The Delta SkyMiles Discussion

And now, the talk you’ve been waiting for. Let’s talk SkyMiles. As someone who considers himself miles-agnostic (meaning it doesn’t impact my flight purchase decision), it’s kind of funny that I end up getting into the details with these programs. But I know that it’s a topic that’s important to a whole lot of you. And SkyMiles is one of the more talked about programs.

It’s a program that many elite members love to hate, but it hasn’t deterred them from actively participating. Sure, many former Northwest elites have put on the rose-colored glasses and miss the days of WorldPerks, and others have a long list of complaints as well. It’s a tough balancing act for the airline, and that was the chief topic of discussion when I sat down with Jeff Robertson, VP of SkyMiles.

Highly Addictive Drugs

Despite what you might imagine, Jeff doesn’t wear a bullseye on his back, but he really does enjoy debating what’s right for the program. I found him to be thoughtful, and when our allotted time was up, the conversation just continued, probably to the dismay of the people waiting outside for his next meeting.

As you might imagine, he began by saying that “we want to do what’s right for Delta.” Of course, that’s never going to please everyone, but I was particularly interested in what that meant for dealing with the competition. American and United/Continental were that ones that had me most interested because they are the main competitors, have more flexible award use and, in my opinion, have better availability at the lower levels. So what about them?

He admitted that it’s really difficult to compare availability across airlines without just manually looking at routes, but they have recently decided to work with a third party to help get better insight on what others are doing. So this isn’t something Delta is ignoring. Then, he went to the spreadsheet to talk about availability.

It seems that Jeff has his availability reports accessible at all times. He pulled one out to give me a snapshot of what he was seeing. “We were tight this summer with availability.” But things are now more open. It seems that this will be an ongoing struggle for the airline, but it is something that is constantly on the radar.

Some more interesting topics from our discussion . . .

On Eliminating Last Minute Award Fees
“When we eliminated the award redemption fee, the percent of increase in redemptions was tremendous. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made. That’s not coming back.”

On One Way Redemptions
“There’s no reason we haven’t done one-ways. It’s just not at the top of the priority list.”

On Having Three Redemption Tiers Instead of Two
“The purpose was to provide another pricepoint that wouldn’t require double miles. We felt like introducing 40,000 and 60,000 is the right solution. Really, 40,000 miles is becoming popular. We have 90% or greater availability in that tier. So instead of someone spending 50,000 miles to come back at 4p on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. They can spend 40,000 miles to come back in the morning on Sunday or 60,000 to come back at 4p. It helps us manage demand.”

On Upgrade Co-Pays
“It would be really easy for us to do a copay. I don’t like them, so it’s not a priority of mine. I have bigger fish to fry.”

On Only Allowing Elite Upgrades From High Coach Fare Classes
“We have looked at YBM [the three highest fare classes that are the only ones allowed to be upgraded on international flights]. The #1 ask in the elite program is to let us upgrade off discounted fares. Two reasons why we don’t.
1) We don’t historically because we have free domestic upgrades, so we don’t subsidize international upgrades by making people pay for domestic.
2) We measured upsell to M [so that the ticket could be upgraded] and it is hundreds of millions of dollars
So we continue to look at what things do we do to YBM to make it more valuable, provide a better service benefit.”

On Rollover Miles
“Rollover miles are paying off big time. Elites are significantly ahead of where they were last year excluding rollover.”

On Getting Feedback
“The most important feedback for us is what we get directly. We also do surveys, and yes, we look at FlyerTalk, blogs, news media.”

On Choice Seats
“When we rolled out Choice seats, we got killed [in the media]. But American rolled out the same program and there’s been nothing. Delta’s the only carrier not charging. Is it gaining us market share? At the same time, I hate them myself, so it’s tough. I do think seat assignments are the next horizon [for fees].”

On Mileage Earning
“We have the most generous earn program. We always give a full mile regardless of fare class. We always give 500 minimum miles per flight to every passengers. With that said, we’ve looked at recently how many miles we give per dollar – it’s about 5 miles per dollar spent with great variation. We’re looking at what to do.”

