Let me say upfront that I don’t think there’s any one airline that works for everyone. I think Delta is a phenomenal airline for domestic flyers — they have the most Wi-Fi of any airline, a great domestic upgrade program, and decent lounges, which top tier elites (Diamond Medallions) get complimentary access to. But then Delta is also one of the weakest airlines out there for international travelers, given that they don’t have useful systemwide upgrades for their top tier elites, not to mention their miles are among the least valuable out there.
Which brings me to my client — let’s call him Bob — who lives in Salt Lake City and is a Diamond Medallion. He loves to fly and loves Delta, and despite being in what I’d consider to be an abusive relationship, has refused to even consider leaving Delta… up until now.
I help him book upgradable and award tickets a few times a year, and in a twisted way I enjoy his travel requests the most. You see, while booking awards through American and United can be quick and (financially) rewarding, it’s not really all that much of a challenge for me. Booking an award ticket through Delta is like pulling teeth, though I have a sense of accomplishment when it’s all done, especially on those nights where I have to argue with a SkyMiles agent for ten minutes about whether Air France is a Delta partner or not.
Anyway, this brings us back to Bob. Most of his travel is international, to both Europe and Asia. Like I said, despite my best efforts to the contrary, he has remained loyal to Delta up until this point. Ever since I first started working with him, he paid a huge premium for being loyal to Delta. He would use his systemwide upgrades on Air France by booking premium economy, and pay maybe $2,000-2,200 for an upgraded seat in business class. Funny enough using a Delta systemwide upgrade on Air France has long been cheaper than using one on Delta, given that they require higher fare classes to upgrade.
I was always quick to remind him of how much cheaper his business class seat would have been if he were loyal to American or United, where he’d pay at most $1,000 for an upgradable business class ticket. Unfortunately last June Delta changed the requirements for upgrades on Air France, no longer allowing the cheapest premium economy fares to be upgraded. Now the cheapest upgradable fare went from ~$2,000 to $2,500+. At that point Bob decided he would fly Economy Comfort instead, and just book the cheapest coach fares. I mean, $2,500 is awfully close to the cost of paid business class.
Asia is much of the same. Most of the time I convinced Bob to just book a SkyMiles award to Asia, given how high the upgradable fares were. Still, in those instances where he wanted to book an upgradable ticket, the fares weren’t that bad. An “M” fare was maybe $2,000-2,500, which, while expensive, is still not that bad.
Just yesterday Bob emailed me because he needed to go to Manila in a couple of months, and wanted the cheapest upgradable ticket on Delta. You see, with Delta constantly raising their upgradable fares, he no longer addresses me as “Ben,” but rather as “The Grinch” or “Bearer of Bad News.” The word “unfortunately” has become the word I use most frequently in our conversations.
So yesterday I was looking at fares for him from Salt Lake City to Manila, and was looking for the lowest “M” fare (the lowest fare that can be upgraded). Delta.com kept returning paid business class fares, and for a few minutes I couldn’t figure out why.
And after digging a bit deeper, it made sense — Delta’s cheapest “M” fare is more expensive than their cheapest business class fare, by about $300. So yes, Delta lures their top tier elites with systemwide upgrades, only to make the fares on which they’re more eligible more expensive than the paid business class fares.
I’m proud of Bob, because he took his first step towards correcting the problem — calling American and seeing if they’ll offer him some sort of challenge. Unfortunately they won’t till February, though I’m proud of him for taking the first step. Delta, I can understand you might not want to “give away” your business class to frequent flyers, but at the same time there’s a point at which something goes from being a semi-useful benefit to entirely useless, and there’s a certain point at which your frequent flyers won’t take it anymore.
Bob, here’s to never paying over $1,200 for a business class ticket again!
On a somewhat unrelated note, ladies, Bob is single. Could you possibly ask for any more loyalty from a guy than he has shown to Delta?