A BusinessWeek article caught my eye this morning as the topic was about Delta’s “Bare-Bones” E Fares. There has been quite a bit of chatter about E-Fares across the internet over the last few weeks as Delta is removing the ability for elite Medallion members to upgrade if they are traveling on one of these fares on February 1, 2015. According to the article,

“After a hiatus of several months, Delta is resurrecting its lowest economy class ticket as it seeks to keep bargain carrier Spirit Airlines Inc. from luring away leisure travelers. The bare-bones “e-class” ticket will not allow passengers to get seat upgrades or make same-day flight changes and they will board last.”

I had missed the fact that E fares had disappeared for a period of time….probably because I don’t routinely travel in markets where Delta offers them. While I suppose one could see the removal of upgrade availability as a real benefit reduction, I have to wonder how many Medallion flyers were actually buying E fares. I haven’t….and now I know I won’t be.

I don’t want to discuss Delta’s pricing habits, but the marketing aspects of this are interesting to me. With Spirit, I can (at least) buy up to a Big Front Seat™. I suppose Delta could argue that if a Medallion wants an upgrade, they can buy any other fare other than E class and rock on. They’d be correct. I’ll wait and see, but I’m betting the dollar-difference in fares between E fares and others isn’t nearly enough to justify losing just about every Medallion benefit there is for that specific flight. The market for most E fare sales is likely to be a passenger who could care less about Medallion benefits or miles in general. E fares and the changes in Medallion benefits for those who buy them aren’t going to cause this Medallion to think twice. What about you?

-MJ, October 20, 2014

Hat Tip – FlyerTalk

Some threads on a message board are more likely to catch my eye than others. Here’s one of the more interesting I’ve seen in a while courtesy of the Delta Air Lines forum – “Rumor: DL removing complimentary upgrades”. You can imagine the discussion that has ensued. The gist of which seems to revolve around this.

  • The original poster is a troll
  • The rumor is not true
  • Someone is confused because Delta is removing comp upgrades for Medallions who buy E class fares
  • A trial balloon is being floated by Delta
  • There is less competition so Delta is coming to get us

MJ’s Take

Any of the reasons I listed could be true. This could be someone having fun on the internet….or more. In truth, I don’t know….but…. I think it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Delta could eliminate “complimentary” upgrades for elite Medallion members. Back in “the day” the airlines credited you with upgrade “certificates” for every 10,000 or so miles flown with each one being good for 500 miles worth of premium cabin travel. This is a system that American Airlines still offers its elite AAdvantage members with top tier Executive Platinum members receiving complimentary upgrades that have to be requested. It’s also the best way to manage elite upgrades in my ever so humble opinion.

I didn’t major in economics but I did pretty well in the courses I took. It’s been a minute since college so I’ll ask forgiveness if I don’t get the terminology just right. Here’s the deal. When you offer a limited amount of product for “free” you create a lot of demand with a limited supply. I know I’ve blogged about it before, but I much prefer the AA way of doing things when it comes to upgrades for elites. With a system that requires “payment” for a service, you’ll find that lower level elites have a better opportunity to upgrade because all elites focus on requesting upgrades they really want. The 50 person and longer upgrade lists at Delta have gotten a little ridiculous. It’s almost a joke among elites at the gate.

My conclusion – this might absolutely be a false rumor, but it’s also entirely possible that Delta is finally wising up to the folly (yes, I said folly) of “complimentary” upgrades for all elites, and looking at a return to the way things used to be. I really doubt that they are considering removing upgrade opportunities all together. If they are, I’d have to write a very interesting blog post.

-MJ, October 20, 2014

I was just looking at delta.com after a couple weeks away from the airport, and a few changes caught my eye. First, when you’re booking a flight, the choices between award booking or pay booking are a little more intuitive – it’s “money” or “miles.”

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And if you choose the “miles” option, the old tick box for “I am traveling” appears.

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But visually speaking, the biggest change was on the pricing page. The information is the same, but the information is a little softer on the eyes…. round edges and all.

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And better yet, when I clicked on “View Seats” the seat map appeared, and not just another little box inviting me to click the same thing again. Maybe it’s just me, but delta.com even felt just a tiny bit faster as I was surfing around shopping for flights. Have you noticed these minor tweaks to delta.com? What did you think of them?

-MJ, October 15, 2014

Now that I have your attention, it occurred to me last night that one little thing has been lost in all the buzz about an increase in MQD requirements for the 2016 program year for SkyMiles Medallion status. Delta did something right in this, they gave advance notice of the change. Rather than wait until Christmas Eve, they let us know that the requirements to maintain status in 2016 will be changing come January 1, 2015.

