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I just hardly enough know what to say anymore about Delta SkyMiles. For years they have been made fun of by many in the miles and points world because of their lack of low level saver awards, their broken search engine, their lack of displaying many partner awards online, etc. Then, they fooled some of us, myself included, with #SkyMiles2015 and promises of improved saver award availability, a better online search engine for awards, one-way awards, etc. For a brief period of time it actually seemed like they delivered as promised and were improving the program, at least on the redemption side. The earnings side had already gone to revenue based, but that didn’t impact those who earn via credit cards, online shopping, dining programs, etc.
Then on Friday the hammers started dropping as they eliminated award charts. They didn’t just change them, they eliminated the heart of their frequent flyer program by refusing to display what the price of awards should be between different regions. No matter how you slice it, that move can only been seen in a very negative light. There is no pro-consumer reason to eliminate an award chart.
Not surprisingly, that may have just been the first of a wave of negative changes to the SkyMiles program as awards are already pricing differently than they were previously. Historically one of the better uses of SkyMiles was for close-in awards as the award space at the lowest level actually improved noticeably as the departure date neared. In fact, this is exactly how I helped my brother-in-law get from New York to Kansas to go to the World Series a few months ago for just 25,000 Delta miles round trip. He booked about a week before his travel date and found a low level award for 25,000 miles when the selling price of the ticket was around $1,000.00.
As for today, it seems that redemption would not just be unlikely, but it would be virtually impossible. Many have reported (here and here, for example), and my own searches have verified, that Delta has almost totally stopped releasing saver award availability within 3 weeks of departure. As more people are looking there are exceptions to this “new rule”, but I personally didn’t run across any in the multiple searches I had today. If this holds, and is a real change in award pricing sstrategy (and how could you know if it were a real change without an award chart), this pretty much means no more awards at the 25,000 mile round trip level unless you are booking three or more weeks in advance. To be fair, many other legacy airlines will charge a close-in booking fee if you are booking an award for travel within 21 days, but they don’t block out saver award space during those three weeks. Additionally, those with certain credit cards or elite status are often exempt from those close-in fees. With Delta, even elites would have to pay the higher mileage price for “close-in” travel.
On the one hand I get that close-in cash prices are often higher, so if they are in some way (even indirectly) thinking of award prices in the same realm, this makes sense. However, traditionally we have seen carriers release saver level seats close-in to travel when it seems the seats would otherwise go unfilled and thus “wasted”. Delta traditionally operated in that way, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, they seem to have decided that about 17,500 miles each way is the floor price for a one-way award booked within three week of departure.
An extra 5k each way for a family or four would be 40,000 additional mile for a last minute round trip flight, and that is a big number. I hope the numbers don’t play out in Delta’s favor for this change and we see them again open up saver availability close-in to departure for seats that otherwise would go unsold anyway.