Delta Just Eliminated Their Award Charts Without Notice. Here’s Why That’s a Blow to the Heart of the Program.

It’s getting harder and harder to give the folks at Skymiles benefit of the doubt.

What would you think of a program that:

  • Without notice removed its published award prices from its website
  • Told you that whatever price you were quoted at a given time was ‘the’ price
  • Wouldn’t give you a target for how many points you’d need to save up for your dream trip?

That’s what Delta just did.

Delta Has Long Been Reluctant to Share Award Pricing

When Delta announced half of how their frequent flyer program would work this year about 12 months ago, they released changes to mileage earning but didn’t release their award charts.

After continually calling Delta out for their ‘secret award chart’ — telling members the program would be great, but not letting members know anything about award pricing — they published their award chart for travel between North America and other parts of the world.

The fact they did released award pricing in advance, of course, obliterated the fake argument Delta used to make that they were legally required to devalue their program without advance notice to members, claiming to do otherwise would be illegal. (See Delta offers the dumbest excuse from a frequent flyer program, ever?)

Of course, it wasn’t until four years ago that they published award charts for other regions at all.

Finally in November they released the 2015 award charts for travel throughout the rest of the world.

With award charts published just three months ago, I think members could reasonably have expected those to stay put for a reasonable amount of time.

Delta’s 2015 Program Was Charging Higher Prices Than Its Award Chart Promised

When the new year came their pricing engine was charging more for some awards than the award chart indicated. So they changed the award chart to reflect the higher prices they had intended.

Still, their IT systems were broken and would sometimes charge for flights additively (e.g. Cleveland – Detroit – Grand Rapids could price as two awards instead of being treated as a connection). That’s been true for years.

I was promised an answer about what was going on here a month ago. They haven’t fixed the technology to charge what the award chart promised. They’ve taken away the charts.

Delta Now Says Their Award Calendar Will Tell You The Price of Any Given Flight

The page that used to show the award charts now just says,

Once you’ve selected your itinerary and logged into your SkyMiles account, you’ll be asked to pay for the flights you selected.

Within and between the Continental U.S., Alaska and Canada, round-trip Award Tickets will continue to start at 25,000 miles (plus taxes and fees).

This is an intentional change. Delta explains on Twitter,

A Delta spokesman I emailed echoes,

[W]e did remove Award charts today. Delta’s expanded search capabilities and calendar at delta.com offer more flexible and accurate view of Award prices.

So instead of relying on charts, awards now cost whatever the award calendar says that they do. There’s no pricing ‘promise’, no price list, and no longer any sense in which a pricing engine is ‘broken’ because the price can’t be compared to a ‘correct’ amount.

Taking Away Award Charts Strikes At the Heart – and Value – of the Program and its Miles

I used to think that no-notice changes, like what they used to do to their award charts (and how they eliminated stopovers on awards) were the worst thing a program could do.

And I had started to think the program had turned something of a corner, with:

So I’ve wanted to give Delta real benefit of the doubt this year.

But I genuinely believe that removing the ability to even know if changes have been made to award pricing is even worse than changes without notice.

Taking away the award charts (and they did this without notice or announcement) is the least transparent thing a program can do. And not letting members know what they can expect, how many miles they need to save, cuts at the very heart of the program.

This could have several different motivations, ranging from benign (though in my view misguided) to more nefarious for members:

  • Awards aren’t pricing correctly, this could get Delta in some trouble if they’re consistently overcharging relative to published prices, so they mitigate risk taking down their charts.
  • Awards won’t price any differently than before — and so far they aren’t — but they want members to stop anchoring on low award prices and get used to accepting that prices are whatever is presented.
  • The first step towards true revenue-based redemption. Delta considered getting rid of award charts as part of their 2015 program, pricing award travel based on the cost of a given ticket. If they’re going to go there, the first step to getting rid of award charts is to… take down the award chart.

Right now we don’t have Delta saying “we’re going to go revenue-based for redemptions like Southwest and JetBlue,” and we don’t have them saying they won’t. They aren’t telling us what to expect — they’re just taking away information and it’s information that I believe is very important and allows members to hold the program accountable or at least judge its actions against its commitments.

Regardless of the motivation, they’re undercutting the goal-oriented nature of the program (the number of miles needed for an award), removing its transparency (what an award should cost), and eliminating any external document that lets us point out when an award price is just wrong (the IT is broken).

For posterity, and so you’ll know what an award was supposed to cost, here are the award charts for economy and for business/first class travel. You can click on each to enlarge.

(HT: Tiffany from One Mile at a Time who pricelessly adds, “I’d take screenshots of the United award chart.”)


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. But that’s exactly my point: airlines have uber-dynamic pricing (see what I did there: ‘uber,’ whose dynamic pricing model you vehemently defend) on the revenue ticket side. Why WOULDNT they on the award ticket side?

    It works for revenue tickets. It works for uber. Why not award tickets?

  2. @kokonutz uber tells you clearly the multiple of the usual price upfront, they tell you the usual price published on their website, they’re super transparent. Here so far Delta has said “nothing has changed” except that they’ve taken away information.

  3. Kokomutz, Why are you comparing awards to cash fares? They are different beasts. Awards are not upgradable. You don’t earn qualifying miles. Inventory is extremely limited. You can’t buy a fully refundable fare in miles like you can with cash. You’re not given the same stopover rules you get with cash. You can’t use codeshares, and so on.

    To answer your question, the reason you wouldn’t have dynamic pricing, is that “low” or “saver” awards are by definition seats the airline thinks they won’t sell. They are wasted inventory, and therefore are priced a certain way.

  4. Check out the threads on Flyertalk that describe experiences medallion members are now having of being quoted higher prices online for award travel when logged in. Also, phone reps are claiming they can no longer search for an award ticket and quote a price until they plug in the customer’s skymiles number. Perhaps removal of the rewards chart was done so that different customers could be charged different prices depending on how many miles their accounts. The more miles you’ve saved up the more you’ll pay for that ticket.

  5. Charlotte– That’s exactly why (IMO). DL apparently believes in progressive socialist pricing of awards. If you have more miles to spend, they’ll charge more.

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