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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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  • MikeyZ

    And what about someone who’s truly unable to fly, e.g., because of a sudden (and legitimate) illness or hospitalization? Is Delta saying too bad, you’re crap, too?

    No wonder more and more of us prefer JetBlue, Southwest and foreign carriers.

  • Ken Kleeman

    I never have been able to book Delta miles for low priced awards. There has always been only higher priced available. How to win customer loyalty by annoying them seems bizarre at best.

  • james knee

    Its not right we save are miles and they change the rules!!!

  • MARCIA STAUBER

    I AM A PLATIUM ELITE W DELTA IT IS VERY HARD TO GET A BUSINESS CLASS SEAT ON AIR FRANCE AS THEY RELEASE THEIR SEATS AR THE LAST MINUTE I HAVE HAD TO USE MILEAGE FOR ECONONY TICKET THEN CALL SEVERAL DAYS BEFORE KEEP ASKING IF ANYTHING OPENS UP FOR BUSINESS CLASS AS I AM VERY FLEXUABLE WITH DATES I ALWAYS HAVE GOTTEN A BUSINESS CLASS SEAT AT THE LAST MEMENT EVEN ON THE DAY OF DEPARTURE. NOW THIS WILL BE AN IMPOSSIBILITY. NOT A GOOD POLICY. I HAVE ALREADY SPOKEN W DELTA AND COMPLAINED. AS TO OTHER PROBLEMS I CAN NOT COMPLAIN AS I AM PLATIUM AND DO NOT EXPERIENCE THE SAME PROBLEMS WITH DELTAS PROGRAMS BUT CERTAINLY I CAN SEE MANY PROBLEMS IF YOU ARE NOT AT LEAST PLATIUM STATUS.

  • Mark

    I work in an industry where public outcry gets response because campaigns to respond are largely automated (e-mails to leaders, etc.) and high volume achieves results. For example, click on a link which generates a boilerplate (modifiable if you choose) where all you do is enter your name and off goes an e-mail. Can’t frequent flyer launch such a link to help respond to such shortsighted policies?

  • Chris Cooke

    I’ve had Platinum Medallion status on Delta Air Lines for years. Based on recent surveys, Delta’s award policy ranks near the bottom. This change will not help passengers looking to conserve miles. Hopefully, someone from Delta follows comments like these, and takes action.

  • chuck kuhn

    Booking a flight with miles to China, in June all the flights were 120,000 round trip. From June thru Sept, I really worked the system. AA, United and others had many flight for 60 to 80,000 around trip. It did piss me off. I never booked the flights. Now I’m finding flight for 60,000 at the last min on Delta. Another thing is one way fares =full round mileage cost. Continental now has one way fares at one way mileage cost. So you can fly to China one way for 32,000. Then return from another country for approx the same. I’ve written Delta, more later

  • jc ferrone

    Their policy is crazy and there award program is hard to use. recently tried to use mileage for an upgrade and the fees involved would have been more than my ticket if it was even available, which of course it was not. In short I was getting penalized for using my mileage at all. Crazy!! Lets be a little more conscious of customer satisfaction folks!

  • Lisa Dewberry

    I suspect when Southwest completes it re-branding of Airtran at Hartsfield-Jackson there will be considerable pressure on Delta to become more flyer-friendly! My friends and family who have routine access to Southwest speak of them as if they are the Apple™ of airlines!
    I have been loyal to Delta for many years, but they clearly have not put the customer at the center of their business operations – the only winning strategy in the long run.

  • Richy

    As a Diamond member this is very disappointing and very short-sighted. If I were in a significant car accident, my spouse died, etc. Delta’s position is “too bad.” Customer service…certainly not at Delta.

  • Ken

    Just bend over! “Delta is ready when you are”. They are inconsistent in so many areas, from their cabin service to announcing First Class priority boarding at the gate.

  • Robert E. Bennett

    I used to put Delta at the head of my business trips when I had a choice as to who to use. I never even consider them anymore. Their “SkyPesos” never, and I mean NEVER, has seats available at the award charts first tier. So I have been letting the miles slowly bleed away on things other than fly. And I haven’t flown with them for several years now.

  • Marie

    Delta is impossible in terms of award seats. I’ve tried months & months in advance for an award ticket to Detroit. WHO GOES TO DETROIT UNLESS THEY HAVE TO?? Award tickets are 42,000+ points for non-stop flights. Availability doesn’t improve close to the flight dates because I’ve tried that too. They always gouge on points. Same dates, NYC destination — DELTA = over 40,000 pts/Continental = 25,000 pts. That says it all! Sadly, I have 125,000 Delta Skymiles that I can’t use for award seats because none are ever available, or if they are, Delta wants twice as many points as other carriers.

