Is Delta The Best Brand In The Airline Industry?

Though generally I think Ben and Tiffany are in the tank for American Airlines, even they begrudgingly acknowledge that Delta is doing a lot of things right. Delta may have an inferior frequent flyer program from a consumer perspective, but — as I’ve argued on this blog before — it’s a superior airline in nearly every other respect.

It’s hard to empirically argue this, but to me Delta has a certain style and sleekness that American and United lack. Ben makes fun of me day and night for that argument (“What do you need style for? Can style get you two tickets in Cathay Pacific first class?”), but I legitimately feel that Delta nails it with providing as stylish an experience as you can get on a domestic air carrier. I’ve finally gotten Ben to admit that SkyClubs are legit better than Admirals Clubs, United Clubs or Board Rooms.

Sure, it’s marketing. But it’s terrific marketing.

Delta-SkyClub-San-Francisco - 7

AdWeek, apparently, agrees. In this week’s issue, AdWeek bestowed the 2015 Brand Genius award in the travel category to Delta Air Lines, with the headline “A World That Hates Airlines Doesn’t Hate Delta,” specifically lauding the efforts of the airline’s marketing SVP, Tim Mapes.

Mapes’ efforts began with small but significant improvements in the onboard experience. Along with interior upgrades, Delta introduced new entertainment options like hit Hollywood movies and video games free of charge. Passengers traveling on short-haul runs started noticing their favorite local craft beers on the menu. In fact, all the food got better. Partnering with fresh-cuisine purveyor Luvo, Delta rolled out a new menu in economy class and also expanded its wine list.

Noticing the improved fare in coach, The Economist noted, “Delta is adopting a strategy that is different from the rest of the industry.”

Mapes sees Delta’s brand overhaul as the sum of its parts—a bunch of little things done right.

“It’s making the website faster, it’s making the service levels warmer, it’s becoming more innovative than people expect U.S. airlines to be,” he says. “Some of that is creative risk taking, some of that is pushing the boundaries of challenging the status quo, but ultimately it’s just committing fully to making things better.”

The irony, of course, is that most of the world hates airlines but likes Delta, yet the FlyerTalkers and those in the miles and points community who love airlines hate Delta. To be frank, it’s only the former that matters, at least as far as the bottom line goes – and having made a $4.5 billion profit last year, Delta’s efforts have been a huge success.

I’ve always admired Delta as a company and I do think their marketing efforts are appreciably superior to American’s and United’s. To me, the “little things” that Delta offers, which are pure marketing, create a halo effect around the brand as a whole. Of course, the fact that Delta can back up the little things with the big things like superior on-time performance and overall better service and food are what solidify a reputation.

You can call me biased, but I’m curious as to what you think. Miles and points aside, has Delta risen above the rest of the domestic pack? I think it has — frankly, I think it’s the sole legacy carrier that’s actually seen what people like about JetBlue and Virgin America and brought it to the mainstream — but I’m curious as to whether you agree.

Comments

  1. I think the dishonesty and constant upheaval regarding the ‘miles and points’ aspect of Delta really hurts the brand.

    Operationally, however, they are superior — and I think (as does Delta) that this trumps everything else.

  2. Completely agree. And if you’re a frequent business traveler, Delta’s revenue-based system combined with SPG crossover rewards is hard to beat. A $5,000 business class fare nets me 40,000 SkyMiles, and as SPG Gold, 5,000 SPG points as well.

  3. As just a consumer and not a FF I will say you’re right Nick.I believe it is better than any other airline in the US. I haven’t flown for a while but the last was on Delta coach and it was a very pleasant trip to OKC via MSP in and SLK out. We were on time for every leg and food, what I had of it, was good. I like American too but I think Delta as edged them a bit. Curious to see what the FF’s think

  4. “most of the world hates airlines but likes Delta”.

    Pmsl. Upon what grounds can that claim be made??? I would have though that only a delusional member of the DL Marketing team could claim such a thing.

  5. “Best Brand in the Airline Industry?” LOL No. More like “To casual travelers, it’s less terrible than United and American” in the same way that Cricket is better than Tracfone and Boost Mobile.

    The Sky Clubs are nice. Their terminals you walk through to get to them are insultingly crappy (JFK, SFO, ATL). And sure they’re profitable – their competitors are investing in new planes whereas Delta is perfectly content with its stylish ancient MD88s and hanging trash bags from the roof of their terminal to collect leaking water. (Or as Nick would call it ‘A stylish ceiling sculpture’)

  6. I think you have to be careful with context.

    Are you saying “it’s a superior airline” or are you saying “it’s not as bad as United”.

    I am on board with the second intepretation, the first one, meh

  7. Brandingwise, I doubt any airline can beat Virgin America, Atlantic, and Australia. You can’t call Delta’s 767 interiors sleek/stylish in comparison to any Virgin cabin.

  8. The best U.S. airline brands are Virgin America and Southwest, according to regular customers. Delta is probably third. Whenever I travel to the West Coast on Delta or American, all of the locals always ask “Why don’t you fly Virgin, it is so much better!”

  9. I completely agree, out of the big three airlines, (Delta, American and United) Delta has the best product. I have flown first class and economy as well as premium economy for all 3 of them and it just feels more professional and new and the food seems better quality and there was thought that went into it. JetBlue did have the best first class product as well as legroom for the price. I also believe Virgin America is doing a great job.

    When it comes to miles, yes they have been changing the game to revenue but only because it isn’t sustainable to rack up so many miles for no $ spent and expect the service to get better. I managed to use 12.5k miles to upgrade to first once and it was excellent. I know now that this isn’t the case but to me I’d rather have less elite flyers and get better upgrades than have everyone fly American Airlines and never get upgraded to the subpar service/quality.

    At the end of the day it depends on where you fly, I fly out of NY to the west coast a lot so my options are many. Some people don’t have a choice or are very limited. My airline loyalty isn’t what it used to be but I’d choose Delta/JetBlue/Virgin before American and United.

  10. It’s easy to forget Delta was the first of the current mega mergers. So first out the gate, they’ve had a big head start on stemming the tide of loses and turning the ship towards huge quarterly profits.

    They have made many great decisions during that time that are paying off, and they do things very well.

    United is ONE BIG MESS! … I say they have a year to turn things around.

    American, well lets be fair…the merger was only JUST completed this year. They are working quickly to catch up and then will surpass DL, with lots of new planes and other changes underway. AA has the potential to end up being the superior United States carrier….there are some things in the works that will set this blog on fire!. AA will surprise.

    Now as for their nasty flight attendants (AA,UA). Some of them are an absolute disgrace and should quit since they hate their job so much!

    This article is not a fair comparison, when Delta has had a huge head start.

  11. I have done a lot of domestic travel this year on every airline except Virgin (but I’ve flown Virgin quite a bit in the past). Have to say, of the legacy carriers, Delta wins. And here’s the thing: yeah, if you know what it’s like on [insert fancy non-US carrier here], Delta’s not so much. But if you’re Joe the Infrequent Flyer who has to go from one US city to another to visit Grandma twice a year, I think you’ll be happiest on Delta (unless you’re flying business and it’s LAX or SFO-JFK. Because then, you fly JetBlue Mint).

  12. I’ve now flown over 3.8 million actual miles on Delta and would agree that, compared to United and American, they’re the best large carrier in the U. S.

    Richard Anderson is a very good manager and did an outstanding job of merging NW and DL.

    Reality is that any service improvement is generally related to revenue. Improve food in economy on domestic flights, of course, because you pay extra for it. Service domestically is pretty good. Food and service internationally, I fly to China every month, the food is garbage in economy and the service indifferent at best.

    Delta also talks out of both sides of their mouth. They hate, hate, hate the gulf carriers because they’re “subsidized”. But they like China Eastern enough to buy $450 million of their stock, even though it’s the most heavily subsidized airline in China.

