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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  1. […] theBOAT, commenting on VFTW: I’m going to venture a silly, though probably highly plausible, hypothesis… Delta customer service has been getting too many phone calls claiming that awards are mispricing because they’ve made their award [charts] so incredibly complicated that no one outside of the miles and points world can ever hope to possibly follow them, and they think this will be a cost saving measure. […]

Comments

  1. @Robert, have you paid attention to the DeltaPoints blog over the past several months? It’s about the exact opposite of butt-kissing, especially the post he made (before your comment was submitted) about this exact issue.

  2. Many think that it’s the first step to revenue based redemption but I think DL is taking it a little further. A few months ago, a little birdie told me that they are thinking about dynamic redemption tailored to various metrics. For example, if a person has 30,000 miles in his/her account, a domestic trip may cost 25,000. Meanwhile, a person with 800,000 miles would have the redemption cost of 35,000 or something for the same ticket. It also would also be tied to other metrics other than how many miles you have (MQD spend, etc). I’m not sure how legal it is (or whether it will be implemented) … but it would be hard to prove. This also looks like a step in that direction. 🙁

  3. There will now need to be a new flyertalk thread or app on “what did you pay for X redemption at Delta today” kind of like the stock market. Latest trade on …. New York – Miami, 45,000 points…..

  4. Why should I be surprised? Fact is this hurts the lower level elites or people who are saving miles for an expensive (high miles) award. These are also the flyers who have the SkyMiles Amex cards to get the FO perks without actually flying 25,000/year with SkyMiles airlines.
    It is all about screwing the lower level flyers that Delta will desperately need to fill its international flights. Filling the back of the plane is how any international airline amps up the total revenue of a flight. By lowering the redeemable miles earned and making the awards goals a moving target, why would I fly Delta?
    I hope this blows up in their face!

  5. DeltaPoints blogged:
    “The level of arrogance, disrespect and disdain this shows to loyal flyers and those who value and collect Skymiles is beyond compare.”
    Not exactly butt-kissing.

  6. If what Ed. C says is correct, DL would be committing loyalty suicide. I would anticpate tremendous backlash.

    Under any circumstances, I detect a continued slide into revenue based redemptions.

  7. I think Renee is fiar in reporting all these changes. All of this is completely insane. I wonder how many more changes to come this year alone.

  8. I’ve mostly defended DL all this time, but this is appalling. If DL is trying to push me into flying AA, it’s starting to work, in spite of my loathing for the merger, Dougie, & his cronies.

  9. While I ABSOLUTELY despise this move by DL (as I have ~ 400k DL pesos), just imagine if both AA & UA did the same.
    How many blogs and award booking services would be left tomorrow. So while I agree this is a (very bad) blindside hit by delta, I have so take Gary’s view (and most others) with a inherent conflict of interest.
    Maybe the game has gotten so BIG that airlines/Hotels can’t ignore us anymore. When things are laid out with step by step instructions and snips, you are exponentially increasing the participating crowd.

  10. Unbelievable. Wasn’t this the airline that ran ads about how loyalty is a two-way street?

    So now there is absolutely now way to know how much an award will cost or should cost until you try to book it, and no way to know what miles are worth.

    Screw DL

  11. Shabby business practice on the part of DL. I guess DL’s rationale is, if you don’t like it, then fly with someone else. And so I shall.

  12. So how long before Delta starts sending out cease & desist letters to blogs/websites showing the award charts? 🙂

  13. Only upside I can think of:

    If you ever see a mistake fare, say 7,000 Skymiles instead of 70,000, they would find it difficult to disallow it after saying there is no award chart and whatever you see is the amount you pay.

  14. Nothing in me can even create a valid business reason for keeping customers blind on such an issue. Everything I can concoct has serious malicious intent. If a local biz operated like DL, they would be out of business in a few months.

  15. Honestly, I think the problem is DL, not the SkyMiles. To me, last couple of years DL looks like a LCC pretending to be a big one. I doubt I’ll fly with them again.

  16. I would put the over/under at around 7 days. This story will crossover into the mainstream media and the bad PR for “charging whatever they want” will be too much for Delta to withstand. They’ll claim that it was always a temporary thing (to unpublish) and that it was all a misunderstanding. They’ll then be forced to publish the chart

  17. DL does not tell us that a ticket between SLC and ATL will cost between $220-$975 any given day. It just tells us what the price is on a variety of itineraries for the date we request. It offers us a calendar so if we are flexible we can adjust our travel dates to seek out the best price.

