Delta Eliminates Close-in Award Redemption Fees, Publish Data that Admits They Charge More Miles Than Anyone Else for the Same Awards..

I’m late to the party on Delta news, but everyone else is doing my job for me this week.

Back in April, Delta eliminated close-in award redemption fees and then on the same day re-instated those fees. Or at least Delta pulled the fees off the website and then put them back.

Then yesterday came word that Delta has, in fact, ended those close-in ticketing fees. These are the annoying surcharges for booking award tickets within three weeks of travel, and had been on an escalating scale — up to $150 for redeeming awards within three days of departure. Years ago these were known as ‘expedite’ fees since the airlines had to process tickets quickly, but in a digital world the truth was much clearer — both a revenue opportunity and a disincentive to last minute bookings at a time that revenue fares were higher.

Of course, Delta follows in the footsteps of United, which eliminated those same fees last summer.

What’s more, Delta is going back to fee-free award changes for Platinum Medallions, something United also offers to their 1K members and higher. Perhaps Delta now sees United leapfrogging them as the biggest airline and they realize they have to look to their betters as a model? They took away this benefit but they’re bringing it back..

Meanwhile Scott McCartney reports that Delta has begun reporting award redemption statistics to the SEC. But the data isn’t really very telling.

Scott notes that Delta “reported that its customers redeemed 230 billion miles in the SkyMiles program last year for more than 11 million awards.” That’s 31% more miles than were redeemed via American AAdvantage, and indeed “Delta said awards amounted to 8.5% of revenue passenger miles.” That’s a respectable percentage.

Does this suggest Delta is better for redemption than previously thought? Fortunately, most would be fooled but Scott is not:

The numbers do suggest that Delta customers may be paying higher prices in miles for awards.
Yup, Delta members redeem a whole lot more miles in order for Delta to fill an average number of seats with award passengers. That is actually the most telling and damning statistic.

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. We’ll see how many previous NW and DL loyalists come back. 2/3 of my friends that fly significantly have already shifted alliances, and don’t plan on returning.
    Plus, DL’s predicted integration schedule is laughable, seeing as how poorly their execution has been so far.

    Fool me once, Delta, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I’m not planning on looking back.

  2. I call this poor reporting and sensationalism.

    The WSJ article jumps to an unfounded conclusion based on a very sparse dataset. The data is totally inadequate to draw any conclusion. You can’t say that because Delta members used up 230 billion miles, as opposed to 175M at AA, that Delta awards cost more. It’s bad reporting. Unless you know where people went, how the 8.5% of RPM was calculated, how partner awards were factored in, etc etc etc, you simply cannot draw a valid conclusion.

    For this blog post to say Delta “admits” they charge more miles is sensationalism. There is simply not enough data to draw that conclusion. Even if the conclusion is accurate, it is not supported by the data nor the article linked to. Thus, it comes across as another instance of an anti-Delta Skymiles bias seen before on this blog.

  3. So, Delta plays games with the numbers and then accuses others of drawing unfair conclusions? Frequest flyers and business travelers know that Delta has the absolute worst customer service. Near everybody has a Delta horror story from friends/relatives, many have more than one.
    However, this may be good news as Delta is FINALLY feeling the heat and modifing a few of their mean-spirited policis. However until more actions are taken they will be know as DELTA – Driving Every Loyal Traveler Away.

  4. Anybody who has tried to use their SkyMiles within the past year or so (ever since the 3-tiered system was introduced) knows that this assessment is spot on, even if based upon what might be characterized as circumstantial evidence. You could also look at the comments on Flyertalk. There was another study recently (mentioned in ) that also showed Delta coming in near the bottom of frequent flier award availability.

    At the end of the day, Delta has a problem that they need to fix if they expect to retain loyal road warriors. A lot of the recent changes to the Medallion program have merely been window dressing to put lipstick on a pig. Even if you make a pig prettier, at the end of the day it is still a pig.

  5. “Yup, Delta members redeem a whole lot more miles in order for Delta to fill an average number of seats with award passengers. That is actually the most telling and damning statistic.”

    Who really cares if it takes more miles on Delta to earn the same ticket as another airline? Delta makes it VERY easy to earn miles in non-flight ways. That really levels things out in my opinion. Quit bagging on Delta, if you have trouble with them then just quit posting entries about them!

  6. “Who really cares if it takes more miles on Delta to earn the same ticket as another airline?”

    Um, everybody but you.

    What’s your motivation? No rational frequent flyer would make a statement like this.

  7. It’s clear DL badly miscalculated how many NW customers would flee when switching them from a generous, easy to use, low-fee WorldPerks program to the opposite with the SkyPesos program.

    Getting rid of the fees is a good first step.

    They should also prepare for a 2nd wave of backlash when the people they did manage to convert from US Bank to AMEX find out that the highly-touted 25,000 points isn’t enough for a free ticket.

  8. I like flying Delta. I think they offer a great product. Their people are pretty good. Frankly, I’d put their inflight experience up against certainly any US based airline, and a handful of foreign carriers. But as far as redeeming Sky Miles goes, this post is spot on.

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