Yesterday Delta announced its award charts for 2015. When they revealed their plans for revenue-based points earning (rewarding the price of your ticket, not the length of time in their seat), but not the other half of the equation, it led to a lot of speculation (including by me) that the changes were going to be awful. Why else wouldn’t they reveal what awards were going to cost?
What they shared yesterday was the new five-tier award charts for economy and for business class (10 tiers in total!) for flights that originate or terminate in the US mainland 48 states, Alaska, and Canada. We don’t have the charts for the rest of the world yet.
The charts looked pretty good — more decreases than increases at the lowest saver level and at the highest last seat availability level. Releasing the charts went a long way to satisfy naysayers across the spectrum.
That led me to conclude that the real action is going to be in availability — are there as many seats available at the lowest level in the future, or will awards ‘really’ cost level 2 and 3 pricing, in effect a stealth price increase? We won’t know until 2015.
I concluded, though, that I didn’t really care. Delta saver awards are tough to get now, but their partner awards are easier, and I generally want to use my miles to fly international business class on their partners.
Since the price of saver awards didn’t go up, the price of using miles on partners didn’t go up. I earn my miles from non-flight activity, mostly the Suntrust Delta debit card. So these changes wouldn’t make me worse off.
Some readers thought another shoe could drop — a separate award chart, not yet released, for travel on partners (like United now has).
I asked Delta about partner awards and whether there would be a separate chart. I got a definitive no.
These are “the” charts. No separate charts for partners.
Several commenters though partner awards could be priced at level 2 or level 3, so a price increase for partner awards even if not a separate chart.
I asked Delta about explicitly this, whether “it will continue to be the case that partner airline awards will only be available at the saver (level 1) level,” and I was told that the introduction of new chart levels “won’t change partner redemption”.
Partner awards will continue to be level 1 awards.
At work I spend a lot of time driving to explicit clarity in documents, asking seemingly obvious questions “for avoidance of doubt.” If there’s a trap hidden in there somewhere, I want to find it. And it does appear there’s something.
Just as I expect there to be less Delta award availability, I expect there to be less partner availability as well.
Wait.. how can that be?
Partners offer redemption seats at the saver level. You can then book the seats, unless like United used to do the IT systems get programmed to pretend the seats aren’t there. Delta insists they do not do this.
However, Delta does say that award availability may change with their partners.
[E]ach airline partner determines participation and inventory levels for itself. So, for example, if [Air France] space is more or less, those inventory decisions come from [Air France], not [Delta]. Credit or blame where each is due.
Wow. Bomb dropping here.
When they say that each partner determines its level of inventory, not Delta, that Delta may well be willing to pay less for the seats than other partners do and then lays the blame on their partners for not offering the same availability at a lower price point.
Already if you check out Air France availability you will find more options booking with Alaska Airlines miles (or any other Skyteam airline besides Delta) than you will using Delta miles.
The explanation sounds a bit like ‘each partner determining their level of participation with Skymiles’ as an explanation for why there’s no elite mileage-earning on Korean.
I pressed on and was told,
[O]ne side of the equation sets the value and the other side determines if they are willing to pay what the other partner is asking.
Delta is negotiating redemption pricing bilaterally, and they’re going to get a certain amount of inventory at a certain price. And that price may be lower than what other partners are willing to pay. And Delta may get less availability to offer than other partners as a result.
With a five tier award chart, and level 1 as the lowest tier where all partner awards will be situated, I anticipate Delta looking to control its costs there — by paying partners less for award space, and possibly making less inventory available as a result.
We won’t know exactly how this all plays out until next year (or until all contracts get re-upped, which could be earlier or later than that). But I think the discrepancies we already see in Air France availability are a good indication.
If Delta will say that they won’t let their members book the same award space offered to all other airline partners, that’s one thing. But agents certainly aren’t trained in this.
The story I get now from Delta agents, when I see award space offered to other airline partners but that Delta won’t let me book, is that the other airline won’t offer Delta the space. And that’s not really true. Delta won’t pay for the space. Delta wants to blame the partner, just like they blame Korean for ‘setting their own level of participation’ in the Skymiles program.