    I won’t even begin to discuss my feelings about them turning Sky Miles into Sky Pesos. Alaska is giving them a hell of a fight here in Seattle. Maybe time for a status match?

  13. No doubt of the majors United is the worst and Delta is the best. AA has me hopeful. But the reason I don’t often fly Delta? Sky team. It sucks and it sicks badly. No thanks I don’t want to fly Aeroflot. I don’t want a first class ticket on Aerolinease Argentinas so I can send a fax, or sip Duc de Paris while I enjoy the odor of Flight Attendant flatus in first class cabin on China Southern. I certainly have no interested in even boarding flight run by China Airlines who have one of the worst safety records of any commercial airlines flying, ranking 59 of 60 behind Malaysian and Garuda (the later another Sky team member).

    A lousier collection of airlines has never been assembled.

    United is a horrible airline on all fronts from bad food to inept maintenance and hostel staff, but give me Star Alliance or One World over Sky Team any day. Delta is just the least offensive of the legacy carriers, I’ll give you that, but that’s hardly high praise.

  14. Delta is a fantastic airline if you’re a business traveler paying cash for tickets.

    I live abroad. Travel to the US frequently. It is a depressing situation paying full freight for domestic biz or F, and flying on AA or UA. Service is inconsistent and often horrible, and you end up sitting next to folks who make you feel like a total moron for actually buying the seat. And neither AA nor UA seem to care you pay for the seat.

    I understand the discord on these blogs against Deltas mileage program. But the price to those programs is apparent if you’re a cash traveler flying UA or AA. If you’re expecting the best rebate and are a mileage gamer, Delta is not for you. If you’re a cash passenger and more concerned with consistency, and are willing to forgo the concept of rebates, Delta wins in a landslide.

  15. One minute ago:

    * Reads post title *
    * Skips to comment section*

    I predict that this post was written by Nick.

    *Reads byline*

    Yep.

  16. In all seriousness, it probably wouldn’t hurt for you to at least qualify the title with “best brand of the domestic airlines”.

    Furthermore, the sort of award that Adweek gives out here rarely rewards the consistent high-level performers. You don’t get reads/clicks that way.

  17. Shouldn’t the title be something similar to “Is Delta The Best Brand In The US-Based Airline Industry?” In any case, given the candidates, it really isn’t much of an award.

  18. “…most of the world hates airlines but likes Delta”. ”

    That’s an amazingly bold statement to which I’ll respond with one of my own: most of the World has never flown Delta!

  19. Nick, what is this all about???

    Who is third from bottom?

    Or best among the worse?

    Sigh.

    Lets have a review of CI n GA n MU pls, mr skyteam.

  20. Delta’s love to complain about the EK QR ETC. I need to head back to Dallas from Bangkok in early Nov (dates flex) Delta is 7-9K in J RT and EK is $4800. I really want to fly DL but come on.

  21. I agree with the “not as bad as UA/AA” interpretation. I’ve flown DL several times this year, and many more on AA. The most striking thing I notice is DL pilot always comes out to thank the passengers deplaning. Other than that, not a whole lot of difference. But to say it’s better than reputable Asian carriers? I don’t think so.

  22. The fact that the blogosphere can’t even respect Delta’s #1 position in the domestic pecking order shows just how out of touch they are with Corporate America. You know, the frequent fliers that actually spend money on high-yield fares and not play credit card-churning, manufactured spending, and mileage running games all day. Delta pretty much has a strangle on the Fortune 500, for good reason.

    Yes, United and American fliers can keep bragging about flying their mediocre product 10 times a year so they can get the miles for that one amazing mileage redemption on a foreign carrier. But Delta fliers will have a better product 10 out of those 10 times.

    Why is it that bloggers and miles-lovers chasing aspiration travel have to be so toxic to the fact that Delta is successful? The most you can get out of them is begrudging acknowledgement of “operational” superiority. Get your glasses checked, people. Your thirst for miles is clouding your judgment.

    No one is denying Delta is not without its cons. Skyteam hilariously blows outside of Delta’s joint-venture partners. SkyPesos tremendously suck.

    But you don’t see people complaining about how JetBlue is a bad airline even though it has a FFP even worse than Delta. It’s a complete double standard.

  23. I am not a frequent flyer – but fly Delta almost exclusively when I do fly. Not because I think it’s the greatest airline in the world – but because it almost always offers me the most convenient routes from “here” – my home airport (JAX) – where we have pretty much zero in terms of non-stop service to anywhere – to “there” – through a hub I like (ATL).

    Note that I like to stay on one airline during a 2/3 leg trip – even though I realize that some non-US carriers might be better than US ones. To avoid possible problems with lost baggage – flight delays and the like. Also – the biggest competitor to Delta when you’re talking about JAX – in terms of the flights I usually take – is United. Guess American would be a contender if I didn’t mind hubbing through MIA or some other airports. But I do.

    When/where Delta is good – it is very very good. Flights are almost never delayed. Last time one of our DL flights was delayed (flight from ATL to LHR) – it was only for a short period of time and was the result of an intense thunderstorm with lots of lightning at the airport. Understandable delay. Last time I was on a UA flight – the final segment of a grueling trip home from Singapore – out of ORD – it was delayed for 3+ hours as a result of an air traffic control mess. Probably not UA’s fault – but I would hate to hub through ORD on a regular basis if this is typical.

    We almost always get nice equipment when we fly DL. Although there are exceptions (a recent flight from LAX to ATL was on an older plane with a VOD system that was outdated). But those horrible teeny tiny 2-1 Embraers are still the norm on most UA flights out of JAX. So it’s hard to complain about DL (which has “real” planes in JAX – sometimes even the newest zippiest planes).

    I have flown on a fair number of long haul flights with flat bed seats. Almost all on Delta. Lots of different kinds of planes with lots of different configurations/kinds of seats. All were fine – although some were better than others. I’ve flown on a couple of United flights with flat bed seats. Those flat bed seats were better than Delta’s. But they were in the first class cabin of a 3 class plane. So I can’t make a direct comparison.

    Even the food (which is not a big consideration for me) can be surprisingly good on Delta these days. Linton Hopkins – a well known chef in Atlanta – is working with Delta now – and we had an excellent meal on our recent flight from ATL to LAX

    ATL – Delta’s biggest hub – can be a “tale of 2 cities”. Terminal A – the main domestic terminal where we often wind up – is kind of a zoo. But the new international terminal is great. About as nice a terminal as I’ve seen. Same observation applies to the Sky Clubs in ATL. The ones in Terminal A are no great shakes. The one in the international terminal is excellent. Our Sky Club in JAX – the only lounge at JAX – is fine. Won’t blow you away – but it is adequate and usually not crowded (like the rest of the airport). I have not been impressed with the UA Clubs overall (limited experience). The International First Class lounge in ORD is nice – nothing more. Nothing like the small number of First Class lounges I’ve been in (like the ANA FC lounge at NRT or the Virgin Atlantic FC lounge at LHR).

    I fly using both reward and paid tickets these days. Delta’s FF program is obviously not the greatest. But I’ve been able to buy business class tickets to Europe at pretty good prices the last couple of years. Less than $2500/ticket. Which makes more sense than paying 200k+ miles for the same ticket. The Sky Priority benefits we get with these tickets – like separate shorter security lines – take a bit of the hassle out of what are often not fun experiences these days.

    In terms of reward programs – the only other one I’ve used a fair amount other than Delta’s is United’s. It is no great shakes either. The best routings at the best hours are either 100% unavailable or available only for ridiculous numbers of miles. The older I get – the less willing I am to be inconvenienced just to get a “free” ticket. Indeed – I am less willing to be inconvenienced by anything. Like flying on Southwest – and not having the benefit of assigned seats.

