I corresponded with Delta Airlines about the changes they have rolled-out to their SkyMiles program. The new rules favor those who spend the most money and have the highest status level. Amending the rules of their ‘loyalty’ program is the airline’s right. The response I received from Delta told me that the enhanced SkyMiles model was consistent with other companies in the travel industry. It represents the classic, ‘everyone else is doing it so we must change.’ First, not everyone else is adopting this model, Delta is choosing these rules strategically. They are trying to get everyone else to follow them to generate a new middle ground. Second, Delta has a tremendous opportunity to address areas of frustration, such as the lowest availability of award seats, customer service that ranks near the bottom, and upgrade thresholds that punishes elite flyers who are joined by their spouse or family members on a trip. Third, innovation takes risks. Building loyalty requires integrity. Delta is testing the theory that numbers matter more than people, that manipulation is greater than innovation, and that everyone else will follow it to the lowest common denominator.
As Roderick Russell suggested, be human first then optimize.