That’s essentially the message after Delta decided to remove its published award chart from its website on Friday afternoon. No longer will you have some advance knowledge of what your award ticket will cost, a future holiday to look forward to, or even the knowledge that you have enough miles stored up for that emergency flight to visit a family member in need. Instead, you’ll perform your search, choose your flights, and then pay however many miles Delta thinks you should. There is no “high” or “low” — just the computer.
While claiming it would be a better experience to replace it with their new award search engine, that argument doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s like saying you don’t need to list prices on a supermarket shelf. True, you may pay the same price, but generally people like to know what they’re getting into before they reach the checkout lane. The register and the shelf serve different functions. No one expects the check-out clerk to go to each shelf to look up the price. Unless the register malfunctions. But don’t worry, Delta says their computers work great. Honest! 😉
When I got into travel as a serious hobby, I enjoyed it precisely because I could set expectations and find creative ways to reach them. If a free ticket costs 25,000 miles, then you just need to find 25,000 miles in the fastest and cheapest manner possible. Some credit cards market themselves as offering one or two free flights after you spend a thousand dollars. But how many miles does it take to get a free ticket with Delta these days? They say it starts at 25,000 …with no upper limit. They could really set whatever number they want.
This Is the Death of Aspirational Travel
You can’t aspire to anything when that very goal — and the means to achieve it — are undefined. Will Delta have award availability on that date? What price will they charge? Could there be a more convenient, cost-effective way that someone else overlooked? Some of my best awards were found by piecing together segments individually rather than accepting the bad price I was given. I’ve saved tens of thousands of miles by asking an agent to double-check a price that seemed incorrect, usually because of a certain connection or overnight stay. I’ve saved HUNDREDS of thousands of miles by choosing to shift my trip by a day or two, if only because I knew I was being quoted a higher than normal price.
Delta Wants You to Shut up and Stop Asking Questions
I was actually speaking to a Delta representative on Thursday and complimented him on how Delta is run as an airline. Sometimes I have a lot of criticism for certain companies on this blog, but I’ve never criticized Delta’s service or operational wisdom. They are a great airline if you don’t care about the miles and status. It’s the loyalty program that causes me concern.
How can anyone be loyal to a company that keeps secrets? You can’t stop a devaluation when programs raise their award rates, but at least if you know it’s going to happen you can plan. Delta’s move is worse than making those changes unannounced. There are no changes if you never have a baseline for comparison. Who’s to say they didn’t always charge that much?
My dad has long been suspicious of travel loyalty programs. He doesn’t deny that they’ve rewarded me well, but he wants to see direct benefits — not some abstract promise of flexibility and value. I can’t honestly answer him if he were to ask about Delta SkyMiles. What can he do with a million SkyMiles, let alone a few thousand? I can’t answer that. Delta won’t answer that. And when a company refuses to tell you what you can do with those miles you’ve worked so hard to achieve, by spending weeks away from family and choosing more expensive fares than the competition, it’s just shameful.
Remembering Delta’s Old Award Charts
Here are screenshots of Delta’s award charts before they were removed; they may remain in effect for at least a year. I recommend you only book an award if you see a price at the Level 1 or Level 2 amount. For example, if you were to fly within the continental United States, don’t book if you see an award priced at 40,000 miles or higher round-trip (Delta now allows one-way awards at half of these prices). Look at other dates or try forcing connections at different airports to get the price lower.