Delta’s Mixed Cabin Award Rule Changes. Here’s What They Really Mean.

Via Delta Points, Delta’s Award Ticket FAQ used to say:


Yes. SkyMiles members have the ability to combine Economy, First, Business and BusinessElite Class into one round-trip Award Ticket.

But now the same question has a new answer:


No. SkyMiles members do not have the ability to combine Main Cabin, First, Business and Delta One™ Class into one round-trip Award Ticket.

This is confusing because it appears to say something that’s different than how Delta actually prices awards.

It mentions economy, business, first, and international business as different cabin types and says they cannot be combined.

This rule – which doesn’t appear to be how Delta prices things — would suggest you cannot combine Delta first class (premium cabin domestic) with Business/Delta One international.

It suggests you cannot combine Main Cabin and Business Class, so a city served only by one cabin regional jets couldn’t be part of the same award as an international business class flight.

If this were true it would mean you’d be charged extra for a shorter connecting flight on an international ticket except where:

  • You’re flying Main Cabin (economy) only
  • You’re flying from Mexico or Canada where a flight to the US in premium cabin is called ‘business class’ and connect to an international business class flight.

Except that none of this is how Delta actually prices awards. And the strange thing here is that the question is talking about round trip awards when since the beginning of 2015 Delta has offered one-way redemptions.

I reached out to Delta to find out what’s going on, and it turns out to be what I’d consider ‘inartful phrasing’. Here’s what I learned:

  • You can combine a domestic economy flight with international business class. “When only Main Cabin is available on a flight segment due to aircraft configuration, that does not break the fare.”

  • You can combine domestic first class and international business. “From a shopping perspective First and Business (Delta One) are one and the same ‘premium cabin’.”

  • What’s really going on is that if you book a roundtrip ticket both directions need to be in the same class of service. “When we moved to ITA shopping last November as part of changes to the 2015 SkyMiles program, we aligned with the revenue shopping rules that align your outbound Class of Service request with your return Class of Service (if outbound trip is in the premium cabin, the return must be in the premium cabin.) This was due to technical constraints.”

  • If you want to book business class one way and economy the other, you need to book two one-way awards. “Now with the introduction of one-way award tickets, if the customer wishes to fly the outbound in Main Cabin, and the return in Premium Cabin, they must book as two separate tickets (but it will price out the same.)”

There are two downsides to this new approach:

  1. There would be two cancel/redeposit fees if you wind up not taking the trip.

  2. For a Europe trip, if you’re originating in the US then a roundtrip ticket won’t incur fuel surcharges. For one-ways, Delta will add fuel surcharges for Europe – US.

So it’s definitely a customer-unfriendly move, but it’s an acknowledgment of what their system is doing so I suppose that’s a (very modest) move in the direction of transparency — something Delta hasn’t been very good at this year (or ever).

Matthew points out, though, that “at least for now, you can call Delta Reservations and still book the ‘mixed-cabin award'”

In fact, you can still even do this on the website. Despite the explanation that the new technology doesn’t allow it, I see it pricing.. sometimes. The Delta website’s pricing engine is wonky and often mis-prices (if you can ever say that without reference to an award chart, something no longer available from Delta). So while plausible to a certain degree, the explanation doesn’t quite hold as it doesn’t fully fit available facts.

Whether technological or intentional, this is worse for flyers and holds the potential to become even worse. For now though it’s not terrible. And kudos to Delta for at least publishing this change, even though it is relatively minor and even if the explanation at doesn’t make all that clear what’s actually going on.

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 glad that I booked a RT to Europe with Economy outbound, Business class return (and stopover) while I could. They’re making it impossible to fly back from Europe on Virgin (where I can get access to the Club, and have a fun day of schmoozing at the in-flight bar).

  2. I’m confused about Delta.

    On the one hand, the chart is hidden and it’s frustrating.

    On the other hand, the miles are getting much harder to come by (One bonus per lifetime, no recent amex MR transfer bonuses, revenue based earning etc)

    So maybe the miles are getting more valuable?

  3. You can combine a domestic economy flight with international business class. “When only Main Cabin is available on a flight segment due to aircraft configuration, that does not break the fare.”

    So what about taking a voluntary downgrade if one segment HAS a business/first class cabin but there is no award space. I.E. I’m flying DCA-JFK-CDG, DCA-JFK has a business class cabin but it’s sold out, so I want to take a voluntary downgrade to coach in order to get to JFK and then fly the TATL JFK to CDG in business. Obviously the downgrade would not be due to “aircraft configuration” it’d just be a matter of lack of space. Would this cause the fare to break?

  4. If I book a Business Award one way Europe to US and it only includes Coach domestically, can I waitlist for a First Class domestic seat or am I stuck in Coach domestically???

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