Parting ways with Delta Air Lines


Delta Air Lines made a big push into the Seattle market in the past few years, gaining customers by partnering with Alaska Airlines, then gradually going its own way by establishing competing routes, lowering mileage awards for flights booked on Alaska, and finally as of May, breaking off the alliance in pursuit of its goal to dominate West Coast travel.

While Delta has profited from the moves, my impression is that its customers have not. Delta's systems have failed to keep up with its growth, the reason it was slower than other airlines to recover from delays and cancellations caused by recent storms. The mess was inexcusable, but it's longer-term trends that are behind my decision to forfeit by Silver Medallion elite status in 2018. 

Why am I leaving Delta? Let me count the ways:

*Prices: Nearly every Delta ticket I've purchased in the past few years has been priced higher than I would have paid on another airline. Delta's revenue requirements for maintaining elite status have become a Catch 22.  What started as a $2,500 annual spending requirement in 2014 has risen to $3,000 - not including taxes or baggage fees. I found myself paying higher fares and settling for less convenient flights just to meet the requirement. 

One of my biggest beefs is that Delta fares between Seattle and Paris or Seattle and Amsterdam are nearly always higher than they are in and out of Vancouver, B.C., 140 miles north. A Seattle-Paris non-stop, round-trip in June is $1,537 on Delta's website vs. $1,052 (U.S dollars.) between Vancouver and Paris. A Seattle-Amsterdam round-trip is $1,290 vs. $1,012 (U.S.) in and out of Vancouver. 

Elite status meanwhile, is worth less and less. Rows of seats that used to be reserved for Medallion members now go to those who pay extra for Economy Comfort. Silver elites board in Zone 1, along with credit card holders and after those who pay extra for Economy Comfort. Upgrades rarely happen anymore, and when they do, it's to a middle seat in Economy Comfort, not comfortable enough for me to give up an aisle seat in coach.

Monitoring my account to make sure Delta credited me with the correct amount of Medallion Qualifying Dollars (MDQs) became a nuisance. I was shorted at least twice. Delta corrected the error after I contacted them, but who needs the hassle?

Another example: Delta recently failed to credit my husband with miles flown on a rebooked flight from Atlanta to Seattle, following a weather-related cancellation. A representative explained that Delta identified an error in its mileage posting system, causing eligible flights to be declined for appropriate credit. Delta was "working feverishly to resolve the matter," he said. That was two weeks ago. The miles still have not been posted.

*Mileage partnerships: Delta's break with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines means means customers will no longer be able to redeem Alaska miles for Delta flights (valuable for overseas travel), or get any benefits from being an Alaska MVP when flying on Delta.

Delta's partnerships with other airlines are weak when it comes to earning MDQs.  A business class ticket on a flight marketed and ticketed by partner Air France earns only  25-35 percent of eligible MQDs. Korean Air flights, even if ticketed by Delta, earn none.

 *A decision to add basic economy fares (no overhead bin space, no seat reservations, last-to-board, no changes or refunds) on international routes, then bump up prices for standard fares - same seats in the same cabin, only with the ability to reserve, make changes (for a fee) and use the overheads. 

At last check, booking a ticket with Air France on Delta-operated code-share flights netted a better deal than booking with Delta. 

Air France, apparently unwilling to tell international travelers to stuff their carry-on under their middle seat, recently offered an October Seattle/Paris round-trip standard economy fare of $656, the same as Delta was charging for basic economy. Delta's website showed a fare of $719 - $63 more - for the standard economy service. The same $60-$70 difference also showed up on Delta-operated code-share flights between Seattle and Amsterdam and Atlanta and Madrid. 

*Loyalty doesn't work both ways: In 2015, I realized I would come up $100 short of meeting the spending goal for 2016 status due to the need to cancel a trip for family reasons. I asked Delta to extend me the courtesy of continued elite status based on my many years as a loyal frequent flyer and plans to travel enough to meet the goal in 2016. They refused. 

I'll continue to fly Delta when it makes sense, but already I like the idea of becoming a free agent, liberated to book less expensive and more convenient connections on Air France through Vancouver, or on other airlines such as Emirates, Iceland Air and Hainan.

Next steps: I'll look at credit card options that offer perks such as early boarding and priority seating, and I'll look more closely at booking on Alaska when possible, or with one of its many partners on overseas flights. 

11 comments:

  1. I have virtually the same issues with United. The service just keeps getting worse and my lifetime Gold status is almost useless. The other issue is the packing of more and narrower seats onto their fleets of 777 and 787's. Thin, hard seats that are too narrow and uncomfortable. Unfortunately almost all the carriers have installed these configurations (ANA, Swiss, Air Canada) in my recent experience.

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    1. I hear you Dan, Delta is not unique to watering down its frequent flyer benefits!

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  2. I believe it is. All over the board, so to speak, on airfares. I just booked a trip for December Sarasota TO Rome, (SRQ-FCO). Delta was $3765.36 vs. Air France $4415.40.
    It is "open season" on customers not only with the airlines trying to strip amenities once taken for granted out of their programs; but with credit card companies as well. Yesterday AMEX Platinum card holders were advised the 50% rebate bonus on booking directly with the Platinum travel desk has been reduced to 35%. Not so special when the annual fee is $450.00!!!!

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    1. Jim: I wish the Amex Platinum annual fee was US$ 450. It too has gone up and is now US$ 550

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  4. Your last reason, "Loyalty Doesn't Go Both Ways," I 100% agree with, and I believe that Delta is (just slightly) the most egregious offender of this vs. other airlines. In May 2015, while I was visiting NY, my mom (who lives there) had a minor medical scare, one that did not require hospital admittance, but was severe, nonetheless. I decided to extend my trip a few days and was hoping Delta would waive its $150 change fee, given my sincere articulation of the circumstances. The upbeat male robot on the other end of the phone was sympathetic, but like most real robots, he would not deviate from Delta's policy of requiring proof of hospital admittance for any fee waivers. I can understand many passengers will lie to an airline to get a discount, but could giving customer contact agents some discretion on a case-by-case basis hurt that much? Imagine if they would have granted me the fee waiver...I would have appreciated it so much, I'd fly Delta every chance I get. Now, the opposite is true, and since I live near the competitive LA market, in the 2 years since, United, American, and JetBlue have received a lot of money from me. I admit American and United may not be much better in a situation like this, but I strongly believe the new bottom-line obsessed, organized PR machine culture at Delta deserves exactly the reciprocal treatment that you, Carol, have now granted it.

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    1. I agree with you, Joe. Goodwill buys a lot of loyalty. Good bad the airlines don't realize that.

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  5. FYI, Basic Economy fares still are able to bring on a carry on bag.

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    1. Yes, but you can't use the overhead bin- you have to put it under your seat

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  6. My wife and I gave up on Delta 10 years ago for most of the same reasons plus the inability to use your accumulated miles. United, of course, is and has been a disaster for decades. And, unfortunately, American is following suit. This is not the way to treat a traveler with over 800,000 miles; primarily leisure.

    The only answer is forget loyalty just as the major airlines have. We are looking more and more at the smaller airlines: Alaska, Jet Blue, Southwest.

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  7. Clearly deregulation has not been kind to travelers, and it's time to RE-regulate -- for example, minimum seat width and pitch.

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