Delta removes expiration from flier miles

The airline is making several changes to its SkyMiles program in hopes of keeping customers happy and loyal.

By Kim Peterson Feb 16, 2011 3:30PM
Image: Airport check-in (© Corbis)There is no reason for airlines to slap an expiration date on frequent-flier miles. We've earned them, and we shouldn't have to use them by a meaningless deadline.

DeltaAir (DAL) now agrees and says it will eliminate the expiration dates on its SkyMiles program. Previously, the miles disappeared after two years of no activity on an account. Delta is now the only major U.S. airline that doesn't expire its miles.

Why did Delta do this? For one thing, its mileage program was nothing to brag about. It lagged those of rivals in basic features. Try collecting a round-trip award at the basic 25,000-mile mark. You'll probably need to cough up 40,000 or more, writes Justin Bachman at BusinessWeek.

That's one way to infuriate customers.

Post continues after video:
One study looked at how often airlines were able to fill an award seat request requiring standard mileage levels. Southwest (LUV) was able to fulfill the request nearly all of the time, and Alaska Air (ALK) met 75% of the requests, according to The Wall Street Journal. But US Airways (LCC) could fulfill only 10.7% and Delta 12.9%.

Airlines simply do not allocate enough seats to reward programs.

It's not clear whether that will change at Delta. But at least the airline is making other changes to its frequent-flier programs, such as removing award redemption fees and allowing some members one free checked bag. It's upgrading its website so people can find travel awards more easily.

Other airlines may now have to make similar changes, the Journal reports. "For travelers who have seen airlines weaken their loyalty programs, it's exciting to see the trend reverse, at least at Delta," Scott McCartney writes.

At the View from the Wing blog, Gary Leff writes that Delta should be doing more for active mileage members. "It seems they've chosen to invest in the unengaged, once every few years flyer so that those members keep on the treadmill and keep earning points," Leff writes. The airline could have instead made the points themselves more useful, he adds.

"If there's one part of the program where Delta is uncompetitive relative to their competitors, it's the availability of award seats," Leff writes. "That's where I’d be investing."

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