Delta has become the first major carrier to restructure its frequent-flyer program, going from a two-tier to a three-level approach that will require as many as 60,000 miles for a last-minute domestic coach seat. The changes will take effect in early September. Alaska Airlines announced a similar three-tier program the other week, to take effect in November, but no other big airline has yet made as major a change to its program. Delta's chief executive, Richard Anderson, defended the program before the NBTA this week, saying, "The price you're paying in points ought to bear some relationship to the value of the seat you're taking." Delta tends to fill about 8% of its seats with people redeeming points, he said.
But the reaction from frequent flyers was immediate, and it was anger and it was outrage.
Delta did bring back a feature called "Last Seat," which allows a frequent flyer to book any remaining seat on a plane, whether or not it is set aside for a member of SkyMiles, its mileage program. These need 60,000 miles for domestic coach travel, and 100,000 miles in first class. Delta first offered the feature in the early 1990s, but discontinued it in December.
Frequent flyer chatter rooms were filled with anger and outrage. Tim Winship of Smarter Travel said, "The fact remains: Delta is just giving back what SkyMiles members once routinely received, and what other airlines never withheld - access to the last available seat when booking rewards. And they're re-instating those seats at a higher price."
Delta had long offered frequent-flier tickets for domestic coach travel at either 25,000 or 50,000 miles, but under the new structure, travellers will need 25,000 or 40,000 or 60,000 miles, depending on when they book their ticket, and where they are travelling. Delta will continue to have a limited number of seats set aside for using 25,000 miles for a reward ticket. Using 40,000 miles gets the flyer a better chance of getting a seat, but no guarantee.