Delta Air Lines and their SkyMiles program seem to engender more emotion than most airlines and their frequency programs. Case in point – this thread on FlyerTalk entitled “Why are you still loyal to DL?” There were a lot of varying answers, some emotional, some matter of fact. I’ll share mine here as a point of discussion.
1) I live in ATL. (I don’t consider myself “captive” at all. There are other ways to get where I need to go, I just like DL best.)
2) I feel like I’m treated pretty well as a Medallion.
3) The people are tops.
4) The airline actually operates.
I did not list “I find SkyMiles so easy to use” as a reason, and we all know why. They aren’t that easy to use in comparison to other airline mileage currencies, but it can be done. I’ve redeemed 245,000 SkyMiles this year, and in all but one of those redemptions, I would say I got a good return on my investment. Let’s look at each of my reasons for being loyal to Delta.
I Live in ATL
I suppose it’s obvious, and you could substitute MSP, DTW, SLC for a lot of people. The convenience of flying Delta from Atlanta is unmatched as they have hundreds of nonstop flights to destinations in the USA and across the globe. One thing I want to make clear is that I do not consider myself a “hub captive.” Connections do not scare me, and they represent an opportunity to pad your elite qualifying segments. I could fly Southwest/Air Tran, but I choose not to do so based on a lot of factors including TSAPreCheck, First Class upgrades, convenient gates, and wait for it….. Sky Club access.
I Feel Like I’m Treated Pretty Well as a Medallion
There are a lot of Medallions in Atlanta, no surprise there. But even still, Delta manages to differentiate and overall I find the level of care I receive as a Platinum Medallion to be excellent. Sky Priority boarding and related services seem to work, though I’m still waiting for my first Porsche ride. I’ve checked luggage perhaps 4 or 5 times this year, and each time, my bags were among the first to appear. In most cases upon arriving in Atlanta, my bag is on the belt by the time I arrive at baggage claim. I rarely need to call Delta, but when I do, I’ve noticed a real difference as a Platinum Medallion as I’m routinely routed to the Chisholm call center. Finally, even with the advent of Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs) in 2014, Delta will waive the spending requirements for those who spend at least $25,000 per calendar year on any of their Delta SkyMiles American Express card products. Better yet, I earned an additional 10,000 MQMs recently for hitting the $25,000 spend requirement with my Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card.
The People are Tops
It is what it is. From the counter and gate agents, to the Sky Clubs, to the flight attendants, I find Delta people to be great. It’s not that you’ll never find a bad seed, but it just seems so much more rare to come across one with Delta. Case in point – I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve not received a pre-departure beverage in First Class. The crews and agents are almost uniformly polite and pleasant to deal with. Same could be said for the agents in the Sky Club.
The Airline Actually Operates
I’ve referred to Delta as “an airline that actually flies” and I meant it. I have found Delta’s operational reliability to be excellent. Its aircraft appear well-maintained with interiors that are generally clean and aesthetically pleasing. Wi-Fi is pervasive throughout the fleet, including the large RJ fleet. In the few instances of significant delays I’ve experienced in the last year, I’ve been proactively contacted, and can even make new arrangements on the iPhone app. Overall, I’m very pleased with Delta’s reliability.
Now, miles do matter, and I will offer the same advice here that I’ve offered my colleagues and friends. You can be loyal to Delta, but SkyMiles can’t be your only game. You need a backup plan and should play in other programs. I tend to focus on the alternative currencies out there like Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards. My favorite Ultimate Rewards credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card which offers a 40,000 Ultimate Rewards point bonus after $3,000 in spending in the first 3 months, and 2X Ultimate Rewards points for your travel and dining purchases. My favorite Membership Rewards card is The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN. A good option for small business owners and it currently offers a 50,000 Membership Rewards bonus after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. There’s also the new Barclay Card Arrival World MasterCard which I recently covered here. The flexibility offered by any of these points currencies make for a nice backup plan when it comes to SkyMiles, or any mileage program for that matter.
In conclusion, I find it very easy to be loyal to Delta. They run a very good airline, staffed with generally pleasant people who tend to act in ways that make me feel valued as a Platinum Medallion. That said, SkyMiles cannot be the only mileage currency in your pocket. I find the flexible currency programs like Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards work best. YMMV, and you may play in another airline mileage program for a backup too. Delta loyalists, what’s your backup plan for SkyMiles?
-MJ, October 3, 2013