Change/Challenge

Change/Challenge

Some experts said it had to happen. After all, the extent of the current financial crisis that airlines have found themselves in would no doubt lead to the conclusion that airlines would end frequent flyer programs, and that rumor continues today. Travel writer Chris Elliott recently recapped those rumors at elliott.org. I’ll be content to let rumors run amok and watch in humor as members of frequent flyer programs who don’t read Inside Flyer make mistake after mistake in rushing to burn off their miles. I hope you’re keeping track of those who are manning the lifeboats.

As for the change, I’ll go ahead and weigh-in on it.

Shall we start with Delta SkyMiles? As we noted last month, we’re not convinced that these changes needed to be made at this time. I continue to remind these programs that these very same member benefits were in place during the years when airlines were making money, just as they were in years when airlines did not. They do not seem to be have contributed to the problems airlines face today. That aside, there is ample proof that these programs generate more than enough to cover their costs. These changes are not the cause of their woes, but may lead to more woes to come.

On with the topic of Delta. Their upgrade pricing change reminds me of the cartoon we ran last year in which we pictured program after program jumping off a cliff like lemmings. I fully understand that airlines are trying to balance their finite inventory of seats, preferring to set the bar for admittance higher so that the growing membership level of elites still believe there is value in an upgrade perk. For sure there is no pleasure in having to say “No” to a valuable customer. What’s the answer other than what has been introduced? I don’t know. While my guess is that at least one airline (AAdvantage, SkyMiles, Mileage Plus) would have introduced the change anyway, I’d still prefer that these types of changes don’t occur in lock-step, separated only by the process of getting the member notices’ ink to dry.

Moving on to the L, U, T upgrade change: Nice move, and Delta should be complimented on that. My only concern here is it seems it was a move made only as a peace token with regard to the changes to Medallion re-qualification earning. I’d prefer that each decision Delta makes with SkyMiles made sense and stands on its own. This type of give-and-take makes for more aggressive and demanding members.

As for the cornerstone of their changes — I personally don’t care for them. I realize that the concept of earning fewer elite miles for low fares was actually introduced to Delta years ago when they made the change from Frequent Flyer to SkyMiles (they obviously decided back then it wasn’t “Delta”), and that other airlines around the world operate in similar ways for elite qualification as well as mileage earning restrictions. When this was announced, I had, and still do have, ambivalent feelings about the change. But I simply could not find myself getting that upset over the change. Does that mean I no longer want to champion the causes of my readers and other frequent flyers? No. I’ve been comfortable in that role for almost 17 years and am always ready for the right reason. With Delta, my feelings are respectful for the times in which they and other airlines live right now.

But, with that said, I had warned all frequent flyer programs in my Opening Remarks in the November 2002 issue with this comment: “I’m not going to accept changes that will alter the nature of the elite level while I listen to the airlines cry that the business traveler hasn’t returned and that, unless they do, all problems will continue.” I can’t go back on that statement, which is why I will make a conscious decision to personally fly other airlines in search for my elite status for 2004. It’s less about Delta than me sticking to my words.

My last word: vote for the Freddies.

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