Five million miles on Delta and all I got was this lousy luggage tag

20151119_084052-Delta 5 MM luggage tag

For forty-five years I have been loyal to Delta, and I assumed it was more or less reciprocated.  I was stupid to think they’d uphold their end of the bargain.  It’s clear now that Delta never saw it as a promise, as their new policies (see here and here) for 2016 make clear.

But I digress.  The quo I expected for my quid was that Delta would continue the few perks that meant the most to me:

  • Complimentary upgrades to first class on domestic flights.
  • Complimentary access to their version of premium economy, which Delta first called Economy Comfort and has recently renamed Comfort+.
  • Complimentary premium economy upgrades for friends and family when on flying with me on the same record (up to eight travelers).
  • Complimentary checked luggage.
  • Early boarding after first class.
  • Club lounge privileges.

Used to be that I would routinely get upgraded to first, but in recent years, even as a Lifetime Platinum with five million miles, I get in the very back of the upgrade queue.  There are so many Diamonds that even they don’t routinely get an upgrade. Add in ever more stringent upgrade rules about which economy fares are eligible, and my chances narrow even more. Heck, my friend Bill McW here in Raleigh has amassed an astonishing seven million miles on Delta, and he never gets upgraded, either.  So that perk, while still technically on the books, has been watered down to nothing for me:

  • Complimentary upgrades to first class on domestic flights.

The free club privileges I used to enjoy are long gone.  As a Flying Colonel on Delta, I always had access to the exclusive Flying Colonel rooms before the Crown Room was invented. That free access continued for very frequent flyers until SkyClub replaced Crown Rooms at Delta and the Northwest WorldClub lounges.  Now even my Amex Platinum Card only allows one person in (me), so I cannot take friends or family into the club without paying:

  • Club lounge privileges.

For 2016 Delta has totally rejiggered its economy class fare structure by parsing it into three broad categories (see the comparison chart here):

  1. Basic Economy – the cheapest fare. Meant to compete with LCCs like Southwest.  No frills except for elite flyers, and no upgrades even for them.
  2. Main Cabin – a range of economy fares like we’ve always been used to, but bumped up considerably in many markets. Can only “upgrade” (Delta’s new verb, replacing “access”) to Comfort+ after buying a ticket, and the actual time when the “upgrade” is made is vague.
  3. Comfort+ – Delta now sells its premium economy as an entirely different fare class and claims it’s an upgrade even though on domestic airplanes they have reduced the seat pitch from 4” more than the rest of the cabin to just 3” better than the back of the plane.

Testing fares in one market (RDU/BIL) for all three summer months of 2016, I was unable find any Main Cabin fares at delta.com for under $526 round trip, and Comfort+ was $707 every single day on all flights, a $181 premium over what is already a very high fare, especially up to nine months out.  For my family of four to fly Raleigh to Billings, it would now cost over $2800 in C+ whereas this past summer the total cost was a thousand dollars less than that for four people. Therefore my takeaway from the changes is that the parsing of the cabin both diminishes my ability to “upgrade” to Comfort+ and pushes up the average fare:

  • Complimentary access to their version of premium economy, which Delta first called Economy Comfort and has recently renamed Comfort+.

Oh, and I cannot “upgrade” my family to Comfort+ any more, either, eliminating another important perk:

  • Complimentary premium economy upgrades for friends and family when on flying with me on the same record (up to eight travelers).

I’m tired of being pushed again and again farther back on the plane. I am stripped now of every decent perk save early boarding and free checked bags.

I could tolerate coach when the seating was right behind first class, and I could get an aisle seat. That way I could be less cramped and get off the plane reasonably fast. Since, as I said, Platinums rarely get upgraded to first anymore. I learned to tolerate sitting in the back. But now they push me way back.

The way I see it, I flew over five million miles on Delta, and all I got was the stupid luggage tag.

Of course my complaints fall into the category of primal scream therapy because loyalty doesn’t matter.  You want to fly first?  Pay for it.  You want premium economy?  Pay for it.  As Joe Brancatelli reminds us, airlines care less and less about loyalty on a year-to-year basis now because they don’t have to cater to their most frequent flyers in a market where people are paying what they are asking and every seat is full on every flight.

And it’s sure obvious that they care almost nothing about lifetime loyalty now.  My disgruntlement with Delta, including the feeling of utter powerlessness that accompanies a lifetime of loyalty being unrewarded, is met with a shrug of indifference from the airline, not even a reply email.

Since there’s no way to fight back, I conclude that it’s all about airfare guerilla tactics now.  Just like what I did switching from Delta to Cathay to go to Asia (see previous post).  That cost Delta $10,000 in fares on one itinerary.  More importantly, it gave me peace of mind, and I am now actually looking forward to the trip on Cathay to experience their Premium Economy cabin, which by all accounts is far superior to Delta’s.

