delta sky club lounge sign

Want to know how to lose all of your customers and ruin a 100-year-old company… Ask Delta Airlines (They just did it)

Sep 15, 2023 | Business, Leadership

Dear Delta Airlines… WTF?

I write this with great remorse. I have flown on Delta jets safely around the world over 25 times. I logged millions of miles with you, and they were 100% safe. You and your affiliate airlines are a pleasure to fly with. I trust you and know all is well when I fly your planes.

So… WTF?

This week, you made two catastrophic errors in dealing with your customers. You disregarded your base and elevated yourself to the epic scholastic case studies of failed business deals. Your actions this week will be heralded alongside “Anheuser Busch’s summer Bud Light marketing campaign,” “New Coke,” and now, wait for it… “Delta’s total disregard for their most loyal passengers.”

You have given the academics, pundits, and economists plenty to discuss, and it is not good.

First, you announced your engagement with Tom Brady (yes, the one and only) as a strategic advisor this week. WTF does that mean, and how much did it cost? 


We all love Tom, but your messaging made it appear that your CEO just “bought a friend.”  How does that help flyers and shareholders? How will you pay for it? 

Oh… now I see; it’s a simple solution: change the SkyMiles rules so frequent flyers know what you really think.

The message is clear from Delta.

“We, your loyal passengers, are not good enough for you.”

Yep, you clearly don’t care.

Not only did you effectively eliminate the reward program for frequent fliers by disregarding miles flown and flights made, but you almost doubled the passenger spend necessary to be a top-tier rewards passenger. By eliminating SkyMiles credit for flights and miles and only looking at the money spent by passengers, you screwed us all.

This year alone, I have spent over $25,000.00 with you and made 41 flights (16 international), with 10 more to go… but, according to your new program parameters, that’s not good enough. To maintain my status, you are now telling us we need to spend at least $35,000.00 per year with you, and – dig this – we can only visit the Sky Club lounges 6 times per year. I can’t wait to see how AMEX responds.

Wow – Was that part of Tom Brady’s strategic advice?

Let’s make this simple and get me off my rant. This is what business students and leaders will study and learn from your monumental mistakes:

Lessons to learn from Delta

In an era where airlines continually evolve their loyalty programs to attract and retain customers, Delta Airlines’ new frequent flyer program has sparked significant controversy by turning its back on its most loyal flyers. While loyalty programs are typically designed to reward repeat customers, Delta’s new program has taken a different approach. In the following essay, we will delve into the reasons why Delta Airlines’ new Sky Mile program is detrimental to its customers, highlighting the negative impacts on travelers and the loyalty they once had for the airline.

Devaluation of Miles

One of the most glaring issues with Delta’s new frequent flyer program is the devaluation of miles. Traditionally, frequent flyer programs allowed customers to accumulate miles based on miles flown, providing a clear and transparent system. However, Delta’s shift towards a revenue-based model means that customers earn miles based on the ticket price rather than the distance flown. This devalues miles earned, especially for those who tend to book cheaper fares.

Under this new system, loyal Delta customers who once flew frequently but chose economical fare options will find themselves earning fewer miles and experiencing a sharp decrease in the value of their loyalty. The program punishes frugal travelers, creating a sense of betrayal among Delta’s most faithful patrons.

Lack of Award Seat Availability

Delta’s new frequent flyer program exacerbates an ongoing issue in the airline industry: the need for award seat availability. Frequent flyers accumulate miles with the expectation of redeeming them for free flights or upgrades. However, Delta has increasingly made it challenging for customers to find available award seats, particularly on popular routes and during peak travel times.

This scarcity of award seats effectively negates the value of miles earned through loyalty, leaving passengers feeling disillusioned and frustrated. Customers who have dedicated years to the airline may need help to use their miles for the rewards they were promised, ultimately eroding the trust and loyalty they once had in Delta.

Elite Status Thresholds (Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Diamond)

Elite status in frequent flyer programs has long been a coveted reward for travelers who frequently choose a specific airline. Delta’s new program has significantly increased the threshold for elite status, making it more challenging for loyal customers to achieve and maintain their desired tier.

Higher spending requirements and reduced mileage accrual rates mean that many customers who were once considered loyal Delta patrons will lose their elite status or find it nearly impossible to attain. This shift undermines the principle of rewarding loyalty and favors passengers willing to pay premium fares, leaving many long-standing customers feeling undervalued and marginalized. So, what happens next? Frequent flyers of Delta will now begin to shop for other airlines, especially internationally. The bottom line is: If Delta doesn’t care about their passengers, why not try someone else?

Dynamic Pricing and Redemption Rates

Delta’s new frequent flyer program introduces dynamic pricing for award flights, meaning that the number of miles required for a particular route can fluctuate based on demand and other factors. While dynamic pricing can benefit airlines, as it allows them to maximize revenue, it often results in unpredictable and exorbitant redemption rates for passengers.

Customers who have diligently accumulated miles may suddenly find that more than the miles they saved are required for the same flights they once qualified for. This arbitrary nature of award redemption can leave travelers feeling disillusioned and cheated, as the goalposts for rewards are constantly shifting.

Inadequate Communication

Another critical area for improvement with Delta’s new program is inadequate customer communication. Many loyal travelers feel blindsided by the changes, as Delta needed to provide clear, timely, and transparent information regarding the alterations to the frequent flyer program.

Effective communication is vital in maintaining customer trust and loyalty, especially when implementing significant changes to a loyalty program. Delta’s failure in this regard has only added to the frustration and dissatisfaction experienced by its passengers. Add Tom Brady’s announcement to it, and everyone questions Delta’s logic.


Delta Airlines’ new frequent flyer program has proven to be detrimental to its customers in several ways. From the devaluation of miles to the scarcity of award seats, higher elite status thresholds, dynamic pricing, and inadequate communication, the program prioritizes revenue generation over rewarding loyal customers. This shift in focus has left many of Delta’s most dedicated patrons (like myself) feeling undervalued, frustrated, and disillusioned. To rebuild trust and maintain customer loyalty, Delta should consider revisiting and revising its new frequent flyer program to better align with the interests and expectations of its passengers.

But wait… There’s more.

Again, everyone loves Tom Brady, but do him a favor and keep him away from the backlash you will receive. I cannot imagine he had anything to do with this, nor is he qualified in aeronautical economics and the necessary algorithms to compute such a monumental mistake.

In fact, you should ask him what to do. He might actually help because Tom always knew what business he was in while active in the NFL: to entertain and serve the crowds. i.e., the ticket holders come first. Without them, nothing happens. 

Here is my message for you, Delta.

If you forget those you serve, they will forget you.

Buckle up, Delta – You are in for a turbulent 2024 and 2025 unless you rethink your strategy. People and businesses always get what they deserve. These decisions will give classrooms plenty to study, and that’s a shame.

Fun fact: I will soon be booking a trip to Europe in the spring and possibly Asia. For the first time since 1988, when I became a Delta Frequent flyer, I am looking at all the other airlines. It is time.


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