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Delta Clamps Down on Last-Minute Award Ticket Changes

Delta Clamps Down on Last-Minute Award Ticket Changes

Yesterday, August 15, a new award policy took effect at Delta that has some SkyMiles members fuming.

According to Delta: "Award Tickets booked within 72 hours of departure are nonrefundable and cannot be redeposited or changed."

In other words, if for any reason you are unable to travel within three days of your flight’s scheduled departure, you will simply forfeit the miles redeemed for the trip. (For Gold, Silver, and non-elite SkyMiles members, the $150 fee to redeposit miles and reissue award tickets still applies when award trips are canceled at least 72 hours in advance. Diamond and Platinum members are exempt from the redeposit and reissue fees.)

Sound harsh? It is. Which probably explains why Delta takes pains to rationalize the move:

Over the past year, more than 1,000,000 Award Tickets were reissued or canceled within 72 hours of departure. As a result, a significant number of these Award Seats departed unused as other members did not have time to rebook them. Effective August 15, 2011, SkyMiles members must now request Award Ticket and mileage upgrade redeposits at least 72 hours before their original flight departure.

So, Delta would have us believe, the new policy is designed to make more award seats available to more SkyMiles members.

That’s a commendable goal, if that’s all there is to it. But Delta isn’t telling the whole story here.

Why were so many awards cancelled within 72 hours of departure? It’s at least in part because Delta waits until the last minute to release award seats at the lowest mileage level. And that created an incentive for SkyMiles members to initially book at higher mileage levels, which they’d cancel when lower-priced awards became available.

So the change amounts to penalizing SkyMiles members for responding altogether rationally to Delta’s customer-unfriendly practice of withholding low-priced awards until close to the departure date.

A more customer-focused approach would have been to deal head on with the root problem, by freeing up more low-cost awards, further out.

Sure, that would leave more miles on Delta’s balance sheet, and possibly displace a few revenue passengers.

But those are the costs of operating a mileage program. And they’d pay off long term in increased member satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue.

As it is, Delta has dealt with a problem of its own making by heaping bad policy on top of bad policy.

Reader Reality Check

Were you aware of Delta’s new award policy?

How does it affect your relationship to the SkyMiles program?

What has your experience been when redeeming Delta miles for low-priced awards?

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