In December I wrote that Delta has added basic economy restrictions to the lowest award prices for some routes. This was limited to just a few cities.
Refusing to give customers a seat assignment when they redeem their hard earned miles punishes frequent flyers — redemptions were once a reward for loyalty and so customers were treated better when using their miles. That’s why award tickets have always been more changeable, for instance, than revenue fares.
That made business sense for the airline, too — customers who have a good experience using their miles become more loyal. They start accumulating miles faster. They earn miles with more partners, too. That’s great for credit card revenue especially. And the benefits of the basic economy strategy haven’t made sense for award tickets.
- Whereas the major airlines have used basic economy restrictions like no advance seat assignment, no upgrades, and no changes as a targeted fare increase, a way to make the lowest fares worse so that some customers will spend more to avoid them, that’s never seemed necessary with award tickets. Delta has raised award prices whenever it has wanted to without this tool, and customers can’t just take their miles and redeem them with another airline.
- Basic economy has also become a way for airlines to maintain the separation between business travel fares and leisure fares but that’s largely built-in to frequent flyer awards already, since in general people may earn miles on business travel but will use miles for personal reasons. (Small business owners are more like leisure travelers in this model.)
Delta explained to me at the time that this was a test.
Our customers have told us they want the flexibility to use their SkyMiles on more types of Delta products, and we are always looking at new ways to expand those options, while making that process simple and intuitive for them. As a part of this effort, we are testing the ability for customers to use miles for Basic Economy tickets on select flights.
They want you to believe that they are making the cheapest awards more restrictive to help you. Apparently Delta customers have been telling the airline that they want the flexibility not to be allowed to get seat assignments in advance. And they’ve been saying that more rules and restrictions are both simpler and more intuitive. As a result this is an enhancement you should like.
Delta has now expanded basic economy to award travel much more broadly. The Thrifty Traveler quotes a Delta spokesperson as saying that basic economy now applies to the cheapest awards for “most Delta flights within the U.S. and Canada” effective March 5.
Basic economy isn’t sold on all routes, all dates, so you’re not going to find it offered for awards either. However you now need to watch out for basic economy any time you’re using your miles, and consider paying more for the right to get an advance seat assignment (which Delta may then charge you for depending on the seat you want).
At Delta miles are just a low value currency to be used at the company store, for whatever price they happen to charge on the day you’re shopping. So it makes sense that Delta would just have you use miles to buy what they sell for cash. That’s not loyalty.