Delta Misleads the Public About its Frequent Flyer Program, and Open Skies

Yesterday Delta suggested that a US News survey named SkyMiles the best frequent flyer program. It didn’t.

There are real problems with the US News ranking. This is a survey that has ranked Frontier Early Returns and Hawaiian Airlines HawaiianMiles ahead of United MileagePlus. But that’s not the point. The ranking didn’t even list Delta as having the best program.

Copyright: idealphotographer

Delta uses the weasel word a best travel rewards program in the tweet, and go to the Delta news article and they further clarify with an asterisk, “the top U.S. global airline* loyalty program” — at the end of the piece the asterisk says they’re only comparing themselves against United and American, not against the programs compared in the U.S. News survey!

In fact US News named Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan as best frequent flyer program.

But that’s ok, Delta had an asterisk when it said US News named them best, their fingers were crossed.

This is the airline that made up the story that federal law doesn’t allow them to give frequent flyer program members advance notice of changes (even though other programs do and they used to, despite no change in the laws cited). In other words, they lied to members to explain why they disrespect members.

Delta went in front of the Supreme Court and said they had no duty to deal fairly with frequent flyer members and they had no duty to offer any value in exchange for miles.

So why do people take Delta’s self-serving political arguments at face value? Delta’s 15 minute political commercial for protectionist policies against Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar is full of lies and tortured versions of the truth — ‘alternative facts’ as it were. (They also don’t tell you about the ex-government officials appearing in the video making claims on their behalf who are being paid by Delta or by American Airlines.)

Let’s leave aside Delta’s fake support for ‘US jobs’ (all their planes on order are from Airbus and Bombardier) and that they love being subsidized themselves, owning a piece of China’s most subsidized airline (China Eastern) and benefiting from a revenue sharing joint venture across the Atlantic with Air France (only partially privatized) and Alitalia (which has burned through subsidies from Etihad, one of the very Gulf carriers they criticize).

And let’s ignore the billions in pension liability moved onto the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation in bankruptcy. And their oil refinery in Pennsylvania that is subsidized in the nine figures. Oh and that their last CEO – who began this crusade – is now head of Amtrak.

Copyright: tdezenzio / 123RF Stock Photo

Their fingers were crossed even claiming Gulf airlines violate Open Skies treaties. Here’s the US-UAE Open Skies agreement (.pdf).

  • It explicitly authorizes Open Skies flying for airlines owned by government.

  • There is a section called ‘fair competition’ but it doesn’t say what Delta wants it to say. The section is clear that fair competition means each airline determining the frequency and capacity of the flights it chooses to offer. The section on fair competition does not mention subsidies at all. Instead fair competition in the treaty means,

    Consistent with this right, neither Party shall unilaterally limit the volume of traffic, frequency or regularity of service, or the aircraft type or types operated by the designated airlines ofthe other Party, except as may be required for customs, technical, operational, or environmental reasons under uniform conditions consistent with Article 15 of the Convention.

    Note that the imposition of a unilateral limit on flights is exactly what Delta, American, and United are asking the US government to impose – a direct abrogation of the Open Skies treaty.

  • The only reference to subsidy in the document is in Article 12 which states that each airline can set its own pricing, with intervention limited to “protection of airlines from prices that are artificially low due to direct or indirect governmental subsidy or support.”

    The only potential complaint about subsidies is if they lead to prices that are artificially low. (Are these fares from U.S. airlines artificially low?)

    This has very specific meaning and Delta, American, and United tellingly have not pursued an Article 12 complaint.

    When the US government sought public comment on the request for action by American, Delta, and United (I filed a regulatory comment myself on this issue) one of the questions was which article of the treaty US carriers believed the Gulf carriers were violating and the US airlines did not claim they were violating Article 12.

    The US airlines themselves have been accused of ‘dumping’ capacity in the past by domestic rivals, back before many of those airlines went out of business. A new entrant would begin a route in competition with a major US airline, and all of a sudden that airline adds flights and lowers prices — likely operating at a loss — until the new airline can no longer survive operating the flight.

    US airlines routinely get away with this because US airlines have argued as long as selling out a plane at 100% capacity at lower prices would cover marginal costs, it’s not dumping. Airlines may be unwise to add so much capacity, but that’s allowable business judgment. They certainly don’t want to formally argue for a different standard of dumping.

