“Compare Delta with our competitor’s loyalty programs”

So Delta has put together a chart comparing their status levels to other programs’ status levels, which is rather misleading, to say the least. First of all, any airline that thinks it’s the best in everything (according to a chart like this) is full of it. Second of all, I find it interesting that US Airways is missing. Not that I really consider them to be all that much of a competitor, but they do have a decent elite program and they are a legacy airline.

Anyway, let’s go through these one by one:

Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades for All Elites

Fair enough.

Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades on Award Tickets*
*Will be implemented for members in the first quarter of 2010.

Fair enough, although comparing your program in the first quarter of 2010 to other programs as of September 10, 2009, seems a bit unfair.

No Co-Pay on Any Upgrade

Conveniently they leave out the fact that only the top three fare classes can be upgraded on Delta, while that’s not the case on any other airline. Also, they say all of this is true as of September 10, 2009. On what fares does United have co-pays as of that date?

Complimentary Systemwide Upgrade Certificates for Top Elites

Yes, they put themselves in the same group as American and United, but conveniently leave out that you’re paying close to full fare if you want to upgrade internationally with Delta, while you can buy a $500 ticket to Europe on American and upgrade.

500-Mile Minimum per Flight for All Customers

Fair enough.

50% EQM and Mileage Bonus On Top Three Coach Fares

Fair enough, although most other carriers offer a 50% EQM bonus for the top two fares.

Rollover Elite Qualifying Miles*

It’s true.

OK, now this is where it gets really fun, where Delta claims they have “the best redemption options,” which is single-handedly Delta’s weakest point (and very few people are crazy enough to dispute this).

Three Distinct Levels of Award Availability

While it’s true that Delta is the only carrier with three tiers, it’s laughable that they are trying to market this as them offering “the best redemption options.” The middle tier has basically become the equivalent of the low tier at all other programs.

Combinability of First / Business / Coach Awards

Fair enough.

Ability to Pay With Miles

Fair enough (for those crazy enough to use that redemption option).

Extensive Merchandise Redemption Program

See above.

Expanded Award Seat Availability for All Elites

And conveniently they leave United out of that group, since United does offer extra coach award inventory for 1K’s.

Four Published Elite Tiers

Please help me understand how this results in “the best levels of service.”

Anyway, I’m just not a fan of these types of charts. I’d much rather they add a few categories where they show they’re not the best (like most other programs with a similar chart do), instead of pretending they’re the best in everything. Here are a few of the things I’d love to see added to the chart:

  • Lounge access for mid-tier elites flying internationally, which American, Continental (as of October 27), and United offer
  • One-way awards, which American offers
  • Three cabin first class alliance award redemptions, which all the other carriers offer (starting October 27 for Continental)
  • First class lounge access when traveling internationally for top tier elites, which American offers
  • Confirmed regional upgrade instruments for top tier elites, like United offers

And those are just a few of the things that come to mind.

I’m not meaning to rag on Delta, but they’re asking for it. From calling the combined SkyMiles/WorldPerks loyalty program “best in class” to this chart, I feel obliged to opine.

Filed Under: Delta
  1. When they say that Unlimited Complimentary Upgrades on Award Tickets won’t be available until first quarter of 2010, does that mean that they just won’t be processing upgrades as they normally do (since I’ve heard that the rationale behind this is technological limitations)? Or, does this actually mean that if you’re on a flight with upgrade availability they’ll let those seats go out empty, even if there are elite members on board on award tickets (rare though this scenario may be)?

  2. And the fact that they don’t bother to publish their award charts from anywhere but the US is just another sign of their superiority, right?

  3. Come on Ben, every airlines advertises their program as the best. And it’s not like the program is absolutely terrible.

    Its true our three tier system is complete carp, but on the upside, we do have more promos to get more miles (less if you’re Canadian!). So Skymiles are worth significantly less, but they are easier to get, and since basic redemption levels are roughly the some as other legacies, if you’re flexible with your dates and/or destination, or if you redeem on other airlines in the alliance, the awards system is actually more rewarding than most.

    I know Skyteam is pretty weak, especially with CO leaving, but the prospect of JL possibly coming over, and airlines like CI, MH, GA, and many others possibly joining, and the fact that DL doesn’t block award inventories from other airlines. Skymiles really isn’t has bad as it looks
    I know, Skyteam is a weaker alliance,

  4. @ Seth — My understanding is that they’re not processing award ticket upgrades due to “limitations,” but at the same time won’t be upgrading at the gate, even with empty seats. I might be wrong, and as always, the gate agent has quite a bit of power in this case.

    @ Sam — Sure, every airline can advertise they’re the best, and if you’ve read my blog for a long time you’ll know I’ve “called out” virtually every airline once or twice. Sorry, this is just dirty. Most airlines make “dirty” moves once in a while, and I’ll call them out too.

    SkyMiles isn’t a bad program, especially if you don’t earn miles through flying. If I just earned miles through flying, I’d feel cheated, given that I can earn more miles with very little effort through partner activity when they have promotions. And it’s not true that they don’t block partner award inventory. They have widespread and consistent blocking, actually. Look at Air France first class and Korean Air first class. In my book that’s just about as bad as Starnet blocking, but at least they’re straightforward about it.

    Don’t get me wrong, Delta is a pretty good airline to fly on, but most would agree they have the weakest mileage program of the legacies. And there’s a reason for that. Just because they use marketing terms like “best in class” doesn’t make it so.

  5. Not to mention that as of today ALL AA published fares are eligible to upgrade (including the previously un-upgradable economy O, Q and business I fares).

  6. Back in 2001 or 2002 (?) Northwest eliminated their low-season discounted redemption levels, claiming that it “simplified” award bookings for customers. I guess the same people are now writing the marketese for Delta.

  7. lucky, i though you were all about the earn to burn ratio, and you can’t beat DL on that, you earn a lot more miles, but the redemption levels are the same, and for someone like yourself, who schedules travels around award availability, its really a great program. And not all promos are partner based. I don’t qualify for most of the U.S. based promos, but i still managed to get around 60,000 per trip to asia this summer thanks to the Asia summer promo, the AS double miles promo, and some others, And if i could qualify for the Amex promo i’d get even more. On an MR, one could easily get below 1cpm on DL, that’s very difficult to achieve on other airlines.

    In a lot of ways, i think DL is like the airline equivalent of IC hotels, the elite benefits are not that great, but you get a crap load of miles for doing very little actual activity.

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