Delta Just Imposed Secret 3-Week Advance Purchase Requirement on Domestic Saver Awards

Update: Since I posted commenters have found a few routes where there’s some inventory. The first several I tried where I found some turned out to be on Alaska Airlines routes (of course) but there are some Delta routes out there still showing award space within 3 weeks fo travel. Every route I tried at first was consistent, but I didn’t try every route! Something is definitely afoot here and it turns out that it’s been going on for at least a week. Very different inventory philosophy for releasing award space.

On Friday (you always dump bad news on Fridays), Delta eliminated their award charts — just pulled them off the website — without telling anyone. When asked they said that members now get all they need to know from the award calendar.

Instead of telling you in advance what their price list is, Delta will just tell you what a given flight is going to cost when you go to book it.

To me this is one of the worst things an airline frequent flyer program has ever done. Not only does it take away the goal-oriented nature of a program (what awards are possible and what might they cost me?) but it prevents you from appealing when an award is mispriced (something Delta’s IT does frequently in my experience) and it means they don’t have to ever announce devaluations.

The suggestion that hidden devaluations were in the cards was purely hypothetical — and while this one isn’t strictly related to the removal of award charts, even I’m surprised to see that Delta has apparently already implemented one: a major, secret, unannounced devaluation.

Nothing new for Delta, perhaps, but this one will affect a lot of members.

Per Cranky Flier, it seems that Delta no longer offers awards at the lowest saver level within 3 weeks of travel.

For Los Angeles – San Francisco you don’t see saver award space until more than 3 weeks out:

But then of course it’s available most days:

It’s the same pattern for Los Angeles – Las Vegas.

And indeed more than 3 weeks out you can generally find saver awards.

Cranky when through a bunch of routes like Atlanta – Savannah, Seattle – Spokane, New York JFK – Syracuse, New York JFK – Buffalo, Salt Lake City – Denver, and Detroit – State College and finds the same thing. He declares,

The news just gets worse over there.

Delta may have a fantastic operation and a good onboard experience, but it is quickly establishing itself as the airline that has an absolute disdain for transparency. While I like flying the airline, actions like these certainly make me think twice when I look to buy tickets. Delta has earned itself another Cranky Jackass Award with these latest moves.

This is a huge change in strategy for Delta, who used to make the best award space available close to departure (which is what was so frustrating about their unique rule of no changes within 72 hours of travel — that’s often when flights would get cheaper, and before the rule you could convert a higher priced award ticket down to the lowest priced one and save miles).

Just like removing all information about Delta fares from Expertflyer, the airline has moved to eliminate transparency and keep members from having the tools or information to be well-informed customers. Their strategy seems to be that a good customer is an ignorant one.

I can only say that given recent moves, expect more unannounced changes, expect those changes to be negative, and expect Delta to tell you that you don’t need information and that changes are for your own good — or at least a part of rewarding their best customers.

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. So that’s ballgame. Skymiles were good for 3 things:

    1. Low level redemption on partners
    2. Last minute low level availablity
    3. Domestic stopovers.

    Now the last two are gone, and the first can’t be enforced without an award chart. I’ve already spent $6k on my Delta Platinum to get some MQMs, but I agree that it’s only going to get worse so there’s no point in continuing with DL. Bye Felicia.

  2. This is yet another reason I dumped Delta for elite status with Alaska. Great hard product, but their loyalty program sucks!

  3. All airlines will eventually go this route (i.e., race to the bottom) unless there is true competition in the industry. This is what happens when there is consolidation.

  4. It’s really sad to see this, and it is eventually getting to the point where you wonder what is the point of even having a frequent flyer program? The whole purpose of even offering an FF program is to reward loyal travelers and present them with benefits that can enhance their travel experience. However, DL is clearly recognizing a couple things in my opinion.

    1. They have A LOT of elite travelers who have been with the program for many years. It’s never easy to leave a program, no matter what anyone says.

    2. The other options with AA and UA, are they really any better? AA is great if you are EXP, but for anything else…DL has an advantage. UA, let’s not even go there. I think DL also recognizes that the other options seem to follow their lead these days, so you can’t exactly say they are better as they end up doing the same thing DL does.

    3. With all the changes in the last 3 years, what has Delta really lost? Many travelers complain on forums, threaten to leave, and take their business elsewhere. Yet Delta keeps growing every year, and with that kind of track record I’m sure Revenue Management wonders “How much can we really lose by making this change?”

    I hate to say it, but FF programs are just not what they used to be. If DL is trying to make their benefits more “exclusive” for HVCs such as Plat/Diamond/Corporate accounts, it makes a little sense BUT they aren’t exactly presenting us with more benefits in reality. Add something, take something else away. Take a couple more things away (in a hush hush manner) and add a few goodies to the SkyClub and that will be an “enhancement”. Here are new award levels to give you more choices, but we’re going to take away the ability to look for when they’re available (on a 3rd party site, and also our own site).

    It’s all greed on Delta’s part, but unless enough people voice their concern and really do end up leaving, I don’t see much changing. Maybe someone higher up will listen, yawn a little, and then decide to add back the award chart again (but this time with revised redemption levels). Or maybe adding a new type of cookie in the SkyClub will make up for this, after all…these are more ways Delta is investing back into the company to “enhance” your experience. Sad.

