The news isn’t as fresh, but I thought it worth reminding some readers that Delta will be rolling out two big devaluations this year.
The first change was announced last week. Effective immediately, Delta has raised the cost of some awards when you redeem miles for travel on its partners. This is only for travel on or after October 1, but it applies even if you are booking today for travel at a later date. Your miles have effectively already lost value, as you must choose to either pay more or accept that they are less flexible. (Redeem them sooner or redeem them on Delta, but fewer choices either way.)
FlyerTalk has collected a list of changes to partner awards with before/after levels. Here’s just one example, showing a non-stop from Honolulu to Shanghai on China Eastern. You might not book this award, but with availability on every day it’s clear that October 1 is the changeover to higher pricing.
The second change was announced last summer and fortunately does not take effect until this June:
For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other dynamics. Most award prices will remain unchanged.
Delta took away its public award charts, but in theory it was still following some kind of internal chart when displaying award prices online. This announcement says that even that chart, assuming you saved a copy or could reverse-engineer it, is no longer reliable. They can raise or lower the number of miles at any time and for whatever reason.
The Big Three airlines — American, United, and Delta — have already adopted revenue-based earning models (American’s will take effect this summer). This means that award miles are earned on the basis of ticket price rather than the traditional distance flown. Some people called these revenue-based programs, but they were really a half measure as they still used distance- or region-based award charts for redemption.
Delta is now saying it will use price for redemption, too, making it the first major carrier to make a full shift toward a revenue-based loyalty program, much like Southwest Airlines or JetBlue.
Revenue-based programs are almost impossible to leverage. You can get value, but that value falls within a narrow band and is similar to a rebate. Traditional loyalty programs, for all their faults, can at least provide the opportunity for the patient and flexible to get massive returns.
In some cases revenue-based redemption can lead to lower awards, but generally only for those flights that are so cheap you wouldn’t have considered redeeming miles to begin with. How is a free ticket from Seattle to San Francisco, which typically costs no more than $200-250 round-trip, an aspirational award? It doesn’t matter if it’s 15,000 miles or 150,000 miles. I’m willing to put in the time and save my miles, but at the end of it my goal is a trip to Europe or Asia, preferably with a flat bed seat.
This news will affect the results from the award chart search tool that I created earlier this month. I debated whether I should include Delta at all (I don’t include revenue-based programs like Southwest or JetBlue that take fare into consideration) and eventually decided to do it for as long as things made sense. I plan to add more award programs by the end of this month and will update Delta accordingly. Meanwhile, take those results with a grain of salt.