Why Airlines Pricing Award Tickets At One Million Miles Is Stupid

Some programs offer ‘saver awards only’. Award space is available or it isn’t. You get a ‘decent’ price, or no option to book at all.

Other programs offer last seat availability, or access to most seats for points. But when fares are exorbitant, the algorithms can lead to some absurd results, like over a million miles for a one-way flight on peak travel days. That makes the program look bad, and even if members like “last seat availability” offering these seats costs too much to the program’s reputation.

Years ago it was only Delta that priced awards like that, though they priced them at that level with regularity and not just on peak of peak dates. And even Delta’s business class saver awards can price like other airlines’ last seat availability offers.

I’ve heard from a number of readers concerned with the ‘massive devaluation’ of Air France KLM Flying Blue, but that’s not what’s going on here at all. Saver award pricing hasn’t changed. It’s just that on peak of peak travel days, when searching for more than one passenger, ticket prices are through the roof.

The program is offering to ‘buy that seat’ at a very low value per point. They expect the mileage passenger will displace a paying passenger and they’re not willing to do that at anything approximating reasonable value.

Yes, they offer last seat available at some price but these prices make the program look low value, even though saver awards still abound on less peak dates to numerous destinations.

The issue here is that a million miles is stupid.

  • No one is actually booking at that price
  • But it makes the program look worthless and inflated

So offering these seats at these prices is worse than not offering availability at all. It’s not actually helping members and makes the program look bad.

Now I think they’d be better off redeeming points at something closer to a penny apiece or even just 75 basis points. But they’d even be better off showing ‘nothing available’ and I think transatlantic business class for New Years that makes sense to people. Over one million miles does not.

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. IMO, these insane requirements are shown to actually discourage mileage/point use. We’re looking at you Delta. Many programs also only allow day-by-day searches(and a few need a phone call to hour long waits). All this is beyond discouraging and often result in giving up, at least temporarily.
    I can’t count the number of times I just close the browser in anger. I’m hoping things get better when we move away from the current shitshow that the airlines are currently.

  2. Even more insane is that it is 1,000,000 points and also $1,392 in taxes and fees.

  3. As much as some people tout Flying Blue, I’ve often seen such point prices. I ended up eliminating it as a “go to” trans-Atlantic redemption. I’m not saying never. Just not my “go to”.

    You should check out Etihad from JFK to the Gulf. Seven-digit points for business class are not uncommon.

  4. Maybe they’re hoping someone is stupid enough to click on the link while in a state of inebriation? But I agree that even having that number on the screen makes them look bad – they’d be better off with no award available at all in my estimate.

    I’m still pursing status on AA, so looking for ways to accumulate LPs, but that doesn’t mean I don’t also like a bargain. Less dollars out of pocket is always the best deal, but I’m not going to burn my miles if cash is a better deal. If I can cash in some miles for the equal of 2.5 cents per mile over the cash fare on a ticket I would buy anyway, I’m going to do that, but if I can get over 24000 miles and LP on a 1300 Euro RT business class ticket, I’m going to do that too.

  5. Carriers do this for several reasons. So travelers can’t complain that they can never find an award seat. There you have it. And as an Delta Executive of FF stated they could get away because some how there were still people who would accept the outraged prices. Who knows there are still more dumb flyers? So why not?

  6. Frequent Flyer programs are dying off. In many cases, completely useless.
    Delta Terrorizes the public with their putrid Sky-Peso Scam.

  7. The scam continues until people stop using airmile credit cards.
    But unfortunately, many people are simply lazy/stupid. They prefer using miles cards out of laziness instead of doing the math and use cash back cards instead.

  8. Although I’m aligned with your underlying points, this is the rare time I disagree with your stated outcomes. Carriers made the conscious decision that displaying an asinine rate is a better alternative then showing no availability. I believe members who’ve paid the slightest bit of attention are no longer surprised and are LONG past the point of recognizing the programs are a perpetually devalued, misleading shell game where the carrier is the only winner. And pricing theory dictates you never sell your last widget, saving it for the last minute and highest possible, over-inflated price. There’s so much money out there on the sidelines, they know they’ll unload a few per year…enough to give additional justification to such actions

  9. I would think that the card companies that partner with the airlines would rebel at the outlandish high requirement of miles required for a mileage flight.

    If you compare the current asking number of miles (more than one million) to the bonus from a bank for getting a credit card plus (varies from 50 to 100 thousand miles plus the one mile earned for each dollar spent, the asking amount of miles for a flight borders on being an insult to a passenger and credit card holder.

    Over the years, mileage programs have been very valuable to airlines.

    Any airline asking for more than one million miles for a flight shows lack of appreciation of what mileage programs did for airlines in the past.

    The old saying of “I don’t care what you did for me yesterday, what can you do for me today?” certain applies to most current mileage programs.

  10. Commenters are making Gary’s points for him by taking these insane prices and citing them to say the programs are a scam, without value. There are also plenty of high value mileage award redemptions to be had. Offering these insanely priced options does make the programs look bad and leads to the feelings that underlie the very comments we’re seeing here.

  11. It shouldn’t make customers any happier that a one-way, one person business class trip from the US to say India can costs closer to a million Air France-KLM miles than half a million miles. Even at 110k-160k miles that is a lot of miles on top of the three digit € amount AF-KL charges as fuel surcharges or whatever on award tickets.

  12. I’m really surprised by your position here, Gary Leff. Actually maybe not, if you’re pandering to your readers, instead of expressing your genuine opinion. Pandering has its place, so I’m not belittling you for this. Just wanted to clear the air:

    Notwithstanding the current year, we’ve had an unprecedented bull run in the last decade. Scores of newly wealthy young people, who love to travel and are points-savvy, have been minted. “Seven figures is the new six figures” is true not just in terms of what defines an upper middle class (‘mass affluent’) income — it’s also the case of airline mileage balances.

    My point is there are way more people sitting on millions, tens and hundreds of millions of airline points than there were in the heyday of these mileage programs. That’s why absurd (by historical standards) award prices are so common. Would I (plebian) redeem my points for these prices, of course not. But, if you are absurdly wealthy, and many more people are now than were even 10 years ago, then these prices may be acceptable “at the margin.” Isn’t that a phrase you love to say?

  13. Looks like Delta has started charging Fuel surcharge on Saudia as well. JED-LAX pricing at 175000 miles+$900. Not sure when this change happened but, do not remember seeing this before.

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