Here’s What Delta Says About Their Award Pricing Glitch

Filed Under: Awards, Delta

As of early 2015, Delta SkyMiles doesn’t publish award charts. They’re doing everything they can to turn SkyMiles into a revenue based frequent flyer program, and as part of that, they want award tickets to be more like revenue tickets, in the sense that the price varies from flight to flight.

However, even though they no longer publish award charts, they do still (unofficially) have standardized award rates, and we try to keep track of when those prices change. In other words, we only stumble upon mileage devaluations through trial and error. A couple of days ago I wrote about how Delta seemingly increased award costs between the US and Europe. Specifically, the lowest cost award tickets on Delta increased in price from 70,000 SkyMiles to 86,000 SkyMiles one-way.

This was a bizarre move on Delta’s part, given that they recently started charging more for partner awards than for awards on Delta, and partner business class awards between the US and Europe cost 85,000 SkyMiles. That meant Delta was charging more miles when flying Delta than when flying their partners, even when the lowest mileage level was available.

Well, just a day after they published these new 86,000 mile awards, Delta reversed course and went back to charging just 70,000 miles per flight, which suggests this was a “glitch.” I put glitch in quotation marks because rarely is something actually a glitch, but rather it’s typically just something being implemented prematurely.

Here are my concerns with Delta’s “glitches:”

  • This isn’t the first time Delta has made such an error. Just a couple of weeks prior they erroneously started charging carrier imposed surcharges for travel on Delta, which they quickly reversed. Earlier this year they erroneously started charging carrier imposed surcharges for travel on Virgin Atlantic, which they quickly reversed.
  • Given that SkyMiles doesn’t publish award costs, how are members supposed to know when a ticket was priced incorrectly? Are members being proactively reached out to when they book while prices are higher? Should everyone who books a SkyMiles award ticket call Delta 23 hours after booking to ask if they were charged the correct price? Can we count on SkyMiles agents even being aware of these glitches?

We reached out to Delta regarding this flight (and previous similar ones), and they issued the following statement:

Delta is committed to offering a SkyMiles program that is both rewarding to our customers and easier to use. Delta will continue to provide updates to customers about program changes and encourages customers to contact us directly with any questions about award ticket or retail ticket pricing. We remain focused in our efforts to ensure award ticket prices more closely align with the dynamic pricing model of the retail environment and that our systems are reflective of that at the time of redemption.

I mean…. on the plus side, I believe them when they say that they’re focused on ensuring that award ticket prices more closely align with the dynamic pricing model of the retail environment. šŸ˜‰ However, I can’t say I agree with their statement that “Delta will continue to provide updates to customers about program changes.” Sure, they provide notice on structural changes to the program, but when you’re encouraging members to earn miles and are constantly changing the goalpost, I wouldn’t call that being especially transparent.

This latest “glitch” really gets at the crux of my issue with SkyMiles’ lack of transparency. I get that they want award tickets to be more like revenue tickets, but revenue tickets actually have some transparency — airlines publish fares and they publish fare classes, so if you know what you’re doing you can actually verify whether a revenue ticket is correct or not.

The same isn’t true with SkyMiles anymore. They don’t publish an award chart, they don’t publish rules, etc. The price is just the price. That’s fine when things price “correctly,” but how is a customer supposed to know if an award ticket is priced correctly or not? Even beyond just these major glitches, I constantly wonder whether Delta’s additive pricing for some complicated itineraries is intentional or not, but the problem is that there’s no one you can speak to who knows. SkyMiles certainly don’t, because they’re just taught that “the price is the price,” and that’s it.

  1. Hi Lucky,
    Interesting article. I am finding Delta confusing. How do you determine which flight is a “saver” award that can be booked via a Delta partner for a Delta flight? I’ve noticed “lowest price” or whatever they call it change from one month to the next-is that month’s “lowest price” the saver award ticket that could be booked by one of Delta’s partners?

  2. Hey Everyone,

    My wife and I just got the Targeted offer of 75K skymiles after 3k Spend; with everything thatā€™s going on, do you think itā€™s worth it to pull the trigger? The annual fee is waived first year and they now have a downgrade option, but Iā€™m wondering if itā€™s even going to be worth the time. Would love your thoughts.


  3. “Dynamic Pricing” is bullshit speak for: “when something is very popular we will charge whatever we thing we can get.”

    Theatres have been doing it for years. Delta has obviously made the corporate decision to do it with award fares. That leaves the public completely in the dark about what to expect.

  4. I decided to spend all our SkyMiles on trans-Pac business class with their partner airline (CI) specifically due to uncertainty with the program. It’s better to earn and burn then earn and sit because there is no good way to use the miles. With us being Seattle based, AS is our go-to airline program now, with UR and MR as our flex points.

  5. Wilks:
    75,000 miles won’t buy you very much. There’s a reason we call them skypesos.

    That said, it depends in where you live
    I’m a hostage in MAP. It routinely costs 35k to 50k points just to round trip to Charlotte.

    It’s routinely 330k to 450k skymrs round trip MSP to Paris if you want to go on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

    So before pulling the trigger, figure out what 75k skymilex buys you.We

  6. I think their transparency is actually clear – they have said they are not going to tell us and the price is the price. In a way that is being transparent. I realize we would like to know the “normal” or “saver” price, but Delta has said prices will constantly vary. So although it may be annoying, Delta is doing what they said they would do, which is whatever they want (all you’ll like it!) I don’t fly Delta much any more since I have tons of Southwest and AA miles, but I do plan to use them or partner US-France in the next few years.

  7. Thanks for the insight. Iā€™m at LAX/BUR, just figured 3K was an easy get, especially with downgrade option for new Delta Amex Card. Just need to see where all I want to go.

    Thanks so much,


  8. @Wilks – Delta miles are worth at least $0.01 if you have their credit card, since they let credit card holders redeem them (in blocks of 5000) that way when buying flights. That means 75k Delta miles is worth at least $750, even if you can’t find a better reward value. I won’t claim that it is the most amazing bonus ever in the history of bonuses, but $830 (once you factor in the miles from the spend itself and the $50 rebate for a Delta purchase, which I assume was included – at least, it was in the offer I got, which otherwise sounds the same) is a very reasonable return on $3,000 in spend.

  9. Yep, Iā€™m thinking of using it to get a $50 Delta Gift Card. Plus with the fee waived year one, Iā€™m thinking we could get solid value. Thanks so much for the help!

  10. Having flown butt in seat on Delta for nearly a million miles, I only have 40K in the tiller with them and just don’t care to fly them. Their people are really nice, but their complete award system is the worst of any airline.

  11. I was recently charged 16k for a saver level (N class) economy LAX-JFK on Delta, I was surprised as 2 weeks prior I was charged 12.5k for the same saver level, I just assumed the price went up, but recently I saw 12.5k awards again, was I overcharged? do i have any recourse?

  12. Ed Bastien Delta CFO hates that people bank miles for trips and has done what he can to make people confused and to burn the miles. Delta is always first to do something and now it is happy to screw its loyal flyers.

  13. But all of you bloggers know Delta is trying to treat their program as a currency so you should think about it in that sense too. If you pay $2000 for a JFK-LHR ticket one week and $2500 the next in the same fare class, you just think they are pricing differently based on dates, demand, anything. You won’t claim $2000 is the ‘regular’ cost of that ticket and that’s exactly what they want to achieve with miles too. It’s probably annoying for bloggers/ miles and points folks, but for most people who just accumulate miles in the course of the regular travel, when we feel like using them, we choose a date we need to travel and pay the price that is asked if we think it’s okay, like we would with cash.

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