Delta Adds More Blackout Dates to its Terms and Conditions

A month ago Delta updated its terms and conditions to add specific blackout dates for using SkyMiles to book awards on two of its partner airlines.

Now they’ve added 2015 and 2016 blackout dates for Korean Air into their terms and conditions.

More than 30% of the year is blacked out for award travel.

Several things about this are curious.

  • Why specific blackout dates are being published in the terms and conditions?
  • Why they are being published now, when Delta is becoming less transparent in almost every other dimension (they haven’t published these in the past)?
  • Why they aren’t publishing blackout dates for all partners where those exist at the same time. Publishing some, waiting a month, and publishing more seems strange — especially when they were known a month ago.

What Are Blackout Dates?

Let’s be clear about terms:

  • Blackout dates are specific days where you cannot use your miles.
  • Capacity controls are where there are a limited number of seats on any given flight that can be redeemed as an award. The capacity might be set to zero.

So even where there are no formal dates with no awards permitted (blackout dates) there may still be dates where there are no awards available (capacity controls). Blackout dates are wholly unnecessary in a world with capacity controls.

Delta Imposes Blackout Dates for Travel on Korean Unnecessarily

Some programs like Korean Air’s Skypass have ‘high demand’ dates where awards cost more miles than usual. On those dates Korean does make award seats available, but Delta members don’t have access to those seats. These are blackout dates.

Delta actually goes to a greater extreme than necessary here — Korean designates different dates as ‘high demand’ for different regions of the world. Delta’s policy has been that any day that is high demand for any region is a blackout date for every region.

Bottom Line

If you find award seats available on certain carriers on certain dates, you can’t book those seats with Delta miles because of blackout dates.

Their promise in the terms, though, that “[t]here are no blackout dates on Delta-operated flights” is meaningless because Delta simply makes category 5 awards available on those dates — and then charges whatever price they wish because they no longer publish award charts.

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, 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. With all due respect, this is how Korean awards/blackouts have always worked when booking Korean flights with SkyMiles. If Delta is publishing blackout dates in their T&C, then it seems to me that they’re just being more transparent. I’m not a fan of their policy, but the title of this article, “Delta Adds More Blackout Dates to its Terms and Conditions”, implies something more than this is. Perhaps “Delta Publishes 2015/2016 Blackout Dates for Award Flights Booked on Korean” would more appropriately describe the situation.

  2. Doesn’t low level availability always have to be available when booking on partners? It’s always been my understanding that Korean Air does not make these low level awards available for much of the year, so Delta does not sell them. Are there any airlines that allow you to book partner awards when low level is not available?

  3. @TheInternationalLine: If you compare the two lists, you can clearly see that there will be more blackout dates next year…The title is correct at its face value. Stop being nitpicky.

    @Travis Swanson: The problem is that Delta blackout all the routes that KE serve (including those with many low level awards), not only one where KE themselves assigned less low level awards.

  4. Although I find it obnoxious that more than 30% of the year is blacked out, I actually prefer having blackout dates over capacity controls set to zero. There is, at least, clarity: I won’t waste my time even TRYING to redeem SkyPesos for those dates (not that I go out of my way trying to accrue them, either).

    Last year I tried to redeem miles for LAX-GRU, DFW-GRU or MIA-GRU and could not find ONE date in the next year where there was a single open seat available at the SAAver level (yes, using ExpertFlyer). Call it a year-round blackout date, but I’d prefer to say AA chose to not make an advertised product available to members with the means to buy it. That’s a disingenuous practice, at best.

  5. I should add that I was trying to redeem miles for Business Class on AA, and that seat charts showed many, many dates where the only reserved seats were 1A and !B — presumably reserved for crew rest. Seats in Coach at the SAAver level were plentiful.

  6. The 2016 blackout dates almost match the same blackout dates that have been listed on Alaska’s website for months so I don’t see why this is a big deal or anything bad on Delta’s part.

  7. not that I like DL but the award inventory for peak travel does not appear to be any worse than Gary’s current flavor of the month. checking peak 2015 xmas dates to mexico, I find DL has plenty of space @ 37.5k/62/5k one-way (Y/F) which is comparable to the AAnytime space @ 37.5/60k (UA price is 37.5k/70k). granted it would be better if DL published actual award charts but in practice does it make a difference? not as if UA or AA is transparent about award inventory.

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