Delta's war on their customers has gone too far

When I started blogging over a year ago, I used to joke, "every blogger makes fun of how worthless Skymiles are, and every blogger has at least Platinum Medallion status with Delta."

After United's devaluation, I explained the essential Delta value proposition: miles that aren't worth much, but are among the absolute easiest to earn.

Then when Delta's award chart devaluations began in earnest, I still insisted that you needed a holistic approach in order to make rational decisions about which airline to fly.

With the announcement of the 2015 reimagining of the Skymiles program, I reiterated my intention to switch my mileage earning over to Alaska, while remaining "loyal to [Delta] as an airline."

I'm done defending Delta

In case you missed it, on Wednesday Alaska Airlines shared the next phase in Delta's plan to alienate any remaining loyal customers: Alaska Airlines elites, who until now have received a reciprocal checked bag fee waiver when flying on Delta, will now have to pay to check their first bag.

Whenever a Delta customer needs to check a bag, this puts them in the untenable position of deciding with whether to credit their flight to Delta and earn a piddling number of worthless Skymiles, or credit it to Alaska to earn valuable miles but pay extortionate checked bag fees.

Think your co-branded American Express card will save you? Think again. You may be able to bluff agents at the ticket counter for a few months after the changeover, but the terms and conditions of the checked bag fee waiver are crystal clear:

"Reservation must include the Basic Card Member's SkyMiles number."

So I surrender.

Some folks in Delta revenue management apparently truly believe they can run a profitable airline with revenue exclusively from:

  • hub captives;
  • extremely casual flyers (bargain hunters without Skymiles accounts);
  • and international codeshare connections.

Maybe they're right. But I'm not going to be part of their insane experiment anymore.

Why was this the last straw?

I spent last weekend in New York City and managed to painstakingly convince my mom that her best bet for her relatively frequent regional flights on Delta and Alaska in the Pacific Northwest, and occasional longer flights to visit her children, was to status match her Delta Silver Medallion status to Alaska MVP status. That way, she'd still get her free checked bag, could cancel her American Express Delta Gold card (now that it doesn't earn companion tickets), and earn valuable Alaska miles.

Then I got on a plane to Wisconsin, and when I landed Delta had gutted that benefit.

So yeah, it's personal.

One option for the brave and shameless

I'm going to be giving this a shot on my flight back to New England on Sunday, even though I'm not checking a bag. Based on what I've read, it's technologically possible for gate agents to change the frequent flyer account number on a reservation after checking in but before boarding a flight. That would theoretically allow you to check in with your Skymiles account number and receive a free bag, then switch to you Alaska account for actual earning.

I have no idea whether this works in practice. And it's certainly not something I'm going to ask my mother to do every time she flies. But it's one possibility.

The American – US Airways merger makes my decision easier

My home airport has never had really great options besides Delta. The United flights route through Chicago and are operated by United, which makes two strikes against them. There are US Airways flights to Newark, which allows you to connect onward on United or US Airways, which is not much of an improvement. And of course US Airways treats their elite members notoriously badly, such that I never saw any advantage to pursuing 50,000 or 75,000 mile status with them.

Now that Delta has gutted their partnership with Alaska, it's time to rethink that calculus, with the help of the merger between American and US Airways, and reciprocal mileage earning between those airlines:

  • For Delta flights where I need to check bags, I'll book award tickets and keep my Skymiles account number on the reservation;
  • For Delta flights without checked bags, I'll credit my paid flights to Alaska;
  • For the time being for flights on US Airways metal, I'll credit my paid flights to American. Hopefully they'll align their relationship to Alaska soon and I'll be able to credit miles there;
  • For paid flights on American Airlines metal, I'll continue crediting my flights to Alaska.

It's a little more complicated than my current system, but I book enough paid tickets using my US Bank Flexpoints and Barclaycard Arrival miles that I have a fair chance of earning elite status on a couple airlines next year. That being the case, I need to be sure I'm booking and crediting my flights strategically to maximize the benefits of status.

Who will buy Alaska?

The question on everyone's mind is how long Alaska can operate as an independent airline, give the pressure in the industry for consolidation.

I don't have any special insight on whether or when Alaska will be sold to one of the remaining big three carriers, but I follow the subject with intense interest.

Fortunately, Alaska is currently operating at a profit, and it's a lot more expensive to buy a profitable airline than an unprofitable one!

Naturally, given the recent developments at Delta, my preference would be for Alaska to continue to develop their partnership with American, while remaining independent and continuing to operate their amazing loyalty program.