When Delta Changes Award Names, Sparks Fly

Earlier this week, Delta changed the terminology used to refer to its three categories of SkyMiles awards.

Replacing the old Low, Medium, and High designations, in place since Delta introduced its three-tiered award scheme in 2008, are Saver, Standard, and Peak.

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Such terminological wrangling is a yawner or historical footnote for most. And Delta took pains to assure SkyMiles members that there's nothing more to the move than a simple name change, appending the following to the announcement: "While some may speculate that this change is more than a wording change, we'd like to be very clear that this is only a modification to the way we describe Award levels. It is not a change to the levels themselves."

Notwithstanding Delta's soothing words, the change has stirred a deep current of suspicion among SkyMiles members, who have been vocal in their criticisms of the program's scarce award availability and kludgy award-booking app, among other complaints.

On Flyertalk alone, the change has already generated seven pages of posts, most expressing skepticism of Delta's stated motives.

One poster suggested that a more appropriate naming scheme for Delta awards would be Acceptable, Ridiculous, and Bend Over.

Another offered a more considered analysis of the difficulty Delta faces when making changes to its loyalty program:

"The problem is that DL has so burnt its loyalty base that every change, no matter how minor or innocuous, is seen through the lens of 'well, you've screwed us every other time, so there must be some hidden way you plan to screw us again this time.' If DL behaved in good faith and engaged with the community in a manner not consistent with corporate PR messaging and spin, then something as meaningless as this wouldn't provoke a multi-page thread riddled with vitriol."

Wherever the truth lies, the overall response to the announcement is clear: distrust and skepticism. One school of thought is that the change is simply sleazy marketing, a transparent attempt to recharacterize Medium awards, which are restricted but still more expensive than the Low awards that are often unavailable, as program members' baseline expectation. Others suggest that the name changes will reflect a change in award availability—a change for the worse, naturally, with even fewer award seats bookable at the Saver level.

What also comes through, by implication, is the emotional investment these mostly high-frequency (and therefore highly profitable) travelers retain even in a program they dislike.

As a former airline marketer myself, I can't help but imagine how powerful SkyMiles could be if Delta better aligned the program with its members' needs and wants.

Reader Reality Check

What's your take on Delta's award-name changes?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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