  5. I just tried searching SFO-LAX, found saver availability for departures today and for several dates over the next three weeks.

  6. This isn’t necessarily connected with the hidden award chart, it was reported on February 2nd on the DansDeals forums:

    Also it’s not true for all routes. I just searched ORD-JFK and there’s plenty of 12.5K space for all of February. Actually ORD-JFK is a route that was noted on DDF as not having any 12.5K space close-in, so this is all still in flux.

  7. Let me add another recent DL unannounced change–

    Their new 2015 policy which stated Award Travel could be purchased through points OR (fewer) points and (more) cash–the points and cash feature seems to have disappeared.

  8. All the other things DL had done up to this point (the elimination of award charts) wasn’t exactly good, but I could live with it. Now, I just have no trust at all with Delta. I’d rather know the rules and when they change – no matter how bad they are – than be operating blindly as is now the case with Delta. This is the final straw for me. I spend a bunch on DL Amex to get EQM, but I just can’t justify it anymore.

  9. Mark nailed it. This is what happens when there’s no competition. Delta is basically calling everyone’s bluff of “I’m taking my business elsewhere.”

    They know that the alternatives (United) is not much better or that in many instances, Delta is your ONLY option.

    Save yourself the trouble and don’t bother with frequent flier programs. Use a cash back card, and shop for the lowest priced tickets. Only the consumer has the power to reverse this trend.

  10. As I observe, this isn’t connected to pulling the award charts. But there’s certainly a change in philosophy in making award space available that makes it harder to get saver seats close to departure.

  11. Thanks for keeping up the fight on this. I do think DL will eventually cave. Not because they actually “care” about their customers, but because there’s no meaningful financial benefit to DL from “hiding the ball.” It’s just confusing and potentially detrimental to customer loyalty.

  12. Gary,

    I have 130,000 Delta miles. I was going to save to use to travel to Africa on Air France in late 2016/early 2017 (and get at least ~3 cents per mile value), but am now worried. Think I should use them this summer for flights that get ~1.2 cents per mile?

  13. I’m not seeing this. Yes, SFO-LAX has no low space for 3 weeks, but OAK-LAX has low space today.

    It seems they’ve tightened inventory selectively in some markets.

  14. problem is: they know the clowns at UA copy everything they do. as such, they know with every passenger-unfriendly move they make, it automatically becomes the defacto standard in the US, as 2/3 of the big 3 will be ‘on board’.

    and now they are lobby hard to keep foreign carriers out of their (monopoly) pool. while trying to crush Alaska into submission by attacking SEA fares.

    gotta love all these consumer benefits we’re all getting from the airline mergers… 😎

  15. Last-minute low-level availability using seats which will not sell for cash is PROFITABLE for airlines. Why would they discontinue it, especially when the airlines can also pocket their confiscatory last-minute booking fees?

    I see a stupid screw-up here, not an evil genius plan.

  16. My biggest beef is that they switched over to miles that never expire. WTF for? Now I have 20k miles that won’t expire, and aren’t good for anything.

  17. Completely disagree when IAHPHX says: “I do think DL will eventually cave.” I think there’s no chance they’ll cave. Why would they cave? Did they cave with the 72-hour no change award rule?

    DL management to customers: “Go ahead and leave. Where are you going to go?”

    DL has a great in-flight product. UA has many of the same crummy rules but a lousy in-flight product.

    Plus many airports are now captive. Why should UA do anything at EWR or IAH? Why should DL “cave” for ATL customers?

  18. Again, this is primarily due to consolidation. Fewwer choices. DL will lose some to AA but AA will lose some to DL…and so on and so on. Why spend the $$ to keep customers? You’ll lose some and you’ll gain some.

  19. gary,

    Just saw Rene’s delta blog regarding a short tv segment where you talk about delta changes. Delta may not make any changes but it was really really great that you shed some publicity on this sneaky move by delta.

    I don’t fly delta regularly but tend to view them pretty positively. However I don’t think they will get my loyalty — I will use remaining points I have with them and or only book with them if I have no convenient options. AA is still my preferred airline.

    Anyway thanks for speaking out about this latest move by delta!

  20. Each time you win the “Cranky Jackass Award” do you receive a new large trophy? If yes, the trophy case at Delta Airlines World Headquarters must be close to capacity.

  21. I have a feeling the reason that they aren’t publishing award charts is that they will price differently based on one’s travel patterns and account info.

    Perhaps if you have lots of miles in your account, they will charge you more. If you have few miles, they might charge you less. Or maybe they will have lower miles for MVC.

  22. @rocky – i have to think ‘lower miles for high value customers’ has to be it, that would be consistent with their narrative over the last couple of years. i think there’s be outrage if they charged higher points to people with more miles, the more loyal you are the worse your value proposition. (Although only half tongue in cheek i could see them mimicing skybonus and being less rewarding to members who live in captive hub markets)

  23. @gary excluding captive hub customers is something NW did a lot with their zone fare coupons. If you lived in MSP, DTW or MEM, you were often excluded.

    Variable award pricing seems to me the most likely reason to do this. Airlines are already looking to do this for revenue tickets based on FF data and historical price sensitivity.

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