While I’m not particularly bothered by the changes, I know some are. I think a lot of angst about frequent flyer programs in general could be resolved by being transparent and giving advance notice of changes. In this case, Delta did that, and I have plenty of time to adjust strategies for 2016 IF that’s what I want to do. But in reality, this changes very little for me. If I’m only able to manage Gold Medallion in 2016, so be it. At least I know what I’m getting into.

-MJ, October 12, 2014

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I posted this morning that some news might be coming today on a change to Delta’s 2016 Medallion program. The Points Guy posted yesterday about this, but nothing was official from Delta. Now we have it in writing.

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Delta’s email announcement trumpets this as the “more exclusive 2016 SkyMiles Medallion Program.” Perhaps that’s true. This mirrors what TPG posted yesterday. Notably, the Amex spend waiver remains unchanged at $25K. In the end, this will impact some people. Will it change who you fly next year?

UPDATE: This change is now official.

The Points Guy scooped the world yesterday on news that Delta is raising its Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) requirements for 2016. According to TPG you’ll need to meet the following spend requirements in 2015 for the 2016 status year.

  • Silver Medallion MQDs increasing to $3,000 (Currently $2,500)
  • Gold Medallion MQDs increasing to $6,000 (Currently $5,000)
  • Platinum Medallion MQDs increasing to $9,000 (Currently $7,500)
  • Diamond Medallion MQDs increasing to $15,000 (Currently $12,500)

You’ll still be able to waive the MQD requirement by spending $25,000 on your SkyMiles Amex cards.

MJ’s Take

We’ll have to wait and see if this actually happens because there is no official word from Delta as I type this post. I never expected MQD requirements to be static over time, but I will say that I had not been looking for a 20 percent increase the year after first implementing the requirement. Either the initial amounts were too low or Delta thinks they can get away with this. They can. Notably, the $25,000 MQD waiver remains in place. I’d pontificated that I might blow off card spending requirements next year and just take what I can get in the elite status world. This news may or may not impact my decision on that.

I’m going to make Platinum Medallion again this year, and I’m certainly going to spend $7,500 and hit $25K on my Amex. Hitting $9K in spend on Delta airfare is not something that I’m going to be able to do consistently, some years yes…some no. My ultimate decision likely depends on how much I love my second year as a Platinum Medallion. For sure, this is one more indication that Delta sees itself as something different. Whether they should feel that way or not is a question that will only be answered in time. Maybe we’ll hear something today from Delta on the MQD change. Monitor the discussion Milepoint here, and FlyerTalk here.

MJ, October 10, 2014

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A slightly eclectic and tongue in cheek look at SkyMiles’ latest enhancement – I’m not an accountant, but I work with a lot of them. They’re kind of like lawyers in that they are difficult to love until you need one, but I digress. One thing about accountants is that they love to count things. Most of the accountants I know are really good people, but sometimes struggle with “the big picture” or seeing beyond “the audit trail.” You could be forgiven for asking what my pontification on accountants has to do with Delta SkyMiles eliminating around-the-world mileage redemptions come January 1, 2015?

Well, Delta, like all airlines nowadays, is run by finance people and bean counters accountants, and that’s not necessarily bad news…with some exceptions. They’ve been doing a little counting, and I’d bet you a dollar to a donut that the number of redemptions for RTW itineraries is in the hundreds (not even thousands) out of ever how many million SkyMiles members there are….or how many hundreds of thousands of awards are redeemed every year.

I have no idea what problem SkyMiles was trying to solve by eliminating RTW award on January 1, 2015. Apparently the cost of a SkyMiles RTW redemption compared favorably to others. It seems you’d solve that by raising the cost in miles, but I’m just a guy who writes things on the internet. My guess is that these redemptions had a real dollar cost that needed to be controlled, and the accountants saw this as an easy hit. I don’t really care, as the likelihood I’d ever book a RTW award is about the same as MrsMJ joining me on a cruise to Alaska. There’s a bit of griping online about the change, but not that much which may be telling. On the other hand, a RTW redemption could be seen as an aspirational redemption….something someone does everything they can to show some semblance of loyalty to amass the miles needed for that one award they really want. The trouble with aspiring for a redemption and a “semblance of loyalty” is that both are hard to quantify. In other words, the accountants counted the numbers and they did what comes natural. YMMV.

