Another Way Delta Makes It Hard for You to Use Your Miles

Reader Marc notes that Delta is offering a rare domestic saver award inside the three week advance purchase window. He found it searching Baltimore to Austin:

It’s a double connection via New York JFK and Detroit, so it’s not exactly a desirable itinerary. But the interesting thing about it — beyond the mere fact that it exists (!) – is that it helps illustrate a technique that Delta uses known as journey control.

Just redeeming for the Detroit – Austin segment produces a price of 32,500 miles.

So is that Detroit – Austin flight available as an award at the saver or low level… or isn’t it? And the answer is: with Delta, it isn’t that simple.

It’s the same flight segment that’s available as a 12,500 mile saver award as part of a connecting itinerary. And on the connecting itinerary Delta is giving you two other flights for those miles, too.

Airlines frequently manage their inventory so that their cheapest fares (really, their cheapest inventory buckets) are only available to passengers flying between certain cities. The lowest fare buckets might be available to passengers out of one city and not another even though both are connecting onto the same flight at the airline’s hub.

Here you can imagine that Delta sees it could sell non-stop flights from its hub in Detroit to Austin at a premium, since there’s no non-stop competition. They don’t want to make saver award seats available. But someone connecting in from Baltimore isn’t going to be willing to pay as much, they’re willing to make the award available for less.

Very few airlines use this technique for awards. Some do — Lufthansa for instance — but it’s rarely much of a constraint. If Lufthansa was making non-stop space available from New York to Frankfurt, but wasn’t making the transatlantic flight available to customers searching for New York to Prague, with most programs you call up and feed the flights separately. Instead of New York to Prague, you book New York to Frankfurt (which is available) and then Frankfurt to Prague (also available) even if those two flights aren’t showing up when you search for them together.

Similarly, if the transatlantic flight was available when searching New York to Prague, but not when searching for the flight on its own, you’d hold the New York – Frankfurt – Prague segments and then if you wanted to just go to Frankfurt you would remove the last segment from the itinerary before ticketing.

The way most airlines reserve awards, journey control isn’t much of a constraint and so doesn’t make sense.

But Delta has managed to impose even more constraints. It isn’t enough that they don’t make much award space available at the low levels, don’t do so much at all within 21 days of travel, and don’t tell us how much awards are supposed to cost.

They will make the same seat on the same plane available to some members and not to others based on where the passenger is starting or ending their trip.

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 Milepoint.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. Interesting note, Gary. I don’t think many folks realize that DL is one of the only ones that follows this practice. I should add, they have been executing on this practice for a number of years now, at least back to 2012. I recall trying to book a JFK – ICN flight on DL Business Elite or KE business class. Delta did not make the non-stop available on KE at the saver level nor did they offer any connection through a DL hub to ICN available in business elite at the saver level. However, I was able to book to business elites non-stop from DTW – ICN on DL at the saver level. (So I had to book a separate NYC – DTW flight to connect). The opposite of your example, but still a means of “journey control” and that was back in mid-2012.

  2. Actually Gary that has been a change that was made 3 months ago and was discussed in between a few threads.
    I wanted to redeem LGA-ATL-LAX with both flights available at low, but no they would price me 25k vs 12.5 because its a married segment. They do not look at the individual low buckets anymore but by filed award fare…

    Thanks for bringing it up, and hope that DL reverses its coarse

  3. I have to hand it to Delta. They have the ability to make me wonder if they are genius or insane at the same time.

  4. I’ve run into the same issue on AA awards before, both online and trying to call in. Whether it’s widespread on AA or not, I don’t know but it has happened.

  5. I’ve much more commonly seen the opposite, where all of the segments price individually at a low level, but when you price them together, it jumps to a higher bucket – sometimes much higher – but this is at >3 weeks before departure. Essentially there has been widespread use of this “married segment” pricing on award tickets since the beginning of 2015.
    What I haven’t explored yet – but wonder if anyone else has: Are there many hidden city options available now with Delta’s horrendously complex award ticket customer Skymile usage management system? Looks like the example posted is a DTW hidden city ticket option at least.

  6. why do they bother keeping skypesos alive?
    this is just another sign no one in their right mind should use it.

  7. United has married segment logic for awards as well. I was recently searching and booked an award itinerary KIX-SFO-IAD. However, when viewed by flight in expert mode, the KIX-SFO had XN2 but the options for SFO-IAD were all XN0.

