Why Delta Eliminating Its Award Chart is No Big Deal

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I was explaining to my brother the changes that Delta has made in 2015, and I mentioned that the one I just couldn’t believe was that Delta eliminated its award chart. It seems self-evident to all of us in the miles game that Delta eliminating its award chart is insane and unjustifiable.

(Delta deleted the chart from its site, but the possible priced for awards are the same now as they were when the chart was on delta.com. You can see screenshots of the deleted chart here.)

Screen Shot 2015-03-29 at 10.42.05 PM

“Delta eliminating its chart is no big deal,” he replied.

“Of course it is,” I countered. “Now there is no easy way to know how many miles you need to collect for your dream trip.”

“But,” he pointed out, “there isn’t any way to know how much cash you need if you’re saving up for a dream trip either. Right now maybe a roundtrip to Australia is $1,000, but it could be $1,500 by the time you’ve saved $1,000.”

True, but now there’s no easy way to compare how many miles trips are to each region, so you can find sweet spots. Of course, there’s no easy way to find the best value cash flights by reading off a region-by-region table either.

But but but, now there’s no way to know the “Saver” award price with Delta miles to where you want to go. If you search delta.com and see that one way to Europe is 37,500 miles on the day you want, is that a good price or not? Of course, if you search and find the flight is $500, is that a good price or not?

He had a point. While we’re used to award charts, we get by perfectly fine when paying for our cash tickets without any table that tells us what flights from one region to another should cost.

I think I was just tired from jetlag and in the moment missed what I think are other big problems with Delta eliminating its chart:

  1. Now it will be easier for Delta to go revenue-based on award redemptions. They won’t have to even announce the change because right now Delta award prices are “whatever price Delta says” anyway.
  2. All Delta’s competitors have an award chart.
  3. All Delta flights are available for some amount of miles. We know from the past chart that there are five possible prices, Level 1 through 5, and we knew the Level 5 price. Removing the chart removes from our knowledge the maximum number of miles we’d need if we really wanted to redeem our miles for an in demand flight. While I have never redeemed a Level 5 award and hope never to redeem one, what that price is sets a floor for the value of our miles.

When I write out my reasons, they don’t seem particularly strong.

I was angry when Delta removed its chart, and I still feel that emotion, but I can’t logically articulate why not having a chart is a big deal.

So I guess I agree that it’s not a big deal in and of itself that Delta eliminated its award chart because we still have screenshots of the charts, award prices haven’t changed, and my brother’s arguments about not knowing what a flight will cost with cash either have some validity. The big deal is not the loss of the chart; it is the signal Delta sent by eliminating its chart.

It just feels like Delta doesn’t care about SkyMiles members. Every other airline has an award chart, but not Delta.

And it feels like Delta is preparing for something worse–like revenue-based redemptions–by getting rid of its chart.

Your Take

Do you have some stronger reasons why Delta eliminating its chart is a big deal? Or is the lack of a chart not as bad as the signal that Delta sends by not having a chart?


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21 COMMENTS

  1. I think there is a big difference between cash and miles. One is fungible, the other is not and has to be gradually accrued with far more restrictions and limits. If Delta was offering a flight at $1500, I could look at competitors and use my cash to buy tickets on another carrier at $750. I don’t have to deal with no award availability, I can pay and buy any seat any time. When you are using Delta miles, you are a captive customer and don’t have choice.

    Secondly, miles have been intended to reward loyalty. EVERY other reward program (ok, maybe a bit overreaching but everyone I participate in, from loyalty, to cash back portals, etc. tell you exactly what the reward/benefit structure is). That is the whole point–to provide a future aspirational goal that users can work towards. Maybe it is just psychological but it is hugely important and not something to discount.

    Lastly, it is annoying because delta.com is inept. You can find two saver segments that when combined price at level 2 or 3. If you don’t know award charts, it is virtually impossible to figure out when Delta is swindling you.

    Hope these help :).

    • 1) The argument isn’t about cash vs. miles. It’s about the possibility of devaluation over time. Of course cash is fungible and miles aren’t. But once you choose a price point and decide to save cash or miles (for ANY carrier), the predictability of attaining your desired reward is the same – by the time you save enough, the price or availability may have changed. That isn’t affected by saving miles of carriers with published award charts.

      2a) Aspirational goals aren’t necessarily affected by published award charts. What’s more loyalty-inducing: seeing a saver-level award number in a table that has no availability, or seeing a calendar of actually available seats? And why should “future aspirational goal(s)” be “the whole point” of a reward program for everyone? I use about half a million miles a year on Delta and other airlines to get where I want to go when I want to get there, usually on an economy award (I also rarely stay in 4- or 5-star hotels, and don’t care at all about suite upgrades or breakfasts – but I do appreciate a clean room in a 1- or 2-level property to spend the 5-6 hours that I’m there).

      3) It’s fairly easy to tell if delta.com is pricing the ticket accurately. Just look at the booking class. If you find two “N” segments that price together as “NS”, just call in.

      Travel vendors don’t show any particular loyalty towards me (though they recognize my ‘status’), so I don’t feel any particular loyalty to them. I appreciate being able to take advantage of their incentive programs where they fit my needs. Delta’s removing published award charts doesn’t change my life, or my feelings for Delta, even a tiny bit.