On the Future of the Frequent Flier Program
“The frequent flyer model of over-awarding is not sustainable and must be changed. It’s either going to be redemption or accrual or both.”


Yep, it was an interesting discussion. Now let the commenting begin. I know you all have plenty to say.

(Visited 174 times, 1 visits today)

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

47 Comments on "The Delta SkyMiles Discussion"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
anonymous
Guest
“The frequent flyer model of over-awarding is not sustainable and must be changed. It’s either going to be redemption or accrual or both.” I am not sure what exactly is over-awarding in the current program. He should try to fly around (domestic+international) as a GM. Basically that guy is telling us that Delta is going to charge us more and that we will get less. That would be a tremendous opportunity for me to leave Delta (to which i have been ridiculously faithful so far) to see if the grass is greener on the other side. I do not have… Read more »
Jason Steele
Guest

Did you bring up the broken online award calendar, or was that something only the web guy would discuss?

A
Guest

Was there any discussion about the Skymiles AMEX card? I’ve been very pleased with the free checked baggage benefit, which pays for itself quickly on leisure travel where going carry-on only is difficult. It’s a good gimmick that can attract a family once and eventually get them hooked on the crack that is Skymiles. Very savvy, but it will backfire if award travel is difficult or the redemption tier is too high. Does Delta make it a priorty to open up more award seats on flights to leisure spots like Florida?

David SF eastbay
Member

Didn’t Delta just sign up a program with Master Card yesterday? I thought I saw a news headline about that.

A
Guest

I read that too. Supposedly a debit card agreement so I doubt it will carry all the same benefits the AMEX credit card holders get.

David SF eastbay
Member
Ok, I saw the bi-liine about DL and Master Card but forgot to go back and read the story. Now that is interesting as Debit cards are being used more (so I read) then credit cards by people who are watching their money in these hard times. That would mean DL is thinking about those people and trying to get them to switch to their branded debit card to get miles. But the people watching their money in these hard time would tend to purchase lower priced fares that none of the major carriers what people to do, and would… Read more »
Chris
Guest

It’s for debit. There’s no way DL’s overlord/sugar momma AMEX will let them get in bed with another CC company.

Alex
Guest

I saw in the newest Skymiles magazine, that Delta did have a M/C cc offer but it’s for Canadian citizens I think.

David SF eastbay
Member

“””””So instead of someone spending 50,000 miles to come back at 4p on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. They can spend 40,000 miles to come back in the morning on Sunday or 60,000 to come back at 4p. It helps us manage demand.”””””

More like it gets more miles from the people who still want to come back later in the day on that Sunday.

Scott
Guest

Exactly. I think you and Jeff agree 100%. What’s the problem? Delta is putting a premium on the most-desired flights and offering those customers with flexibility the opportunity to save. Makes perfect sense to me. In fact, it’s better for everyone that they do it in such a way.

Chris
Guest

Yes but think of this, instead of giving up the more valuable ticket for less miles, they take more but offer a less expensive option on a slightly less valuable (but still desirable) ticket.

David SF eastbay
Member

Cranky here’s a question for you about these type interviews.

Do you ever get feedback from the airlines after you blog these interviews? I know comments are left that are not always postitive towards the airline who gave the interview. But you know they or their people are going to follow them.

Has any airline said they wouldn’t give you an interview as they don’t want their airline to be blasted in the comment section?

Dan
Guest
“Really, 40,000 miles is becoming popular.” Well, yes, if that’s what you’re going to make available. Try making a bunch of 25,000 mile seats available and tell me how that compares to the 40k award ;) As for his last comment, I don’t know how to take it in the context of “what’s best for delta” because there are a couple of problems here: 1) If supply (seats) doesn’t match demand (miles) the airline has an image problem with their customers. In this regard, it would make more sense to restrict the miles available so that customers can be confident… Read more »
Scott
Guest

I think what you’re missing is that the 40k seats aren’t being left on the table. Why on earth would DL sell something for 25k miles that a customer is willing to buy for 40k? That’s just stupid. As long as someone is paying, you’re not charging too much. Basic capitalism. When people stop buying at all, you know you’re charging too much.

