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.