Why loyalty programs aren't doing their job


Loyalty may be a two-way street, but lately I feel as if I am stuck in a dead end.

Not so long ago, hotel brands and airlines were hungry for loyal customers and developed great programs to make guests feel like they were important, special even. A solid appreciation for their business.

But boom times have hardened many companies’ approach to loyalty programs by removing benefits or pushing goal posts further away from their customers’ grasp.

It’s as if these programs are being mirrored after the perception of U.S. economy; good for the one percent, not so much for everyone else. Those at the top tier will continue to be fawned over like Ryan Seacrest interviewing a celebrity on the red carpet before the Oscars. But for us mere mortals, we’re relegated to the cheap seats at the Razzies.

Not even a Brian Dunkleman to make us feel good. Oh Brian, how amazing you made me feel that first year on American Idol.

In the airline world, a strong travel economy, jam packed airplanes, and good old fashioned hubris are mixing with the imperative to constantly outplay Wall Street, is fomenting a bad tasting stew that’s leaving a foul taste in the average customer’s mouth.

I, for one, am left in a position of unrequited love for an airline that used to mean so much to me; Delta.  In the past three years CEO Richard Anderson has led the way to reinvent its loyalty program that takes a lesson right from Congress; tell the people how amazing a program is, but give them the opposite.

In the previous two years Delta has switched from a program based on pure miles, to one also pegged to spending a specific amount of money. Which is now increasing every year. Once I needed 75,000 miles for Platinum status, then it was 75,000 miles and $7,500 spent. That effectively punished me for buying tickets at the price they asked for, simply because I bought them in advance rather than at the last moment. This past year that threshold shot up to $9,000, and because I missed that target, I got dropped to Gold.

I know, poor me. But as many of you know that makes a big difference in experience quality. It’s at the point where I have lost the option to reserve the best seats in advance, and already fleeting upgrades are about to become a memory. Again, poor me.

But truthfully, it’s at the point where the benefits vs. the other airlines is becoming null.

Caveat; every Delta employee I engage with is great, and they personally have done a great job a making me want to stay with the company. But it’s become clear upper management thinks my business is not worthy. Or at least not as important as it was when I stuck with them through the darkest days of the last two recessions.

I really want to remain loyal, but I could fly Southwest from an airport 15 minutes from home rather than an hour, that’s easy to get in and out of, with parking fee a fraction of JFK or LaGuardia.

So I asked Delta, via Twitter, to provide me with a “compelling” reason to stay with Delta and not switch to the other airline. Because I would really like to continue giving them my business.

Much to my chagrin, the staff from @DeltaAssist on Twitter was not helpful, puppeting back that lame line of how much they value my business and how they will pass along my concerns.

Even though I pressed them multiple times, they cannot seem to offer me a single compelling reason to stick with them and not move along to another company. Not one compelling reason.

For the hotel business, executives must take a cue from this impeding problem. With all the money invested in this programs, if benefits don’t accentuate the customer’s experience you’ll be back to fighting on price.

Maybe the millennials have it right; they don’t seem to be loyal like previous generations. Perhaps the real problem is companies are no longer loyal to customers.

Should I drop Delta and switch to Southwest? Let me know at [email protected] or on Twitter at @TravelingGlenn.