It’s all about attitude adjustment.  Better to pay for a service you want on the schedule you want than to keeping chasing ephemeral perks and ever-devalued frequent flyer miles (an entirely different topic).

Gotta wonder, though, how Delta will respond when (not if) the air travel market collapses again, as it inevitably does periodically in the economic cycle.  Will they come offering a basket of goodies to lure back my business?  Probably.

But by then maybe I will have found satisfaction in independence.

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28 thoughts on “Five million miles on Delta and all I got was this lousy luggage tag

  1. Hi Will –

    Don’t forget to have your CX miles credited to either AA or (in my opinion) better still, AS. With AS you can credit flights on AA & DL as we ll as redeem miles on those carriers (and plenty of international carriers also). Also, AS is now flying out of RDU.

  2. Hi Will –

    Don’t forget to credit your CX flights to either AA or AS. I think you will find AS even better, as you can credit both AA and DL flights to their program, as well as earn and redeem with many international carriers. Also, AS is flying out of RDU now

  3. This post seems full of errors. I am a three million miler and lifetime platinum through my Centurion Amex card. I am a platinum anyway, the Amex thing just ensures it in low volume years.

    There is no way you only got the luggage tag at the five million mile mark. Delta always sends the Tiffany and Hartman gift catalog and I’m pretty sure the 5MM gifts are nicer than the 1, 2 and 3 million mile gifts. On top of that, you get the million miler stationary, which I can tell you from personal experience gets action from the top level brass at Delta. I have only written letters to them on my stationary, three times and all three times, I received a hand written note from the CEO of Delta and my problem or question was taken care of immediately.

    If you aren’t getting upgraded, it is because you are on a flight segment that has too many people with higher level status. I always get upgraded, even on free tickets and there are no issues getting bumped to premium economy if I am in steerage.

    I have such a different experience with Delta, it is hard for me to believe you are even writing about the same airline.

    And your story about losing 10,000 on the single itinerary is bullshit. A premium economy ticket to Asia does not cost 10,000. Not even close — I fly to Hong Kong every quarter and the most I have ever paid for a Delta One Business Class ticket to Hong Kong from Charlotte is $7,000.

    The facts in this post seem like some angry person, who knows just enough about the programs to imply they are a five million miler. I don’t believe it. There are too many inaccuracies.

    As for the Flying Colonel program going away, it makes no real difference. I was a Flying Colonel and the only benefit was free Crown Room access. Most people get in for free through their discretionary Medallion benefit or Amex card now anyway. The only benefit of Flying Colonel status was the mystery of how you got it. In my case, I wrote Ron Allen on Million Miler Stationary asking what the criteria was and he sent me a Flying Colonel kit.

    Enough. Delta is a good airline and has great customer service when compared to everyone else. I have a million miles on USAir, now American too and if I never fly them again, it will be too soon.

    1. I 101% agree with you, as i read this i was very confused, because delta does stress me out sometime, but they always make up for it and i have always gotten an upgrade with no issues on delta flights, even when i didn’t care for one and am not even a million miler, i only have 900000. So i would imagine that 5,000,000 miles would get you a whole new means of customer service lol.

    2. I am a 6 million miler on delta. No the gifts for 4, 5, and 6 million are no better than what you get at l, 2, or 3 million. I don’t see how you made lifetime platinum at 3 million. I made it at 4 million. My perks were much better as a platinum EP than they are at 6 million. Incidentally every one of miles were earned domestically.

      1. You guys are depressing me. And I thought my 34 years and 3.5 million meant something. It’s all about “what’ve you done for me lately”. I sit in coach most of the time while watching the 20 something’s who made diamond one time hop into there first class seat. Where were they in 2001 when no one wanted to fly? Many of us continued to float the industry when others chose not to. Where is the loyalty?

        Heck, I’d just enjoy being able to board when they call for the premium class and diamonds to board. That would cost them nothing.

        Instead, once again, I join grandma who bought her silver medallion status and try to find a place for my bag.

        I’ve even had flight attendants apologize for my seating and offer a free drink. Must have been from the Delta family rather than the mellenial new hires.

      2. You are right Todd. Constant changes and lifelong loyalty means far less than short term profit. I too, sit in coach a lot of the time, but that really depends on the route and time. If you are flying in and out of Atlanta to another hub city, forget it unless you are a Diamond or 360.

      3. That was a misstatement on my part. I wasn’t flying much back then and yet, every year I still had platinum status so I assumed it was my Million Miler status. That is not the case. It is my Amex card that keeps the platinum status, so I stand corrected. I am not trying to BS anyone. I’ve been flying Delta since 1988 and have been Platinum status longer than I can remember with a number of years as Diamond in between. Flying Colonel which you never see anymore….

