A Matter of Perspective
I have been a reader of InsideFlyer for 14 years and, like most longtime members, have not had the necessity to use the mileage insurance privileges (PrivilegeFlyer) but have benefited mightily from the inside news and tips. Thanks for being there on behalf of all frequent flyers during those years.
To provide a little personal history, I am a lifetime Platinum with Delta (4.2 million miles) and accumulated around 2.5 million miles with others — primarily Eastern/Continental and Piedmont/USAir. I remember the first redemption with Delta where two first-class tickets (Chattanooga, Tenn., to San Francisco) required 75 segments, redeemed by mailing copies of the appropriate boarding passes and tickets. We have come a long way.
The purpose of this note, my first ever to an editor, is a response to an ever increasing number of reader complaints concerning loss of “privileges.” Luckily, I started flying on a frequent basis for my company about the same time as the birth of the frequent flyer programs. Since the bulk of the miles were earned at my company’s expense, I have always considered them a nice bonus (my wife disagreed, feeling I earned them with a lot of 15-hour days, lost sleep, bad food, etc.). I know a lot of people in my company with similar travel loads, who were on the scene 15 years earlier and retired with nothing from the airlines other than a plaque and luggage tags. Regardless, I have always treated my miles and perks as an unexpected extra, not an absolute right.
What specifically triggered my reaction in the December issue was the letter from the Delta flyer with 1 million “old” miles (“Earn New Miles, Keep the Old,” Letters, Dec. 2005). I find it incredible that in 10 years, he has been practically unable to use them for first-class redemptions. My personal experience is the opposite. I had 2.5 million miles at the time of the change. Since then, I have redeemed all but 150,000, all for first-class domestic or business international flights. Admittedly, I do a little pre-planning and am persistent with rechecking at times, but I almost never fail to find something satisfactory. I also find the premium line reservation people marvelous in helping identify alternative routes, airports, dates, etc. As a classic example, I made first-class reservations for two on Nov. 10 for travel from Columbia, S.C., to Las Vegas via Atlanta, departing Feb. 14, returning the 17th.
I simply find too many of these types of letters, which to me are indications of people who don’t understand the system, its opportunities and limitations, and how best to work with it. Your own magazine feature showing specific city/airline availability demonstrates that awards are much easier to obtain than complaints would leave you to believe.
My last comment concerns Joe Brancatelli’s column. While he is a marvelous observer of the flying business and particularly the problems of the “Big 6,” he has little in the way of practical suggestions that they could implement. I’m sure each of these airlines are acutely aware of what their problems are, and if they felt Joe had the ability to fix them, he would be in a senior spot at one of them. I find his continual berating a little tiresome, but since I haven’t read any negatives from other readers, I assume I am a voice of one.
Meanwhile, keep up the good work.
I recently discovered a technicality that prevents upgrades on Delta-operated flights, despite elite-level status in the Medallion program. Others may be aware, but if you haven’t published on this topic in the past, it may be worth mentioning. I have been a loyal subscriber for the last several years — honestly, I signed up on a whim through a Northwest Airlines promo a few years back, but now I can’t imagine that I ever survived without you!
I have been a Gold elite member of the WorldPerks program for several years. This year I realized I was close to Silver status on Delta as well, due to EQM-eligible bonuses awarded through the Platinum American Express-branded SkyMiles card I use (I drive about 25,000 miles per year and double miles on gas is nothing to sneeze at!). When I noticed I was close to Silver elite status on Delta, I channeled enough flight miles into my SkyMiles account to pass the 25,000-mile threshold, while maintaining Gold status with WorldPerks.
