Points, Miles, and Martinis posts about using Delta Skymiles to get to Tahiti in business class on Air France. I’ve written in the past the irony that while Delta miles are in my experience the toughest to use they are actually the best-positioned for premium cabin travel to the two toughest award destinations, French Polynesia and Australia, the former because they partner with both Air Tahiti Nui and Air France and the latter because they partner with V Australia.
In fact both scenarios require a departure from the West Coast and the hard part isn’t the business class seat as much as getting a domestic flight to the West Coast included in the award. If you live in an Alaska Airlines city you’re fortunate because Delta miles can be used on Alaska, which has much better award availability than Delta does (except from New York, DC, and Boston).
One issue that’s highlighted really resonates, though.
Last week at the Randy Petersen Travel Executive Summit, a frequent flyer asked Jeff Robertson, the head of the Skymiles program, about why they offer “100,000 mile coach awards between Los Angeles and New York.” Robertson simply replied that they don’t, that 100,000 miles is not one of their award levels.
Except they do. Their award engine prices awards additively. If a segment is available at the medium level (40,000) and another at the high level (60,000), it won’t price the entire itinerary at the high level but instead will add the medium and high segments and get to 100,000.
Most people assume it’s a bug, some assume that the bug persists because Skymiles views it as a feature. Either way, the Skymiles award pricing engine comes up with some surprising prices — where flights with better availability can cause the total price of an award to go up.
And the example of the French Polynesia flights is instructive, the author found 150,000 mile roundtrip flights from Los Angeles to Tahiti and since the flights to Los Angeles weren’t available at the low level the award priced at 230,000 miles. He managed to put together a connecting flight at the low level and price it at 150,000 miles and then as a Delta Diamond change the award to a non-stop Atlanta – Los Angeles flight later at no charge.
It’s worth noting that Delta does tend to offer better award availability as travel approaches, this isn’t a criticism of the Skymiles program but rather of Delta’s inventory management, they’re much more conservative than their counterparts and don’t make many seats available until they’re sure they won’t sell them rather than simply being pretty confident they won’t sell them. If you’re looking at the last minute, or willing to change flights later, you can often improve your lot in life. Delta PLatinums used to be able make changes to awards for free, they took that benefit away and reserved it for Diamond members (125,000 qualifying miles per year), and then restored it to Platinums (75,000 qualifying miles per year). But for anyone below Platinum there’s a charge to change the award when better availability opens up.
The most frustrating thing to me is that given the combination of difficult to find awards on Delta and its partners, broken pricing engines, and that many of Delta’s partners don’t make it possible to search for award inventory online and put together your own awards, that Delta will not hold awards which aren’t booked on the website. Only very few of Delta’s partners can even be booked on the website. Sure, sometimes you can construct an itinerary that isn’t what you want online, call and get it changes and other partner flights added, and then have the agent leave it on hold (but only sometimes!), this is hardly a reasonable workaround.
I strongly believe that I could work within the Skymiles system if only they would allow me to find a flight on a call and place it on hold. Especially since so many agents at Delta are frustrating to work with. Delta’s partners don’t even have uniform booking codes for award inventory, many of their agents don’t know those booking classes or how to search for them or even who their partners are (“Vietnam Airlines is not a member of Skyteam, sir, only Delta and Air France are.”) And agents have been known in the past to refuse to make more than three or four searches per call and require you to hang up and call back, but then you cannot even hold whatever you have found.
All fo these things make working with Skymiles a real challenge. And to me they’re worth less because of my deisre to fly international first class and the fact that the Skymiles program doesn’t even offer the feature to redeem for that.
But they are the go-to program for the most difficult of all awards to Australia and French Polynesia. I just wish they would allow even 24 hour holds on awards booked over the phone. Is that really too much to ask?