  4. As a Delta Diamond flyer, I have been sorely disappointed about upgrades. There are only “upgrade requests” in advance of the flight, not confirmed upgrades lately, and generally the ones you do score are on the feeder routes and not on the transcon ones. I’ve been lucky at times, but as noted, there are so many Diamond flyers now that you’re in a big pool competing for upgrades. Delta staff thanks you profusely for your business/loyalty, but Delta corporate treats you like crap. (And I am so sick of seeing Richard Anderson introducing every safety video.) It’s time to switch to the other international carriers from now on, forget “loyalty,” and just go for comfort and services. When will I fly on Delta again? When I want a free ticket based on the miles I’ve accumulated.

    1. This is interesting. I’m only Platinum these days, but I am a multi – million miler and I get upgraded on almost every flight even coach tickets I book with points. You are right about the incredible number of diamond medallion members these days and it is difficult to be upgraded on segments where the flights are full of diamonds, but I’m not seeing the problems you all are seeing.

      1. Frank, me too. I am also “only” Platinum and I get upgraded almost all the time. I don’t see all these issues all the time. Nice to see another glass half-full rather than half-empty person reading this article.

      2. Barry and Frank, you are certainly doing something right and wish I knew what it is because my experience is totally different. I would prefer to be lauding Delta, not complaining. Especially after a lifetime of flying with them.

      3. I tend to agree. I have accrued 3.5M miles in 33 years of traveling. However, I have only been Diamond a few times (including a charter member). It is very clear that with Delta (it’s what have you done for me lately!?”

        There is no apparent appreciation for averaging over 100,000 miles every year for 33 years.

        While the newbie who happens to qualify just one year, is treated like the prodigal son.

        I’ve asked if MM could just be allow to board when the premium cabin boards, and they can even understand the question.

        One comment referred to the MM stationary. Really? How long has it been since we saw any of that?

        Business is business. I get it but there were a few of us thT carried the water for the airlines during the years, especially post 9/11, when most folks didn’t want to fly.

        Sorry Delta. You have shown your true colors. Not the ball is in my court.

      4. You are obviously “one of a kind” with delta. You say you have been flying since 1988 and have always been Platinum and occasionally Diamond in between. I have over 6 million domestic miles on delta and Platinum wasn’t even available till late 90s. It was Royal Medallion before then. Diamond has only been around since 2010. I too have been Delta’s highest elite since 1991 (Royal Medallion, Platinum, then to present Diamond). My privileges have deteriorated with each new tier. I have had flight attendants look at my record on their hand held device and ask me “what are you doing in coach being a Diamond 6 million miler?” I really don’t have a good reply.

      5. I’ve had exactly the same comment (only 3.5 million miles). They literally apologize for my Center seat in coach then offer free alcoholic beverages.

        Amazing. Everyone seem to get in except the bosses. Who continued to fly during the tough days. Who kept the afloat? It was t the 20 something person who happened to make diamond once, last year. Or maybe it was the guy who hacked our delta accounts. Guess you got your letter today?

      6. You split too many hairs. Obviously, I was not a platinum when it did not exist. But, the reason, you, me and all other high mileage individuals are in coach is because there are a ton of people with high level status now. Just look at how many multi-million diamond medallion tags are in the gate area. Once upon a time, being a million miler was a big deal. Not anymore. The big dogs now are 360 members. I do not think there is any distinction made once you cross the million mile mark. A one million mile credential carries the same weight as a 5 million mile credential as far as upgrades go. This is my last post on here, it is not worth getting into a debate. I still fly a lot, I still like Delta, and yes service is not what it used to be, but it is better than most.

  5. It’s fat city right now, but wait until another recession ravages the economy and all of the sudden fewer people fly. Then the loyalty thing will bite them in the butt. Stupid and short-sighted.

  6. Been flying Delta for 30 years, 2 millon miles, and have always enjoyed the service. But they are screwing the very people who spend the money year after year. Just saw 70,000 miles for sky lounge. I don’t think I left Delta DELTA left me

  7. I feel your pain. My daughter and I, both Platinum, have just decided to go first class on any and all flights. The “premium economy” seats are, are you ready,, next to the lavatory on most flights.

    Here’s an even better flight plan: On a three-leg flight with NO first class cabins, Delta is selling first class seats. Whoops. Forget what I said in first paragraph.

  8. They have a new program above diamond. The 360 program, whi h has incredible service. Yransfer between flights on the ramp in a porsche panamera….. need duamond status and more tgat $40,000 in spending. But it is nice.

  9. I hit 3MM status around 20 years ago. When Delta decided to charge for Flying Colonel status, I decided management had lost it and promptly took my ball and went home. This is not the airline C. E. Woolman built, but admittedly, it remains better than most in a troubled and difficult industry.

  10. Why do they owe you anything? You chose to fly with them for 45 years and now you’re posting this? There a business like all others, get over it……..PS I’m at 3.8 million with them now so you can’t BS me about Delta……….

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