Delta Will Overcharge You For Awards: Their Pricing Engine Is Still Very, Very Broken

Jeffrey R. emails his frustration with an ongoing Delta award booking issue — that Skymiles simply prices awards incorrectly and it’s nearly impossible to get an agent to fix matters.

I’ve written for years about this issue, that some connections that are both (a) legal/permissible and (b) have award availability will not price at the right amount of miles per the published award chart.

Classic examples used to be New York – Los Angeles via Las Vegas which would always price as two separate awards. And getting Delta domestic flights available at the lowest award level included in an Air Tahiti Nui partner award was rarely possible — again, Delta would price as two awards.

There are real improvements (and real non-improvements) at Skymiles, with one-way awards now available and a much more functional award search tool. They’ve introduced completely new award charts and altered award pricing to no longer include free stopovers.

So a ton of work has been done, which led to hopes that they’d fix some of their basic problems along the way.

This reader’s frustration is with trying to use Delta Skymiles for travel from South Florida to Hawaii.

The award chart to honolulu top tier business class shows max of 90,000 each way from PBI. So should be no more than 180,000 RT. Pricing on some actual flight shows 235,000 miles RT and in all cases way above the new 2015 award chart shown max. Agents on phone try to tell me it is the small language in Terms that allows Delta to charge this excess on this routing. I finally found one supervisor after over ten tries and hours on phone over several days who priced me at 160,000 business RT for the flights I wanted where pricing engine shows still 235,000. I grabbed it. But pricing totally broken. Disgraceful.

Per the award chart this should never be more expensive than 180,000 miles roundtrip in first class.

And yet here’s a quick search showing West Palm Beach – Honolulu at 207,500 miles roundtrip.

The point here is that despite having a new 5-tier pricing chart, and doing quite a bit of work on their award search functionality, Delta will still price awards more expensively than their published pricing allows.

  • This isn’t a case of violating stopover rules, e.g. with connections greater than 4 hours, or other unpublished rules (double connections are permitted and price appropriately at other times).
  • This isn’t the case of ‘forcing’ connections. These are suggested by Delta.com.

And Delta agents are really really difficult to work with, they do not understand award rules or pricing and will suggest that whatever the computer presents is correct. Finding an agent who recognizes the problem, and is willing to and knows how to do something about it, is a Hurculean task.

I’ve priced a single award as expensively as 720,000 miles roundtrip in the past. I had hoped Delta would have fixed this, but they have not.

This is a known issue at Delta which has persisted for years. It’s been raised personally with Jeff Robertson in years past. The response was that fixes are too expensive for them to implement. But lack of fixes cause members to be overcharged for awards, so it has appeared that Delta views this as a feature rather than a bug.


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. I actually have a rt award JFK-LHR and looking to change the flight back, fee and all. I can book a new award onto the flight I want on VS metal. But neither the engine or any agent can switch my award to that flight even though the seats are clearly there. FM’s prediction that you will give up the name SkyPesos is not gonna come true.

  2. Have you complained to the DOT about this? It seems very deceptive that they charge you 235,000 miles instead of the 180,000 they told you so the DOT has to intervene.

  3. @Gppd service the DOT takes the position that they do not regulate frequent flyer programs, although Delta’s position in front of the Supreme Court is that consumers’ only venue of redress is the DOT. The only area where DOT has exercised any interest is in disclosure of fees for award redemption.

  4. I agree with Good service. It seems to me if Delta continues to knowingly uses an award engine which misprices awards continually in their favor that merits a DOT complaint.

  5. I just checked that same flight and there are dozens of flights one way on PBI to HNL on 3/14/15 for 90k for First on that day.

    Now there are some flights on that same day that are priced at 110k or 175k if one of the plane has a lie flat bed.

    Is there anything on Delta that states that they may charge higher miles for a premium cabins featuring lie flat beds?

  6. And I thought I was the only one who noticed this!

    I’ve been playing around with the new award calendar for days and some of the awards on all DL metal, no partners, are very, very wrong.

    Really disappointed, and just another reason to bring my loyalty elsewhere. Hello, AA!

  7. I’m confused by this post. The award chart you link to says that one-way top tier business class to Hawaii costs: 90,000/117,500*. The 117,500 price is for business elite. So, the top price for a round trip flight is 235K. Its certainly not cheap, but it doesn’t appear to be broken either. Did they update the chart between the time you wrote this post and published it?

  8. @Frequent Miler — yes, you can compare the screen shot I took and what the page now shows. They have changed the award chart since I wrote the post to account for what I discovered.

  9. Just so you all know. Delta has had this award pricing structure since the switch. I know I priced ATL/HNL on the 1st and was confused with getting 95k miles for an award with two direct flights.
    The changed award chart matches that.

  10. I think that domestic awards still follow specific published routings where international awards use MPMs. So perhaps the chosen routing fell under the 235K level. Do you know where to find the allowable published routing for Delta awards? I do not, but I know that you have to stick to the cities published.

  11. To me, the most frightening part of this post was that a reader of yours would be willing to spend 160K for a relatively crummy biz class ticket to HNL. Yikes! I know Skypesos are the least valuable USA airline currency, but surely there are better things to do with those miles than this.

  12. Having an increased award price for business elite flights is not new for Delta. I’m pretty sure the mistake was in the previous award chart (now fixed) rather than the award pricing engine. Note that I’m not arguing that 235K is a fair price, just that I don’t think this example proves that Delta incorrectly prices awards anymore. It would be interesting to see how they do with mixed Delta/partner awards.

  13. @Frequent Miler oh, I agree — but I think it’s still dirty pool to charge more than your published maximum price. If anyone actually paid more than a published price in the award chart I believe they should be owed a refund.

  14. Is there a way to know which level of award you’re booking for each leg? My dad and I are going to Europe in May, flying economy, and his ticket priced out to 75,000 miles total. Unless I’m being totally dense, I don’t see any combination of 2x 1-way tickets that equal 75,000 miles.

  15. So are there any instances where DL charges less than the award chart for a trip? I though not, as a Judge once asked a defendant “Sir are there any times when you make a mistake that is not in your favor?” I think we know that answer. DL acts like any other common criminal and like any criminal they know that they can get away with it so that is why they continue to do it. The airline Skymiles program is a operated like a criminal enterprise with no legal redress for the victims.

  16. Last night I was looking at redeeming miles for trips later this year. I was searching one-way First Class awards, which should price out at 55,000 miles maximum according to Delta.com. Here’s how they priced out:

    XNA-ATL-LAS: 100,000 one-way
    XNA-ATL-SNA: 100,000 one-way
    XNA-ATL-MSP-LAS: 142,500 one-way

    Go figure!

  17. Since at least last year Delta Southwest Pacific intra-region awards from Australia to non-Australia have all been higher than max with a weasel footnote that they reserve the right to charge more, so for example Virgin Australia domestic is 60k roundtrip economy but 80k to islands in the region. Have not yet checked under the new chart.

  18. Their whole pricing engine seems to be broken (miles and regular purchase)…was looking for a YQB to JFK for March….it was about $300 and then a couple weeks later $3600! It stayed at that price and then last week reduced to about $300. Mileage bookings were equally “crazy”.

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