My Loyalty to Delta Is Getting Very Pricey

by John Harper

I have flown Delta, to the exclusion of almost all other airlines, for a better part of the past five years. That loyalty is starting to get expensive.

Delta keeps climbing above competitors American Airlines and United Continental in net promoter scores, a business metric used to measure how often customers recommend a brand. Their relative fare margins seem to continue climbing, also.

Gary Leff: American and United Are Losing Business Because of Harsh Basic Economy

My Delta servitude began when I lived in Cleveland, shortly after United shuttered the former Continental hub there. With the hub closed, Cleveland flyers had a roughly even field of choices, with one connection required to reach most other midsize cities and international destinations. Delta, more often than not, offered the best schedules.

Delta’s hubs in Atlanta and Detroit were banked more tightly than American and United’s alternatives, meaning layovers and travel times were shorter. The airline was also fare competitive. Delta flights were often near the bottom of the fare column and even when they weren’t, the margin was reasonable.

Since moving to New York City in 2016, I’ve remained evermore loyal. Delta operates the most nonstop flights in the metro area and an excellent transatlantic network with three robust joint venture partners, Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

Delta spoils Medallions, even in London. Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallions have access to the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing and Clubhouse, two of the more exclusive and luxurious amenities in travel.

Living on the east side of New York, with Newark Liberty far over the horizon, it’s downright inconvenient to choose another singular airline. JetBlue is a delightful alternative for domestic flights, but I’d sorely miss access to Delta’s SkyTeam partner perks during fairly frequent international trips.

That parody parity appears to be vanishing as Delta continues to outpace its competitors. My domestic travel plans for the remainder of the year include a stint down to Houston, a holiday in New Orleans, a West Coast trip for Thanksgiving, and two transcontinental flights to Portland, Oregon and back.

SkyMiles Is a Wasteland, Yet I’m Still Stuck With Delta

I’ve written before about the perplexing paradox of remaining loyal to an airline that continues to devalue its loyalty program. Now, that loyalty is starting to hurt my wallet. Price premiums on almost every future trip I’m considering are approaching 50 percent or more.

Delta Fare Price Expensive

Spirit and United are clear fare winners for a nonstop to New Orleans this fall. The JetBlue fare isn’t quite the same bargain, but includes carry-on bags, actually comfortable seats and fast Wi-Fi. I’ll have to eat-in for a month just to stay loyal to Delta.

Delta Fare Price Expensive

Have a merry empty wallet this Christmas Eve? Delta’s fare is 43 percent more expensive than JetBlue’s, for crummy, expensive Wi-Fi and seats that are crammed four inches closer together. That’s insane.

A more reasonable margin, but Delta still collects a significant 12.5 percent hike over competitors for a Labor Day jaunt to PDX. Alaska will even let you pick your seat for that lower price (Delta won’t).

The one exception in all of the recent searches I’ve done is New York to Houston, a route on which Delta plays second fiddle to United’s energy business dominance.

Delta’s fares between New York and Houston, a route on which United dominates business traffic, actually best ultra-discount Spirit. I’ll take a comfy Embraer 175 over a packed United 737 any day.

These comparisons aren’t exactly apples to apples — Delta’s Basic Economy fares include carry-on bags, while American’s and United’s don’t — but I pay out of the basic fares anyway, lest I forfeit most of the benefits associated with my Platinum Medallion elite status.

Will anyone come to the rescue? United has been on a warpath to challenge Delta, besting them in so-called D0 on-time departures over the past quarter.

If only JetBlue would form a stronger international offering. A JetBlue, Alaska Mileage Plan pairing would be a dream.

Until then, I’m going to have to start pinching pennies in other parts of my life to enjoy my loyalty, and its perks, with Delta.

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Geoff July 21, 2018 - 9:51 am

Parity. Not parody. Although most of their Delta One mileage requirements are indeed a parody. Good write up. I’m loyal to Delta as well. They are very pricey.

John July 21, 2018 - 4:32 pm

Good point.

Ed July 21, 2018 - 11:16 am

It’s called “Stockholm Syndrome”.

John July 21, 2018 - 4:32 pm

That explains my ongoing relationship with SkyMiles.

Gene July 21, 2018 - 12:05 pm

@ John — I was just ranting about the same thing to my husband this morning. Delta seems to think they can charge more for basically the same product. Well, they can’t, and this won’t last, unless people are even more stupid than demonstrated by their electing DJT as POTUS. If it does, we are done with Delta. This is one price I will NOT pay for my loyalty.

Tom July 21, 2018 - 2:09 pm

Does pain turn you on?

John July 21, 2018 - 4:31 pm

Only when followed by hot towel service.

Erich July 21, 2018 - 4:31 pm

Loyalty is deader than fried chicken. The sooner that you face that realization, the stacks of hundred dollar bills that you’ll rack up in savings will more than make the difference for access to overcrowded lounges and a worthless frequent flier program. Out of my 40-50 roundtrips per year, I fly delta maybe 3 times. These flights are to Delta hubs (MSP, SLC, and nonstops for convenience) but I always do a hidden city ticket to a cheaper city. (saves me at least 200-300 EACH WAY).
Good luck in reconciling your plans/approach. There’s alot to be said for free agency, and I’ve really enjoyed the business class products of the European and Asian carriers for my trips over the water.
Trust me, you’ll be happy off of the hamster wheel.

Gene July 21, 2018 - 5:14 pm

Erich — Hidden city ticketing was the first thing that crossed my mind. We booked two dirt-cheap round trip KLM business class tickets for 2019 for about $4,800 total. We will earn 16,000 MQD and more than 62,000 MQM. Throw in 15,000 MQM from credit card spend, and 8,000 MQM from using the Delta Reserve BOGO, and we are still 40,000 MQMs short of requalifying for Diamond. Leaves me wondering how to reach 125,000 MQMs, because I am not paying 15% extra for the privilege of flying Delta domestically. I guess the answer should be obvious — fly AA/UA domestically and fly DL partners internationally , not DL. Why bother?….

AlohaDaveKennedy July 21, 2018 - 5:35 pm

Delta stands for Don’t Even Like This Airline.

chris July 21, 2018 - 7:47 pm

Why not fly another airline for those specific routes and just keep a lower level status on delta?

John July 21, 2018 - 9:42 pm

The point is that Delta is charging multiples now on just about every route I fly, except one. I don’t value lower level status very highly, and given that my upgrade percentages this year are around 90 percent, flying another airline basically means forfeiting a first class seat.

Truthiness July 21, 2018 - 9:09 pm

I am an NYC east sider. I fly Delta from NY because it’s a better product. Better terminal at LGA. On time. Direct flights to where I need to be. Don’t have to schlep to EWR. Don’t have to suffer though AA at terminal third world at LGA. The one downside is Skymiles. It’s a crappy rewards program. Don’t need to explain the many reasons why; it just is. AAdvantage is a better program. Forget upgrades, etc. For business travel for me, Delta is stellar.

Bill July 22, 2018 - 12:14 pm

As with all things, until more Delta and other flyers stop choosing Delta despite its higher prices/pitiful loyalty program, Delta can and will continue to play this game…and win.


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