    Overall – I think Delta is the best airline for me. But – if I lived elsewhere – decent chance it wouldn’t be.

  24. I’ve had many flights on Delta where I wasn’t able to get a boarding pass online that had a seat number. Each time I had to wait for the gate agent to show to get assigned a seat. This has happened time and time again. And if there’s a connection, I would have to get a boarding pass for the 2nd leg too at the connecting airport. I can’t tell you how lame this is. Operational superiority? Southwest blows these clowns away.

  25. Mark – Are these domestic or international trips? I’ve never had that problem on Delta when it comes to domestic trips. And just about 100% of our boarding passes are coming through TSA-PRE these days – without us having to do anything. Which is nice. Then again – we don’t fly that often – and perhaps we have just been lucky in recent years.

    Of course – on international trips – we always have to check in at JAX before we leave – show our passports/etc. – before we can get boarding passes. Perhaps you don’t have to do this at other airports – but we always have to do it at JAX – regardless of the airline we’re flying.

  26. American is giving away so many elite memberships that those of u trying to get elite status are fooling yourselves if u think you’ll get frequent upgrades. Maybe 1 out of 15 if you’re lucky.

  27. @SPC
    “I think the dishonesty and constant upheaval regarding the ‘miles and points’ aspect of Delta really hurts the brand.”

    I think you hit it on the head… A wise marketing mentor once told me that in business it was always best to seek out “reliable, consistent dependable business partners who value you and and will step up when they need to”. And, that’s why Delta always fails for me. They stink during irregular operations and I’ve spent too many nights camped out on the floors at DTW and ATL.

    It’s not how they behave on a nice sunny day in SLC when everything is going smoothly, it’s how they treat you after a thunderstorm in Atlanta– when even the Golds and Silvers get lousy re-booking, terrible customer service (“Here, have a red card. Call an 800#”), horrific seat selections. I had four trips last year where Delta didn’t even get me to the destination on the correct.

    So, yeah, the upheaval in the Points, Skymiles, upgrades, Comfort-Select-Plus-whatever.
    The rules are always changing, you can’t count on them to fulfill their end… and yeah, all those miles are like a melting ice cube.

    Once you get onboard, yeah, the service is fine. Everything else is a swirling mass of failed promised and diminished expectations. The race to the bottom always begins in Atlanta.

  28. You’re kidding, right? Have you looked at Dallas tonight? EXP phone wait times are 45 mins+. If you think Delta can’t handle IRROPS well you better have a good hard look around town.

  29. Until 2014, Delta was my preferred overseas traveler and I was able to apply miles flown to my Alaska mileage plan on a miles flown basis. I fly a lot on the west coast and Alaska has direct routes and I was able to apply miles flown on Delta to meet criteria for higher status on Alaska and have miles to redeem on partner airlines, including Delta. Delta did not often offer good overseas redemptions but other Alaska partners did. Because I had flown many overseas trips on Delta and had MVP Gold status on Alaska as the result, I was able to board early, had extra free luggage, and was able to purchase discounted economy comfort seats when I booked flights on Delta.

    I flew two overseas flights on Delta after March of 2014 and some of the benefits were cut for flights purchased under the previous plan, like priority boarding. When I discovered I was going to have to pay $100 for a second bag on a flight to Ireland, I decided to look elsewhere.

    Delta does many things well. However, I don’t fly Delta out of Seattle now because I am generally able to fly Alaska most of the time in the U.S. to where I want to go. I can fly British Air or American to Europe, Qantas to Australia, and Cathay Pacific, Korean, or Hainan Air to Asia. I recently bought an American business class ticket to Dublin from Seattle with a connection at ORD so I can avoid the transfer to Dublin in Heathrow and hopefully get preclearance on the way back in Dublin to avoid customs and immigration lines. Am hoping American provides a good alternative to British Air.

    I probably will try Iceland Air at some point for a Europe trip which includes a stopover in Copenhagen and flight from there on another carrier.

    One thing Delta doesn’t do well is use planes that have a standard seat configuration. They change planes and seats selected sometimes disappeared or were switched.

    I don’t fly United due to Alaska and Southwest offering better flight experiences.

    I get the sense that Delta isn’t interested in doing much for someone like myself to make them feel like a valued customer. I see their commercials on local TV in Seattle trying to promote their routes from SeaTac and promoting Delta as the airline of the Seahawks. Frankly, I wish Paul Allen would get a team plane or find a way to use Alaska.

    So the cheapness of Delta and the focus on the bottom line with ordinary customer service for all but the high paying customers tarnishes the brand. I have flown business class once on a flight to and from Amsterdam from Seattle courtesy of a frequent flyer redemption I found almost a full year in advance. It was good (Airbus A330). On the other hand, bulkhead row premium economy seats on overseas flights on the same plane were quite nice. I’d consider Delta again if they and Alaska allowed mile for mile accumulation on Delta flights. My guess is that the Delta elite flyers are getting comparable cuts in benefits on Alaska.

  30. If I understand this article correctly, Nick is saying that Delta offers the best steerage class. I don’t believe that they operate first class, nor even allow Sky Pesos to be used to purchase a first class seat on a partner airline. I have lifetime Delta miles of 3.5 mil +, but do considerable International travel, where even in steerage Delta is second rate at best. Since they offer no F, they are not even an option.

  31. Ken – I am pretty sure you’re right about Delta classes of service. No 3 class planes with a real first class that I’ve ever seen – even on long haul flights to Asia. Just various flavors of economy and business class. And – although I’m not familiar with all the Delta partners – I know you can’t redeem points for real first class on some – like Korean airlines – just business class. Still – the “hard product” on Delta business class can be pretty nice. I’ve especially enjoyed the upper deck on 747s on a few trips.

    Also – although I’m not an “elite flyer” – far from it – Delta has done some things recently that I thought were very nice. My elderly father was diagnosed with cancer before a recent trip. I thought I might have to cancel/change the trip. And Delta graciously agreed to waive the cancellation/change fees I would otherwise have to pay if I had to change/cancel (as long as I sent a doctor’s note).

    Guess I am not a very fussy traveler. And am usually happy when I get from “here” to “there” reasonably on time in reasonably comfortable seats. I would probably be fussier if I was spending half my life in airports/airplanes. Also – I have never really gotten comfortable with UA. I am an old Continental customer – and some of the things I liked about Continental seem to have gotten lost after the merger.

  32. I’d have to agree Delta is the best among the US network carriers. But, to quote the eminent philosopher Jeremy Clarkson, that’s like saying “I have syphllis, the BEST of the sexually transmitted diseases…”

    Okay, maybe Delta isn’t that bad. But I’d still choose JetBlue or Virgin America over them anytime. (I despise Southwest.). But in an operationa or in-flight service basis, Delta has it all over UA or AA.

  33. @Mark

    That “IOU A Seat Assignment” Bovine Excrement from Delta is one of about a dozen things that Delta does in the ordinary course of business that are a total turn-off for me. The insidious thing on “Seat IOU” is that they ARTIFICIALLY ‘grey out’ big swaths of the Seat Map for certain ‘fare classes’ of tickets and customer status (non-elites and Silvers, trying to fly on tickets they booked through Hipmunk and Orbitz and Travelocity, are big targets of this behavior by Delta) when you book and when you check in.

    Delta will show you a completely greyed-out Coach cabin, but with lots of those tasty “Comfort-Select-Plus-Turbo” seats up in the front of the cabin for $39 or $59. You think, “Wow, the load’s high, I better buy up to the seat assignment”… which is exactly the behavior Delta wants. You ever do that, board the 757, then notice as the door closes that there’s at least 40 open seats back in Coach? Yeah, that’s the scam part. Once Delta gets to 50% or 60% load, they will ‘conceal’ the seat map from you and taunt you into buying “up” to the still-seat-pitch-restricted ‘nicer’ seats. Then, you board and find a LOT of open seats. That’s the misery of Delta– every chance they get they will mis-lead you on seats, on the value of the miles, on rebooking, on standby placement, on award availability… everything. Delta is to airline operational transparency what VW is to ‘accurate emissions self-compliance’.

