Delta SkyMiles Members Losing Elite Status Are Jumping Ship For United Airlines

Mark Ross-Smith of (former head of oneworld member Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich program) asks, “Wonder where all the downgraded Delta Skymiles elites are taking their business?” and points to Google search trends for ‘United status match’:

What I see is that every January people search for status matches, as existing status expires people look to bail to another airline – using their status while they still have it to get a head start with another carrier.

And it looks like January 2023 is very similar to January 2018, 2019, and 2020. The normal process was suspended as people’s status wasn’t expiring (getting extended due to pandemic measures).

Now, this is a bit elevated this year – there are a lot more people with status expiring because you have everyone with status earned in 2019 and in 2020 and 2021 who didn’t requalify in 2022 losing their status.

And because you may have fewer people losing status at American searching yet since the AAdvantage program changed their qualification year, so that is now runs March – February with status expiring March 31, although I find one of the biggest misconceptions by AAdvantage members is that they still do not realize this. Just yesterday I had a member tell me they fell 7,000 qualifying miles short of Executive Platinum (I pointed out they still had two weeks! And I pointed them to a couple of AAdvantage shopping offers that would make up the difference, since it’s no longer just flying that counts).

American’s changes are also, presumably, why Ross-Smith suggests these searches are driven by Delta elites.

One blip in the chart I’m not quite sure about is what drove the spike in searches for United status match in January 2005. It wasn’t Delta’s bankruptcy, that didn’t happen until September 2005. (United was in bankruptcy from the end of 2002 until the start of 2006. Mileage Plus was quite generous during this period.)

A good source for which airlines are willing to status match is where program members report their experiences.

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. Not a shocker. Nobody who has a choice (i.e. non-hub) will fly DL without elite perks, as skypesos are worthless.

  2. Boraxo – In competitive market after competitive market (New York… Boston… Seattle… LA… etc), Delta gains market share year after year. It’s not all driven by elites. It’s also driven by perceived in-air service, and service on the ground… For example, Delta has market leading lounges (focusing lounges available to economy, domestic passengers) in all four of these markets.

  3. @Rick – you need something showing current status to submit

    You can *try* … Delta has sometimes been known to approve requests on the basis of gibberish, it doesn’t hurt you to ask, but if you do not have current status (you don’t have any at all?) then you wouldn’t be eligible.

    Not clear when you’d earned that status but you might be eligible to ask for the status back (or might get a liberal interpretation of the rules allowing you to do so)

  4. American offered me the opportunity to achieve the next level of status with money or miles. As pointed out, there are still a couple of weeks to go, and I have one more trip plus my AAdvantage card purchases that will hit my account before February 28th and result in the next level of status. I do appreciate them making the offer though. For those who might be interested, the amount of loyalty points I need via the money offer sets the cost of a loyalty point at $0.25.

  5. besides what Anthony said (which is accurate) and reflects that Delta gets far more domestic negotiated business revenue than AA or UA (which is not influenced by loyalty program choices which accrue to the non-payer of travel), there are network considerations.

    Delta was very slow to rebuild its presence in the small and medium size cities that have been the backbone of its network for years – to a far greater degree than large metros. The NW merger extended that strength not just from the E Coast but to the Midwest.
    Post covid, though, Delta went after building up BOS and LAX and refining its presence in NYC which meant it directly competed with United last year more than American which also is very strong in the East Coast in small and medium sized cities.

    Delta clearly has seen data that shows they have lost some loyal passengers in the Eastern US in small and medium sized cities because that is where they are focusing their domestic capacity additions this year in addition to international flights in their coastal hubs.

    Delta is pitting itself much more against United in international markets with a fairly aggressive international rebuilding strategy using the ex-Latam A350-900s (still in Latam’s configuration) in addition to a handful new A330-900s but is adding 16 new widebodies next year according to their latest 10K.
    United NEXT is about reducing UA’s long-running disadvantage to AA and DL in small and medium sized cities by using mainline aircraft instead of regional jets in many markets where UA (as a result of CO’s strategies) did not carry much connecting traffic from small and medium sized cities and had point of sale strength primarily from its hubs and not even in the small and medium sized cities themselves.
    Since AA is pulling back its transatlantic and transpacific network to partner and primary markets, DL and UA’s network strategies appear to be most on a “collision path” with one vying the other’s strengths.
    I suspect it will be far easier for DL to gain in UA’s historic strengths (the coasts and international markets) than UA will have in gaining in DL’s strengths which are also heavily AA’s strengths.

  6. @Boraxo,
    Mileageminus and AADisadvantage are as worthless as Skypesos.
    The value seems to be in foreign programs if one is interested in award tickets: Aeroplan, Avianca, FlyingBlue, etc.

  7. My DL Gold expired and UA quickly matched the previous day.

    While I’m sorry to lose AF, I’m not so sorry to lose quirky VS.

    LH and LX are good airlines; although, they haven’t been selected by me for probably over a decade. The LH 747 gives that old-fashioned retro feeling..

    Domestic DL gold status has become wothless to me. Because I always out-of-pocket pay cash for my occasional 1st class DL direct flight.

  8. @Tim Dunn,
    United could be too far behind to catch up with Delta in markets like BOS.
    The difference in non-stop destination served is huge: while UA serves a paltry 8 destinations (including the recently added LHR), DL serves 50!! (which includes a few seasonal routes).
    For all intents and purposes, UA doesn’t exist in BOS.

