Why Having No Award Chart is a Big Problem

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As you may have read, yesterday Delta caused a chunk of the Sky(Miles) to fall to the ground with a resounding thud by making the conscious decision to no longer display redemption award charts to their customers.  Of course many of us still have screen shots of those award charts that you can access (best resources found here), but that doesn’t solve the whole problem, not by a long shot.

Kill the Award Chart, Kill the Dream. 

At the core, many save up airline miles in order to one day cash them in for a specific trip.  Even when I was a much more casual traveler, and certainly before I was nose deep in miles and points, I would look at the Continental Airlines award chart and dream of getting to specific award thresholds so I could one day cash in the miles I was saving and take an award flight.  For me the first big target I hit was two tickets to Hawaii, and ultimately that is one of the big moments that really hooked me on miles, and in turn the Continental OnePass program.  However, the trip planning and dreaming didn’t start with landing in paradise, boarding the plane, or even the redemption itself.  It started with the award chart.

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It started with looking at numbers, account balances, possible destinations, setting goals, and dreaming.  Airline miles are often about more than just a way to get from Point A to Point B while keeping a few hundred bucks in your pocket, they are about a dream and a goal.  Award charts are a critical component of that process.  When you take away the award chart, I would argue that you are taking away the ability for many of your customers to set goals, plan, and dream of the amazing vacation that may one day come by being loyal to your program.

There are emotions tied with those goals and dreams, and that emotional connection can actually work in the loyalty program’s favor.  If you know you want to one day walk the streets in Europe, and can see on the airline award chart that it will cost a minimum of 60,000 miles at the lowest award level to get there, then you can set that as your goal and work toward that number by earning miles with that program.  Yes, you will probably have to have some flexibility to fly on the dates with the lowest award prices, but that is just a part of the frequent flyer game.

If you can’t see the price anywhere, then setting and connecting with that goal becomes much, much harder.  Delta thinks it is okay to not display award charts but instead just have customers know the price in miles by searching for the days they want and just seeing what the computer comes up with.  There are many, many problems with this approach.  A simple one is that doesn’t give a clear picture of the price to help with goal setting.  There may be no availability on the day someone does a test search, or the availability may only be at some crazy high level that makes them think the number is unattainable when it really doesn’t have to be that pricey.

The Price? You Don’t Need to Know the Price:

For example, I searched from Houston – Amsterdam for a round trip coach award ticket and on one date was shown a price of 102,500 miles for the round trip. No Delta Award Chart

However, another date selected displayed a price of 60,000 miles, the price of a low level award.  Had I only seen the 102,500 number I might think I could never achieve that amount and give up, however the reality is that is not the starting price, that is a high price.  Without award charts you won’t have that information readily available.  Sure, you can do multiple searches to come up with a general range, but that isn’t something that busy, normal folks should be expected to do.

Delta Award Charts

Another big issue with no award charts is that you are essentially leaving the customer blind to what the price should be.  This increases the likelihood that they can be over-charged by accidental IT blips without noticing (that absolutely happen with Delta), or that Delta can simply change the price ranges at will without anyone even knowing.  None of those are good realities for a program that theoretically wants loyal customers, but are scenarios that are much more likely when you don’t display what the price, or range of prices, should be.

As I said in yesterday’s post, the only way this move makes sense to me if it is a play on the path to a revenue based redemption model where the price truly is different for every award based on the selling price of the ticket.  That would not be a good development for most of us who like to leverage miles for tickets we otherwise couldn’t really afford.  It wouldn’t be totally shocking given the path Delta has been on, but it would be very bad news.

Whether getting rid of the award charts is related to movement toward a revenue based model, or it was an unrelated decision, it still is a big deal.  It both symbolically and practically contributes to killing the dream of frequent flyer miles that loyalty programs have built up over the last several decades.  The dream of saving up your miles to one day take your family somewhere you otherwise might not be able to afford.

I hope Delta re-thinks this move both for us, and for themselves…but I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. I was planning on canceling our 2 Delta Amex cards anyway, but I think I will do it now and tell Amex this is the reason. I spent down my point balance several months ago.

  2. I don’t use Delta and am not very acquainted w/ their program-but from what I do know about their ‘reward’ program…maybe it’s best for Delta not to show the charts. Because if they did, the value of their points just might STOP you from having big dreams, if you get my drift.

  3. Pam, I was thinking the exact same thing. Delta does not care if people say that they will not fly Delta anymore because they feel that capacity is tight enough someone else will fill your seat. However, we can still hit them by tearing up our Delta credit cards. I,too, plan on telling AMEX that this is the reason.

  4. I was looking for a way to cut back this year, especially the CCs that carry annual fees. Guess which card is now the frontrunner? Delta made my choice very easy.

  5. It could be much worse than killing the dream. It allows DL to devaluate the existing outstanding mileage balance AT WILL.
    Dream is for something in the future and one may still choose not to engage given the situation–you still have an choice. But for those already holding DL miles, there is no escape when such devaluation comes.
    It can make the huge balance you’ve saved over years worthless overnight–much like how the Soviet Ruble collapsed in a matter of days and rendering millions, who have worked decades to save for their retirements, penniless.
    For example, what if you search every single domestic flight and it returns 20 million miles per flight? Although delta promises that the lowest domestic award remains 25k, there is no guarantee you can find it. Literally, if they keep one 25k seat in the entire schedule through the entire calendar, they are not lying, regardless whether all the rest of award seats are 20 million or 20 billion each. So this allows delta to de facto write off its mileage debt on the book completely.
    There doesn’t even need to be any consistency in the award calendar. You can check the calendar today and work hard to reach the balance tomorrow, just to find the price is changed. If you logged into your account to search the award calendar, it can be programed to ALWAYS displace some price beyond your balance. If you search without login, the price can still change when you login–as award availability can fluctuation in real time, and without an award chart there is no obligation for the award price to remain constant–how convenient that the award calendar is offering you REAL TIME pricing!
    I would argue this is much worse than a complete revenue-based redemption–at least you know how much your miles worth in the revenue based scheme–but without an award chart and a “real time” award calendar, you will never know what your miles worth–or IF IT WORTH ANYTHING.

  6. I’m not sure about “with no award charts… you are essentially leaving the customer blind to what the price should be.” Seems like that brings this in line with tickets purchased with good old dollars. How many dollars should that IAH-AMS trip cost? The dollar cost varies, so why shouldn’t the cost in miles?

  7. I do not think this is part of a transition to a revenue based redemption. For Delta this is better than revenue based redemption. They can have their cake by claiming that a domestic round trip is 25k and eat it too by changing other tiers at will and without any announcements.

  8. Didn’t they recently say something to the effect that they do these things because they can? That there’s no shortage of frequent flyers and not good business for them to accomodate or whatnot? Really rubbing the salt on the wound with this. Hope there’s backlash this also keeps me from bothering with that Amex delta card. I like companies that make things as simple and easy way as possible, and yeah, somewhat attainable help s too

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