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U.S. Airline Frequent Flyer Programs Under DOT Spotlight

The agency has engaged several airlines regarding their frequent flyer programs.


A Delta Air Lines A319 holds short as an American Airlines A321 departs Los Angeles (Photo: AirlineGeeks | James Dinsdale)

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has met with several U.S.-based airlines to discuss frequent flyer programs (FFPs). According to Reuters, the DOT is researching some ‘unfair and deceptive’ practices in airline FFPs that may be negatively impacting members.

These practices were categorized as “troubling reports” by Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Roger Marshal in October. These included ‘transparency practices when booking award tickets, transferability of miles and notice given before making changes.’ It was noted that ‘the devaluation of frequent flyer miles over time’ would also be investigated as this practice ‘makes it harder to book award tickets.’

The news agency cites a DOT spokesperson as stating: “We plan to carefully review complaints regarding loyalty programs and exercise our authority to investigate airlines for unfair and deceptive practices that hurt travelers as warranted. DOT officials are actively meeting with U.S. airlines and gathering more information on this issue.”

The announcement of the DOT engagement with airlines regarding FFPs follows concerns raised in recent months by customers and U.S. politicians. In September, Delta Air Lines was the subject of a torrent of negative publicity after the carrier announced changes to its FFP. One of the main changes that raised the ire of FFP members at the time was the Medallion system of elite status qualification.

The trend away from how many times and the distance FFP members have traveled to a focus on how much they spend has been adopted by a growing number of airlines in recent years. As Forbes reported at the time, those members of Delta’s FFP who utilized Delta-branded credit cards and other spending avenues would ‘need at least $60,000 worth of annual spending to achieve the lowest Medallion status without flying.’

Such was the backlash from Delta FFP members that chief executive officer Ed Bastian publicly admitted the carrier may have gone too far with the changes. In a ‘Note from Ed’ on the airline’s website, Bastian acknowledged the amount of feedback received on the subject. He stated: “Your response made clear that the changes did not fully reflect the loyalty you have demonstrated to Delta.” Citing the popularity of Delta’s FFP since the pandemic. Bastian noted: “It’s been a challenge to balance the growth of our membership with our need to deliver premium service experiences.

Though not all of the changes were reversed several amendments were made to the announced program changes. “When I read your emails, you clearly expressed how much Delta is part of your lifestyle,” added Bastian. “I greatly appreciate that, and we don’t take it lightly. Our investment in your experience will always be at the heart of everything we do. I know the modifications we have made won’t solve for every disappointment. Our goal is to do our best to ensure we deliver the service and benefits your loyalty deserves.”

John Flett


  • John Flett

    John has always had a passion for aviation and through a career with Air New Zealand has gained a strong understanding of aviation operations and the strategic nature of the industry. During his career with the airline, John held multiple leadership roles and was involved in projects such as the introduction of both the 777-200 and -300 type aircraft and the development of the IFE for the 777-300. He was also part of a small team who created and published the internal communications magazines for Air New Zealand’s pilots, cabin crew and ground staff balancing a mix of corporate and social content. John is educated to postgraduate level achieving a masters degree with Distinction in Airline and Airport Management. John has held the positions of course director of an undergraduate commercial pilot training programme at a leading London university. In addition he is contracted as an external instructor for IATA (International Air Transport Association) and has been a member of the Heathrow Community Fund’s ‘Communities for Tomorrow’ panel.

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