Delta finds another way to hose their frequent fliers

For those of you at home asking when the gutting of the airline loyalty programs is going to end, don’t look to Delta for any short term relief.  They have announced that as of March 1, 2009 they are removing the free reward change benefit for all elites.

The ability to freely change and redeposit reward reservations is one of my absolute favorites that the airlines offer.  I was pretty annoyed when Continental announced that they were jacking the fee up for such changes to $150 for everyone but their platinum elites.  But Delta has upped the challenge, choosing to remove the benefit for ALL their customers, including their elites.  Even worse, this will affect all the NorthWest elites, too, as their program is now pretty much run by the same rules that govern the Delta program.

Delta’s justification?  Well it isn’t particularly a good one, but at least it is grammatically correct:

Thank you for contacting Delta Air Lines.

Industry-wide capacity reductions have resulted in fewer seats available for award travel. In an effort to preserve award seat availability for the entire SkyMiles membership, we made the difficult decision to no longer allow free-of-charge redeposits and reissues of award tickets by Platinum members effective March 1, 2009. While we recognize this benefit is important to our Platinum members, we have found that many of these award seat bookings were being held to the last minute and in some cases never flown. Many members including our most-valued Platinum Medallions, were deprived of the opportunity to use those seats. Please also note that Platinum Medallion members are not charged the Award Ticket Fee for reservations ticketed less than three weeks before travel.

Your selection of Delta is appreciated, and we will always do our best to merit your confidence and support.

Sorry, Delta, but I’m not buying the excuse.  See, reward inventory is made available when the airlines don’t think that they can sell the seats.  Plus, if the seats are not occupied at the time of departure someone gets the upgrade instead.  I’m just not buying that Delta is really losing money with the existing policy.  Of course, they’ll make a lot more money as they start charging all their customers more to use their miles, but it isn’t like they were really losing much prior to this.

I’m actually pretty shocked that they are going this far against their top tier elites.  I think that the fallout is going to be pretty ugly.  Sure, they have some markets where they are too dominant, but even the folks in Atlanta have options (Airtran) for a lot of routes, and Minneapolis will in March, with Southwest coming to town.  It is early enough in the year that there is still time to jump ship and start qualifying for elite status in a different program.  I’d strongly consider it were I a Delta customer.

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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.

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