      • 1) The argument really is cash versus miles. You’re accumulating a limited use currency that can’t be transferred. Sure, prices can change, but without a reference, prices are worthless. How do you achieve a goal when you don’t know what the goal is to begin with? How, exactly, do you plan a trip for 18 months out? At least with a chart you can save toward a specific goal.
        2) If an airline removes awards charts, it’s screwing over the customers multiple times. The customer lacks a true point of reference, then award prices can be changed pretty much at will. This further allows hiding low rate availability. A customer is mislead into thinking that the low level availability is not only the best for the timeframe, but in many cases the best that exists at any time. While this may be awesome for Delta to mitigate complaints about the lack of low level availability, it sucks big time for the customer that spent time and money building up the miles.
        3) Annoying of Delta, but you’re right.

      • As Christian said, and you yourself point out, availability and prices may change by the time you have saved what you thought might be enough, but if you have cash, you can use it to buy a ticket on another airline or to spend the money on something else. With miles you are locked into accruing more in search of the award you want. Having a more defined expectation of price was a fair trade off to being locked into the airline’s currency. When that no longer exists, it changes the equation dramatically.

        With regards to pricing, you and the folks here are in the vast minority when it comes to identifying N and NS segments. Most people have no idea and are unfairly being charged more without a frame of reference.

  2. As long as they continue to abide by award charts that were posted earlier and which are still available to us in other places, then to us who know what we’re doing, it isn’t such a big deal in immediate practical terms. One problem comes in piecing together availability for multi-leg awards leg by leg as you do very capably and have offered invaluable advice on to your readers. To do that, you need to know if the several legs are at the same award level, which is easy with other carriers, if you want to know how the combined itinerary should price. Yes, the lack of an award chart may not be important if I’m trying to book a simple domestic award. If I’m working on a fairly complex international one, though, it becomes quite a bit more difficult than it should be.

  3. You missed the biggest reason – they can now charge for more than one ticket and you have no way to check. The IT is SO bad they at times will bill you MORE than level 5 as the IT bills you for two awards to get it done.
    .
    Next you have the issue of value with AMEX. How can AMEX, who has more compliance rules than than the sands on a beach, say what a SkyRuble is worth without charts.

  4. +1 with Guarav. Yes, you don’t know how much you’re going to pay in cash, but there’s competition, not just with other airlines, but with other products (I can go on this trip or buy a TV). Miles are a very limited currency with no other choices (I know you can buy a TV with points, but that’s usually a horrible proposition where cash wins, too) . Choosing which airline to earn miles with is like an investment, and Delta is making people invest in something with no expectation of value… they’ll let us know what it’s worth when we try to use it.

    Another dog with that bone. I’m out, Delta.

    PS. Of course, I was never in with Delta anyway, since their “supposed” charts hardly ever worked anyway, but at least I knew what my miles were POSSIBLY worth, and was able to strategically extract value out of them.

    PPS. As I write, I realize: Your brother’s argument is valid IF we assume that you had a ton of miles in all programs or ONLY earned in flexible programs like MR. You now have a choice to shop around for award flights. So my argument is not against the lack of award chart itself, but against earning Delta miles specifically.

  5. If I have some leeway on the dates I can travel Kayak shows me pricing history and suggests whether it’s a good time to buy. Does the Delta site offer that feature on award redemptions?

  6. It is no big deal. Only to some of the bloggers was the removal of the award chart such a big story. Another big story is that American did not make changes to their award chart. The big secret is American does not have to make changes to the actual chart. Basically they make many flights/routes completely unavailable at the saver level. It doesnt matter what the chart shows. It is the actual flight availability of saver tickets. There is not a slight premium to non saver tickets. Those tickets can be far more than 2-3 if not 4 times higher on space that is pretty empty and they dont want to give up. There are some routes that work well with Delta. MIA-LHR via Virgin in econ at 30,000 has space just about 7 days a week for example.

    • American does need to change its chart to devalue the miles–at least the partner chart. Otherwise we can just book partner awards at the current very cheap rates.

  7. My united flt. took me 15 mins to book and 10 to change it later .My Delta in May took 4 hrs over 4 days BUT I got Nice fr. out of it and an hr on the phone a month after they forgot to tell me it was canceled then changed it . IF you can’t get a card (dead or just did a BK 10 mins ago) then you deal with Delta (Amex) they do have a lot of class in their awards but it’s lower then you know what but I did get my way with them . Ah the French wine !!

  8. The strongest reason I can think of is this–there is no good reason for Delta to take down what was already there because it provided useful information–there are only bad reasons, detrimental to their customers interaction with them.

  9. It never bothered me that much. I am mainly a UA flyer and i never even knew United had an award chart until its devaluation a year ago. Why? perhaps i was ignorant but at the same time the UA award calendar was really good, imho, and it sufficed my needs.
    The only award chart i always looked at was AAdvantage’s because you have to call to book flights on CX. oh and i also looked at US airways since, just like aadvantage, i had to call them to book a 90k business class trip to north asia at the time.
    yes i agree that it’s not the best business practice to quietly eliminate delta award chart but at the same time, how often did you guys really look at them?!? as often as aadvantage?

  10. The situation with cash (where you never know what you’ll have to pay) is horrible, one of the big reasons consumers hate airlines. Miles used to be a way around that; Delta is in the process of destroying what was left of the option.

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