In recent days, miles and points enthusiasts have been bemoaning the fact that United is going to copy Delta’s move from 4 years ago and banish its award chart. The reason United, and according to rumors American Airlines will emulate Delta in this respect is that what Delta did actually works, otherwise why would have Amex renewed the partnership with Delta for another decade? At the most basic level, your psych 101 explains Delta’s strategy casino strategy.

After instituting a we’ll-charge-you-what-we-want-policy, many saw no reason to spending money using their Delta/Amex card, and those with options moved away from Delta. Again, psych 101, if you want to stop a behavior, you stop rewarding it. However, if you want to get people hooked, you need to reward them inconsistenly (variable ratio reward schedule): enter Delta’s Flash Sales.

After Delta implemented their new unpredictable flash sales, all of the sudden, the world’s least favorite miles program became a winner. I regret having used 70K SkyMiles at 1 cent each given the fact that at any given time you can fly the family round trip some where nice with less miles. In reality, if you try to actually take advantage of one of those sales, maybe like me, you won’t be able to, however it is like going to a casino, at some point you win something or you see people winning. We are more likely to be loyal to Delta with this unpredictable reward scheme than if they had kept their award chart. If you knew that flying Delta from NYC to London would cost 80K SkyMiles round trip and next year it went up to 100K, and the following it jumped to 125K without any meaningful way of earning more SkyMiles with ease, one would abandon Delta’s “rewards” program because it would only be rewarding Delta.

With this casino style approach which is an evil use of behavioral psychology at its worst Delta, United and maybe soon AA will try to keep their loyal customers hooked. My plan is to use all my Delta SkyMiles and United points as soon as a great sale that works for me shows up and then just collect UR and MR points. I plan to transfer those point to Delta and United strickly when I can score a great deal.


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