Delta Air Lines has a long history of making changes that are unpopular. In 2014, they were the first of the major airlines to announce that the SkyMiles program would convert to a revenue-based model for earning points for flying. Just a year later, the airline removed award charts from their website without notice. Ever since then, Delta has taken the opportunity to devalue SkyMiles by making sudden changes to the number of miles needed for an award.
I’ve become used to Delta management making sudden changes to the program. That’s why I’ll never hoard SkyMiles for a trip; instead, I spend them as soon as possible. But recently I’ve noticed a change in Delta’s approach when announcing changes.
Before, they’d just announce the change and then do public relations damage control. That consisted of statements about how the changes were good for the customers or it’s what the flyers were asking for. But the changes usually stuck.
What I’ve seen more recently is that Delta’s been taking a different approach when announcing changes. They now make changes that are very aggressive. After a few days of negative press and complaints from customers, the airline says they’re listening and making changes to the changes.
That’s what happened in May 2022, when Delta announced changes to the SkyClub entry policy. The two main changes at that time were:
- You could only access a SkyClub 3 hours before your departure time
- Access was limited to your departure city and connecting airport, eliminating the ability to access a SkyClub upon arrival
The 3-hour entrance limit before a departing flight has stuck but the restriction on entrance upon arrival never was put into effect. Delta claims it was due to negative feedback.
We heard your feedback in response to the updates, including that some customers want to visit a Club to refresh after landing or to recharge ahead of a meeting. … We value your input — and we’ve acted on it
After this example, I’m not surprised about Delta’s actions. They announced a set of sweeping changes affecting how people earn status and policies about entering Delta SkyClubs. The public response was not good. Customers started to make plans to leave Delta for other airlines. Competitors jumped on the chance to offer status matches to Delta’s elite flyers. The backlash became as big of a news story as the changes.
It didn’t take long for Delta CEO Ed Bastian to say that Delta went “too far” with the changes and that modifications would be made.
The kicker is that we don’t know what those changes are. Maybe they’ll make the amounts to earn status lower. Add a few extra lounge visits for AMEX cardholders. Whatever it is, the underlying changes are still going to happen, they just won’t be as bad as the ones Delta first announced.
Which seems to be the way Delta does things now. Announce changes that are really bad and then walk them back a little bit to what you wanted to do in the first place.
If I’m wrong and Delta isn’t doing this on purpose, the other explanation is that management is so out of touch with their own customers that they are honestly surprised when people get upset.
We’ll have to see when Delta announces the next set of devaluations to find out if overstepping and then walking back is the new way of making changes at the airline.
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