    At minimum, it’s unethical and misleading. I actually believe they crossed the line of legality, since if you refuse their kind offer to pay $59 for a seat assignment, you ACTUALLY AREN’T even confirmed on that flight anymore– that “IOU A Seat” voucher thing simply reflects your position on a StandBy List… and a Standby List you can easily be bumped off by the guy with the right credit card or higher status. And, if you lose out in that Face-Off, well you fall to the very bottom of the “rebooking” list. The instruction to the agents is actually to push the “non Delta-site booked customers” to the very bottom of all the standby lists, if you are not an Elite. So, on that thunderstorm-y day in Atlanta, you really-really do not want that “IOU a Seat” voucher in your hand.

    Of course, the expense account guys who don’t care about fares and the Diamond-Elite Credit Card guys never see this behavior from Delta– the poor schmucks like me buying our own tickets across the country several times a month, well we do and it’s why a lot of us HATE Delta so much. During IRROPS, non-Elites (and more so these days, even Silvers and Golds, as Delta’s wed to the credit cards and only rewarding their Diamonds and better) just get clobbered by these “operating rules” Delta uses to punish somebody who actually comparison shopped on a website other than Delta.com.

    There literally is a list of about 12 strange oddities about Delta’s operating rules, like this “IOU a Seat” thing, that are really, really miserable for anybody with less than Diamond.

    By the way, one other strange side-effect of this “conceal the seat map” scam by Delta is that it’s virtually impossible for families traveling together to get seats together– so “Dad and Mom” do the only thing they can, which is to buy seat assignments in the front of the cabin together. And, that’s why even with 800K life miles on Delta, and “Gold” Elite level, I’m forever finding myself seated next to kids up in the front of the cabin.

    I’ve flown close to 3M on United and US/AA and NEVER have the “kids sitting upfront, crying across the continent” problem. AA knows that MCE is code for “our elites that didn’t get upgraded”. On Delta, the families ALWAYS get forced to the front, because Delta make it hard to get seats together.for families traveling as one party in the back. Which is doubly weird with the free booze up there now.

    You guys go on and on about how wonderful Delta is operationally, but somehow don’t notice all this stuff Delta does that is bad for business travelers? Even Ben, the original Credit Czard guy, makes his feelings about Delta known– and for good reason– Delta’s addicted to the “card” part of the business to the level that they forget to take care of the people that actually FLY 35K or 55K or 75K miles a year.
    In that middle range, I’m convinced (and I have the data to prove it, now) that US/AA and even UA will take better care of you.

    And, if you travel with kids, well Delta DEFINITELY isn’t for you.

  34. @keith
    “You’re kidding, right? Have you looked at Dallas tonight? EXP phone wait times are 45 mins+. If you think Delta can’t handle IRROPS well you better have a good hard look around town.”

    Sure, but as Platinum on AA I’ve never had the “automated callback” take more than 4 minutes (even if the voice attendant is quoting 45 or 50 minutes for mere mortals waiting in line) to ring me back with a person on the other end and at least 5 options to get me moving again… “CLT, PHL, PHX, DFX, LAX…”

    I’ll take that short wait ANY day over the ridiculous Delta Red Card thing and the kiosk that spits out a slip that says it did you a favor by booking a flight 17 hours from now, with no hotel and no meal (Delta doesn’t DO that anymore– even in case of mechanicals). I’m sure they take care of the Diamonds, but everybody else takes potluck, since DL clearly discriminates heavily on fare class. A Silver or worse, with an Orbitz-booked ticket on a thunderstorm day? There is nothing more miserable for somebody trying to get to events-job_assignments-loved_ones on the other coast.

    I actually ran that test last year on UA, DL and AA. At the 40K and 65K ACTUAL FLOWN MILES levels on each carrier last year (No Credit Card sweeteners!) and there is simply no comparison (at least at the lower fare classes) in how you get treated on an IRROPS day. Delta’s treatment of Silvers and Golds is appalling. DL basically institutionalizes misery during IRROPS, for non-top-Elites.

  35. @keith
    “The fact that the blogosphere can’t even respect Delta’s #1 position in the domestic pecking order shows just how out of touch they are with Corporate America. You know, the frequent fliers that actually spend money on high-yield fares and not play credit card-churning, manufactured spending, and mileage running games all day. Delta pretty much has a strangle on the Fortune 500, for good reason.”

    You can’t be serious on this one, can you? Delta went “all in” the credit card thing with AMEX and it adversely colors everything they do. The reason the miles are called SkyPesos is that they give you “50,000 miles” for simply running your fingertips across the AMEX…. It totally devalues the miles currency for those of us that actually FLY.

    Here’s an example: As a “Gold” on Delta I’m usually pretty high up on the upgrade list (Although Anderson’s soon going to take that away too…). I was “Number 1” on the Upgrade List at Gate 53 in LAX the other day… Yet, SOMEHOW, 37 people boarded as “Sky Priority” BEFORE me, (Group One, which on Delta is basically the 5th or 6th group to board. Go figure.) after First Class (Delta One, whatever, another goofy Delta fantasy). So, I ask the Gate Agent, how there are so many “SKY PRIORITY” with a higher status? He, like any good Delta employee, lied through his teeth and said “Oh, those are all the Diamond Elites…”. Which begs the question of how I can be #1, top of this list, if there are actually 37 “Diamonds” who would have all been AHEAD of me on the Upgrade List.

    Like most stuff that Delta says, it’s all puffery– the reality is that those 37 people are all bumped up to Elite Status with Credit card bonuses and CC spend and $$ thrown at seat upgrades .

    The reason I’ll take AA (and even UA) over DL any day of the week is that the people that board first over there are the ones that actually fly a lot– the business customers that are their bread-and-butter.
    And, who appreciate the gratis extra leg room and chance to stow their overhead bags.

    With Delta, it’s always about the credit cards and the way they’ve devalued status and achievement attained by actually FLYING on the airline. That’s why they are called SkyPesos.

  36. Tachyon – I have some questions. First – is it really cheaper to buy Delta (or any other airline) tickets on a third party website? When those first came out – became popular – I did some comparison shopping on them for flights and hotels. And honestly didn’t find any bargains (or often any savings at all). So I stopped looking – a long time ago. FWIW – although I haven’t read any articles about airlines treating people who book on third party websites worse than people who book directly on the airlines’ websites – I have read a few recent articles about how people booking hotels on third party websites can get screwed (although it seems to be legal – it’s in the fine print). Guess if one was saving a lot of money – it might make sense. For a few dollars at best? Probably not.

    BTW – can’t anyone go to an airlines’ website – and see what seats are available on which flights? Can people have cookies on their computers that affect what they see?

    Also – aren’t there regulations/laws that require carriers to put you up in a hotel/give you a meal if you’re stranded? I have – knock wood – only been stranded overnight once. In Houston (airline’s fault). The airline (old Continental/new United – can’t remember) put us up in a motel and gave us a food voucher. The motel was dirty and full of roaches – and the $9.99 meal voucher bought us a crummy meal at the motel restaurant (where every meal cost $9.99). Wasn’t much of a “perk” IMO (I would have stayed in a different place but Houston airport was sold out that night). I would much prefer not being stranded (don’t think I’m unique).

