Even Without an Award Chart Delta Can Still Overcharge Members Redeeming Miles

SkyMiles awards originating in Europe, and awards on certain partners like China Eastern, incur fuel surcharges (which aren’t called fuel surcharges any more — they’re just “carrier imposed surcharges” which means “extra money for no reason”).

On awards departing Europe Delta calls these fees “international originating surcharge” but they don’t apply to all awards starting outside the U.S. They apply to awards starting in Europe. European frequent flyer programs generally add hundreds of dollars of cash co-payments onto awards, so why shouldn’t Delta get in on the fun too? After all, Europeans don’t have many options of avoiding these fees.

That’s why when you’re booking awards using Delta miles starting in the U.S. and flying to Europe you want to book roundtrip travel. You’ll avoid these surcharges. Another reason is that Delta has started charging more for one-way awards between the U.S. and Europe.

In contrast United and American (and Alaska) still charge half the roundtrip cost of an award when booking one way travel, and United never adds fuel surcharges onto award redemptions. American does add these charges to British Airways awards (and very modest surcharges to Iberia awards).

At Delta though there’s not much guidance as to what to expect in advance.

  • They no longer have (published) award charts. They say that “the price is the price.” Whatever they quote you at the time is right. But what if it’s wrong, the result of a glitch?

  • There’s not a lot of published guidance on what fees to expect for SkyMiles award travel, either — international originating surcharges are listed but not described (there’s no link to greater information) and just lists the amount as ‘varies’.

  • Not even listed in the section on fees is that sometimes they add these charges to awards on partner flights departing the U.S.

As a result we’re left only to experience to know when a fee is new, and to guess whether a fee is intentional or not. Delta makes changes to award pricing regularly and doesn’t tell members when they do, since there’s no chart being changed, and pricing happens in the moment — the price is the price.

Recently they started adding surcharges to Virgin Atlantic awards in premium economy. My guess, though, was that this was a mistake because (1) they weren’t adding the surcharges to awards in business class, and (2) they’ve started adding surcharges to Virgin Atlantic redemptions in the past and rolled those back citing a mistake.

I sent Delta a screen shot of Seattle – London on March 21, 2020 showing Virgin Atlantic award availability — and taxes and fees of $5.60 for business class, but $249.20 for premium economy.

Delta acknowledged this was a mistake. They’ve fixed it — stopped charging miscellaneous surcharges on Virgin Atlantic premium economy awards departing the U.S. — and they’re refunding SkyMiles members that already paid it.

(HT: Thomas W.)

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. I think there is very much an element of not wanting their customers to know what is a good deal or a bad deal so that many will take a bad deal. I used up the last of my Delta miles a couple of years ago with no regrets.

  2. I used up my Delta miles as well and also have no regrets.

    I now actively avoid flying them.

  3. Every now and then they have a good ‘flash’ sale; and it takes patience. Also the reliability is good and I fly Delta because (at least up-front) the Service has been consistent, friendly and besides I’m a lifetime SkyClub guy 🙂

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