OK, let’s get the obligatory disclaimer out of the way first. I detest Delta SkyMiles.
I currently have 478 SkyMiles in my account and as far as I’m concerned that’s 478 SkyMiles too many. I’d love to get rid of them by donating them to a charity like Habitat For Humanity, but I like Habitat For Humanity too much to burden them with SkyMiles.
I won’t even deign to call SkyMiles a “loyalty” program because that would insinuate Delta rewards customers for their “loyalty.” SkyMiles is a marketing machine that exists entirely to pad Delta’s bottom line through the sale of miles to companies like American Express, which only buys SkyMiles to “award” them to suckers like Amex Delta credit card holders. In fact, Amex should start punishing customers who fall behind on their credit card bills by awarding them bonus SkyMiles. The only thing I can think of that would be worse than getting 1x SkyMiles on all purchases is getting 2x on all of them.
Now, all that having been said…
There’s been a lot of angst about the changes to SkyMiles over the last few weeks. First the award chart was purposely removed. Then it became clear that low-level awards were being restricted to flights more than 21 days out on most routes. Delta has even begun slamming their own Medallion elites (theoretically their best customers) by eliminating enhanced award space and complimentary upgrades on premium transcontinental routes. All done without any notice.
And I say… what’s the surprise?
We know SkyMiles has a long history of being a dreadful program that makes changes without any announcement or regard for their customers. Therefore, why should we be shocked when a dreadful program does dreadful things? Personally I’ve avoided collecting SkyMiles for a while now. But for those that do, it shouldn’t be unexpected.
But when Delta claims “nothing has changed today” they’re technically right. For those who know how the system works, it still basically works the same way. Educated consumers such as members of the points and miles community and readers of this blog will find that most of these changes don’t really affect us right now.
(Note I’m emphasizing those last two words. We’ll get to the future later because… well, because the future comes later. That’s how that works.)
The award chart is gone. Except you can still find it.
If you’re looking for the SkyMiles award chart, which is still in effect for pricing Delta and SkyTeam awards, you’ll be happy to learn that we live in the age of the Internet. This means that, much like that Facebook photo of you passed out drunk at your 22nd birthday outing, nothing ever actually disappears.
Even though Delta has taken down the charts, you can find them in a number of places, including right here on Travel Codex at this link. So if you’re concerned about knowing how much a flight costs, it’s still easy to look it up.
“Okay,” say the Conventional Wisdomers. “But what if Delta’s computers don’t price a trip correctly? Now there’s no chart to point to in order to correct the problem.”
This is true… in theory. However, reports are that as of right now (there’s that phrase again) Delta phone agents can still make trips price properly. It may take several tries before you get a decent agent who knows what they’re doing, but it does work.
Yes, in the future Delta may be able to claim that their whatever-is-the-complete-opposite-of-award-winning online pricing calendar is the final say on these matters. But for today, they’re not saying that. So the removal of the award charts hasn’t changed the way it works for the moment.
What about the loss of aspirational travel? Scott wrote earlier this week that by deleting the award charts, Delta has made it impossible to aspire to anything since the goal is undefined.
I think when it comes to beginners in the points and miles game, Scott has a point. Delta has certainly made it clear to anyone looking to start collecting SkyMiles today that their interest is about as welcome as a PIN-enabled gift card at a Walmart cashier.
But for the folks in this community who not only can easily find the charts but who also have a pretty good idea what an award should cost, aspiring to an exciting international trip in a premium class remains unchanged. We know how many miles we should be paying for a roundtrip business class ticket to Europe, we know we can go to other airlines for similar pricing, and we’re not going to accept a ticket that costs more unless we decide it’s worth it.
Restricted low level availability. And this is different… how?
The other big shoe to drop was the discovery that Delta had eliminated most low-level awards within 21 days of departure. While this became broadly known only this week, it’s actually been under discussion over at FlyerTalk for nearly a month already. Delta appears to be allowing low-level awards on their partners regardless of the date, but on their own planes you have to pay more miles within 3 weeks of the flight.
To my knowledge this hasn’t been done in such a systematic way before, but it’s always been part of the game. We all know airlines try not to release seats that they can sell, and the closer you get to the departure date, the more the fare rises and the more an airline can get for a seat. Knowing this, Delta has obviously decided to make less last-minute availability a firm rule.
I suppose you could argue that while before you could maaaaaybe find low-level seats at the last minute, now you know you can’t. Technically that’s a change, but with flights as full as they’ve been in the last 2 years, there haven’t been a ton of flights going out with empty seats. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t get an award seat within 21 days of departure, it just means it’ll cost more.
Once again, yes, Delta SkyMiles is a horrible program, but this is not news.
Devalue whenever they want without notice.
Many Conventional Wisdomers have made the valid point that since Delta isn’t publishing charts, they can put through a devaluation whenever they want and no one can argue it’s a devaluation because there’s no old chart to point to.
But what does that really change?
Yes, Delta can devalue without notice. But they could always do that. They’ve clearly demonstrated they don’t care and will devalue the SkyMiles program without bothering to tell anyone. Not having award charts doesn’t change that. It might make it less obvious when they raise prices, but I’m quite certain this community will notice any changes and will quickly disseminate them.
But right now they haven’t changed the award prices, so right now there isn’t a devaluation. And even if there is an unannounced devaluation in the future, it’s really no different than it’s always been. Perhaps a little less formal, but no different.
The Devil’s Advocate believes Delta’s behavior is appalling, but no more than before.
When it comes to the future, yes, the SkyMiles changes and Delta’s actions do not bode well. But those are only predictions about the future, not modifications that have already occurred. Granted, they are likely accurate predictions and I would certainly not bet against them, but they are all future events.
I also hope I’ve made it crystal clear that this post is in no way intended to excuse Delta’s conduct. When it comes to SkyMiles, Delta is like a slimy car dealership with terrifically low prices plastered on all the cars on the lot but not a single customer driving away at that price. The only difference is that slimy car dealers have a better reputation.
Mind you, Delta was at one time my airline. I used to have a tag on my luggage proudly announcing myself as a “Charter Member” of the Diamond status club. But I’m long over it. As I said at the start, if you’re like me, you already haven’t been playing Delta’s game. You travel Delta when it’s convenient and cheapest, but credit flights to another program and make zero effort to go out of your way to travel them otherwise. That way you’re not subject to their ludicrous decisions.
And if Amex starts offering you 3x SkyMiles at gas stations… run. Run fast.Devil’s Advocate is a weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by sending an email to email@example.com.
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Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.