    When it comes to who’s in front of the plane (where my husband and I usually fly these days) – my observations are totally different than yours. I haven’t seen a kid in recent decades (maybe never – can’t remember back that far). There are sometimes a couple of people (might be us) who bought tickets with (tons of) miles/points. Others (who also might be us) who bought front of the plane tickets (sometimes during good sales). Often a Delta exec/employee (usually a pilot) or 2. The occasional DYKWIA (I don’t) person who might be paying “full freight”. And then the rest are business people (mostly men) who look like they’re traveling on business. Based on conversations with some (in the lounges – on the planes) – a lot are Delta Diamonds. And these people travel a ton. Nothing like 35k miles/year. More like 350k or more. These are people who work all over the world in all different kinds of jobs. They can be executives who travel to places like Japan once a month or more. Or even blue collar workers (I once met a guy who specializes in worldwide marine salvage operations – he had logged millions of miles). I don’t know whether all of these Delta Diamonds are flying on upgrades – but I suspect a fair number are. I don’t know how easy it is to get “elite” status in general just by using credit cards. But I suspect it would be super hard/impossible to get Diamond Elite status this way.

    From the POV of someone who does use credit cards and other “gimmicks” to rack up points/miles – the game is much harder now than it used to be. At least on Delta. Because of things like limitations on “churning” cards and the increased number of points needed to redeem rewards. My last reward was 2 RT first class JAX/LAX tickets. Exactly when I wanted to go on the route I wanted. They cost 100k miles each. I think perhaps your greatest competition for the upgrades you want isn’t from people like me. It’s from other Delta frequent flyers who have more status than you do.

    Finally – the airline industry is “new and improved” these days. At least for investors (Delta hit an all time high on Friday). Many carriers have actually figured out how to make money. And one way to make it is by getting revenue paying passengers into seats (the more revenue the better). Which is easier to do now 7 years after the financial crisis than it was back then. It was much easier getting “free” and “cheap” tickets during the financial crisis and for a few years after. So maybe what we need now is another recession (sarcastic suggestion)?

  37. @PVBGirl

    Thanks for the note. And, all fair (fare) questions.

    I’ve got time this AM, so will try to touch on my perceptions of each. Like I say, in 2014 I did one of the dumbest things ever and tried to “balance” my trips on each of the Big Three, buying (not Awards) tickets to try to stay at roughly the same status levels on them as I went. I SHOULD have just gone all-in on AA, done 160K revenue miles and become UberPlatinum, but I didn’t. I live in Hawaii, work in DC and have family I see often in SoCal. I’ve been back and forth pretty much weekly, with business trips to FL, TX, midwest, you name it.

    So…
    1) Is it really cheaper to buy on Delta on 3rd party sites? Unclear, but it’s clear that Delta only wants you to SHOP Delta prices where Delta wants you to see them. I absolutely ADORE Hipmunk and will always comparison shop on a site like Hipmunk. And, yes, traditionally Hipmunk would display a lower fare on Delta, then send me to Delta.com to book. KAYAK did the same thing.
    HOWEVER, at some point Delta declared holy war on the ‘comparison shopping’ sites and sought legal action to shut them down. (Why a third party can’t be allowed to display prices that Delta actively promotes on the web is beyond me…. would be like a bakery telling me I can’t tell you I saw a great price on a croissant displayed in their front window. Is crazy, but Delta management is crazy sometimes.). That is why Delta flights no longer appear in Hipmunk or KAYAK or the other “fare comparison” sites.

    I actually am THRILLED that Delta no longer appears on my Hipmunk results… only if the UA, AA, Frontier or SWA fare seems pretty high do I even bother going to the Delta site anymore. It’s a win-win!

    1)a) Then, if you buy off a site like Orbitz (which still shows DL results and will SELL you a seat, apparently because they are still a “travel agent” rather than just a shopping site) will Delta actually discriminate against you? OH. ABSOLUTELY. One day back in the spring, I was stuck in PCH traffic, taking 3 hours to get to LAX, and had time… so I start to call Delta’s call center relentlessly to try to figure out WHY I could only get a “Seat IOU” for a monstrously expensive LAX_IAD ticket I’d bought.
    I must have called 20 times and every single time I called to complain about a $700 one-way ticket to Dulles not actually giving me a seat assignment… they always said the same thing: “If you buy from Delta.com you’ll find that it’s easier to get seat assignments. I see that you bought your ticket on Orbitz…”

    1)b) All those calls to Delta also gleaned a lot of other operational weirdness– when I pressed about “how oversold is the flight?” They always contended that there were “Lots” of seats– I just couldn’t be assigned one. (This to a guy that had flown well over half a million miles on their airline…). Of course, the plane must have had 50+ open seats in the back… they just want to toy with your over how you bought your ticket and on which fare class.

    1) c) The other revelation is that, when you have a Seat IOU in your hand… you no longer even have a confirmed reservation on that flight. You are just another spot on the Standby List. And, of course the problem with that is that there is no priority given to “somebody that actually bought a seat on that flight”… you are just another peon in a very long priority chain of status– a chain dominated by “Diamonds” and “AMEX cards”. Those priority lists are WELL documented over on FlyerTalk– and let me tell you, you DON’T want to be a “Class E” ticket on a thunderstorm day in Atlanta. Whale dung has higher status than you do to get a seat on days like that.

    2) I think we just disagree on the “family seats” thing. I have 5 kids and we have NEVER all been seated together on a Delta flight. Even with small kids, they wouldn’t make an allowance for that… Delta’s system has always been biased that way. We flew to Santiago on family vacation a few years ago, 6 legs total (via ATL, of course), and not a single leg had more than two people next to each other.
    It’s surreal, but it’s Delta SOP.

    Delta’s desire to extract extra money for the ‘seat assignments’ just makes this worse… The only place on the seat map where they show you seats together is up in front of the coach cabin for the extra money. Families do that so kids sit together with the business passengers in front of the coach cabin MUCH more than on UA or AA… it’s just structural in the way that Delta maximizes revenue. And, in a way that makes it more painful for the rank-and-file business passenger. Maybe you didn’t see this article:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3077654/Delta-Airlines-seats-Frank-Strong-11-rows-away-four-year-old-daughter-pay-88-moved-her.html

    But, it’s par for the course– just inherent in how Delta runs their ops.

    3) The “seat grey out” issue is also well covered elsewhere. Scott McCartney, over in the Wall Street Journal’s ‘MIDDLE SEAT’ column wrote it up a couple of years ago… The only way to get people to overpay for seat assignments is to create artificial scarcity– and nobody does that better than Delta.
    They make you think there are no seats left– “Better pay the $59 to get a seat assignment!” Then you board and realize they Punk’t you; there are dozens of open seats where they lied and told you there were none. (And, yes, I believe that’s as illegal as VW advertising “Clean Diesel” on cars that exceed federal limits by 40X… lying to achieve commercial advantage, particularly by exploiting “information disparities” in the marketplace– well that’s generally held to be illegal.)

    4) As far as the credit card ‘attainment’ stuff- I think the AMEX deal is a loser longer-term for Delta.
    With Costco tossing those arrogant jerks at AMEX out, there’s even less reason to bother with an American Express Card. Whether this hurts DL’s financials, I have no idea. I just know that Delta loves to ‘move the goal posts’ and that makes them a lousy business partner for me… we don’t know what the miles are worth, what an award costs, whether there are really seats on the plane or whether they pushed back 14 minutes early to intentionally early to ‘mis-connect’ a few people and save a few thousand bucks. All you do know for sure is that you’ll never be able to count on Delta following through on their end.

    5) Delta stopped providing meal vouchers (even to Gold and Silver) under IRROPS several years ago.
    What I found a couple of times last year is that the Hotel Vouchers (which federal law requires they still provide) generally end up being worthless on Delta– In LAX and ATL the hotels had no rooms so couldn’t be used… I ended up sleeping on the floor in ATL and booking a room at my own expense in LA.