JM
Guest
I am in ATL and fly Delta a lot to travel to cities 500 (+or-) miles away from Atlanta. I am glad to be a SkyMiles member (since 1990), although I do sense that Delta doesn’t care a bunch about those of us who primarily do “local” traffic on their network. I am headed to Silver Medallion status this year due to frequencies (as opposed to mileage) and pay for a Delta Reserve Amex card. But do Silver Medallions or even matter to Delta anymore? The introduction of the Diamond Medallion status (and the onboard announcements which no longer thank… Read more »
AB
Guest
I agree that DL shows it no longer values you unless you fly at least 50k miles a year. Silver Medallions are no longer thanked on board, they are not invited to board early with the rest of the Medallions, they may no longer use the priority security lanes at the airport, etc. I wonder if Silvers were “demoted” because there were simply too many of them and Delta needed to raise the bar. At the height of the recession when no one was flying, the airlines were tripping over themselves offering double and triple elite-qualifying miles to entice people… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
From JM: “””””The introduction of the Diamond Medallion status (and the onboard announcements which no longer thank Silver Medallions) lead me to think not. “”””” Anytime you single out a certain group among a larger group, all that does is tell the lesser of the group that they mean nothing. Any airline on the P.A. that thanks Diamond members (or whatever) is just saying to everyone else that they could case less about them. That is like inviting 3 couples to your home for dinner and ignoring 1 couple because you like the other 2 couples better. If that is… Read more »
JM
Guest
From David SF eastbay: “”””If that is how DL is treating people then they need to loose business to AirTran. But it could be their way of getting the cheap buying peons on the plane to fly AirTran so they can raise prices to people who purchase higher fare tickets.”””” Yes, but DL currently matches AirTran on pricing– meaning cheap! DL is tone deaf to the fact that there are other ways to sell tickets to the locals besides price, namely loyalty, service, and perks. I would gladly pay more for tickets on Delta than competitor AirTran because of: 1)… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Has Delta forgetten it’s southern roots? What happen to southern hospitality and southern manners? Shows what can happen when you try and be the big cheese in New York, you start acting like those yankees in the north……LOL

David M
Guest

“I would gladly pay more for tickets on Delta than competitor AirTran because of: 1) SkyClubs/Crown Rooms, 2) Loyalty (they are Atlanta-based and generously support my employer, a nonprofit, among other reasons), 3) a better FF program than AirTran, and, 4) better frequencies.”

I suspect there aren’t enough people that will pay more for these things to make it worthwhile. In other words, the revenue they’d lose by people going to AirTran, et. al. would be greater than the extra revenue they’d get from higher fares and targeting the customers who will pay for them to get the extras.

JM
Guest

You’re probably right, sadly.

Guess I am flying US via Charlotte for everything starting next year!

Justacustomer
Member

Forget the issue of 25K vs 40K/60K awards: does Jeff care that former Northwest elites who were used to 100K and sometimes 150K Int’l Biz awards to Europe & Asia now are quoted 280K+ for similar awards? That’s a hefty increase that I wonder if the spreadsheets he has handy are showing? Do they expect to retain the NW customers based on these kinds of increases?

Chris
Guest

280K to Europe is an anomaly and YOU know it. They need to fix the pricing engine and stop having it price your trips as Domestic mid tier F + Mid Tier TATL = 280k. It should price at 200k.

I see very much where you are coming from and don’t forget about Fake cheese…

wjboll
Member

Jeff doesn’t get it. AAdvantage is still the best around. he should be using that program as a comparative point.

A
Guest

+1 to that

Scott
Guest

Well, perhaps there’s a reason why AA is struggling financially. ;-) It’s certainly not because of AAdvantage alone — don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying… look at YX… “best care in the air” for sure but they couldn’t make money providing it these days.

marshall
Member

I may be wrong, but I think Jeff came from AA? Can anyone confirm that. I’d hope that AAdvantage at least figures into the equation with him. And I agree, I think AA’s availability and overall program are hard to beat.

