Congratulations, Delta! This is Why They Don’t Need a Competitive Frequent Flyer Program

Delta has set a number of operational reliability records this summer.

I find Delta’s frequent flyer program both untrustworthy and less valuable than competitor programs. But I also think they run a good airline operation even if they sometimes oversell it.

Since an airline’s primary function is to get you from origin to destination in a safe and reliable manner, it makes sense to fly Delta especially on a non-stop basis and where their schedule is advantageous.

So far:

  • The airline cancelled just 0.21% of its flights this summer.
  • They’ve had 21 days without a single cancelled mainline flight.
  • They went 5.8 days between June 25 and July 1 without a single cancelled mainline flight, beating their 3.3 day best achieved last summer.
  • Only 0.03% of mainline flights were cancelled due to maintenance and had 45 days this summer without any maintenance cancellations.

They accomplished this with more flights and more passengers — achieving a record 3202 mainline flights on August 17 and a record 614,159 systemwide passengers on July 31.

Kudos, Delta!

This is why they clearly don’t believe they need a competitive frequent flyer program, they don’t need to invest in customer marketing to fill their planes.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Awards have been decent this year too esp with 1 ways now. I’m enjoying using up my 600K+ balance now instead of paying for flights. Down to 320K and I no longer feel guilty taking nonstops out of DTW 😉

  2. What exactly is mainline? It sounds like a way to get out of delays and cancellations by planes that say “Delta” on the side, but Delta wants to exclude by saying that they’re Delta Express or some such.

  3. @Christian – Mainline flight means Delta (or AA, UA, etc.) metal on non-regional routes. Also excludes codeshares, Delta Connection, Endeavor Air, etc.

  4. @Christian you’re correct – there are many Delta Connection flights that aren’t “mainline”, but they’re operated by a different company that bills themselves as “Delta”. “Mainline” would be direct Delta crew employees.

    The “regionals” are judged separately. That being said, this is still a “fair” comparison because UA/AA have the exact same relationships with regional airlines that don’t count towards their stats.

  5. Gary, First, as another commenter requested, how do the numbers for AA, AL and UA compare? For me it would not be worth suffering the DL ff program for a couple of points difference in these stats.

    Second, do you have any insight on if there is uniformity among carriers as to how maintenance issues, delays and cancellations are “scored”?

    Third, since the big 3 use the same aircraft and parts suppliers by and large, what accounts for the difference in performance? Are the age of the fleets different? With the extremely wide variety of aircraft in the DL fleet, I would expect it might have greater difficulties with maintenance and crew availability. Are more flexible non-union work rules in the maintenance workforce the reason for DL’s success?

    Fourth, I hope that there is not too much pressure at DL (or any other carrier) to reach and exceed these results to meet management incentive bonuses. Thanks for any input.

  6. Gary, I echo other commenters saying that without competitor data to compare to, there is no perspective. I saw the comparison a few weeks ago and Delta blows AA, UAL & SW out of the water.

    I don’t recall the exact numbers but Delta had many more days where’ they completed their entire schedule vs the other three….COMBINED.

  7. Id probably fly spirit first and save money
    Poor frequent flyer program generally equals 0 revenue from me
    Ill take a few delays over not getting my awards
    Besides I’m allergic to flying 30 year old planes no matter how great the mechanic is maintaining it
    Prefer to get there late alive and with my award booking confirmed
    Hope they get plenty of takers to keep them off my preferred airlines 🙂

  8. It took them a bankruptcy and NW IT to get it done
    And then they decided not to use the NW system I think anyway, going with Deltamatic
    It may just be that their hubs had better weather.

    However, it is true, with a sample size of 1 (me) they run it better
    UA has canceled a few flights (as has SW) for me this year.
    AA is no better (more often due to crew times that mechanicals, but still unreliable

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