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Delta's Change to its Frequent Flyer Policy is the Latest Attack on the Budget Traveler

February 27, 2014 at 2:56 PM | by | ()

When we first heard the news that Delta would be changing its frequent flyer program to reduce the value of discount fares, we said aloud, "Do airlines ever make decisions with the good of the customer in mind?" From the other side of the room, someone said, "Yup... the high-paying ones!"

No truer words have ever been spoken. We've been very critical of airports who seem to forget about the budget traveler when they redevelop and add amenities, but this takes things to a whole new level. Delta's announcement is heard loud and clear: It doesn't want no stinkin', cheap-o travelers.

Here's the deal: Currently, the amount of flyer miles earned on Delta is based on the distance traveled, regardless of how much you paid for the ticket. So if you book in advance or take advantage of a deal offered by the airline, good for you -- you get the same number of miles as someone who, for whatever reason, paid a higher fare. But with this new change set to take place on January 1st, 2015, the miles you earn will be based on how much you pay for the ticket. So, in the scenario above, the person who paid more will get more miles. In other words, it rewards chumps "truly loyal" customers.

Now, Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin have had this policy in place for years, but the difference is that these airlines actually offer budget prices -- that is, they are always the cheapest tickets available and you're not exactly looking to build a relationship given the limited routes. Delta, on the other hand, is not a budget airline, and relies much more on the frequent flyer program to help build loyalty. Maybe we'll pay $25 more to fly on Delta because once we earn a free ticket, we'll have more options/routes to choose from when redeeming it than, say, Virgin, who has limited flight paths. Well, this move now removes that idea of paying a little more to get a little more down the road. It also highlights a very scary yet important trend in the travel industry: The deteriorating reputation of someone who hunts for a deal or plans ahead.

Somewhere along the line, the idea of a "budget traveler" has become associated with "cheap," as if a smart person would knowingly pay more when they could pay less. And the attack has been brutal and full force, the airlines pretending that it's someone else - not them - who are offering these "cheap" fares via third-parties. Is it our fault we take advantage of the deals the airline offers us? There seems to be this idea that budget travelers are magically creating the fares as part of some evil plot and then holding the airline at gun point. It's a tribute to the airlines' PR firms, but far from reality.

Is your "best" customer really the person who books last minute at a high fare? So someone who plans ahead and commits his or her business to you should be punished? One person buys an economy ticket three months out for $200 and another buys an economy ticket for $350 last minute... second economy ticket gets more miles. That's fair?

Well, so be it. Delta wants to reward customers who don't flinch at its fares and who book at the last-minute rates. And they don't want no stinkin' cheap-o travelers. We gotcha, Delta, loud and clear.

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