An article in today’s New York Times brings many of the drastic changes at Delta SkyMiles that I’ve been talking about into stark relief.
[O]ne of the carrier’s biggest critics in recent months has been Gary Leff. Mr. Leff has a day job working as a chief financial officer at a university research center, but he spends his spare time running a service that helps people redeem their miles and blogging about loyalty programs. He has posted about Delta repeatedly.
With unwritten 3 week advance purchase requirements for many saver awards, miles are less helpful for last minute trips.
With more revenue-based redemptions — lower mileage requirements for super cheap flights, and much more expensive redemptions on pricey tickets — they’re taking away the opportunity to get outsized-value from the program.
Additive pricing — if you’re willing to pay extra miles for a level 3 or level 4 award on Delta, and one of the flights miraculously has saver award space, you can’t include that flight at the higher pricing. You get charged level 3 or 4 pricing for the expensive flight plus saver award pricing for the connection.
Delta does offer some free flights for less than 25,000 miles round-trip now. But Mr. Leff has done the math and has pointed out that the value you get per mile (when compared with the cash cost of the ticket) seems to rarely exceed two cents, an important figure that we’ll come back to shortly. Also, free flights in business class to Australia on Delta (long one of the magic redemption destinations for mile hoarders industrywide) now sometimes cost 830,000 miles per ticket, multiples of the former price.
The lack of clear predictable pricing irks Mr. Leff, even as it may help drive more people to his award-booking service. “I think Delta is not telling the truth, at a macro level, about the direction they’re taking the program,” he said. “And they’re making it harder for members to understand what their miles are worth.”
Changes implemented without notice — miles you’ve been saving for a honeymoon or anniversary suddenly become not enough for the trip you’re planning.
From the Times article:
Instead, Delta issues proclamations like this one that came along a few weeks ago: “For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other considerations. But most Award prices will remain unchanged.”
Which destinations? How much demand? What other considerations? Which prices? The airline won’t say. You’re just supposed to cross your fingers and hope that you have enough miles come vacation time or if you have to get to a funeral quickly. Or hope for some magic.
But the biggest issue for me is what I believe is dishonest communication — they’ve taken away award charts so members can’t know what to expect, or when changes have even been made. When the airline says they’ve made changes, they won’t tell you what the changes are. It’s as though the airline believes that an ignorant consumer is their best customer.
You can still get value out of Delta miles. For now, international business class awards on partner airlines still make sense… although you may not be able to get Delta flights to connect to and from those, even more so than before with increased ‘journey control’ since you can’t even always combine multiple Delta flights that actually offer saver award space if you can find them.
Ultimately, the Times writer spoke with Delta, American, United, and American Express. The responses of each were telling.
I tried to get a Delta spokesman, Anthony Black, to address Mr. Leff’s truthiness point squarely, but I failed to get much that was new other than a link to a list of low-cost redemption opportunities.
…United and American customers who are aware of Delta’s moves are worried that those carriers will follow suit. “We won’t comment on any such changes, planned or otherwise,” said Rahsaan Johnson, a United spokesman. That’s not exactly encouraging. At least American’s representative, Laura Nedbal, said that the carrier planned no changes to its award chart, albeit with the now-standard “at this time” disclaimer. “We are always watching the competitive environment, and we’ll make sure AAdvantage is positioned as an industry-leading loyalty program,” she added.
…American Express issues the Delta credit cards, and when I asked the card company whether it thought the value of Delta miles had increased, decreased or stayed the same over the last two years, it refused to answer. That tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?