  • don

    it has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Delta continues to be the least generous of all the major airlines when it comes to delivering award seats at the lowest level tier.
    Even their partners perform better with availabilty.It is the single reason I avoid ever flying Delta on revenue.Heavy handed policies that they force down their customers throats are just one of many reasons why they should never have been allowed by the government to merge with Northwest.The new policy will do little to ease their lack of award seats.Most flyers are not last minute travelers.Its simply a money grab from Delta creating a new revenue stream.
    My other favorite insult is being charged to have an agent book the Delta award because it cannot be seen online due to their old antiquated computer systems
    I pity anyone forced to fly this carrier

  • Mark C

    Don’t they get that guys like me that have the Delta Amex card are simply going to switch to Southwest and get usable tickets and a companion pass?

    Who wants to earn low value miles?

    With revenues from cards around a billion per airline, this is a big deal!!

  • Chris Cooke

    As a generally satisfied, if not happy, Delta Platinum Medallion member, it’s clear that people with lower, or no status, in Delta’s SkyMiles program have less flexibility with award travel. Like others, I have generally been unable to book award travel for 25,000 miles. But I have been successful at the 40,000 level. Since that equates to about one cent per mile, a savvy frequent flier can often get more from their miles from international upgrades or other alternatives.

    I agree with the person who opined that Delta will probably make changes in their program, at least their award redemption policy, to make it more coherent. I suspect that Southwest flying to Atlanta puts both airfare and customer service pressures on them.

    Chris Cooke
    San Diego

  • GR

    I use miles exclusively for claiming a business class seat for my wife to travel with me on international trips. I think that the business class seats generally fill up sooner than economy (am I right here?), and if I tried to wait till the last minute to claim the “cheaper” seats I would end up with no seats available; so I always book as far in advance as possible (330 days for a trip to Europe in Summer 2011) and got what I wanted, albeit at a bit higher FF miles rate.

  • Gabbai

    Unlike it seems almost all the others posting comments here, I have been successful in getting Delta Business International seats on the dates I have wanted several times and all at their lowest mielage redeption levels. If you regard the miles you get as being some sort of discount on the ticket price, I understand why you are so up in arms at Delta’s seat availability issues and at this recent change. However I simply regard the miles as a bonus, and for International Business tickets a valuable one at that. If they make conditions, so be it. The same goes for their recent rule change barring refunding award tickets within 72 hours of the first flight. What looks so bad though is something Delta could easily deal with: announce that any mileage redeposits requested by someone who’s truly unable to fly, e.g., because of a sudden (and legitimate) illness or hospitalization or death in the family, will be sympathetically reviewed on a case by case basis when supported by documentation. Not many people can forge a death certificate or hospital report. Leaving that door open would place Delta in a much better position on the Public Relations front.

  • dot cahill

    i tried to book an international business class seat from orlando to paris for next april (3 days ago) they wanted 295,000 per seat for business class toooo much for us… plus the taxes ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  • dot cahill

    2 years ago i had lots of miles so i wanted to book first class seat to sfo i was told 50,000 miles plus $800…but on their web site first class was only $800so why waste the miles for the same thing and then pay the taxes for the use of miles on top of it sounded nuts to me… crazy miles system….

  • Jinkster

    What can I say that has not already been said? I live in a town where Delta has major market share. Needless to say, we are recruiting hard to get some competition (Southwest and Frontier) in here so we can have some options. Instead of rewarding its frequent flyers, Delta’s sorry program pushes everyone to the competition!

  • Mikelby

    I fly regularly from PHL to MSP. I never used to fly Delta due to their terrible customer service, but I have to admit the former NW folks have been pretty good to deal with. Was starting to change my attitude towards Delta until I tried to upgrade a flight. First you have to have at least K class ticket to even think of upgrading. Then the very nice SkyMiles representative told me (without laughing) that the K class fares were not that expensive. So I asked her how much difference between my ticket and the K class (it was a bit more than double). And that was even with her waiving the $150 in other fees. I much prefer flying Southwest, but time is valuable too. So until some other airline has early and late direct daily flights to MSP, I am stuck with Delta. Have my fingers crossed that SW will start direct flights.

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