Much was said yesterday about the latest IdeaWorks study on airline award availability got its fair share of coverage. View From the Wing and The Gate both had interesting takes that I concur with. Media was also out with stories on the topic, including my hometown paper, The Atlanta Journal – Constitution. AJC’s Kelly Yamanouchi penned a piece, “Study: Delta still stingy with mileage award flights” that is worth a look. There are two key quotes in the article from SkyMiles Managing Director of Global Programs Karen Zachary that deserve unique attention.

“We’ve worked really hard in trying to keep our commitment to opening up more seats on the lowest level,” said Karen Zachary, Delta’s SkyMiles managing director of global programs. “We used to be really bad.”

With the 10,000-mile awards and other systems such as Southwest’s frequent flier program requiring points for a flight based on the fare, “The 25,000 mile round-trip award fare that historically has been a standard for the airlines, I think you’re going to see that completely change,” Zachary said. (emphasis mine)

A few points – I was at the same meeting with SkyMiles leadership that a lot of bloggers have mentioned in the last few weeks. While I did not spend a lot of time with Ms. Zachary, I found her to be open and honest about SkyMiles, a trend I hope to see continue in member communications going forward. The most interesting quote in the article to me was “The 25,000 mile round-trip award fare that historically has been a standard for the airlines, I think you’re going to see that completely change….” I can’t help but tie that thought with a couple from Delta CEO Richard Anderson when I met him last summer.

  • Miles are no longer an effective measure.
  • Bank cards pioneered what they (Delta) are doing.

Think about that for a minute.

Those of you who have been around this since the beginning will remember when the 40,000ish mile award was standard, and the 25,000 mile award did not exist. Along with that 40,000 mile award came access to any seat at just about anytime. Eventually, an airline (I think it was United, but my memory is foggy) introduced the 25,000 mile award with capacity controls, and the rest is history. That 25,000 mile number was baked into our minds by marketing pitches from airlines and credit card companies and somehow, it has stood the test of time…..until Delta introduced the 3-tier award chart. I would opine that at that time Delta began moving away from the 25K number and towards a revenue-based model. It wasn’t unusual to find a lot of 32,500 mile awards….or higher.

And now, we are where we are. Delta now has a 5-tier award chart that is hidden from public view. The price they quote in miles is “the price.”  Gary said this morning that Delta has declared the end of the 25,000 mile award. That’s true in the sense that it is no longer the only price for a roundtrip domestic, capacity controlled, coach ticket. I just think we may be looking at something even bigger. Could Delta soon “touch Social Security?” Only time will tell.

-MJ, May 16, 2015

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