Delta’s Website Charging Tens of Thousands of Extra Miles for Awards: Feature or a Bug?

This morning I wrote that Delta had started charging more miles for stopovers on international awards and that one of two things were possible:

  • An unannounced devaluation, with stopovers no longer permitted on a roundtrip award (even though no such announcement had been made and the website said stopovers were still allowed)
  • A glitch with the pricing engine.

I showed a pricing example, where a stop in Paris on the way to Prague cost an extra 50,000 miles on a business class award ticket. Drop that simple Paris – Prague flight and the price came back down.

We didn’t’ have enough information to know which scenario it was though — unannounced devaluation, or technical glitch. As I wrote,

Delta doesn’t appear to be pricing US-Europe awards correctly, stopovers are costing extra. It’s either an unannounced devaluation (no more stopovers on these awards permitted), or an IT glitch — the pricing engine just isn’t working properly.

At this point we don’t know which it is. I certainly find ‘problem with the pricing engine’ a plausible scenario because Delta’s pricing engine hasn’t worked properly, and has been full of errors, for years. This would just be a new error.

One working theory I read elsewhere was that Delta had removed the ability to book stopovers on international award tickets because they’re introducing one-way awards in 2015.

That alone, though, didn’t seem persuasive.

  • Plenty of programs around the world allow stopovers on one-ways. Delta hasn’t said theirs will not.
  • United allows one-ways and stopovers on roundtrips
  • American only eliminated all stopovers on one-ways THIS YEAR, when they introduced one-ways they still allowed stopovers at the international gateway city.

Delta doesn’t yet permit one-way redemptions, and their announced plans are for them not to begin to do so until 2015. So why eliminate them now — without notice — and when the website states they’re still permitted?

Since there was no announcement of a change I thought it only fair to speculate that technical issues was an equally plausible explanation for this particular set of facts.

And indeed, Delta Points reports that Delta has confirmed it’s an IT glitch. Here’s the statement he reproduces:

There are no changes to stopovers. A recent change in IT at Delta.com discontinued the ability to book intl. stopovers online. You could still book them via reservations agents. We [Delta] are working with the res agents (who handle the bulk of the bookings already) to ensure they are properly assisting customers who might.”

See, it doesn’t matter that the website isn’t working because most of their customers are smart enough not to even try to price awards on their website! (Not that I’ve found Delta agents to be much better or knowledgeable, in my personal experience they’re among the toughest to work with and least knowledgeable/most poorly trained).

To be clear though, telephone agents were pricing these itineraries exactly the same way the website was, at a higher price when a stopover was included. There may be a memo now (“we are working with the res agents”) but it wasn’t just a website problem.

And it doesn’t sound as though they have plans to fix the pricing engine, website or no (perhaps they did change the website IT in advance of a planned elimination of international stopovers with the new one-way awards next year).

If you know awards are supposed to be cheaper, and you call, you might be able to get an agent to have the pricing fixed.

A Delta employee on Flyertalk unofficially confirms as well.

[T]here is a memo that says award stopovers are still allowed but there was a glitch when they filed the fares. You have to call in to get it ticketed manually though. If the CSR say not possible refer them to the res policy update on the dlnet homepage.

It seems to me, though, that the worst crime here isn’t a ‘technical glitch’ — it’s that members trying to book awards are being presented with much higher prices than they should be. And there’s been no:

  • Warning posted on the website that prices that are too high are being quoted
  • Attempt or indication that Delta will refund the excess miles that are being charged to members
  • Commitment to waive the telephone booking fee for members ‘in the know’ enough to call.

Delta is now obviously aware of the glitch. They should post a notice prominently on their website. And they should waive the booking fee for members affected by their IT glitch. Any failure to do so either is very telling indeed.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Is there any private legal remedy? Deceptive trade practice? Or is it left up to the DOT to do something.

  2. One problem with this remedy is that the pricing cpu allowed Open Jaw plus Stopover…. while the rules stated one stopover was allowed, but an open jaw counts as a stopover….

    Personally I don’t have enough time off from work/kids to take aspirational international travel…. so I’m trying to burn skymiles for domestic flights 3 for 2 at the low level where roundtrips are >$600, so that I get ~$900 real value for 25k miles. I am flush in avios/AA miles. I wish I had more UA miles/*A options, but I burnt about 700k of those last year and concentrated on LUV cc’s….

  3. @Stannis I cannot imagine what private legal remedy there would be in light of Northwest vs Ginsberg… unless there is an explicit violation of Delta’s own terms and conditions, they can do what they wish. Their position in front of the Supreme Court was “the DOT can regulate us” but the DOT does not regulate frequent flyer programs.

  4. Though this post is probably three times longer than it needs to be, I appreciate the sentiment. Good (albeit longwinded) post. (Hint: You don’t need to quote passages from posts you made YESTERDAY. Just say what you want to say. We’ll remember.)

  5. Delta has also secretly implemented some sort of married segment logic in many award searches. In searching for some domestic awards I found that many days that they apparently judged to be peak travel dates to certain destinatons ALL roundtrip awards (or one-ways with a connection) priced out at 60,000 miles even though there were lots of connections under 3 hours pricing out at 40k or lower by each individual segment. In order to get the lower mileage level I had to build in an overnight connection. For example, something like PHL-MSP (overnight) – MSO, could not take the MSP-MSO segment on the same day even though it priced out individually at the same lower level. I found this to be a problem for multiple days on multiple city pairs.

    I hate Delta for treating its customers this way, but I guess it would be “illegal” for them to warn us ahead of tiem about these changes we are not going to like.

  6. I am sharing my dirty little secret “magic” trick with you folks and shouldn’t (it probably will make the magic “disappear” as soon as others find out about it, especially Delta’s IT). I just put it up to the fact that Delta’s website is “broken” and has been for a very long time. Have noticed in times past that I can go in and do a search on award availability on Delta’s site, then go in a few minutes later with the exact same search terms and come out with two different numbers. Usually the fourth go-around comes out with a lower number (I have no idea why). I have also noticed that if I have a competitor’s website open in another tab (I use Firefox – United, American) OR have done a search on vacations on the Delta site and “pretended” to book that award availability comes out at a lower number and more choices show. This includes not only flight availability, but also the booking hotel/car reward. I just chalk it up to their IT department’s incompetence, not deceptive practices.

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