    People who travel with any degree of regularity know what constitutes a good deal, an OK deal, and a poor deal. They don’t have to see that one is an L fare the other a M fare to know that.

    DL apparently views awards as a similar transaction just using a different currency, and why, they ask, should they give us pricing parameters when they don’t for the other currency we usually buy in?

    This airline is very full of itself right now. They think they are the best and they don’t feel the need to compete on the basis of a FF program. They know their best customers want upgrades and perks, not free tickets so they can fly even more. This does not alienate them.

    Who does this alienate? The hobbyists, largely. I think they are more than content to send us to American. Good riddance is the message.

  18. It took a while, but, just last week, I finally burned the last of my SkyMiles. And, over the past two years, have shifted nearly all of my corporate travel to American. Goodbye SkyMiles. And good riddance.

  19. I’m going to venture a silly, though probably highly plausible, hypothesis… Delta customer service has been getting too many phone calls claiming that awards are mispricing because they’ve made their award shirts so incredibly complicated that no one outside of the miles and points world can ever hope to possibly follow them, and they think this will be a cost saving measure.

    Maybe I’m too glass half full at this hour on a Friday…

    Either way, I agree that it’s > 50% probability that UA will copy (enhance!), too.

    theBOAT

  20. Yeah, that’s “award charts” above, not shirts, in the above post. Since we’ll lose them in the near future, just like the charts. Stupid iPhone.

  21. I think that the lack of notice regarding these changes is absolutely atrocious, but, depending on how this new system is implemented, I think there could be some benefit to the consumer behind what seems like a pretty big cloud.

    My hunch is that Delta pulled the chart because it is no longer pricing awards based on a static criteria but is instead pricing more dynamically based on factors like route, time, connections, etc., factors that are too numerous to include in one chart. I think that the end result could very well be that it becomes much easier to use miles on any given flight (it will become more like searching for cash fares). On the other hand, it will be much harder to do long term aspirational planning because the premium awards will be more expensive and it will be harder to know how many points you should attempt to acquire towards a specific redemption.

    In other words, this system could actually be viewed favorably by the average “Kettle” who knows when they want to travel and where they want to go and just wants Delta to tell them the cost, but it is obviously terrible for people who are trying to leverage miles in order to obtain the most “valuable” redemptions.

  22. I thought they revealed their attitude when I sent them an email pointing out they weren’t competitive with other majors on one-way 12,500 redemptions. The rudeness was astounding, essentially telling a 30 years customer I could take my business elsewhere, which is exactly what I did for my monthly flights. I’ll choose worse connections, times, literally go out of my way now to avoid Delta.

  23. I bet they quickly relent.

    The price of an award has to be tied to something. Like you can go “revenue,” and tell us that an award point is worth x.xx cents toward a revenue ticket. Or you can have a chart with fixed low, medium, high categories. But you can’t have a “it will cost whatever we say it costs” system. That’s just silly.

  24. Huh? Why would one need to take screen shots of United’s chart. It comes in a pdf. That’s pretty idiotic and sensational.

  25. If grocery stores worked like Delta…

    Customer: Excuse me, sir, could you tell me how much this bag of oranges costs? I don’t see a price tag on it.

    Employee: Oh, I’m sorry that I can’t help you with that, but once you check out the clerk will let you know the price.

    Customer: But I have a limited budget, and I’m trying to buy the best food I can for my family. I can’t keep just picking up items, going to the checkout counter, finding out the price, then shopping for something else to compare, going back to the checkout counter… that’s ridiculous. You’re a store! Why on earth wouldn’t you display the prices of each thing you sell?!

    Employee: Trust us, ma’am, we wish we could, but recent laws prevent us from disclosing this info earlier than the time you opt to book the flight, er, purchase the item.

  26. Within the last two weeks, I read in the WSJ that Delta purchased a refinery in PA, never really lower costs and is now hurt by the current low price of crude. Then on Thursday the paper has an article on Delta management handling major snowstorms. What now hurt Delta and other airlines that use airports that can be snowed in, often sooner then later, is the tarmac penalty and the mandatory 10 hour rest for a pilot.