Dan
Guest

When you can fly one way in First Class from the US to Asia for 67,500 AA miles, Jeff’s comment about:

“The frequent flyer model of over-awarding is not sustainable and must be changed. It’s either going to be redemption or accrual or both.”

must apply to AAdvantage and how unsustainable it makes Skymiles look.

Allan
Guest

He doesn’t seem to care much for Delta’s most frequent customers.

mandel.jerry1
Member
D-E-L-T-A Don’t Expect Luggage To Arrive and Doesn’t Even Leave The Airport. I fly from DFW. It’s pretty much AA on longer trips and Southwest on shorter trips. Dl, UA, US,CO and others all require going way out of your way to change planes and at extra cost. On AA you can fly nonstop all over. Actually, I’ve been pretty much satisfied with all the frequent flier programs. A bad thing About AAdvantage. If you try to book award travel overseas online, the message comes up that AA doesn’t fly there. (Hello-Oneworld). You have to call up and pay the… Read more »
trackback

[…] Flier visited Delta headquarters and among other stops on his agenda sat with Jeff Robertson, who runs the SKymiles […]

Greg
Guest
I spent 1998 to 1008 as Gold Medallion every year (only flown holiday’s in ’09 not at all this year). But I have never had a problem with SkyMiles, maybe things have changed, I don’t know. But what I remember most, I had a flight scheduled from CDG-ATL on 11 Spet 2001…that flight never took place, but when flight’s resumed, I had priority, and was able to return on the 19th (thanks to Medallion status). I have never had a problem getting a reward ticket (I remember one flight, I got a ATL-HNL ticket for 30k miles, but the fare… Read more »
Joe
Guest

Cranky, did you get any information as to whether members might one day be able to redeem one way awards (at half the price of a round trip award)? It seems to me that some of these problems might be overcome by doing that.

Jack
Guest

I have back to back international flights and I’m 6000 miles from Gold. How long will it take for Delta miles to post after flying on Delta partner ALITALIA? Need it to be fast since I want the computer to show that I’m Gold on my second trip. Has Delta linked the computer systems between partners? I hope its not 30 days and a fax or two for the miles to show on my account.

Greg
Guest

I know with AF, KLM, and KAL miles are posted as quickly as with DL, Atilia, I don’t know. However, Delta only updates the status database on weekends. Yes, I’ve been on a flight where I had 53,000 MQM miles whowing in my account, but was only considered Silver until the next weekend. Fortunately I showed that to the gate agent and she put me at the top of the list of Silver’s for an upgade (won’t help with mileage bonus, but better than nothing)

Alex
Guest
I just hit Silver status for the first time ever, pretty excited about it. Can fly back and forth to EU without paying for a second bag! I been flying Delta/Skyteam (boy do I miss Continental when they were part of Skyteam) for over 5 years now, all my tickets have been on my dime which makes it all the more enjoyable. I’m thankful for being zone 2 now instead of zone 3 or 4 on some flights. Since I travel light 90% of the time (carry on only) it’s nice to have early pick on overhead bins ;). I… Read more »
trackback

[…] it, but I think that is grasping at straws. I will be sure to update as I get more information but Delta’s CEO has stated in the past that the current SKYMILES program is unsustainable in its current […]

Jeff Topping
Guest

Hi,

Today is March 1, 2014. I just read your article and the comments that go back to 2010. Well I’ve been a Delta Skymiles member since 2007 and I’ve been talking with Delta Medallion agents for two years about the award calendar being lacking of quality. They continue to tell me they know of the problem etc.,etc.,etc. but nothing gets corrected

When the new rewards plan takes effect in 2015 I will be dropping Delta and switching to Alaska Airlines. I’ve had enough with Delta’s degradation of their program and insulting behavior toward their most loyal passengers.

Jeff Topping
Dubai, UAE

wpDiscuz