Pissed at Delta? Don't
Get Mad, Get Smarter.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2023 -- Delta Air Lines has screwed everyone with its latest SkyMiles changes so flyers are justifiably pissed. Travel bloggers, most of whom spent years earning lucrative referral fees by peddling Delta Amex credit cards to gullible readers, are now urging those same folks to rise up against Delta's oppressive SkyGods. Even the mainstream media has latched onto the furor, suddenly noticing that frequent flyer programs are an unregulated lottery, something I first postulated more than 20 years ago.

The anger is misplaced and unproductive. You can't get even with Delta--and you shouldn't even try. Your goal should be to calmly, rationally and practically formulate useful responses that emphasize your comfort, improve your productivity and maximize your financial benefit. You need to channel your anger into real solutions.

Allow me to offer some thoughts to help you organize yours.

A popular line of argument in the travel blogosphere this week has been that Delta has finally crossed the line into transparent and self-defeating usury and will finally be penalized for its rapacious actions against its most loyal flyers. Poppycock. Delta knows exactly what it's doing. If travelers really do rebel by flying another carrier or moving spending from Delta Amex cards, Delta will respond with splashy short-term promotions. If card spending falls, there will be bonuses to move it back to a Delta-branded card. If travel slumps because Delta has made reaching elite levels too costly, it'll offer elite-qualifying incentives to woo flyers back. Delta had set the levels it wants customers to reach. If all of this week's sound and fury signifies nothing, Delta wins. If travelers really do rebel, Delta will promote accordingly. It's win-win for Delta, so don't waste a moment expecting ramifications or comeuppance.

Delta has a fabulous geographic advantage. It is the dominant carrier in the Upper Midwest and the Deep South, it has fortress hubs in Minneapolis, Detroit and Atlanta and is strong in huge portions of the New York Metro area and lower New England. For a lot of flyers, Delta is the only practical (read: nonstop or convenient connection) option. If you are one of Delta's prisoners, stop making believe you'll fly another carrier. If Delta has the most nonstops for you or the most rational connections, a miserable frequent flyer program shouldn't motivate you to switch airlines. Convenient flights trump everything. Accept that reality and don't waste energy carping about your unfavorable geographic position. Don't cut off your nose to spite your flying.

On the other hand, if you are not shackled to Delta by geography, don't fly them again. Give your business to the other airlines that make sense for you to fly. No other airline is notably better than Delta, but Delta isn't notably better than the other guys now, either. The days when Delta had a better on-time record, cancelled fewer flights and offered a better in-flight product ended with the pandemic. These days, Delta is no better or worse than the other guys. And Delta has proven, time and again, that it will not compete with SkyMiles. Delta's program is demonstrably worse than the frequency plans operated by American, United, Southwest or Alaska Air. Delta thinks it can get away with asking for more loyalty and delivering less. If you don't have to deal with them, fly elsewhere.

Some of the deepest and most astounding cuts in this round of SkyMiles devaluations were to Delta-branded Amex cards and the adjacent American Express Platinum card. Even if you are a geographic prisoner of Delta, don't give them your spending volume, too. You can do better elsewhere. The Amex Hilton Surpass Card, for example, is bundled with ten Priority Pass visits for a $95 annual fee. If you can handle the hefty $695 fee, the Amex Platinum Card remains the best vehicle for flying charges. It rewards five Membership Rewards points for every dollar of airline spend. There are terrific statement credits for using Uber ($200 a year) and streaming services ($240 a year) as well as Priority Pass Select and access to Amex's network of Centurion Lounges. Alternately, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, with an annual fee of just $95, remains a fabulous all-around travel rewards card with other nice perks, too. And any 2% cash-rebate card will reward you better than the absurdly overpriced Delta Amex Reserve Card.

American, United and Southwest may use this moment to woo some of Delta's formerly most loyal flyers. Watch for the opportunity. But note that Alaska Airlines, which is in an existential struggle with Delta at its home hub of Seattle-Tacoma, has already acted. It's offering Delta elites a very soft landing through 2024. Even if you are not based in the Pacific Northwest, however, consider the options that Alaska Air is pitching. It's now in the Oneworld Alliance with American Airlines and the two carriers can more than match Delta's reach. Moreover, Alaska Air continues to partner with a wide range of international airlines outside the Oneworld Alliance. You might find this a compelling alternative to Delta.

Finally, take Delta's gluttony in stride and laugh about it. One unhappy Delta customer on Reddit has already come up with an hilarious way to tag Delta: phony SkyMiles luggage tags. For $11.55 each, there are 20 tags that send Delta a pithy message. One, for example, boasts of Cardboard Medallion status. Another boasts of Rich Person Medallion status. A third celebrates Fool's Gold status. There is the requisite "I Was Loyal to Delta & All I Got Was This Dumb Tag" tag. Best of all, though, is the tag that simply reads: This Tag Is Meaningless. The glossy, plastic tags are about the thickness of a credit card and measure 2 1/4 x 3 1/2 inches. And they really do look like Delta-issued luggage tags. Shipping is extra, of course, because what's a Delta parody without an add-on charge?