Pizza in Motion asks whether Delta pulling its award charts off of its website (and changing technical settings to prevent search tools like archive.org from displaying them) is really that evil?. He manages a defense of Delta.
I believe that taking information and tools away from members to know how much awards are ‘supposed to’ cost — making it harder to know how many miles to save for a dream trip, to know when prices increase, or to know when awards are being priced incorrectly — is about the worst thing I’ve seen from any single airline’s frequent flyer program.
Sure, airlines have gone out of business taking their miles with them (my Mexicana Frecuenta account speaks to that). But that wasn’t the frequent flyer program which did it.
And LatinPass became GlobalPass, insisted that half of all points for an award come through their shopping portal (and tried to apply this retroactively), then stopped issuing redemption tickets altogether — complaining in an interview with Inside Flyer that members with miles ‘only wanted award tickets’. But they weren’t an airline frequent flyer program, they were a coalition program that several airlines worked with.
I’ve struggled to think of a single airline’s frequent flyer program having done anything worse, recognizing that the immolation of trust in a program is worse – to me – than the diminishing of redemption values announced in advance.
Pizza in Motion contends:
- Since Delta had pricing glitches, the award chart wasn’t “true” and didn’t matter anyway. Although now we’ll have no chart to compare prices to in order to even know when there’s a glitch versus just a high price intentionally.
- Delta never promised they’d publish an award chart. They also never promised not to require payment of your first born as a carrier surcharge in exchange for a partner award, but it’s assumed… they’ve published award charts for years, and indeed published updates to their charts as recently as last month, so it’s part of how the program has run.
- Most people don’t use the chart. The soft bigotry of low expectations, making decisions based on your least-informed customers has to be the most damning with faint praise we can muster here.
- “There’s no evidence to support that they’ll be any more or less forthcoming without an award chart.” I’ll lay out my explanation below for why less pricing transparency makes it more likely they’ll hide devaluations, whether or not it’s their intent to do so today.
Mommy Points says “Delta has lost their minds.” I don’t think so.
Whether or not the primary goal of removing award charts is to mask changes and hide devaluations, when members are only aware of the prices presented to them there’s certainly a greater temptation to make more changes. Even if it doesn’t start there, it’s hard not to end there.
Delta SkyMiles are a currency with no central bank. While far from a perfect deterrent, the only thing that keeps the program from devaluing is the fear that doing so will diminish the desire of members to accumulate more points, the fear that the airline and the program will lose future business. When the value of the miles is hidden, when information is withdrawn and transparency reduced, it’s harder to know when devaluations occur so those devaluations are more likely to occur.
My personal feeling, having spoken to several individuals, is that Delta doesn’t think award charts matter since their customers are stupid (my words not theirs) — most people don’t know about award charts, they just take the price that’s given to them, so having taken award charts away is irrelevant. If people don’t know they difference then they aren’t really hurt. Giving members less information makes them less able to tell the difference, and that seemed to me to be good from Delta’s perspective.
If I had to guess, the first you’d do if you were going to get rid of award charts (go to a new redemption system entirely) is to… get rid of award charts (from the website). If that turns out to be the route, and Delta can do what it wishes with its program, aligning itself more with domestic lower cost or limited service and route network carriers like Southwest and JetBlue, my fault here is the disingenuousness.
- If you’re going to change the value proposition of the program — and the current one just began last month! — say so, be honest with your customers.
- If you’re going to do this for some other reason, be honest about it — don’t say you don’t need award charts because the award calendar is ‘so good’ when the two issues aren’t at all linked.
In other words be honest with your customers, not disingenous.
Delta’s lawyer told the Supreme Court a year ago that members had no reasonable expectations about their ability to spend miles, because at the point the miles have been awarded members have “already gotten full performance.”
With most of Delta’s award charts only revealed three months ago, and only having gone into effect six weeks ago, it’s shocking — and the opposite of what members could have reasonably expected — to see those charts removed.
And when Delta is silent other than to say that their new award calender (which has been around as long as the new charts have, and which became available before the new charts even went into effect) are good so charts are unnecessary there’s absolutely little credibility and a destruction of trust.
There is no necessary tradeoff between a functional award calendar and displaying an award chart.
- You can have a functional award calendar and published award charts.
- From the outcry I’ve seen on the internet since this happened yesterday — blogs, frequent flyer forums, Twitter, Facebook, and most customers of SkyMiles have no idea year — it’s clear that members value having both, not just the calendar.
- United and American have functional award calendars (and United has more partners bookable on its website than Delta does) and award charts, for years it’s been clear that there’s no tradeoff between the two.
- No program whose pricing is consistent with an award chart has ever removed its award chart from public view.
The only reasons to withdraw the information available via an award chart are to prevent members from having easy access to that chart — whether because they don’t want members to know what pricing to expect, to have a tool to complain about pricing when Delta’s prices are too high — or as a prelude to the elimination of chart-based pricing altogether combined with an unwillingness to admit that’s the intention.
I believe this move shows tremendous contempt for members. In the absence of any credible narrative to the controversy — and believe me, I’ve pleaded for one and asked for help in presenting any positive spin to this — I’m left with no other way to view it.
Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan’s advice during oral argument in Northwest v. Ginsberg, responding to claims by Delta’s lawyer that they can do as they wish with their program? People should go find a different airline.
JUSTICE KAGAN: I just don’t see why that would make sense. Because if I knew that it was really up to you to give me the free ticket, maybe I was willing to get it and maybe I wasn’t. I don’t think that I’d be spending all this time in the air on your planes. You know, I’d find another company that actually gave me the free ticket.
What do you think is the worst thing a frequent flyer program has ever done?