Backing off of (some) unpopular changes

Many airlines have made some very unpopular decisions over the past few months.  From selling bottled water in their lounges to charging elites for premium seats, the changes are enough to get many frequent fliers up in arms, or at least threatening to do so if any of the other programs out there weren’t similarly bad.  It also seems in some ways that these changes are being set up as low-hanging fruit for the vocal frequent travelers to attack, distracting from substantive reductions in benefits that really do matter.

Delta decided that they wanted to adopt Northwest’s “Coach Choice” program, where some of the better seats were held back to be sold to any customer rather than being given to elites for free.  That didn’t go over so well, so they backed off (effective 11.18; I just got the email alert).  But they haven’t backed off from their three-tier reward structure, huge additional fees for itineraries that originate outside of North America, partner ticketing fees, getting rid of the Delta Shuttle fleet configuration and many other things that have substantively detract from the value of the program.

US Air has apparently decided not to sell bottled water any more (as reported yesterday), but just about everything else they’ve done to their airline has been another step in the rapid drive to the absolute bottom.  They haven’t quite made it there yet, but removing in-flight entertainment systems, cutting bonus miles for elites and charging for drinks on the planes are all pretty ridiculous moves.

Continental announced on the same day that they would be removing the 500-mile minimum earned by folks flying on short flights that they would also be increasing the change fees on reward tickets from $35 to $150 in many cases, and that only their top tier elites would be exempt from such fees.  The 500-mile minimum affects far fewer passengers, but they apparently drew enough pressure on that decision that they backed down, agreeing to reinstate the 500-mile minimum earning for folks who are already elite.

What is the common theme in all of these changes?  The airlines are throwing out a bunch of bad things and then backing off on one or two less significant ones.  They get to go on about how they are “listening to their best customers” and changing their minds because of the feedback.  That’s actually exactly what tonight’s email from Delta said:

…[W]e’ve received substantial feedback from Medallion members like you, and your dissatisfaction was crystal clear …

Retaining your long-term loyalty is of paramount importance to us, and we’re not afraid to change course when we need to.

Yeah.  So crystal clear that they’re willing to forego a tiny bit of incremental revenue to distract their customers from the emaciation of the program in other areas.  Awesome.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad that there are some small give backs happening.  But things still aren’t all rosy for the frequent flier.  It is harder and harder to find value in the programs, but I’m still trying and mostly finding it, at least thus far.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.