Delta, Alaska frequent flyers lose again as the cold war heats up

Guess who's coming out the losers as Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines heat up the cold war that's rapidly diluting reciprocal partnership benefits for each airline's frequent flyer programs?

Surprise. It's their best customers.

As of May 1, each airline is cutting the frequent flyer benefits they provide elite-level members on each other's flights.

Delta Sky Medallion customers traveling on Alaska Airlines will no longer receive free checked baggage or priority security line access.

Alaska Airlines MVP members flying on Delta flights will lose baggage fee waivers, priority baggage handling, priority security line access and experience reduced priority check-in and boarding (Zone 1 instead of Sky Priority).

Please...Baggage fees I can see...maybe, but how much does allowing priority security line access cost? This one seems like a punishment more appropriate to misbehaving in third grade than a legitimate attempt to thwart competition.

Neither airline has done a very good job explaining these cuts to customers. Thanks for Hack My Trip's Scott Mackenzie for attempting to sort it out in an excellent blog post.

Joe Brancatelli, editor of JoeSentMe.com, an online newsletter for business travelers, calls it 
"one of the first hub wars we've seen in years.'' Eager to trim the Tokyo-based Asia hub it inherited in the Northwest Airlines merger, Delta is refocusing Pacific Rim operations at Sea-Tac, says Brancatelli.

The latest cuts follow a move by Delta to eliminate code shares on Alaska flights linking Seattle with Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Vancouver, Anchorage, Portland and Phoenix — presumably to avoid competing with new flights of its own on these routes.

And why does this matter? If you're a member of Delta's Skymiles frequent flyer program, it means you can no longer buy a ticket on Delta's website for an Alaska Air flight to some major West Coast cities. This makes it harder to rack up important Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) needed to qualify for elite status. As of this year, Delta began requiring Skymiles members to spend a minimum of $2,500 with Delta as well as rack up at least 25,000 miles to earn elite status in 2015. 

Flying on a partner airline counts, as long as you purchase the ticket from Delta, now impossible to do on Delta.com for certain Alaska Air flights (although still possible for other partners such as KLM and Air France).

So what should you do? Book the old-fashioned way - on the phone. I did this recently with a flight to Phoenix flight. Alaska's flight was better (non-stop) and cheaper than Delta's, so I got a Delta agent to book the Alaska flight for me on the phone. He agreed to waive the usual telephone charges, and let me use by credit card to pay Delta directly for the flight, so the purchase would count towards my MQDs. It's anyone's guess how long Delta will do this, but for now, it's one solution. 

Travel Weekly's summation of the growing rift between Delta and Alaska hints that more changes are ahead.

“Over the next 12 months, we expect the American number will grow and the Delta number will shrink,” Travel Weekly quoted Andrew Harrison, Alaska's vice president of planning and revenue management, as saying in November. 

Speaking of MQDs, keep track of how Delta accounts for these. Taxes and fees don't count, so you don't get credit for the full amount you pay for a ticket, only the portion that doesn't include taxes and other charges such as checked bag fees and upgrades.

2 comments:

  1. Here in Moab Utah, we hope the Delta carrier, SkyWest, now flying into our Canyonlands Airport through Salt Lake City connections will be beneficial. Currently online reservations with www.delta.com is possible and we hope frequent flyer miles will be able to be applied. I am sorry Alaska is having these difficulties.

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  2. I have been very loyal to what at first was Northwest Airlines and later Delta. But with those latest changes I will make Alaska Airlines my main Airline. Living in Portland and flying up and down the West Coast to Asia and to Europe can all be done with Alaska's partners. 15 years of Platinum Elite I guess is not enough to be considered valuable by Delta and I book flights for about another 20 travelers. Good Bye Delta...

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