  • Indeed Delta, United, and American are lobbying politicians instead of making a legal case. They didn’t file a complaint with the Department of Transportation under the International Air Transportation Fair Competitive Practices Act, no lobbying necessary.

Meanwhile in seeking a freeze or elimination of fifth freedom flights (Emirates currently operates 2 flights between the US and Europe), US airlines are seeking to abrogate the Open Skies treaty. They aren’t merely ‘seeking enforcement’ of Open Skies treaties, they want the US to violate those treaties.

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. Agreed. And I would add that their approach to Skymiles goes beyond disrespectful to bordering on fraudulent and deceptive.

  2. Wow, I haven’t flew Delta and their partners for the last 2-3 years. Am I missing something??

  3. I actually thought they’d appreciate customer feedback on the decision to change the value of a “mile” by two thirds for loyal 30 year budget customers. But when I called to voice my opinion the “Customer Service” agent told me I didn’t have to fly them. I hide their flights first in every search.

    The scum slide into Trumpian lying means they think fat stupid Americans will give them a pass. Its not working for the most hated man on the planet (24% amoral redneck-only support) and it won’t work for them.

  4. Greg: This is not the place for political ranting. This is a travel site. (BTW I’m a Democrat).

    I’ve extensively tried the major airlines. Delta may not have not have the best frequent flyer program but it is still the best airline overall – among those that serve many markets.

    I gave up on United after accumulating 2 million miles there. Never regretted it and after all these miles I still look forward to my travel on Delta.

  5. @Dave No rant, just comparative analysis. Why would you think you can circumscribe what I say here or anywhere else? If you don’t want to hear concerns that affect our all of our Lives hanging in the balance of a bleeding psychopath at this very moment, skip my post or mind your own business! and I could care less what your damn party is

  6. Great post – virtually all of the information generated in today’s world rests on weasel wording to escape generating potential liability. It’s truly a specialized skill to be able to sift the wheat from the chaff.

  7. Gary. I’m getting tired of your rants in favor of the ME carriers.

    Greg you need to chill out and maybe try Delta again

    Dave I agree with you that Delta is the best of the 3 legacy carriers. I also like JetBlue. That being said, is platinum on Delta and I do feel that it’s a 2 way street and they have helped me in many ways when travel gets disrupted. I’ve received good service on planes by cust service agents and in sky clubs. Maybe because I’m also polite to them and engage with a smile.

  8. Accepting or making excuses for lies and obfuscations invites more of the same (whether delta or POTUS). We deserve better.

    In spite of the great folks who work with the public, delta’s only interest is sucking as much blood out of its customers (all customers) as it thinks it can get away with. Honesty and integrity falls way down the list.

  9. There has been a remarkable change in the Delta persona since their emergence from bankruptcy. Could it be that Delta is the name but Northwest is the true survivor? Heck the last CEO and now the existing one are both former NW management. I used to fly what we referred to as “Northworst” heavily while I worked in the upper Midwest so I can give a true analysis. It sure feels like Northworst. Remember that Delta had a sole supplier agreement with Boeing. Now they are all Airbus. That’s the NW fingerprint

  10. Why don’t you call out Southwest for claiming they are the low fare airline when their fares are anything but. Or the fact that they are never on time. Or call out Alaska for a very slow merger. Or call out AA for having no entertainment and no leg room or saver seats. Or call out JetBlue for claiming they never over book but they have a lot of denied boarding. Or United for starting the worst basic economy rules in the industry.

  11. Jason you are right on about WN Southwest “Low Fares”. I just shopped a trip from So. Florida to Houston Hobby for New years weekend. Delta was around$1200 RT for my wife and I. American was around the same and WN was over $2000. I’m still looking for other options at this point and might consider using some miles. United doesn’t even fly into HOU Hobby anymore only IAH.

  12. Remember these are the same kind of outlets that predicted Hillary’s victory by a landslide.
    Truly not being political. My point is that surveys have essentially become irrelevant. They seem to only matter to those within the “echo chamber.”

  13. Surveys are only inaccurate when respondents lie to them. This is what the fat redneck Trump supporters have learned to do to throw another Monkey Wrench in the system as they attempt to destroy modernity. Remember how they bullied us into a disastrous War with Iraq that Unleashed all of the terrorism we suffer now? Don’t look now but they’re doing it again. This is why they now teach in the schools of the modern Nations that the grotesquely obese American redneck is the stupidest creature on the planet.

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