This was my surprise: Delta will not permit elite upgrades on so-called “Partner coded, Delta-operated” flights. I frequently book travel via nwa.com, and I am frequently offered routings that include a Delta-operated flight. In light of the SkyTeam alliance, it seems especially ironic that a so-called “double-elite” member would not be allowed to queue up for a complimentary upgrade solely because the travel was sold by Northwest. I understand that there is not reciprocity between WorldPerks and SkyMiles as there is between WorldPerks and OnePass, but come on, is this fair? I have written SkyMiles, and their reply is rather generic — as usual — and basically consists of a cut-and-paste message from the SkyMiles rules stating that partner-marketed flights are not eligible for upgrades. I would be better off going for Platinum in WorldPerks, and dropping Delta altogether if this is how they operate.
Just for completeness, I wrote WorldPerks and asked about the same situation in reverse; that is, the possibility of an elite upgrade on Northwest if the travel is sold by Delta as a “Delta-coded, Northwest-operated” flight. I was assured that upgrade would be available, as always, at my elite-level designated timeframe once my WorldPerks number was added to my record. I have since tested the system, and I was allowed to upgrade despite the Delta coding. Looks like Northwest wins on this one. Thanks for spreading the word!
Flying Blue Blues
Having read your interview with KLM’s CRM Head, Marc Jansz (Cover Story, Sept. 2005), I begin to wonder if he’s talking about the same frequent flyer programme I’m a member of.
As a Platinum member I now earn 25-percent less award miles every time I fly. That is not a benefit. Should I wish to use award miles to upgrade, I need to buy the highest economy fare. That is not a benefit. I can now only earn 25 percent award and level miles when I buy the cheapest fare. I cannot earn any miles when I buy promotional fares. Neither of these are to my benefit. Seats available for upgrades appear to have reduced, or maybe I’m just trying to upgrade on very popular flights. Flights taken since the programme was introduced have resulted in miles not being credited correctly to my account and the continual need to ring, email and/or fax the Flying Blue service center to demand my rights. Most certainly not a benefit.
As a private traveler, I feel dishonoured by KLM. No amount of marketing material has yet convinced me that the programme has acknowledged my loyalty over the past 10 years. I believe they have sold out to a stronger partner and been forced to reduce their former caring and generous programme to meet the lower standards of others. They have lost something very special — almost an identity that made them special. They have become faceless like all the others, and that is not a benefit to me.
More Delta Frustration
I have been redeeming miles from Delta’s old Frequent Flyer program, which requires me to book through the Reservations center. What I really have a problem with is the $10 service fee that gets applied to each ticket. I have no other option than to call since there is no way for me to book tickets using Frequent Flyer miles online. Not only is Delta forcing me to redeem these miles prematurely, but I have to pay additionally to do so. Either the fee for redeeming Frequent Flyer awards needs to be waived or Delta needs to update the website to allow Frequent Flyer redemption online. I’m sure that’s not going to happen since Frequent Flyer miles will be converted to SkyMiles at the end of the year. That leaves waiving the fee as the best solution, especially for Platinum Elite members.
Most of the rule changes that have occurred in the past few years have been done to bring Delta in line with the other domestic Sky Team partners. Elite earning and levels were changed to match Continental and Northwest (except of course, for qualifying by segments). The upgrade window was changed to match both Continental and Northwest (of course, Delta elite members can’t upgrade on Continental and Northwest even though Continental and Northwest offer reciprocal upgrading for elite members). Plus, Platinum members now have to pay for the Crown Room, which previously was a benefit that distinguished Delta from the others. However, Delta is the only one that charges Platinum Elite members a fee when ticketing through the Reservations center. Both Continental and Northwest exempt their Platinum members from this fee. Why not Delta? It seems that rule changes only go into effect when it more benefits Delta. Another case in pointboth Continental and Northwest offer 125% mileage bonus for Platinum Elite members whereas Delta still only offers 100%. Why hasn’t Delta updated the program to match Continental and Northwest?
I know these are difficult times for Delta, but things are not going to improve if Delta keeps nickeling and diming their most loyal members and structuring the elite program to be less attractive. I’m sure the other airlines would love to have my business, especially if I show my continued Platinum status and 2,000,000+ lifetime miles. I’m getting closer and closer to giving it to them. Delta, please put a stop to this nonsense and use better judgment to retain your best customers.