-MJ, October 7, 2014

This morning, I was in a taxi enroute to the airport. My flight time was at 09:20. The time this blog post occurred to me: 06:00. In other words, I was arriving at the airport early. I knew there were at least two flights prior to my scheduled flight. Once upon a time, I would:

  • Reach for my iPhone
  • Click on ExpertFlyer
  • Punch in my origin and destination information (in the unlikely event I did not already have that saved)
  • Look at inventory and the seatmap
  • Make a decision on whether to call or not call or see an agent for SDC
  • Move on with my life

But as a near exclusive Delta flyer, I can no longer do that. Instead, this happens.

  • Reach for iPhone
  • Click on FlightStats.com
  • Punch in origin and destination
  • Find flight before mine
  • See limited inventory information, but enough to learn that I may want to think about the 08:20
  • Switch to Fly Delta app for iPhone
  • Realize I can’t look at seat maps unless I’m booked on a flight (if anyone thinks I’m incorrect on that, please let me know in the comments. I’ll admit here that I did not try the “change” flight option. Don’t know if I can see seat options with that or not, and I’ll admit it here if I’m wrong about this.)
  • Close Delta app
  • Feel sad
  • Go to club, boot laptop, see lots of empty seats on Delta.com for 08:20 flight, including good coach seats
  • See agent for SDC
  • Clear upgrade, and feel happy again

This weekend I enjoyed talking to a very nice gentleman who works for Delta. He asked me something to the effect of what couldn’t I get from Delta that I was getting from ExpertFlyer. The gist of my answer was really useful information that people who fly a good bit want. This is my example…..posted from a Delta flight.

-MJ, September 24, 2014

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Even though SkyMiles 2015 doesn’t start until January 1, Delta flyers know that dollars spent already matter when it comes to your elite status next year. Now, in addition to miles flown, dollars spent are figured into your elite Medallion status qualification for next year.

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Delta flyers are also aware that if you spend at least $25,000 on your SkyMiles Amex, you get a waiver of the MQD requirement. While I haven’t hit that number on my Delta Amex yet, I will. So if the MQD waiver is there, why should anyone care about MQDs? A matter of principle. Delta makes the rules here, and the least they can do is ensure MQDs get credited when earned. I was going through my flights for the year recently and found this.

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I did not receive MQDs from a fairly expensive short-haul flight on the second leg of a roundtrip flight. I wrote Delta and pointed out the missing MQDs. To Delta’s credit, I received a response the same day.

We are aware that MQDs are not posting correctly for some tickets issued
in our system.  Often these MQDs are associated with flights which
experienced some sort of delay or cancellation.  Please understand, our
SkyMiles Leadership team has been working diligently with our IT team to
repair the problem.  We have forwarded the ticket information for these
flights and ask that you allow 8 to 10 weeks for the requested flights
to be corrected.  We regret any frustration or inconvenience this has
caused and thank you for your patience.

Thank you for your support as a Platinum Medallion member and for
trusting your business to us.  Be assured, we will make every attempt to
serve you well; we are focused on the future and look forward to our
continued business relationship.”

So, Delta is aware of the problem, and they are working to fix it. That’s good. The email points out that the SkyMiles leadership team is working with IT to fix it, and they’ve identified an issue when flights experience some sort of delay or cancellation. That did not happen on this particular flight, but I did same day confirm onto a later flight than I originally booked. Could be a useful data point in watching your MQD balance.

In the end, this isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but if you are a Medallion elite that does not carry any of Delta’s Amex products (and I know there are some), it matters. Mind your MQDs, especially if there is a delay, cancellation, or other change to your original booking.

-MJ, September 5, 2014

 

It’s not often that I am disappointed with Delta Air Lines. They run, without question IMHO, the best airline operation in the USA. They deliver a reliable and desirable product. The airline is in a word, solid. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the company, its managers, and its employees. That hasn’t changed, but things like this annoy me:

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I’m referring to Delta’s decision to prohibit ExpertFlyer from displaying any information related to Delta. I use ExpertFlyer weekly to inform my travel decisions, and I think Delta’s decision is regrettable at best. In truth, I suspect those of us that use ExpertFlyer frequently represent a fraction of Delta’s customer base, and a not much greater percentage of their Medallion customer base. I’d love to be wrong about that, but I’m likely not. Has life as I know it come to an end? No. Do I think Delta “hates customers?” No. Am I disappointed in Delta for making this decision? Yes, I am. Do I think Delta cares what I think? No, and maybe that’s the most disappointing thing of all.

-MJ, September 1, 2014

 

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