  27. I am a gold member of any airline that actually rewards loyalty and I read these DL blogs because they amuse me. Why do they amuse me? DL is a master of the stick and the carrot. No matter how fast the horse runs, it never gets the carrot. Here’s the carrot. When DL decimated skymiles they said they would release MORE lower level seats. So, you blow up the award chart, secretly raise the redemption levels and create a new lower award. People, don’t be like the horse chasing the carrot. Vote with your wallets.

  28. Is this any more nefarious than AA whittling away transatlantic award space in Business Class on its own flights. That’s a defacto price increase.

  29. When they screwed me over 15 years ago I decided to never fly them and for the last 5 years of travel hacking I didn’t bother with them. I don’t think they’ll be happy until they alienate everyone.

  30. @Greg “which is exactly what I did for my monthly flights. I’ll choose worse connections, times, literally go out of my way now to avoid Delta.” – this isn’t really an alternative for a lot of people. You have to factor some value into life (in general) and your time. If your time (for business or pleasure) is valued at *ZERO* then perhaps this makes sense. Personally, I choose flights for elapsed travel time first, loyalty second.

  31. 5.OK, this is just a germ of an idea. Maybe some folks would like to ponder and discuss. And I am sure some people will not like what I am trying to say here. Note that I am not an employee of any airline, and what is below is pure speculation.

    I do not see the problem with DL moving to a 1 Point = $0.01. With the revenue-based point earnings, it becomes like a variable-rate rebate program.

    By variable-rate rebate program, I mean that you earn points based on 2 factors; how much you spend, and your elite tier. Redemptions are at a fixed rate of 1 Point = $0.01. So if for a given flight you have a 1% rebate if you are a basic member and an 11% rebate if you are a DM.

    This is what many people who play the points game do anyway when they figure the “value” of the points. Here, DL is making it crystal clear. Now, you want to fly from X to Y, you get to choose how many points the award is based on fare class. Want to spend very few points, put up with class E; want a better experience, pay with points to get that F.

    Seems fair to me. What has got some people in a snit is that it removes most arbitrage plays – take a bunch of cheap flights, sign up for a bunch of card bonuses and get out-sized rewards.

    Now, if they can only figure out how to eliminate MS.

  32. There’s another change coming April 1st. Prices, either in cash or miles, will not be revealed until boarding.

  33. @Papa Smurf – funny. but for what it’s worth, i was told by Delta PR yesterday that the award charts aren’t really gone because everyone already has copies and can post them. Thus I’ve been given permission by a company executive. And it would be fair use in any case.

  34. @Stargold UA – inherently making programs more complicated and less transparent is precisely what creates the opportunity and need for award booking services.

  35. Darth, what if Skymiles were earned based on how much the person actually spends, rather than the person’s employer? Then we’d get rid of all those greedy business travelers – all they do is sit and earn, instead of actually contributing real revenue.

  36. Darth, glad you don’t see anything wrong with a move to strict revenue earning and redemption. I surely hope that DL’s corporate customers, including the government, are astute enough to negotiate that discount off their fares. If the average corporate customer earns, say 9 points and the points are with 1c each, so easy to agree to a 9% discount, and no redeemable earning at all. DL can continue to track elite qualifying.

    At least in the former systems, the value was much less clear, and in fact the idea was that you burn the lower miles on tickets that either wouldn’t have been sold at all or only sold at rock bottom fares. Basically distressed inventory. And if you wanted to redeem for premium inventory, you paid a lot more miles. Tying it so much more closely to a direct rebate will make it much easier for the person paying for the ticket to claim it.

  37. Why should there NOT be dynamic pricing for award travel? It exists for revenue tickets: as supply dwindles price increases.

    This is far more of a free market approach to awards than the current Soviet-style fixed price for awards where your only options are pay one of two fixed prices for bread or there is no bread at all.

  38. @kokomutz – Oh I don’t know, posted pricing is very common in free market economies and in private businesses. Very few businesses have variable pricing to the degree that airlines do, one of the most highly regulated businesses in the country. When I go into Whole Foods they have lots of different items, but they have one price for each. I don’t think pricing model as it applies here is especially ideological.

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