Delta's New On-Time Promotion: What's the Catch?
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Delta has improved its on-time performance significantly over the past few years. Back in 2010, the legacy carrier was one of the country’s worst when it came to getting its passengers to the gate on time. It ranked 15th in the US in terms of on-time performance. That was lower than United, American, Southwest and a number of humble regional carriers.
Delta cures its tardiness
To its credit, Delta has been able to fix its tendency for tardiness over the past half-decade. Over the past few months, it has actually risen to first in terms of on-time arrivals. This past August, September and October saw Delta win the crown of most-on-time airline (for those particular months). It even beat out Hawaiian Airlines, a carrier that is well known for its performance.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of this on-time ranking is that Delta can compete with carriers like Southwest on something other than price, and it can differentiate itself from the other major airlines as well. United and American have also sought to improve their records when it comes to being on time. Delta’s turnaround, however, remains the most dramatic.
What do the numbers mean for fliers?
On one hand, all these on-time stats can be taken with a grain of salt. For a flight to be considered on time it has to arrive or depart within less than 15 minutes of the scheduled time. American Airlines is behind Delta overall in this category, but it operates more flights per month (187,503 per month compared to Delta’s average of 150,186).
On the other hand, the numbers clearly show that Delta is performing much better than it did just five years ago and much better than its competition overall (though that could be very different on certain high-traffic routes).
Using its strength as a marketing tool
The most significant thing to come out of Delta’s adherence to its schedule is a very interesting promotion for their corporate clients. The carrier has promised to pay its most-loyal customers if the annual on-time ranking falls below that of American and United. Delta will pay out between $1,000 and $250,000 per client depending on the number of delays or cancelations experienced by that particular company’s corporate fliers. This is a great example of an airline using one of its strengths to market itself.
Delta probably won't be paying much. Investopia combed through the fine print of the promo and came up with plenty of catches. Delta must finish below both United and American in order for the penalty payments to kick in. Southwest, the closest on-time competitor, isn’t included in the deal. Flights on regional affiliates and any international flights will not be counted. Also, only annual data will be used. If Delta does happen to slip below one of its legacy peers for a month or two, it won’t matter, and the airline will have time to fix its scheduling before the end of the year.
Fine print aside, Delta is showing some marketing savvy with this promotion. By playing to one of its strengths, the airline can use something other than price to differentiate itself. Furthermore, the thing that Delta is using to promote itself is totally under its control. There is no need to wait for some sort of third party rating or flier survey to give favorable results. Non-corporate fliers can’t benefit from this particular promotion, but, ideally, the trend of using performance data to differentiate themselves could lead airlines to provide better quality for all passengers.
More by Josh Lew
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