    I do believe that DL takes great care of the Diamonds in this regard– the last time this happened to me, the Diamond in front of me got a voucher for the Westin (and the gate agent called over to ensure the Diamond was confirmed into a room)… the rest of us in line got vouchers for the Motel 3 that had no rooms. I assume the Diamond got drink and meal vouchers, as well.

    History last year also showed a lot of sneakiness in re-characterizing “mechanicals” as “weather” on DL. I was awaiting an inbound ATL-LAS 757 in Vegas a year ago… comes in 90 minutes late, blows my connection via SLC. The explanation was “weather delay”, but I did research that later since the weather map showed gorgeous weather across the SE that day (and in fact over most of the country)… and found that the 757 had in fact been held at the gate in ATL over a logbook issue.
    So, yeah, I think Delta lies pretty much as a matter of policy. That day, I got stuck in SLC for 9 hours due to the mis-connect, even though there were 3 other connections via other cities to get me where I was going… wrong “fare class” and “booked on Orbitz”.

    Some time I should post the list here of ‘Standby IRROPS Priority’ for assigning seats on planes.
    On a bad weather week in DTW, MSP or ATL I can see cases where a “Fare Class E” passenger dies of old age before Delta can allow them on a plane.

    The people that should, rightfully, love Delta are:
    1) Residents of Atlanta, Minneapolis, Detroit and Salt Lake. They have no choice.
    2) Expense account sales guys that fly 150,000 miles a year and don’t care about fares
    3) Wall Street analysts that cheer from the sidelines when companies figure out great ways to gouge

    As for the upgrade battle, when you say “up front” you mean First Class, right? Yeah, there’s no question that those First Class seats are filled with Diamonds, that fly a lot of miles.
    But, I don’t think you understand exactly how hard it is to fly 350,000 miles a year… That’s a RT to Europe every week, and very few people rack up that kind of mileage.

    When I talk about the “kid” problem, it’s as I described it above– I’m talking about the select seats at the front of the coach cabin, which is the only area where Delta’s seat assignment system will show open seats when a family goes to make seat assignments. Normally, that’s the overflow area for business travelers for whom the upgrades didn’t clear. On UA and AA that’s generally the exclusive province of business men and women that appreciate a bit of extra legroom and a chance to board early and place their bags. On Delta you find a much higher occupancy in those seats because IT IS THE ONLY PLACE DELTA WILL SHOW OPEN SEATS TOGETHER AT CHECK-IN!

    And, yes, Delta’s system will show the complete seat map 6 months prior to take-off. However, once the load factor hits 50-60% they’ll start to ‘grey out’ the seats… and that’s miserable for business travelers (non Diamond anyway) looking for seat assignments a week or two before departure. It’s also miserable for families.

    Anyway, I’m with Lucky. Only people that hardly ever fly (Like Nick) or those that fly a LOT on somebody else’s dime really like Delta. “Pleated seats” will never make up for the other misery Delta metes out.

    My humble opinion after 3 million miles and giving Delta a fair shot in 2014 to prove they can take care of a guy that “only” flies 100,000 miles a year. They can’t.

  38. Thanks for your reply Tachyon – but your reply still leaves me somewhat confused. First off – I thought I was getting senile. I go on Kayak from time to time (to see who goes where) and I see Delta flights. Went there just now – and I see Delta flights from JAX to Tokyo (a possible destination for 2016-17). Went to Hipmunk (which I had never heard of before) too and it also shows Delta flights. Could people with various cookies on their computers be having their access blocked? Or perhaps just certain points of origin/destinations are blocked?

    In terms of seat assignments – well I almost always book flights (on airline websites) a long time out (like almost a year). All the flights I book are empty or close to it when I book. And I can see all the seats. By the time the flights actually leave – most are 100% full (these days – a lot are overbooked – and there are incentives offered to “get bumped”). So there is obviously a time between those 2 points when planes get full or close to it – and it might be difficult to find seats that are together – especially if you’re talking about 3 or 4 or more people.

    Exactly when this time is – I don’t know. Probably varies by destination and when you’re traveling (especially if you’re talking about popular vacation periods). Still – I looked at Delta flights from New York to Miami in January (high season). Pretty good fares (about $200 RT) – and there was lots of availability. A family of 4-5 – even 7 – could sit together. So this must be an issue of booking later rather than sooner – and/or booking in a manner that doesn’t allow you to get a seat assignment when you buy your ticket. Why would someone buy a ticket in a manner where they can’t get a seat assignment when they buy if they’re not saving a fair amount of money?

    In terms of not being able to get seat assignments when you buy a ticket – I am not personally familiar with that. But it reminds me of what I see when I look at partner flights on airline reward websites (not only Delta’s). You can pick a partner flight – but you often can’t get a seat assignment when you buy the ticket. This idea always made me nervous (perhaps justifiably so in light of what you’ve written). Which is is one reason I stick with a carrier’s own equipment on trips – and avoid partner flights. So maybe this is the way things work when you book through a website other than the carrier’s website?

    BTW – when I’m talking about “front of the plane” – I’m talking about first class (in 2 or 3 class planes) or business class (in a 2 class plane). When it comes to front of economy – I have bought those kinds of upgrades a couple of times. Because I wanted to and they were cheap (like $19). Not because I couldn’t find 2 seats together. Didn’t see kids. Perhaps the routes I’ve flown in recent years just don’t attract a lot of families with kids?

    The one thing I agree with you about is your mistake splitting up your travel. For the reasons you did it. I’m not going to go out of my way to fly on Delta (or any other airline) – but I like to have one default airline at a time (in terms of paid and/or reward travel). Mine right now is Delta. Could be another airline 3 years down the road. I think everyone should have a preferred airline and give it most of one’s business. For example – my brother – who lives on the west coast and travels a lot on business – well his choice is Southwest. Because of its routes and its reward program (which best suit his business and personal/family needs – which are totally different than mine). You live in Hawaii and work in DC. Haven’t been to either place in about 20 years. So I know zilch about which airline(s) would work best for you. If it’s AA – well go for it! In my case – I could use AA if I wanted to use MIA as my main hub. But I didn’t much care for MIA even when I lived in Miami.

  39. We can take them one-by-one, but as much as I dislike Delta (and they left me stranded four times last in ugly circumstances) I try not to infer too much ONLY from my own experience– but look for external references. I consider the Wall Street Journal very reliable, and well-researched, and this is what they said about the Delta crusade against the travel comparison websites a year ago:

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/travel-websites-allege-delta-air-lines-is-shutting-them-out-1432094461

    It is possible you are seeing international routes for some other reasons, but I can attest that (and I’ve done this using anonymous browsers, as well as “clean” machines with no cookies) that KAYAK and Hipmunk do not return domestic results for Delta for me. I just ran a search on both for ATL-LAX routes and I’m fairly certain that’s a route Delta flies several times a day. Nada.

  40. @PVBGirl

    As far as the “create a seat shortage” strategy is concerned, that too has been well-covered in other news outlets. The Journal’s Scott McCartney ran this a couple of years ago, but many other sources picked it up and ran with it…

    http://www.thewire.com/business/2013/07/airlines-arent-afraid-use-your-fear-bad-seat-against-you/67087/

    The “seat map” many people see bears NO resemblance to the ACTUAL seat map– they conceal a LOT of inventory in order to get people to buy up. And, you are correct, if you always buy your tickets the maximum 331 days in advance you will never have the problem. That’s not what I’m talking about.
    Most business travelers do not buy their tickets 331 days in advance… they are buying tickets a week or two ahead tops. And, on busy routes, those WILL be at greater than 50% capacity where in the dreaded “fake seat map” comes into play.

    Follow that link about the guy traveling with his four year old kid and what he had to pay to get seats together. Even paying IMMENSE amounts of money for a short route, Delta still felt the need to clip him another $88 for seats together… and he gets on the plane and there are dozens of open, adjacent seats.

