Delta Air Lines announced major changes this week, and customers overall seem very unhappy.
- Limits on lounge access for customers with the airline’s premium credit card: only 10 visits per year instead of unlimited, unless they spend $75,000 per year on the card, and no visits when traveling on a basic economy ticket.
- New much higher hurdles for earning elite status. They eliminated miles flown and segments as status criteria, focusing instead only on qualifying dollars. Credit card spend on premium cards and Delta third party hotel, rental car, and vacation package bookings earn qualifying dollars, too. But it now goes from $20,000 qualifying dollars to $35,000 to earn Diamond.
The airline’s bet is that people will stick around. They’ll lose some customers but overall SkyMiles members will stretch – give Delta more of their flights, and give Delta American Express cards more of their spend – in order to reach their status goals.
Historically Delta card spend hasn’t suffered when SkyMiles devalues, the way that card spend at United and American have taken a hit. Delta and Amex believe this will generate more card spend on net, not less. It’s an open question whether or not they’re right or if they’ve pushed things a little too far.
Unquestionably, though, there are many unhappy customers. Most hub-captives in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City will see themselves not having much choice about whom to fly. Anyone living in a Frontier Airlines market would be foolish not to status match to the 100K level, which waives all fees at the high fee airline, if only for a free agency option when flying Frontier makes sense.
But customers in competitive markets should be looking at what makes the most sense for their travel. Maybe they should still fly Delta, as a free agent, and just not earn on a Delta credit card. Maybe they should take a fresh look at other airlines.
- United and American have both improved in some ways since before the pandemic.
- And Delta’s superiority in terms of reliability and product has waned. The gap between them all is smaller!
United is reportedly going to revamp its status challenge. For now it’s available here though note that unpublished they will offer a challenge for Delta Diamonds (and American Executive Platinums) to their 1K level.
American Airlines has status challenges, called Instant Status Pass, that are way too confusing.
- Earn points in the first few four months that determines your status in the next four months
- And your earning during those four months determines what status you have for the next four and what status you’re “going for”
- Finally, during the last four months to earn points to keep the status for the year ahead
I spoke with a law professor recently, whose job it is not just to parse language but to teach lawyers how to parse language and ambiguity in the airline’s status match terms meant that he was sure he’d earned enough points to keep his status but the airline disagreed – and told him to pound sand.
In contrast, when United Airlines had their troubles cutting over to the Continental Airlines systems a little over a decade ago – itineraries were lost, miles disappears, upgrades mucked up – American pounced.
- They historically had offered a paid status challenge. They straight up matched status for United 1Ks.
- And they followed that up with Admirals Club lounge passes
- Separately, they sent the matched 1Ks coupons for free inflight internet. American had inflight internet back then and United did not. (Some would say United still doesn’t.)
American made a simple offer to United’s elites looking to make the switch. And that wasn’t the end of it. They followed up. They highlighted their product. They highlighted their unique differences. And they kept a lot of business from that offer.
What could they do today? Forget Instant Status Pass. They should want Delta Diamonds. Match them to Executive Platinum through February 2025. Send them a couple of lounge passes, “we know your lounge access at Delta is limited, we welcome you to our Admirals Clubs.” And take the message a step farther, “we value your business, every time you step into the airport. You have full benefits every time you fly, no matter what the fare. We’ll upgrade you on basic economy fares, and welcome you into our lounges.”
Status matches too often are ‘match and done’. That’s a mistake. A customer that’s matched status is at the peak of their interest. The status match is focal. The customer will pay attention to the product, and you should be educating them about it and helping them to educate themselves. It should be a simple process for a customer you actually value, and there should be a follow up communication strategy.