Delta has really enjoyed making a splash at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas over the years, and this year it returned with a bang. The highlight announcement was free wifi for all*, but there’s a lot more than that under the name Delta Sync. This has the potential to be a huge moneymaker for Delta down the line with promotional partnerships all based on your valuable data.
The basic announcement of free wifi is something that Delta has foreshadowed for years. It has long publicly said that it wanted to make wifi free for everyone, but it needed to have enough bandwidth to support the higher usage that would come with the benefit. That on its face is very true, and apparently it has now reached the point of inflection.
JetBlue showed several years ago that the right provider with the right amount of bandwidth could make free wifi a reality. The Blue Crew has been doing it for a long time, though it’s a lot easier when you’re an airline as small as JetBlue compared to the behemoth that is Delta. But as satellites kept getting launched and Delta started working with Viasat to get that same fast wifi, it started to open the door to this happening. It will now turn on February 1 on much of the mainline domestic fleet. Regional and international are said to follow by the end of 2024.
On the surface, this all sounds like a massive expense for Delta, and that is how the airline wants you to think about it. This is a generous offering from a premium airline, and you should spend your premium dollars to fly said airline. But this is not just about Delta throwing money out there magnanimously. This is about turning free wifi into a moneymaker through partnerships.
The free wifi itself is being sponsored by T-Mobile, so that’s partnership number one. And in case you were wondering if your data is involved in getting T-Mobile interested, it has to be. A Delta spokesperson tells me that people want more personalizing, and so they’re giving it to them. That being said…
Most importantly, with all of our personalization touchpoints we are providing choice. If a customer would like to opt-out of free Wi-Fi and Delta Sync, customers will still have the option to purchase Wi-Fi during their flight.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to opt out unless they were concerned about what would happen with their data. I’m pleased that Delta is offering the ability to opt out, though I imagine very few will. Nobody reads the terms and conditions, though if anyone does, Delta assures me it will abide by all laws, etc, as you’d expect. Only a few will trade cash for privacy.
Once people opt into free wifi, it will be the base on which the Delta Sync system can help Delta to… keep climbing? Is it still using that tagline? Maybe the new tagline should be”if you want to keep climbing, you have to sync.” Go ahead and use that one, Delta, it’s a freebie.
Back to the point, Delta Sync is a “new platform of digital services and experiences that will personalize the travel journey for our customers,” according to Delta.
Everything in Delta Sync — including access to free wifi itself — requires that you have a SkyMiles account. This is what will really open up the revenue opportunities for Delta since it can tie your behavior throughout your journey to a single user, especially with the Delta Sync Exclusives Hub. So far, here’s what is, or will soon be, under the umbrella:
- Free wifi access on eligible aircraft, sponsored by T-Mobile
- Special “curated” offers from American Express
- Free streaming from Paramount+ (and an offer for new subscribers to sign up)
- Dining guides and restaurant reservations from Resy
- “Curated” travel recommendations from Atlas Obscura
- Free access to New York Times games
Beyond this, Delta Sync will include the ability to order food and beverage directly in the system for First Class passengers and use facial matching to check-in, go through security, and board (currently in Atlanta and Detroit). It is, as Delta says, a way to create a more personalized experience.
The flip side of that, of course, is that it makes it easy for Delta to gather a bunch of data from you and monetize it with its partners. This isn’t a secret. When you go to sign up for a Delta SkyMiles account, the first line of mice type at the bottom says:
If you’ve ever seen a line snaking out the Delta SkyClub, you know just how powerful the Delta/Amex partnership is for the airline. When the partnership was renewed in 2019, it was expected to reach a $7 billion annual benefit for Delta by the end of this year. That is a low estimate.
While Delta will never recreate something as lucrative as the Amex deal, it doesn’t need to. It can work with all of these brands that are starting off the Delta Sync program and likely make some good money doing it.
So don’t feel bad for Delta having spent all that money to offer free wifi to you. Just getting you to sign up for a SkyMiles account is all the airline needs to start making that money back.
*It’s not really for all, as I explain in the post