This morning I wrote that Delta has added basic economy restrictions to the lowest award prices for some routes. That’s punishing frequent flyers — redemptions were once a reward for loyalty and so customers were treated better when using their miles. That’s why award tickets have always been more changeable, for instance, than revenue fares.
That made business sense for the airline, too — customers who have a good experience using their miles become more loyal. They start accumulating miles faster. They earn miles with more partners, too. That’s great for credit card revenue especially. And the benefits of the basic economy strategy haven’t made sense for award tickets.
- Whereas the major airlines have used basic economy restrictions like no advance seat assignment, no upgrades, and no changes as a targeted fare increase, a way to make the lowest fares worse so that some customers will spend more to avoid them, that’s never seemed necessary with award tickets. Delta has raised award prices whenever it has wanted to without this tool.
- Basic economy has also become a way for airlines to maintain the separation between business travel fares and leisure fares but that’s largely built-in to frequent flyer awards already, since in general people may earn miles on business travel but will use miles for personal reasons. (Small business owners are more like leisure travelers in this model.)
One Way Domestic Award
I reached out to Delta to find out why they are doing this and to learn what we can expect in terms of this spreading. A spokesperson shared,
Our customers have told us they want the flexibility to use their SkyMiles on more types of Delta products, and we are always looking at new ways to expand those options, while making that process simple and intuitive for them. As a part of this effort, we are testing the ability for customers to use miles for Basic Economy tickets on select flights.
So this is a test and Delta isn’t sharing whether or when it may expand beyond the limited routes where basic economy awards are offered today.
However they want you to believe that they are making the cheapest awards more restrictive to help you. Apparently Delta customers have been telling the airline that they want the flexibility not to be allowed to get seat assignments in advance. And they’ve been saying that more rules and restrictions are both simpler and more intuitive. As a result this is an enhancement you should like.
None of this would matter — SkyMiles isn’t the reason for flying Delta, you fly Delta for their operational performance in spite of SkyMiles, and you do have a choice — but United and American tend to blindly copy Delta so the test here creates the risk that other programs will follow whether it’s in their interest to do so or not.