I hate Delta’s Skymiles program. I hate the way they conduct their business, as it’s the farthest thing from loyalty that a loyalty program can be. It’s the reason why I have zero Delta Skymiles and the reason why I haven’t written more than a handful of posts about them in my 2.5 years of blogging.
When Delta stealthily removed award charts, I couldn’t help but laugh. They succeeding in making their program so complicated, with who knows how many tiers and other special cases that they just released a few months prior, that they finally just said “screw it…the machine spits out what the machine spits out.” As fellow blogger Milenomics found out on Twitter, things can go very wrong when two phone agents quote you two different prices for the same award:
Hey @DeltaAssist, I just spoke to a phone rep about an award ticket. Q: How can I verify the cost in miles they told me is correct?
— Milenomics (@Milenomics) February 9, 2015
Ok, @DeltaAssist Second Agent gave me a different price (Higher) Is it possible the price went up? Or is this second agent wrong?
— Milenomics (@Milenomics) February 9, 2015
And then I had another chuckle when they, again without notice, decided to make a rule that says you have to redeem your miles a minimum of 3 weeks in advance to be eligible for the lowest mileage redemption rates.
Then Gary Leff of View from the Wing wrote this post, indicating that the reasons for these changes might be that Delta is possibly moving towards a revenue-based redemption model. This type of model is what you have with programs like Southwest and Virgin America, where the cost of a ticket in miles is directly tied to the actual cost of the ticket. That puts redemptions in premium cabins pretty much out of reach for 99.99% of travelers.
Again…I read that and laughed a bit. I continued with my daily reading of other blogs this morning to find out that I missed out on an amazing First Class mistake fare for under $100. After I finished wiping my tears from waking up too late to get in on it, it hit me: mistake fares on Delta flights would become one of the best things ever if they went with a revenue-based redemption system.
Let me explain.
Right now, US law essentially states that published fares must be honored. This is why mistake fares, like the one we saw this morning, are so much fun. Only in rare circumstances can they cancel the flights without paying a huge penalty, so they’re almost always honored.
Award flights, on the other hand, are different. They have thus far not been held to the same standard, at least not in a concrete case I can think of. A prime example is the United award mistake pricing to Hong Kong, whereby you could get a round trip Business Class trip for 4 miles (yes, 4 miles) plus $30. It turned out that those 4 miles weren’t even taken from the account upon booking.
United had to work with the Department of Transportation to figure out a solution, because United certainly didn’t want to honor it. As far as this post is concerned, the important take away from those conversations was that DOT rules do apply to frequent flyer award tickets. United was able to cancel the Hong Kong tickets on a technicality since the 4 miles weren’t debited, and therefore no payment was made, for these tickets. Further, United contended that the existence of award charts meant that the price of awards is always clear, regardless of what the pricing engine spits out.
Remembering this is what made that light bulb go off in my head. If there are no Delta Award charts, and if fares are tied to the actual revenue cost of flights, and if the DOT rules apply to frequent flyer awards…we may end up getting some great value out of Delta over time.
Mistake fares are absolutely unpredictable and last for hours or minutes in most cases. It’s not a great strategy to wait for mistake fares to travel, although I certainly do have a lot of friends that see the world for cheap that way. But Delta has had some major mistake fares in the past, and depending on how this new revenue-based redemption program works, it may be great.
The most recent mistake fare that comes to memory is the one where pretty much any domestic flights were available for just a few dollars. Round trip, cross country flights could be had in Economy for $24 and in Business for under $50. Even if Delta values their Skymiles at 1 cent per point, this would have been a 5,000 mile redemption.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying Delta’s program is useless even as it currently stands. Some awards are great, especially those on Virgin Australia and even Virgin Atlantic. But on the whole, it’s a terrible program compared to the programs of the other North American carriers.
Perhaps the possibility of mistake fare mileage deals can be a silver lining if Delta does finally make the plunge to revenue-based redemptions as Gary indicates might happen.