    “Ha Ha! Fooled you!”, shouts Richard Anderson from Atlanta. There is a reason that Delta is so immensely profitable.. Hint: it’s not because they are nice guys.

    Delta also deploys large staffs of “social media experts” to hang out on the boards to gently diffuse complainers like me (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt in this regard. Nick? Him I’m not so sure about.) but the reality remains that they’ve been caught a lot cheating, fudging and prevaricating (Googling “Delta Airlines Evidence Destruction” nets 523,000 hits!). They are NOT nice people know matter how much they paid that marketing guy to come “tell a good story” as Anderson says.

  41. @PVBGirl

    I will back down slightly on the “Why do dozens of clearly non-elites get to board in Sky Priority, when the Gate Agent (clearly lying through his teeth) insists they are all Diamonds and Platinums?” question…

    Delta does a good job of ‘disinformation’ on this one. In the “Sky Priority is the Elitest of our Elitist Made-Up Marketing Programs” section of the website, Delta claims Sky Priority is ONLY saved for GM, PM and DM and international top SkyTeam equivalents.

    HOWEVER, that’s not entirely accurate, since when you slide over to the “Delta Comfort Plus” section of the site the rest of the story pops into focus– If you pay the extra money for the legroom, seat assignment and booze, you are automatically ‘in the club’– so get to be Sky Priority too. Thus, when Group One (the 5th or 6th group to board) eventually gets on the plane the overhead bin space is gone.
    So, like many things on Planet Delta, the description of the ‘exclusivity’ of Sky Priority on that section of the site is simply wrong and incomplete.

    And, yeah, to get seat assignments, families are often forced to ‘buy up’ needlessly… but it’s all good for Delta’s bottom line.

    And, there’s really only two classes of seats and service on a Delta plane, so they seem to go to a lot of trouble (and passenger inconvenience) to try to make it seem like more– especially based on whether you have their ridiculous AMEX card in your wallet or not.

    I do hate the credit card programs– it’s really ruined the inflight experience for those of us who just need to get somewhere. (And, yeah, from Hawaii I have 5 solid choices in carriers– HI, DL, AA, UA and Alaska. Delta’s $50 cheaper going home next weekend, but I have no shot at an upgrade even to Comfort+, whereas a free upgrade to full First on AA is a given. It’s not even a choice. )

  42. @PVBGirl, I’m glad that you were able to obtain 2 FC award tickets JAX/LAX for 100,000 miles each. That is twice the going rate. Did you get suckered in to paying double as a result of Delta’s deceptive policy of not publishing an award chart, or did you know at the time that you were being charged double to get acceptable flights? You can shop at my business any time, we love customers who are willing to pay double the retail price.

  43. Tachyon – Weird. I ran domestic routes on Kayak. JAX to LAX. Then JAX to New York. Both came up with Delta results. On Hipmunk (which – like I said – I’m not familiar with) – Delta did come up – but apparently only when booking through sites like Expedia (didn’t create a log in and follow through). Even weirder – I ran your ATL to LAX flight on Kayak (I flew that route in September – it does indeed exist – non-stop). Came up with Delta results which – when clicked – redirected me to the Delta website (I didn’t have any of the alternative websites – like Expedia checked). Perhaps our computers and our settings and our on line histories know more about us than we even suspect (for example – my computer knows my favorite towels at Macy’s – and sends me pop up ads when they go on sale).

    As for buying in advance – before I retired I used to be a business traveler. I was in a business where my flights usually had to be booked many weeks or a couple of months in advance. (Didn’t really see much in the way of savings – because a lot of this flying was “pre-deregulation” – when flying was a luxury and most flights were expensive.) I suspect there were/are many businesses – both now and then – where trips have to be taken or are taken on shorter notice. Other circumstances too. Like when my father was recently diagnosed with cancer – my brother and his daughters – my nieces – flew here on short notice. Even with a combination of reward travel and “most favored nation” status on Southwest – they got screwed IMO. I am close to 70 – and have been flying for a long time. In my experience – people who travel on short notice often get screwed (although people who travel at the last minute on a discretionary basis in terms of when and where can sometimes pick up some great deals on certain routes at certain times).

    Now some times it’s necessary to travel at the last minute. Some times it isn’t. My brother had been talking about flying here with my nieces for months and months to visit my father (he’s 97). No reason they had to travel at the last minute when they did. I realize that not everything can be planned (far) in advance – but quite a few things can be. So it’s best to plan when planning is possible IMO.

  44. Hi Ken – I am kind of experienced with reward tickets. Have had lots of them. I saw all the available Delta reward flights when I booked. Some at the least expensive level – some even more expensive than the one I did book. I wanted to travel on very specific dates. Didn’t care to wake up before the sun rises – or arrive late at night in Los Angeles. Or take anything other than a non-stop flight. Or hub through anywhere except Atlanta. The more particular you are about your flights – the more you might wind up spending (depending on whether your habits are what most people prefer).

    The last “cheapo” reward I got was last year – 2 first class tickets JAX/SIN on UA (on a 3 class plane). 140k miles each – maybe 150k (there was a stupidly small premium for first class over business class). I had to make 2 “concessions” to get the “cheapo” reward. First – there was an extra connection in Tokyo (it was JAX/ORD/NRT/SIN and vice versa – most direct route was JAX/ORD/SIN). Second was flights going and coming left at 6 am – so I had to wake up at 3 am to catch both. With this particular trip – I really wasn’t giving up much. Since even the 1 stop flight stopped in Tokyo to refuel. And – if you leave the east coast of the US later than the early morning to get to Asia – you probably have to overnight somewhere en route (like we did on our first trip to NRT – JAX/overnight at EWR/NRT).

    But – with this birthday/anniversary trip to Los Angeles – I wanted to travel in the middle of the day. Leave awake – arrive refreshed. A pampered trip. Simple as that. I am old – but I am not stupid. And I know how I like to spend my money – and my miles (smile).

    FWIW – one consideration I have when traveling is arrival times. They can be important because I tend to stay in somewhat expensive hotels. I am well beyond the age where I care to arrive in an international destination at 8 am and wander the streets until a room is ready after noon. I want to check in – take a shower – and often take a nap. Usually not a problem in Asia (where arrival times tend to be late afternoon or later). In Europe – I can usually manage an early check in if my flight arrives at about noon or later. If my flight arrives earlier – I often have to pay full or partial freight to guarantee an early check in. Just depends on the circumstances. We will be paying 50% of the room rate in Madrid to guarantee an early arrival (at about 9 am). Seems fair to me.

  45. @PVBGirl

    Regarding DL’s moves toward suppression of Delta fares in ‘comparison shopping’ website results (and Delta has gone to extreme lengths to get their results removed), this is what the Wall Street Journal reported a year ago:

    >>>
    Fiona Scott Morton, a Yale University economics professor who wrote the Travel Technology Association study, said the airlines latest efforts are aimed at limiting fliers’ ability to compare fares, rather than at lowering the carriers’ costs. She said the metasearch engines Delta has mainly targeted often charge airlines nothing for referrals.

    That means “the motivation behind the change isn’t that ‘I want low-cost distribution,’ it is that ‘I want to restrict the ability of the consumer to do price comparisons,’ ” said Ms. Scott Morton, a former chief economist for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. “We probably need a rule that says everybody can look at all the fares in an efficient way.”

    In her study, Ms. Scott Morton estimated that if fare-comparison sites don’t have access to the biggest carriers’ data, U.S. travelers would pay $6.7 billion more in airfare a year—equivalent to $30, or 11%, increase in the average fare.
    <<<
    Excerpt, under fair use, from Wall Street Journal

  46. @Ken

    DL’s always been known to have the worst ‘redemption ticket availability’, anyway. But, this recent move to not even bother publishing a redemption chart probably says RIP SkyMiles… why collect the miles when there’s no chance they’ll be redeemable for any useful travel anyway?

