we are now.  Let’s walk through them quickly:

Delta announces it will more than double the number of awards available at the lowest price.  I’m not sure whether to file this under “positive” or “undetermined”, and I’m not really joking.  We don’t know how many 7,500 mile awards were available in the past.  So, double could be significant or not.  I tend to think this will fall in the positive category, if only because there are so many routes that Delta could increase cheap availability on without it drastically impacting profitability.  Will we see 7,500 mile one-way awards on JFK-LAX on Mondays?  No.

Starting next week, you’ll earn MQDs for ancillary purchases like Preferred Seats, Delta Comfort+ and paid upgrades to a premium cabin.  This one makes sense to me, and I’m guessing it wasn’t in place before because of technology restraints.  If the goal is to have a revenue-based program, you want to reward all types of revenue.  Not a huge change, but I’m guessing this will be meaningful for some.

Starting next week, you’ll also be able to use Regional Upgrade Certificates on JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO flights.  This is another positive change for members, who can now only do this using a Global Upgrade Certificate.  I don’t keep as tight an eye on Delta as I do American and United, mostly because of my flight patterns, but upon reading this I was pretty sure this used to be a benefit.  Sure enough, a quick search turned up this post by Wandering Aramean detailing the benefit going away.

Lastly, Delta has announced that their dynamic awards will now be….more dynamic.  Here’s the text of what they announced:

We know your miles are important, so we want to provide the most notice possible regarding Award price changes. For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other dynamics.  Most Award prices will remain unchanged. Miles needed to upgrade under the Mileage Upgrade Award program will increase, and to provide greater access to these upgrades, we’ve expanded the eligible types of fares.

They’re essentially making more fare types upgradeable but changing the amount of miles needed to score that upgrade.  What’s also left unsaid in the text above is whether any award prices (not for upgrades, just for flights) will go up.  I suspect the answer is yes, and that some may go down as well (though more likely go up than down).  The reason this doesn’t strike me as “sky is falling” material is that Delta’s award pricing is variable now (intended or unintended).  Does this mean it gets more dynamic/expensive?  Maybe.

Another positive (unpublished) change I see here is that Delta is likely investing a decent amount of time and money into improving the underlying technology.  The hope there is that pricing will be more accurate in the future.

The biggest change here is Delta announcing the changes.  I remember having a conversation with Karen Zachary, the Managing Director of SkyMiles at this year’s Freddie Awards.  We talked about the need for Delta to give customers plenty of notice, even on the bad stuff (my words, not hers).  Today’s announcements do exactly that.  The good stuff is effective immediately, and some of the stuff that isn’t good has a long runway before it affects members.

Let’s be honest.  We’re never going to like negative changes.  But, I respect when a company tells me and gives me plenty of time to get ready.  The added benefits shouldn’t hurt, either.

8 Comments

  1. Ed, I gotta admit that you are likely the most optimistic blogger I read. Delta has spent the last few years making things worse for Skymiles members, and you see the glass half full since they warn us on this round of upcoming nasty devaluations. Always look on the bright side of life.

    1. Christian, I’d always rather have notice of a change than not, something Delta hasn’t been very good at. So, yes, I do see the glass as half full when they tell us what they’re doing in the future. As to the rest of the changes, is there anyone that didn’t believe Delta was already dynamically pricing some things (where their technology allowed them to)? Calling something they’re already doing an upcoming nasty devaluation is just piling on, IMO. Delta has a bad track record in the past of unannounced, punitive changes. I don’t see this latest negative change as much more than information we already knew. Punish them for it now, if you like, but they’ve already been sentenced and hanged for the dynamic award pricing changes in the eyes of the frequent traveler.

  2. You know I love you, but “mostly positive” is nuts-o. I had to double-check to make sure this wasn’t a joke.

    Yes, there are more things announced which are positive, but they are tiny compared to the impact of the things which changed for the negative. A few more domestic short hops available at low rates doesn’t help offset the big awards now pricing at whatever Delta wants. And there is no indication that the cheaper segments will even be made available for connecting travel on to the bigger itineraries, something which Delta struggles with.

    And, while I think upgrades are a waste of miles anyways, the expanded fare classes simply means more people can pay an egregious amount (80k o/w US->EU!!) to upgrade; the numbers shown so far really are outlandish.

    Calling this a win is a huge mistake IMO.

    1. I thought for sure you would be first to weigh in, Seth. 🙂
      Delta was, in effect, pricing those big awards at whatever they wanted before. They didn’t remove the award charts because they wanted MORE transparency into their pricing. Now, they’ve told us, shock of shocks, that they’re going to use dynamic pricing next year. Hate to break the news to you, but we’re already there. In effect, Delta announced something we already knew and people are taking it as shocking news.

      As to mileage upgrades, they may be egregious, and I wouldn’t pay them. But, opening them up to more passengers has to be seen as positive for members to have the ability to redeem in more fare classes. Like it or not, DL members are stuck with the revenue-based format for earning. IF they’re earning more miles and can now more readily burn them on upgrades, there are worse things they could spend them on.

  3. Color me exceedingly skeptical. They say they “have” more than doubled the low level awards, not that they “will”. So what we see now is what we get. They’ve gone from “impossible” to get to “very hard” to get, if you even know what the low level amount could be, now that there are no charts. The reduced price awards are, as far as I can tell, only on routes where the cash ticket price is low anyway and a mileage redemption would not be strategic. This is just a program I’m not going to be interested in. I’ve already burned almost all my miles, and am just waiting for one more booking to be gone altogether.

    I do give credit that their monthly devaluation was announced in advance this time.

    1. DaveS, I’m starting to turn the other way on these changes. There are reports of what the actual upgrade numbers are (unconfirmed) and another blogger reported last night that comp upgrades for DM members on transcons quietly went away. I like that they announced, but if there really is a chart already decided for upgrades, they should he released.

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