Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Delta Eliminates Mileage Expiration

We noted a few posts back that we’re liking Delta more and more. This morning we just received an email saying, “we have eliminated our mileage expiration policy - no asterisk, no fine print, no ifs, ands or buts.”

Wow. This could be a game-changer in the industry. Delta goes on to say, “We are proud to be the only major U.S. carrier without mileage expiration.” More details here.

More thoughts about this in the near future.


Thinking about this announcement, yes, it is a game-changer to some degree. But it’s mostly a great PR stunt (and I mean that word in the best sense).

Mileage expiration isn’t an issue for the frequent traveler – those who are Delta’s and most airlines’ bread-and-butter traveler. But it can be a big deal for the less-frequent flier. Those folks who fly to see grandma every couple of years deserve the mileage awards as much as do the road warriors. And they don’t deserve to have their mileage disappear because they fly less often.

Hey, the airlines set up these programs, and fliers of all stripes should benefit. Delta now has the opportunity to turn a PR stunt into a marketing advantage. If they can keep the occasional traveler loyal, maybe there will be a small incremental revenue benefit from the repeat business of those travelers. And there’s minimal downside to small amounts of unexpired miles in their systems – gramdma-flier will probably forget they exist and never use the miles anyway. And even if those fliers do burn their miles, that reduces Delta’s unused-miles liability.

As a marketing guy, I’d love to see Delta scream this from the rooftops – billboards alongside airport-access highways; signage at Delta ticket counters; constant reminders in every Delta email, credit-card statement, etc.

Of course, if (when) some of the other airlines jump on this, Delta’s advantage begins to shrink. The funny thing is, why did no airline think of this before? Sure, there are a few airlines with long expiration policies – Air Canada’s is 7 years; Korean Air is 10 years – but both those programs have “lose-or-use” miles. Probably for most travelers in those programs that’s as good as “forever” anyway.

The miles liability sits on the airlines balance sheet no matter what. The loyalty trade-off may be completely worth it.

(As of late afternoon, the news is still not on Delta's home page. It's not on the SkyMiles home page. It's not on the SkyMiles sign-up page. It's not on the SkyMiles log-in page. This marketing guy just sighs.)