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Last week, Delta Air Lines quietly unrolled a series of updates to its loyalty program changing the cost of many of its award tickets.

The updates make many premium international and partner carrier tickets more expensive while reducing the cost of some international economy itineraries. But the changes largely aren’t upsetting SkyMiles members — it’s the manner in which the airline is making them.

Delta has built a reputation over the last several years as a loyalty program innovator. It was the first legacy carrier to introduce a revenue-based formula for earning miles, altering the fundamental way in which frequent fliers earn elite status. The airline continues to innovate on a regular basis, incorporating new features into the SkyMiles program and tweaking things along the way.

The innovations have been both embraced and emulated by the rest of the airline industry. Changes to SkyMiles over the last years have saved the airlines millions and trimmed down their elite ranks to manageable sizes. In stride, both American and United have modified their programs to do the same.

Delta’s frequent flyer customers, on the other hand, are apoplectic. On a Flyertalk thread discussing the most change to the SkyMiles program, emotions ranged from incredulous to defeated. “Another big middle finger from DL to its frequent flyers,” user mhbaker said. “Why anyone continues to show loyalty to this airline is beyond me.”

Indeed, the latest change to SkyMiles is the icing on top of a series of changes that frequent flyers have found less-than-friendly. Earlier this year, the airline removed its award chart from the web, erasing the only mechanism that consumers could use to effectively value their miles.

With no written record of how much a given award should cost, many were concerned that the airline could change the value of their award tickets (and effectively their frequent flyer miles) without notice. As of last week’s changes, those concerns have been realized.

Irrespective of whether Delta’s frequent fliers defect to other carriers though, the program is moving in the direction that the airline wants. With aircraft at ultra-high capacity and fuel at bargain basement rates, the airline has little reason to beg for loyal customers. Until there’s incentive to bring loyal customers back to the airline, expect SkyMiles to continue shrinking.

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Tags: delta air lines, loyalty

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