This is probably too inside baseball and technical for most frequent flyer program members, but Delta has implemented some nasty changes in the way they allow (or don’t allow!) you to book awards. There’s a current discussion of this on Flyertalk, naturally.
As of this month, awards can only have two stops each way domestically and three internationally. If you live in, say, Montana and want to get somewhere on the East Coast you already have to make two stops (in Salt Lake City and Atlanta) most of the time. No extra stops in order to find an available award, and no extra stops to utilize your allowable stopover in a non-hub city.
You can also only use ‘published routings’ when constructing your award itinerary. I have a United award flying DC-New York-San Francisco-Osaka-Bangkok-Phuket (with stops in New York and Osaka that are less than 24 hours so technically considered connections) and Phuket-Bangkok-Hong Kong-Seoul-Chicago-DC (with a stopover in Hong Kong) on the return. Leaving as that getting a premium cabin award to Asia in the first place is more or less a non-starter with Delta miles, this sort of routing would never be permitted. Score one for the competition!
Most folks don’t book lots of connections, but take for example trying to book an award on Delta partner Continental Micronesia. I’d fly from DC to Atlanta to Los Angeles (all on Delta) to Tokyo (Continental) to Guam (Continental Micronesia). Whoops, I can’t do that! It’s now more than 3 flights each way. The only way to make this work would be if there’s award space available on Delta’s own Atlanta-Tokyo flight (good luck!). You can no longer use partner flights from the West Coast to Tokyo and travel beyond Tokyo, unless you either start in the partner’s gateway city or Delta’s own hub. If you have to connect you’re toast. And forget about island hopping, say to fly from Tokyo to Cairns (for access to the Great Barrier Reef).
A real drawback of the current programming architecture is that Delta only has their own routings in the system, making most partner awards (other than non-stops) impermissable until this programming glitch is corrected.
Variations from all of this may be possible, but require additional miles.
On the positive side, Delta is now allowing you to combined Skysaver (the regular award chart, eg 25,000 miles for a domestic coach ticket) with Skychoice (the more expensive chart that avoids capacity controls). So you could go one way Skysaver and the other Skychoice for 35,000 miles. Under the old system unless all flights were available as Skysaver the award would price at the higher 45,000 mile level. Technically this is an improvement, but who books Skychoice to begin with?
I was not a fan of Delta miles to begin with, this makes them far less attractive to me. I sure hope to “Keep Delta My Delta” — as I’d hate for my USAirways miles to become less valuable!