    I always laugh when you get hosed on a Delta IRROPS situation and they offer to “make it up to you” after you file a complaint. They’ll, as a matter of policy, credit you 5000 miles or something for filling out the form– then you go “Hey, they just gave me more melting icecubes to stick in pocket on a Phoenix summer’s afternoon”.

    I have a friend, who doesn’t have a lot of excess income, but who has been hoarding his Delta miles since before the merger with NWA. He has elderly relatives in Europe and he knows he’ll “get the call someday” and have to make last-minute trips for a couple of funerals. He’s never redeemed any DL miles, but has just been saving them for that awful day to come. I don’t have the heart to tell him that his carefully-cultivated 140,000 miles are very unlikely to find him even a single last-minute round-trip to Heathrow, much less two.

    I know when I needed to get back to the midwest for the same circumstances several times in the last few years— Delta was a complete whiff– no last minute availability, unworkable one-ways up to 50-60K miles.Ugh. Just horrific availability to any of 5 or 6 airports from anyplace within 100 miles of LAX. UA came through, as always, with lots of availability out of ANY LA area airport for the usual (and it’s been this number for years) 25k round-trip on Saver Awards.

    Alaska was the complete champion, though, delivering lots of RT 20K mile options. Alaska’s mileage program availability still rocks, as does United’s. As for Delta, unless you are booking 300 days in advance with a lot of flexibility– well, you might as well admit that Delta doesn’t even have a mileage program. It’s useless to you on short notice.

  47. @PVBGirl

    I re-ran the Hipmunk search just now– I think what you are seeing is the click-through panel ads inserted for Expedia. Delta isn’t reachable directly and, under the court order Delta got (some country?!??) Hipmunk and the other meta-search guys are not able to access DL fare-and-schedule systems directly.

    You can click the banner ad, but it takes you to Expedia (with the search terms already embedded in the link). Hipmunk (which I do love) can’t get direct Delta data after the court fight. The Expedia search then does deliver the search results, but in a new Expedia-domain tab/window.

    It’s a work around, but Delta clearly doesn’t want you to comparison shop.

  48. Hi Tachyon – WRT your friend with the 140k miles – you never know. He might luck out. If he had gotten “the call” last night – he could find economy award availability this week at the 77.5k level (RT). At least out of Atlanta (don’t know where he lives). Not the best flight times/connections/etc. But he would get from here to there. Two of the best times to get tickets – including reward tickets – are far in advance – or at the last minute.

    OTOH – I am not a “funeral person”. Especially at my age (too many funerals). I am however a big fan of seeing people I love/like when they’re alive – not in their coffins. So tell that friend of yours to use his miles to see whoever he wants to see now – when they’re still alive and kicking. He can get 2 economy tickets to Europe for about 140k miles – maybe less – if his travel plans are flexible (especially if you help him). Then tell him to put some money in the bank to pay for last minute funeral tickets (assuming he feels the need to go to a funeral after seeing people before they meet their maker).

    BTW – when it comes to last minute cash fares – best are on British Airways. About $1k for a 13 hour 1 stop trip. Delta’s 8 hour non-stops are the cheapest non-stops. About $2k. For people who don’t travel from or through Atlanta – non-stops from Atlanta to most destinations (including ones in Europe and Asia) usually have “premium” price tags (in money or miles).

    When I click directly on the Hipmunk website – it takes me to Expedia when I’m looking for Delta (Hipmunk tells me in advance I will be going to Expedia – perfectly straightforward – no “bait and switch”).

    OTOH – from all people have said here about booking flight tickets on third party websites – I think I will stay far away from them. Unless I take a look see and can save a bunch of money (unlikely). Is there any reason you care to use these third party websites (except for taking “look sees”)? I really don’t understand the attraction.

    FWIW – as someone who started flying in the 50’s and 60’s – as a child/teenager/young adult – before FF programs started/took off – I have to say that most – even with current limitations – are better than the “none” back then (just like the newer deregulated airfares are better than the older regulated ones).). My 97 year old father always thought FF programs were garbage – a scam – even when I showed him evidence to the contrary. Perhaps our perceptions are always a product of what we grew up with – got used to. For someone who came of age flying maybe 10 years ago or so – it has probably been downhill for the most part.

  49. @PVBGirl

    Although some people seem to think the miles programs are irrelevant, or can be offset by ‘pleated seats’ or “a curtain”, I’d courteously beg to differ. My accumulated miles on United and Alaska have been an absolute godsend on occasions where ‘last minute ticketing’ is a must. And, over the years I’ve enjoyed dozens of great trips on UA and AS on ‘awarded’ miles, including taking my girlfriend to Australia many years ago and a much-deserved honeymoon trip to eastern Europe via FRA.

    My Mileage Plus miles are always a “go to” when the flight searches show nutty-high fares and I need to be somewhere last-minute. And, because United has had my back in those situations, there’s still a reserve of goodwill, even with the damage that Smisek-and-Co have inflicted on the brand. That’s goodwill that a couple of late flights and odd service experiences (and there have been those) can’t diminish.

    On the other hand, on Delta it’s been one disappointment after another– and, really, the way I want to use the miles, Delta’s programs have always been pretty much worthless. High ‘award’ prices, complete lack of availability. Huge fees to ticket close-in. And, most appallingly huge fees to re-credit miles, even where DELTA canceled my flight and ruined my trip. In close to 40 years of flying Delta, I’ve never once felt like they outperformed the minimum level of expectation… The service is OK once onboard, but they really make it painful to get there. Even if you are paying. If you are trying to use their award tickets– there is simply no comparison to UA or AS.

    If you like Delta, great, but don’t depend on the miles ever doing much for you.
    And, if that’s the case, you might as well fly Southwest– because at least you know you can get a seat next to your toddler or grandson on SWA. With Delta it’s always “That will be another $88 please.”

    Tachyon, out.

  50. Can’t say I enjoy Delta more than United (or the old Continental). Or vice versa. Overall. I use both for various flights – both paid and reward flights.. Sometimes I luck out with one carrier – and not the other (especially in terms of reward tickets). Or strike out with both. FWIW – I don’t travel at the last minute these days (for business – pleasure or – knock wood – funerals in recent years). I’m retired. And the one thing I recall about Delta vs. UA in recent years is UA often (but not always) only has 1 reward ticket front of the plane – whereas with Delta I can get 2. OTOH – I got 2 saver reward FC tickets from Jacksonville to Singapore last year. Sweet :).

    Two things I like about Delta. Its major hub for me is Atlanta – which I like more than UA hub cities. And it doesn’t put us on those tiny 2/1 Embraers out of JAX to get to hub airports (which UA does most of the time).

    As for re-credit fees – I have zero status. And – when I almost had to cancel a recent Delta reward flight to LAX (after my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer) – Delta said if I submitted a doctor’s note – I wouldn’t have had to pay any re-credit fee (although I would have had to cancel the ticket – IIRC – 3 days in advance).

    Overall – I can’t say I’m ecstatic about either program. But – OTOH – I’m not totally dissatisfied with the programs either. Kind of in the middle. If a carrier takes me to my destination on time – including connections – in reasonable comfort – I’m ok with that. And I have gotten enough reward tickets on both carriers over the course of many years (most front of the place international) – solely as the result of playing with credit cards – that I don’t feel like I should be complaining. Robyn

  51. Delta service has been deteriorating rapidly over the past year of flying with them and given their complete disregard for customers i have switched my business entirely to American. Even United has surpassed Delta in service and experience and to me thats shocking. There is always a reversion to the mean with airlines as some improve offerings to gain share, then decrease service to milk the share they have received, and I believe you are always best served to at that point switch to another airline. And now is definitely the time to abandon Delta.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *