The Two Faces of Delta

Delta was in the news twice this week. And the two stories would seem to be of two very different companies.

Good News for Some

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First, Delta announced that it would return $1 billion to investors by paying shareholders a dividend and buying back its own stock. The airline hasn't paid a dividend in a decade, and will be the only full-service airline to do so when it begins the 6-cents-a-share payouts on September 10

Nice, if you own Delta stock, which has increased in value 57 percent so far this year.

Bad News for Others

For members of Delta's SkyMiles loyalty program, the news was decidedly less cheering.

For the second consecutive year, Delta was ranked last among U.S. airlines in the IdeaWorks study of award availability, released today. The report found Delta frequent-flyer award seats available in only 36.4 percent of its attempted test bookings.

Two Faces, One Conundrum

If you're an idealist, who would like to believe that companies do well by doing good, the two stories are a conundrum. How can Delta's outsized profitability be reconciled with its shabby treatment of its best customers? In an ideal world, shouldn't there be a financial penalty for underserving loyal consumers?

I can suggest only a partial resolution to the paradox: If Delta treated SkyMiles members better, its share price would be even higher, and those dividend payments would be even bigger.

Reader Reality Check

How do you account for Delta's financial success even as it squeezes its most loyal customers?

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