Over the weekend I suggested that Delta had backed off of their 21 day unannounced advance purchase requirement to obtain a domestic saver award. That was technically true, kind of. It so happens I picked the first destinations that came to mind to check and they happened to be among the handful of destinations where the advance purchase rule didn’t apply.
But now the 3 week advance purchase rule is officially part of the program. Delta announced discounted redemptions through the end of the year with a 21 day advance purchase for 2500 miles off each way as a sop.
A Delta spokesman had previously denied 21 day advance purchase requirements for the lowest priced awards. And I guess that was true “from a certain point of view,” as Obi Wan Kenobia said to Luke Skywalker when explaining his previous lie that Luke’s father was dead (rather than the very important piece of information that he was very much alive and, you know, Darth Vader).
See, the 21-day advance purchase requirement was only going into effect, and in effect only for most markets, and wasn’t yet an official rule of the program though it was about to become one.
The tortured truth coming out of Delta this year has been shocking to the conscience.
This isn’t a difference over value propositions or being unhappy with changes to the program. It is their program and they can do with it as they wish. It’s their world and we just live in it. However they are putting out too many falsehoods.
Delta Devaluations Without Notice
They devalued in August 2013 without notice, and then again in the fall without notice — in August they gave travel dates where new higher award prices would go into effect and then a mere three months later they reneged and started the higher prices early.
They eliminated stopovers without notice to members, simply reprogramming the website — charging members higher prices than program rules even stated.
They eliminated extra award availability for elite members without notice. Elite members fly all year for the carrot held out as their benefits for the coming year, so changes without notice to elite benefits are especially egregious.
They Refuse to Just Own Their Changes, Be Honest About Them
The SkyMiles program has a history of ‘creating strained narratives’ as to why they give members no notice of changes. They claimed it would be illegal to comment on future (award travel) pricing, despite the fact that the federal government exercises essentially no oversight of frequent flyer programs and despite the fact that the industry norm is to provide customers with advance notice of award chart changes.
Nearly every other airline gives advance notice of award chart changes. Delta did so when they went to 3-tiered pricing in 2008 (although what they told us it would mean turned out not to be true), and they did so again in the winter of 2014 when they introduced the now-removed award charts for the 2015 program.
I’ve said before that devaluations without notice are the worst thing a program can do. But I hadn’t even contemplated at that point that a program could take down its award charts entirely, so that when it misprices an award or changes prices members wouldn’t even know.
And when they did take down their award charts, the explanations consisted of complete non-sequiturs.
As Bad as Other Airlines Are, None Are This Bad…
When Southwest devalues as it has twice announced since going revenue-based it does so with advance notice. While they’ve undermined belief in the ongoing value proposition of their currency, they haven’t lied about it. (Even now, we don’t know what the value will be — but they’ll at least tell us that it’s ‘less’. This is pretty bad, but even this isn’t as bad as what Delta has pursued.)
While United seems to ‘manage by doing what Delta does’ they do so while consistently giving advance notice.
American seemed to learn its lesson from its April 8, 2014 changes, and has consistently given notice of changes since then as it has proceeded with the US Airways merger and integration of two frequent flyer programs. Over the past year they’ve said what to expect, and they’ve followed through.
Delta Miles are Devalued By The Trust Deficit
However useful SkyMiles may be, you have to apply a credibility discount to their value.
That’s because you are accruing miles in one period, and spending those miles in the future. When you’re accruing miles you’re making a bet on their future value. But the SkyMiles program has demonstrated, to me at least, that it cannot be trusted as a steward of that value. It cannot even be trusted to be straight with customers when it changes that value.
The Path Forward — If They Care to Take It
Trust is built slowly. The beginning is to offer an honest narrative about the direction of the program, lay out clear milestones, and then as they hit those milestones they rebuild credibility. Communicate along the way, remind of progress, and share when they are deviating from that plan.
It’s what all programs, ideally, would do — communicate forthrightly with their members — although it’s far more crucial for Delta because of the position they’ve placed themselves in. Lay out the value proposition, make clear commitments, and stick to those.
They could start by either bringing back their award charts, or declaring their intentions honestly for why they no longer want award charts. As it stands we’re left to believe they don’t want members to have any expectations of value from the currency, that the currency is worth what they say it’s worth, and that value isn’t safe from one period to the next. Their current communications strategy leaves room for little alternative narrative.