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As you may have read, yesterday Delta caused a chunk of the Sky(Miles) to fall to the ground with a resounding thud by making the conscious decision to no longer display redemption award charts to their customers. Of course many of us still have screen shots of those award charts that you can access (best resources found here), but that doesn’t solve the whole problem, not by a long shot.
Kill the Award Chart, Kill the Dream.
At the core, many save up airline miles in order to one day cash them in for a specific trip. Even when I was a much more casual traveler, and certainly before I was nose deep in miles and points, I would look at the Continental Airlines award chart and dream of getting to specific award thresholds so I could one day cash in the miles I was saving and take an award flight. For me the first big target I hit was two tickets to Hawaii, and ultimately that is one of the big moments that really hooked me on miles, and in turn the Continental OnePass program. However, the trip planning and dreaming didn’t start with landing in paradise, boarding the plane, or even the redemption itself. It started with the award chart.
It started with looking at numbers, account balances, possible destinations, setting goals, and dreaming. Airline miles are often about more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B while keeping a few hundred bucks in your pocket, they are about a dream and a goal. Award charts are a critical component of that process. When you take away the award chart, I would argue that you are taking away the ability for many of your customers to set goals, plan, and dream of the amazing vacation that may one day come by being loyal to your program.
There are emotions tied with those goals and dreams, and that emotional connection can actually work in the loyalty program’s favor. If you know you want to one day walk the streets in Europe, and can see on the airline award chart that it will cost a minimum of 60,000 miles at the lowest award level to get there, then you can set that as your goal and work toward that number by earning miles with that program. Yes, you will probably have to have some flexibility to fly on the dates with the lowest award prices, but that is just a part of the frequent flyer game.
If you can’t see the price anywhere, then setting and connecting with that goal becomes much, much harder. Delta thinks it is okay to not display award charts but instead just have customers know the price in miles by searching for the days they want and just seeing what the computer comes up with. There are many, many problems with this approach. A simple one is that doesn’t give a clear picture of the price to help with goal setting. There may be no availability on the day someone does a test search, or the availability may only be at some crazy high level that makes them think the number is unattainable when it really doesn’t have to be that pricey.
The Price? You Don’t Need to Know the Price:
However, another date selected displayed a price of 60,000 miles, the price of a low level award. Had I only seen the 102,500 number I might think I could never achieve that amount and give up, however the reality is that is not the starting price, that is a high price. Without award charts you won’t have that information readily available. Sure, you can do multiple searches to come up with a general range, but that isn’t something that busy, normal folks should be expected to do.
Another big issue with no award charts is that you are essentially leaving the customer blind to what the price should be. This increases the likelihood that they can be over-charged by accidental IT blips without noticing (that absolutely happen with Delta), or that Delta can simply change the price ranges at will without anyone even knowing. None of those are good realities for a program that theoretically wants loyal customers, but are scenarios that are much more likely when you don’t display what the price, or range of prices, should be.
As I said in yesterday’s post, the only way this move makes sense to me if it is a play on the path to a revenue based redemption model where the price truly is different for every award based on the selling price of the ticket. That would not be a good development for most of us who like to leverage miles for tickets we otherwise couldn’t really afford. It wouldn’t be totally shocking given the path Delta has been on, but it would be very bad news.
Whether getting rid of the award charts is related to movement toward a revenue based model, or it was an unrelated decision, it still is a big deal. It both symbolically and practically contributes to killing the dream of frequent flyer miles that loyalty programs have built up over the last several decades. The dream of saving up your miles to one day take your family somewhere you otherwise might not be able to afford.
I hope Delta re-thinks this move both for us, and for themselves…but I’m not holding my breath.