Buy elite miles on Delta, cheat your way to elite status

The trump card when going toe to toe with the airline industry has always been elite status. Once you’re silver or gold or whatever color is associated with frequent travel, many of the airline fees go away, upgrades start to sneak out of the woodwork and travel becomes slightly less miserable. That’s why many people carefully plan their annual travel to make sure that they reach a special status, sometimes even going as far as taking a mileage run to earn the right volume.

The problem with earning elite miles at the last minute, though, was that it was usually a waste of time, space and carbon. But airlines wouldn’t sell elite miles because then non-frequent travelers could game the system.

This week, Delta has partially fixed that conundrum by actually selling elite miles. They won’t sell you many, but if you need a few extra miles to make it to the next tier then it can be actually worth your time.

2,500 points, for example, will cost a traveler $295. But once that tier has been reached, a traveler can expect a whole host of fees waived plus free upgrades, preferred seats and priority checkin. For that price, it may be worth the investment.

You can learn more about Delta’s plan to sell miles over at their site. You can buy up to 10,000 miles.

[flickr image via sacra-moneta]

Airlines dominate Most Hated Companies list

most hated companiesThis week, The Atlantic used The American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) data to compile a list of the 19 Most Hated Companies in America. Joining Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Facebook all with a score of 64 or more out of 100 are even lower-scoring American Airlines (63), United Airlines (61), and US Airways (61). Worst of all air carriers? Delta Air Lines scoring an ultra low 56 on the index.

On Delta, The Atlantic notes:

“Complaints include additional costs for food, beverages and baggage fees. The airline collected more than $952 million in baggage fees from flyers in 2010, almost twice as much as any other airline carrier.

Since acquiring Northwest airlines in 2008, Delta’s consumer satisfaction score has plunged. According to ACSI, a big merger in service companies usually have a negative impact on customer services in the short-term, because of organization issues. Delta’s rating dropped another 6 points this year.”

The results add to concerns noted by Gadling back in April when we reported on America’s Meanest Airlines after 2011’s Airline Quality Report came out. Those results:Meanest major carrier: United Airlines
Meanest regional carrier: American Eagle
Most complained about airline: Delta Air Lines
Most likely to be unsafe: Jetblue
Most likely to overcharge for bags: Delta Airlines/ US Airways / Continental
Most likely to bump you: American Eagle
Most likely to be late: Comair
Most likely to mishandle your bag: American Eagle

One wonders if there might be a link between companies that are hated and companies that are mean.

Are there any companies on this list that you hate? Tell your story in the comments section…

Flickr photo by Loren Sztajer

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Get free Delta miles by using their mobile app

As mobile applications take a larger and larger role in our daily travel lives, airlines are starting to respond with their own widgets and tools to make working with them easier. After all, the better that they can facilitate your transactions with them, the more likely that you’re going to return a happy customer.

To that end, Delta Air Lines just rolled its new iPhone/Android app out that should help streamline the whole mobile boarding pass process. Instead of clicking through an email or navigating to delta.com on your browser, the new tool lets you check in, download your boarding pass and keep it stored for future use — without dealing with any browsers or caches or non-Delta tools.

Big deal, right? Anyone can use a mobile boarding pass irrespective of the app, and you’re still constrained by battery life and the whims of the TSA and the equipment along the chain. Fact of the matter is, mobile boarding passes are still probably not worth your time.

Still, an engaged traveler is one that’s more likely going to return (and Delta knows this), so they’re offering a 1,000 mile bonus for any passenger willing to download and try out the app next them they go to the airport. All the passenger has to do is sign up, get to the airport and check in with the app to get the reward, which should be just about the easiest 1000 miles that anyone can earn.

You can sign up for the promotion here and download the app via your favorite app store. You’ve got until September 7th to redeem.

Airline fees are worth more than Facebook

Airlines, Facebook and money

Outside the travel world, everyone’s marveling at the prospect of a Facebook IPO, which could be valued at as much as $100 billion. So, what are we missing while we fawn over Mark Zuckerberg’s creation? How about the slow, stodgy, ugly airline industry. Known for a painful user experience and a steady decline of free features, the likes of Delta and American Airlines are outdoing the hottest online property in the world simply by annoying their customers.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation‘s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, baggage and reservation change fees brought the U.S. airline industry a whopping $5.7 billion last year. Delta picked up close to a billion dollars on baggage fees alone, which doesn’t include what they yanked from the wallets of soldiers returning home from combat. The largest airline in the country also brought in approximately $700 million from reservation change fees.

American Airlines, the fourth largest airline in the United States, came in second in both categories, with $580.7 million in baggage fees and $471.4 million in reservation change fees.The particular beauty of these fees is that they are basically found money. Some passengers need to check bags, and the airlines have to invest in the overhead required to meet this demand. It’s an expense that can’t be avoided. With this fee, they monetized what they’d have to pay anyway. The same is the case for reservation change fees.

The top five earners of baggage fees in 2010 are:

1. Delta: $952.3 million

2. American: $580.7 million

3. US Airways: $513.6 million

4. Continental: $341.6 million

5. United: $313.2 million

Unsurprisingly, the top five earners of reservation change fees don’t look much different:

1. Delta: $698.6 million

2. American: $471.4 million

3. United: $321.5 million

4. US Airways: $253.1 million

5. Continental: $237.4 million

No doubt, activist groups will be up in arms shortly. And airline employees will lament the fact that their executives are so richly compensated while they have endured round after round of pay cuts and layoffs for years upon years.

Frankly, I offer my congratulations to the airline industry. Yes, they are soaking us. Passengers are a captive audience, particularly on routes with limited coverage, and we sometimes have no choice but to pay. The airlines are using this to generate profitable growth for their shareholders, which is their primary responsibility.

So, what about Facebook? The company is estimated to pull in revenues of somewhere above $4 billion this year, most of it from advertising. It is pretty interesting that the popular social network is annoying its customers as a way to generate revenue, just like the airlines!

Who knew that pissing off your target market was an awesome business model?

[photo by Tobin Black via Flickr]

Congressman talks Delta baggage-gate, supports soldiers

We’ve been following the unfolding events in a story that Gadling helped break on Tuesday where a group of soldiers returning from Afghanistan were charged $200 each to check their required luggage on Delta Air Lines.

Since then, the airline has taken several conciliatory measures and even changed their baggage policy, documenting all of the transition over on their blog.

Now, Iowa’s representation from the 1st congressional district Bruce Braley has jumped into the fray, issuing the below press release as well as a strongly worded letter (opens in PDF) to Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson:

“I’m deeply disappointed by this news that Delta Airlines charged soldiers returning from war such excessive baggage fees. These brave men and women put their lives on the line for our safety and security, and this is no way to welcome them home. I’m calling on Delta to immediately reimburse these soldiers for the extra baggage fees.

“Even if Delta was operating within its current baggage policy, I believe we all have an obligation to returning service members – not just to thank them for their service, but to also ensure that they’re not faced with any undue burden on their return.

“Since being elected to Congress, I have logged hundreds of thousands of miles on Delta – the only carrier serving my home airport in Waterloo. If Delta doesn’t reimburse these soldiers and reconsider its approach to servicing our troops, I’ll have to reconsider using their service.”

Though we’re certain that the airline is already well on the way to reimbursing the service members, Congressman Braley’s support only underscores the importance of the issue. Perhaps he’ll also help forge a better relationship between the airlines and the military so that issues like this don’t happen in the future.