The fallout from the changes to Delta’s SkyMiles Medallion qualifications has been swift and strong. But here’s what all of those status matches tell us from the other airlines.
What a roller coaster the SkyMiles program has been on in the last few weeks. Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines increased the dollar amounts required to earn status in the program. Most notably, the medallion qualification dollars moved from $15,000/year spent just two years ago to $35,000 medallion qualifying dollars in the new program to earn or retain Diamond status. It was similarly increased across all elite status levels; entry-level Silver medallion status holders would have to earn MQDs in excess of $6,000 annually for the status level that basically allows a mid-tier boarding group and no cost for a first checked bag.
The market reaction was loud and significant. Many Delta loyalists who absorbed the abhorrent changes the program has made over the years were awakened to the clear message that Delta does not value their business unless they spend more money. This likely affected their co-brand business through American Express as people canceled or did not renew their cards.
It was enough pushback that Delta CEO, Ed Bastian, spoke at a Rotary Club in Atlanta admitting that the airline may have moved too far and would adjust the program requirements. Despite this admission, as Matthew pointed out this week, it further devalued partner awards – an odd choice for a program trying to rebuild or repair its reputation for holding a valuable program.
Just when you thought the Skypocalypse was over, Delta continues to demonstrate its contempt for customers by reducing earnings on partner flights. Who is running the show over there and has anyone told Mr. Bastian that it’s not him?
Competing Status Matches
Two airlines have come out strongest against the Delta changes, JetBlue, and Alaska both offering competing status matches. JetBlue is crystal clear that it’s recruiting Delta elites:
“Breaking up is hard to do.
But who has to know? We’ve made it easy for you to cozy up to a new loyalty program and see where it goes.
For a limited time¹, Delta SkyMiles Medallions can join the JetBlue family with an exclusive offer to match their status to Mosaic. Once your status is matched, it will be valid until 12/30/23, and you can then keep that status through 2024 by completing a challenge.”
(For nerds like me who look at the URL, JetBlue named that page “Mosaic-on-the-DL.”)
Alaska has a general status challenge page (no snarky URL here) but then added some specific Delta language:
“Status Match into Mileage Plan™
Fell out of love with your airline loyalty program? We’ve got you covered with our best status match offer yet. Other airline frequent flyers can get matched into Mileage Plan™ elite status. And for a limited time, Delta frequent flyers can get matched into Mileage Plan™ elite status through 2024 by applying for a status match below and having an open Alaska Airlines Visa®card. Better yet, if you have Delta status through 2024, we’ll raise your status another level.
Mileage Plan rewards you when you fly, not just when you spend. That’s why we offer guests the fastest track to elite status and the ability to earn miles on any of our 28 global airline partners.” (emphasis mine)
It’s interesting here that Alaska is selling the fact that it’s still a frequent flyer program built around actually flying with the airline and its partners, but adds a bonus upgrade incentive for those also willing to spend on its credit card.
What It Tells Us About The Rest of The Airlines, Their Plans
It would be an exercise in futility to bring in all of these new flyers just to raise qualifications on them. It could happen, but the same flyers you brought in looking for shelter from the storm, would be out shopping again with their umbrella once it starts raining at their new home. So what can we glean from the other carriers based on those that matched and those that did not.
Allegiant, Spirit, and Frontier all have loyalty programs. Free Spirit is the only one that regularly operates in the markets that Delta services and has a competitive program but they won’t be viewed in the same way as Delta, rightly or wrongly.
Hawaiian has a targeted focus that doesn’t cross over with Delta elites in a broader sense and it’s not really part of the battle to woo them to the carrier.
American was a little quieter, opting to just speak with their Hyatt partners and not targeting it around Delta at all. It was a coincidental status challenge, sure, but it wasn’t primarily targeted at Delta in the same pointed way of some of the others. United has been quiet too. These should both be concerning. Perhaps they are playing wait-and-see but the similar silence to match Delta’s is deafening. It suggests to me that there are at least considerations to pursue a similar strategy, because after all if everyone has the same playing field, there is no reason to pass up money if clients are indifferent. The relative silence in both of those cases should be more concerning for global US travelers than anything else.
If United and American have no intention of moving their requirements in a similar direction as Delta did, they’d have a great public case to make in the same way that Alaska and JetBlue have done to woo upset travelers to their safe shores. Instead, they laid low to see what the fallout was, and it was swift and harsh. This proved wise as Delta clients responded in a way the carrier seemed to have underestimated and since decided they will walk back some.
JetBlue competes heavily with Delta at JFK in the New York market, Alaska in Seattle also has a not-so-subtle grudge against Delta. But United competes with Delta for the New York market from its Newark hub. American has a large presence at LaGuardia, and in Boston. Neither publicly came out to compete for elites ready to try something new.
Hopefully, the walkback becomes a cautionary tale for the other carriers that the market won’t just absorb whatever you malicious changes are made. That gives us all somewhat of a ceiling in terms of how high the requirements will go and hopefully a bottom in how low programs will value the points they deliver. That’s good news for all of us after years of ever-increasing demands from the carriers and the ever-diminishing value of the programs for which we have been loyal.
What do you think? Are the other airlines showing their hands by both their action and inaction?