Delta Makes Weak Response to Other Airlines' Elite Offers

Over the past week, there has been a flurry of double elite-qualifying mile (EQM) bonuses.

American got things started, offering double EQMs for all qualifying flights through June 15. Within days, United and Continental had launched counter-offers. And it seemed only a matter of time before Delta and Northwest (currently operating as a Delta subsidiary) would succumb to the competitive pressure and do likewise.

So when I saw the headline from yesterday's news release—"Delta Offers Triple Miles Toward Medallion Status For Worldwide Travel"—my first thought was that Delta was taking advantage of its late start to trump the other airlines' offers. Where the existing promotions offered double EQMs ("American Airlines Offers Double Elite-Status Qualifying Miles"), Delta appeared to be offering triple EQMs instead.

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But no, on reading through the terms carefully, it turns out that Delta's promotion is not more generous than the other airlines'—it's less. Here's the offer:

Members worldwide may purchase First, Business and premium Economy fares and earn triple the miles flown toward elite status, while members who purchase discounted Economy fares will earn double the miles flown toward elite status. Members purchasing deeply discounted Economy fares will continue to earn the actual miles flown toward elite status.

First, business, and full-coach fares normally earn 150 percent of the miles actually flown toward elite status. So Delta is tripling the EQMs only relative to the actually flown miles. Relative to the EQMs that a flyer would normally earn for more expensive tickets, they're earning double EQMs.

For mid-priced coach fares, which normally earn 100 percent of the actual flown miles toward elite, Delta is also doubling the EQMs.

Where this promotion really disappoints is in the third category of fares, which earn no bonus whatsoever. What Delta calls "deeply discounted" coach fares are defined in the terms and conditions as L, T, and U fares. While this may be unintelligible alphabet soup to many consumers, these are exactly the advance-purchase leisure fares that the great majority of air travelers book and use.

What Delta has done is match its competitors on high-priced tickets, but not on cheaper tickets.

That may be a solid business decision. Certainly Delta's bean-counters will approve of the offer's focus on the very small but highly lucrative top end of the market.

But let's be clear: L, T, and U fares are what Delta's customers purchase most often, so this offer is very limited in its applicability.

And the triple mile claim, while technically correct, is misleading—especially given the context, with other airlines portraying similar offers as double EQMs.

Bottom line: Compared to other airlines, Delta has done less, and claimed more.

I've saluted Delta recently for their transparency and generosity. This is an unfortunate step in the opposite direction.

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