Delta Earns a Cranky Jackass Award for Its Increasingly Obnoxious Policies Around Third Party Tools

If you subscribe to ExpertFlyer, then you know where this post is going and you are most certainly in full agreement. Delta seems to have decided that it doesn’t like third parties creating extremely helpful tools for Delta fliers, so it is shutting them off without providing any alternative. For this, Delta has earned what I believe is its first Cranky Jackass award.

For those not familiar with ExpertFlyer, it’s a useful service to have. In short, ExpertFlyer works with global distribution Cranky Jackass Awardsystems to extract various pieces of data from airlines, the stuff travel agents can see. It then lets users set up alerts to note when things change. The pieces that have been most useful for me are the seat alerts (telling you when certain seats or types of seats come available), availability alerts, and award availability alerts. But there is also raw fare data, flight status information, and more. It’s a paid service, but many frequent fliers find it worth the price for what it provides.

Some airlines embrace ExpertFlyer because it enhances the experience for people flying on the airline. In fact, ExpertFlyer will be announcing a new partner shortly. Delta doesn’t seem to get it.

Late last year, Delta told ExpertFlyer that it would no longer allow the service to display upgrade availability. Then, just last week, Delta told ExpertFlyer to stop showing anything related to Delta at all. Apparently Delta prefers to keep its customers in the dark, since it hasn’t provided any kind of alternative to them.

This all seems stupid and short-sighted, so I asked Delta for comment. My first question was about the “best fare guarantee” lawsuit I wrote about yesterday. I (and others) wondered if that lawsuit had anything to do with Delta not wanting to show its data publicly. Delta said no, and ExpertFlyer told me that it had been told to take down the information before the lawsuit was filed. So that’s not the issue.

My second question was around the action itself. Why? I got a half-baked and downright incorrect answer from Delta.

Some customers use other travel tools to view Delta booking class availability and flight content details. Delta does not allow the use of data from delta.com by unauthorized parties.

That’s great, but ExpertFlyer doesn’t touch Delta.com. It all comes through the reservation systems that ExpertFlyer pays to use. I asked for a follow-up response but I never heard back again. Thanks, Delta.

So what’s the real answer? Why would Delta want to block ExpertFlyer from giving this information to people?

We know that Delta wants to control its information as much as possible, but if you publish it in the global distribution systems, you’re making it all publicly available. That should be the trade-off if you want to play in that space, but maybe Delta thinks it can have its cake and eat it too. Legally, it may very well be right, but that doesn’t make it a good idea.

We also know that Delta does want to direct as many people as possible to use its own website for everything. That would be fine if a) Delta had a half-decent website and b) Delta decided to offer these same features. There is nothing provided by ExpertFlyer that Delta offers on its website. If Delta wants to create its own tool and then shut down external ones, that’s one thing. But it’s not doing that.

In the end, this is just penalizing travelers who are trying to get better information. We are in a golden age of information where things that were previously difficult to find are now readily available on the internet. Companies that decide that less information is better will be on the wrong side of history.

What else could it be? I had one person raise a question about the desirability of the ExpertFlyer user base. Are these people trying to game the system? Nope. Most of the Delta alerts on ExpertFlyer come from people who identify as being primarily Delta fliers. ExpertFlyer tells me that of those who identified as primarily Delta fliers in its customer survey, 98 percent had elite status with over 40 percent being Diamond Medallion. In addition, more than 50 percent of the respondents said that having access to Delta’s information on ExpertFlyer made them more loyal to the airline. How about that, Delta?

It only makes sense that the people who are on ExpertFlyer would be more desirable frequent fliers because you have to pay for it to get most of the features. It wouldn’t be worth it for a casual traveler.

That brings us back to the same old question. Why is Delta doing this? I can’t think of a good answer. I can think of plenty of answers, but none of them are in any way good. The most sinister one is that Delta sees ExpertFlyer as hurting ancillary revenue opportunities. I can hear it now.

Consultant: If you let people set alerts for upgrade availability, then they’ll be less likely to just pay to fly in BusinessElite.
Widget: Ya’ll are right, that’d be horrible. Kill it.

That’s a pretty douchey (yes, that’s a real word now) scenario. I think more likely is that Delta is getting cocky. It think it knows what its customers want to see, and it’s going to make that decision for them. If true, that’s a pretty backwards view. Regardless of the reason, this move is most deservedly worthy of the Cranky Jackass award.

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