  9. I have always gotten superior value out of my AA miles. The key is flexibility and a willingness to go when esavers and lower cost non stop international flights are available

    Great deals to Caribbean. Found great pricing to South America, Madrid, Egypt, Thailand. Many also like to burn their miles for expensive first or business class. I always recommend use your points for the most experiences possible. Also points redemptions from one European city to another are great. Cheap miles flights from Doha to Maldives too!!!

  10. Double check your shopping portal account before the end of the month! I’m 2k short of Plat Pro and realized two or three black friday christmas gift transactions I made didn’t credit, which will get me 2k+ in LPs

  11. Two things can’t be confused.

    1. Airline status
    2. The value of airline miles

    Status confers a more pleasant experience when traveling. Shorter lines, better seats, less likelihood of “gotcha” experiences like being forced to check your hand luggage.

    Miles just let you buy more trips.

    Delta status is valuable. Delta miles are not. In affluent markets, miles matter less.

    Revenue and margin, the bottom line of any airline, come from affluent markets, which are generally not small cities. People in small cities live there for one of two reasons:

    1. They can’t afford a big city (so they can’t afford to travel, either).
    2. They don’t travel or seek new experiences and would prefer to stay put at home. The “comforts of home” are certainly more appealing in a small city.

  12. Soo wrong. My home is just as comfortable as theirs. Second, most small markets pay MUCH HIGHER PRASM then we big city folks pay. Check your facts!

  13. Ed,
    I think your point is valid for any hub market. BOS is a hub for DL while it is not for UA. The same could be true in any UA hub. The difference is that DL has higher market share in its hubs which means there are fewer carriers to go to for alternatives.
    you are right on the first part but not on the 2nd part. AA and DL have much higher market share strength in small and medium sized cities than UA; iow UA’s revenue strength comes from its small cities while AA and DL get it at both ends of its hubs.
    DL has specifically said that it is the strength of its core hubs which are built around its strengths in its hubs – most of which are smaller local markets than UA’s – that is driving the margins that allow it to grow its coastal hubs.
    I would imagine the same is true for AA and it is why it is harder for UA to build strength in smaller, more concentrated markets that are in AA and DL’s hands than for DL specifically right now to grow into UA’s larger, more competitive strength markets.

  14. Small metros often have less competitive airfare markets, leading to significantly higher prices in many cases. You can also get some surprisingly high concentrations of elites in those places. DL’s upgrade list for GRR flights is pretty brutal. I’m 0 for forever on F upgrades as Platinum Medallion when I fly up to Michigan to see my parents with 50+ people behind me on the list.

  15. @VibePilot
    I’m 18,000 LPs short of EP. My cash offer was $1800 or 0.10 per LP. However I’ll be reach EP through a RocketMiles stay this week.

  16. @Beachmouse, those people behind you on the upgrade list may be airline employees on non-rev travel. They are eligible to waitlist for F. I was one of these employees back in the day.

  17. @ymx
    I just looked at my offer again and it’s actually $0.19 per LP. My math is not so good…LOL!

  18. @ymx
    OK…I see what they are doing now. If I use miles to buy the status, the value is $0.02. If I use cash to buy the status, based on the number of LP’s I need, it would be $0.19 per LP.

    I guess there is some transparency here…you just have to decide what the best deal is.

  19. CLEARly Elite is clearly a big city big shot with an infantile world view, who is yet to learn to not expose his/her own ignorance. It really would be difficult to make a less informed statement.

  20. “1. They can’t afford a big city (so they can’t afford to travel, either).
    2. They don’t travel or seek new experiences and would prefer to stay put at home. The “comforts of home” are certainly more appealing in a small city.”

    Such an idiotic comment.

  21. ClearlyElite’s comment about people living in smaller cities is the most ridiculous thing I have read this month.

    I have no interest in living in Tokyo, Jakarta, Delhi, Shanghai, Bombay, Manila, São Paulo, Mexico City or LA and lot of other mega-metropolises where I have opted out of longer stays over the years because the traffic and pollution and other things are better avoided by me than embraced by me.

  22. @ClearlyElite: Nonsense. @Beachmouse : Correct.

    1. I live where I do because I enjoy. It. I live on big water (Atlantic Ocean and Lake Erie) both winter and summer.

    2. Pricing is awful in non-hub markets. PBI- DTW is almost always $200 more than FLL- DTW, even though they are only 27 miles apart. Flights from CLE or CMH to just about anywhere are $150-250 more than the same flight from DTW, (and TOL is a dumpster fire fare-wise, ,despite being 41.miles from DTW).

  23. @UnitedEF – on the contrary, American Airlines status now counts earning from shopping portals, co-brand credit cards, car rentals, etc.

  24. “People in small cities live there for one of two reasons:
    1. They can’t afford a big city (so they can’t afford to travel, either).
    2. They don’t travel or seek new experiences and would prefer to stay put at home. The “comforts of home” are certainly more appealing in a small city.”

    You’re way off base, @CLEARly elite. People may choose to live in smaller cities for a better quality of life but those same people might be avid travelers. I live in a smaller town in northern Michigan with a population of about 20K and have Delta Diamond status, United 1K, and AA Executive Platinum.

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