Delta Renames its Award Price Levels

Delta went from two to three tiers of award pricing in 2008.

The three tiers were called Low, Medium, and High. And that’s how they stand as I write this:

Delta announced, however, that the names of its award redemption tiers will be changing to “Saver, Standard, and Peak.”

To clarify our Award Travel chart, we’ve updated the Award level names to Saver, Standard and Peak from Low, Medium and High, respectively. Please note that the change of names for the Award levels does not indicate changes with the program rules or mileage redemption at this time. Visit our Award Travel page to learn more about using miles for an Award Ticket.”

While some may speculate that this change is more than a wording change, we’d like to be very clear that this is only a modification to the way we describe Award levels. It is not a change to the levels themselves.

We can take the change for what we know at this point, which is simply a modification to the nomenclature. After all, that’s explicitly what they’re asking us to do.

Or we can start to speculate about what it might mean.

You know which of those I’m going to do.

  • Why change the nomenclature at all? As they indicate, they know such a change will fuel negative speculation. If they intend to change nothing but the name, what do they get from the change change that outweights their customers’ consternation?
  • Why change the names now at all if they’re planning to go with dynamic pricing?
  • Perhaps the new nomenclature fits better with dynamic pricing, calling something ‘low’ or ‘medium’ may not fit a new world where award prices change day by day and flight by flight?
  • High has a negative connotation and they realize that, why tell customers they’re getting fleeced?
  • ‘Saver’ and ‘standard” matches United’s language. I guess it makes sense then that Delta has an even higher price than United’s top category for their awards. After all, isn’t Delta worth more?
  • We can’t really trust their pronouncements about what changes to their program mean.
  • Shouldn’t they change the name of the program to Skypesos and get everything done in one fell swoop?
  • If this were really bad it would have been announced on a Friday afternoon.

Basically it makes little sense to do this in the absence of a bigger reason, so we’re left to wonder what that reason is. Delta isn’t saying.

I still expect them to move towards revenue-based redemption, although if they’ve pulled back from that brink the folks in Atlanta can snicker as they read this that I’m not all that in the know. Everything was supposed to be ready to go a few months ago, though timing and PR issues crept up and technology issues seemed to as well. Now we’re left waiting for the big changes, reading tea leaves from the little ones.

For now, this cigar must remain just a cigar.

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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. Of course, it is all marketing b.s. It is funny how the mid-tier is the new “standard”, which was frequently all that was available on many routes anyway (Hawaii I’m looking at you!). So your average Joe RoadWarrior who doesn’t read blogs, goes to the DL web site and sees all the good “standard” award availability. In the brain, “standard” translates to “normal”. He thinks, “great, at least I’m not paying peak prices” and has the impression that “Saver” is the proverbial needle in the haystack. He is then happy that he was able to book flights for his family to Orlando, not realizing that he has been fleeced an extra 15K miles per person. Sad.

  2. I agree with you Gary. There’s no good reason, that I can think of right now, to change ‘High’ to ‘Peak’ unless something else is going on behind the scenes involving award redemption changes…

  3. “Peak” makes it sound like it’s the customer’s fault for wanting to travel at a time when award space is unavailable. “High” makes it sound like an arbitrary decision on Delta’s part.

  4. I agree w/ Erik, and think this is just a psychological marketing ploy. I personally am an extreme value-shopper, and that includes when I cash in my miles for a ticket. I NEVER cash them in for a mid-level or high ticket… only for the cheapest ticket. I plan entire vacations based on when I can get the cheapest ticket. I maximize the number of trips I can get out of my miles. So, I would NEVER cash in my miles for a “medium” level award. However, if I didn’t already know better, I could easily talk myself into cashing them in for a “standard” award. The word “standard” implies something completely different than the word “medium”. This is a coup for Delta (but a loss for the ignorant customer). Now, the next step will probably be a subtle one: Delta will greatly reduce the number of “saver” awards. But none of us will be able to prove it. Victory #2 for Delta. I tell you, it’s marketing genious: invisible devaluation.

  5. Leave it to delta to find new and ever more creative ways to stick it to the consumer. One could only wonder if they used that same creativity to better serve the customer. They might even become a more profitable airline with a good reputation as opposed to a poor one.

  6. This is much ado about absolutely nothing. However, this is a good reminder that I need to book my DL awards out to 365 days ASAP, before I get caught holding the bag.

  7. Just more marketing dept folks justifying their jobs. It does sound better – and ~95% of DL victims, er, customers, won’t even have noticed the change unlike us junkies.

    Not that I don’t expect some future screwing by Delta. In fact I thought this was going to be a joke post, with the new levels being “Screwed”, “More Screwed”, and “Royally Screwed”!

  8. Are they giving traditional awards one last shot before they relent and go revenue based? I’m not sure rev based redemptions are the way to go for Delta. As Southwest is discovering there are some issues. Once you remove capacity restrictions award redemptions eat into sales. What do you do with excess capacity? Your customers also behave differently, they are less likely to hoard miles and hence have a tendency to be less engaged.

  9. It’s simple:

    “Standard” makes people think they are paying what they should be.
    “Medium” reminds them they are paying more than they need to.
    “Saver” reminds you that you’re saving… getting a great deal.
    “Low” implies something similar, but doesn’t pack the same punch.
    “Peak” reminds you there is a good reason for charging more.
    “High”, as Gary mentions, carries negative connotations.

    I doubt there’s anything else behind it.

  10. I think the dynamic scheme will be like Qantas and Aeroplan. That is, region based awards will remain with a saver, standard, peak, while dynamic awards will be offered as the first option. And those who don’t know any better will go for the dynamic awards.

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