The Complexity of Loyalty

When United Airlines created the first frequent-flyer program in 1972, I suspect they simply told their agency (Western Direct Marketing) to figure out a way to incent consumers to ask their travel agents to book them on United when making flight arrangements—and the concept of measuring and rewarding loyalty was born. But somewhere along the line, in the case of Delta Airlines, the simplicity of this concept got completely derailed

When United Airlines created the first frequent-flyer program in 1972, I’m sure they never dreamed it would be the start of a 700 billion dollar industry.

I suspect they simply told their agency (Western Direct Marketing) to figure out a way to incent consumers to ask their travel agents to book them on United when making flight arrangements—and the concept of measuring and rewarding loyalty was born.

In the decades since, frequent-flyer programs have morphed and evolved to tie in partners from credit cards to hotels, car rentals and everything in-between. And it was simple to understand: When you used the card, stayed at a hotel or booked a rental car, you earned miles. But somewhere along the line, in the case of Delta Airlines, the simplicity of this concept got completely derailed.

As a longtime business traveler, I joined every frequent-flyer program in existence. Yes, I had my preferred airlines, but they didn’t always fly to my destination—or depart at my preferred time of day. So I collected miles every time I boarded a plane, regardless of airline (defeating the entire purpose of the concept).

Many years ago, Delta teamed up with American Express (my “go to” credit card) and the offer was too sweet to resist. Collect Delta miles for every dollar I spent? Count me in!!

Over the years, I’ve collected hundreds of thousands of Delta Skymiles and have been lucky enough to fly first class and business class overseas for next to nothing.

My regular Delta Statement email, which clearly shows my mileage balance (nice and prominent in about 30 pt. type), is of little value other than to remind me of my rapidly growing mileage balance (thanks Am Ex!).

However, an additional email arrived recently with the Subject Line: Start Tracking Your Medallion Qualification Dollars on Delta.com. Huh?

I kid you not when I tell you that this email might have been written in a language preserved for those who speak Bothese (natives of the planet Bothawui in Star Wars). Let me quote the exact text from the email:

Beginning January 1, 2014, you will earn Medallion status through a combination of Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) or Medallion Qualification Segments (MQSs) flown and your annual spending on Delta flights, which will be measured by Medallion Qualification Dollars (MQDs).

What?? MQMs? MQSs? MQDs? Are you kidding me? Even after I click through on the link, the explanation gets even muddier.

It seems that this is all about reaching Silver, Gold, Platinum or Diamond Status with their program (I’ll assume there’s some benefit to reaching these levels, but that’s not clearly evident) … but yet there are qualification thresholds which require me to spend at least $25,000 in Eligible Purchases with my Am Ex card (naturally I’d have to click on that link to see what’s eligible and what’s not) and they measure segments and distances, and my flight number has to have a “DL” in the airline code, and there are Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3 partner airlines that must be ticketed through a Delta channel (and that ticket number will begin with an “006”) and … and … and … AAACCCKKK!!

When did Delta’s loyalty reward program get so complicated??

Let’s just cut to the chase: I fly on Delta, I earn mileage. I use my Am Ex card for purchases and I earn mileage. When I reach a few hundred thousand miles, I book a trip to Europe first class for free. I get it.

My life is far too busy to think about (or figure out) how to optimize my MQMs, MQSs or MQDs. Even if it means I could fly around the world first class, for free.

If you’re going to design and run a loyalty program, keep it simple. That way I can be clear on what you want me to do, and, if I like your product or service, keep doing business with you. No ifs, ands, buts or MQMs.

P.S. If a reader has figured out Delta’s system and can explain it in layman’s terms, please send me an email. Perhaps I’m missing out on owning my own private jet …

Author: Carolyn Goodman

A blog that challenges B-to-B marketers to learn, share, question, and focus on getting it right—the first time. Carolyn Goodman is President/Creative Director of Goodman Marketing Partners. An award-winning creative director, writer and in-demand speaker, Carolyn has spent her 30-year career helping both B-to-B and B-to-C clients cut through business challenges in order to deliver strategically sound, creatively brilliant marketing solutions that deliver on program objectives. To keep her mind sharp, Carolyn can be found most evenings in the boxing ring, practicing various combinations. You can find her at the Goodman Marketing website, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter @CarolynGoodman.

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