    You could look at this two ways-
    1. With available space on the long-haul TPAC, the system was willing to automatically force open expanded saver space on the domestic segment.
    2. Married segment logic said there was saver space A-B-C but not B-C

  8. Totally expected. Revenue-based redemption calls for revenue management of awards. If Delta had gone revenue-based with a fixed dollar-per-point rate (like Southwest 2.0), nobody would be the least surprised that a connecting award costs fewer points than a non-stop award: that’s just tracking the cash prices. Now Delta has removed award charts; why the surprise when the replacement turns out to be revenue management? The only difference with the previous scenario is that management of award prices appears to be separate from the management of cash prices (just like Southwest 3.0).

    What I find fascinating is how award prices track cash prices even when managed separately. Presumably Delta is willing to give away a New York–Austin award because it wouldn’t earn much cash revenue from it (if at all, since the passenger might fly a competitor), but it won’t give away that easily a Detroit–Austin flight where it stands to make a buck. So even though the lack of a free exchange market between points and dollars allows Delta to discriminate to its advantage, in practice it sets prices to limit the arbitrage opportunities between cash and points. As I said, fascinating.

  9. Not new though. Seems to me I saw this even back in the Northwest days. But for sure I’ve actually taken some of these whackadoo multiple connects on Delta to get the lowest fair award ticket. I would have to do a better search on my diary, but one example that pops right up is New Orleans to Montreal (round trip) in 2009 — six years ago now! MSY-SFO (round trip) I’ve had to do this at least twice. There is little purpose in meditating that someone else, in a different city, is getting an even worse deal miles-wise and a better deal stops-wise, although I could tell that they were. T Although not new, of course it’s nice to point it out from time to time in hopes that one day they’ll change their ways. I wouldn’t hold my breath though. Maybe the other airlines are easier to redeem, and maybe they’re not, but inevitably where you have consolidation, it’s a bad thing for consumers. People have had plenty of warning that it’s time to think of ways to actually get money to pay for the flights they want — or for business travel to consider alternatives to flying to a location — rather than to hope and pray that they will always be able to use their miles. If someone is new to this hobby, they will never get the benefits we oldtimers enjoyed for years, and it’s unrealistic for them to think so. They will work harder to get much, much less. Getting angry about it is probably not going to help them get where they want to be. My two cents anyway!

  10. Yesterday I found seats that I could use at the lowest saver level for the first time in my life! My stash of Skypesos which has sat idle for years has finally dwindled! I can’t wait to use up the rest and say adios once and for all to this program.

  11. ….Mothership to DeltaPoints…come in please…put the Woodford Reserve down and please clear up this slanderous allegation, we can’t have people with a brain realizing what a scam Delta is…

  12. I am a selfish guy like most. If I get some decent redemptions. I dont care. And I do get some decent ones like ATL-JNB NON stop in business on Delta. . Virgin availability is very good to LHR. Better availability than American on some decent non stops. American will be making tons of changes by early next year. I often see on the blogs about great redemptions and then a little comment at the end that you can no longer that that redemption or routing as it was booked a year in advance, or some sort of award chart change etc.

  13. As with any of these programs, take your pick. In many ways Alaska is a key program with Oneworld, Skyteam and their partners plus Alaska inventory. United program is terrible. Good luck finding decent routings and mileage costs. Every time I search I see most availability on crappy equipment and unfavorable stops etc, or outrageous mileage charges. I know Gary hates Delta to death, but why no coverage of United. I am waiting to find out the sweet spots with United as I have a few hundred K miles with them.

  14. For those trashing Delta, remember they actually get you where you want to go and typically on time. They have more wifi than others, even on regionals. And they have more first class on domestic jets, even on regionals. Plus, none of their hubs is named O’ Hare. That, alone, makes me fly Delta over United and American. And if you live in the Upper Midwest, Delta dominates the market.

    Yes, the FF program sucks compared to American. (After the United gutting, I can’t say I have much love for them.) My point is, keep this in perspective. Even Gary does that……

  15. You’re right to identify that LH group (LH, LX, OS, SN) uses married segment availability on award tickets. Unfortunately, building an itin segments by segment doesn’t work, as they check overall availability on the routing you’re trying to ticket as part of pricing it. At that point, they will either offer to ticket it as a series of separately calculated awards, or refuse to issue the ticket. I had this on a MAN-FRA/ZRH/MUC/BRU-JFK/EWR routing recently and ultimately ended up leaning on my SEN status to make a special request to override the (apparently perverse) blocking that was kicking in whenever I tried to combine the TATL segment with the MAN-hub segment.

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