(Video) Sunday Reader Question: Why Do Delta Awards Fluctuate So Much?

by on February 19, 2012 · 24 comments

in Delta, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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I’ll now be answering at least one Sunday reader question via video. To kick it off, TPG reader Bob explains his frustrating situation with Delta and poses a couple questions:

I was waiting to transfer several hundred thousand miles to my new Delta Amex account (had just picked up 45,000 free miles with a new Delta Amex card) to buy 4 tickets from Portland to Lima in May 2012.

Two business class tickets were 130,000 points each and two coach tickets were 70,000 points each for a grand total of 400,000 points. To my surprise last week, the coach seats had gone up to 85K points each. The business class seats were still 130K points each, so I decided to transfer my points immediately. By the time I got the transfer complete and got back to booking (about 24 hours), the business class seats had gone up to 155K points each. Waiting a day or three had just cost me 80K points!

Quick questions:
1) Do you think that too many “looks” or searches at specific routes, etc. can be tracked through an IP address and/or just sheer general traffic volume of searches to trigger a dynamic pricing change?

Short answer – no. I don’t think is smart enough to do that. I think there are many other factors, like historical selling and current ticket sales that factor into award availability.

2) I noticed my departure date was 99 days out when I finally booked. Do you think the 100 day bar may have triggered a change or been part of the dynamic pricing algorithm?

There’s definitely an algorithm, but I think it’s more complex than just releasing seats at certain thresholds. Per my answer above, I think it has to do more with current ticket sales and historical selling. Remember, award pricing on all airlines changes dynamically, so you should book or hold an itinerary when you see something that works for you.

Speaking of holding, will let you hold an award for 48 hours – just go through to the second page of booking and hit the “Hold Itinerary” button. If you can’t pull up the award you want on, just put anything similar on hold and call and ask the rep to put in the flights you actually want. They may resist letting you hold, but simply argue that the award is already on hold and you just need them to save it with the legs you actually want.
Since you already booked some high level awards, Delta releases a ton of award seats in the weeks leading up to departure. Monitor and if lower award inventory opens up, call and rebook at the lower rate. If you booked the tickets from a Platinum or Diamond Medallion’s account, it’s free to reprice at the lower level and get the miles back.  It’ll cost $150 a ticket if they were booked from a non-Platinum/Diamond account, but if you are getting a ton of miles back, it may make sense to pay the $150.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Rajnish

    While booking a delta award ticket last week i noticed somewhere on the website- Every ticket on the flight can be booked as an award ticket. This is different from their regular policy where they only release few award tickets on every flight. I think Continental is going to do the same thing for their card members starting from next June.

  • Rajnish

    anyone else noticed the same thing?

  • MHess

    I have been trying to make sense of Delta’s award tickets too. We fly Montana to Duluth MN a lot. When the ticket price is $650, the award tickets are 32,500 or 40,000 miles. But if we remain flexible and wait until almost the last minute, when the ticket price is $1150, the award mileage reduces to 25,000 miles. If it is a matter of at the last minute they would rather give the seat away for 25,000 miles rather than have it go empty, why not price it at low and sell it? However, I always HOLD my award tickets like TPG recommends when I see an award I like. That gives us 2 days to decide if we want to go.

  • Asdfasdfasdf

    dtw-florida = 40k-60k miles = sucks

  • PJ

    i did nothing when Amex MR offered 50 % to transfer to Delta ; I did jump on Avios transfer bonus..>>>Delta is bad especially to non elite members

  • PJ

    anybody knows when is the deadline to book an award ticket before the quick ticketing fees kick in ?

  • Rob

    Excellent post! Love the introduction of Sunday videos!

  • Mac

    Is it just me or is this advice just completely missing the point of achieving value from Skymiles. Want to get value from Delta points? THEN DON”T REDEEM THEM ON DL FLIGHTS and don’t waste time with! This is the type of info you blog should be providing since most people aren’t aware that routings via Skyteam partners are even possible.

    How come someone who labels himself “TPG” wouldn’t bring up that fact that the easiest way to book PDX-LIM is via LAX on AS & AM??? Too busy focusing on credit cards?

    Partner awards are only available at the low level and AS & AM have good award availability so there you go 90k in J and a 15 min phone call.

    TPG you do realize that last week was one of if not the absolute biggest enhancement to the value SKYMILES in the last 2-3 years (with both KE and AM inventory now searchable online using EF or partner tools) yet nowhere was it covered on your blog!

    Used to really enjoy your site, but I guess the $50-$100 commission per approved credit card app that Chase and Amex offer as referral fees has really shifted the focus of this site and unfortunately it is hard to win back credibility.

  • Anonymous

    Yes and no — I used to agree with you completely, and when the last Delta buy-miles-at-1.1c transfer circle happened, I was going to pass. However, TPG’s post talked me into buying 120K speculatively, and I’m really glad I did. Their own availability is really quite atrocious, but their partners are a different story. They have great availability and always book into Low.

    $1320 (120,000) in points + $145 in taxes/fees bought me:
    SFO-LAX on Delta Economy, LAX-ICN in Korean A380 Business, ICN-SGN on a Korean A330 in Business
    SGN-ICN on Vietnam Business, ICN-SFO on Korean 777 Business

    And the outbound flight was just 12 hours earlier than my ideal, and the return flight was *exactly* the flight I wanted. The Korean award space is really really good, with JFK-ICN showing 5+ seats in Business on most days, on the A380. Vietnam space is insanely wide open. China Southern shows lots of space too.

    TL;DR: Hard to use: VERY. Valuable? Yep!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for pointing this out — I didn’t even realize AeroMexico award space was showing on ExpertFlyer. Agree completely with you, having the space show up on EF was an absolute godsend when I did my last (and first) Delta partner award booking a few weeks back.

  • Anonymous

    Delta doesn’t charge quick-ticketing fees like the other airlines, but their change fees are $150 whereas everyone else’s are $75 for non-Elites. Things to keep in mind.

  • Mitch

    You must be seeing Pay With Miles, which is an awful value since you only get $0.01 per mile.

  • Mac

    Well AM doesn’t show on EF it shows via which was completely revamped & launched last week. Its the type of “inside-baseball” that I was hoping a self-proclaimed DL-savant going by the handle TPG would focus on… But alas more cc pitches

  • Anonymous

    Easy there killer! I’ve written extensively about how to maximize Delta awards and utilizing partner awards has been a main theme. However, if you re-read the question posed, they are focused on why is stupid. It wasn’t “Please help me get the lowest level award ticket to Lima”- it was “I just spent a ton of miles- why is so crazy”.

    Check out my #2 tip on this past post on using Skymiles

  • BJ

    I just booked a RT ticket to Iceland in August for 60,000 Delta miles. At first they told me it would be 92,500.
    But when I called back they said they had 2 awards left at 60,000 for my dates, and 1 or 2 at 75,000 and then some availabe at 92,500. I nabbed a 60,000 point fare. Delta is one of the few choices to fly to Iceland and the only one I had points to use. My timing was lucky.

  • Guest007

    Possible noob question: Is it possibly to book a partner award on a domestic flight if delta already flys that route? I need a MSP to ORD or MDW and delta only has high redemption availability. Is there another airline that is a partner that I can redeem with my skymiles at a possibly lower rate.

  • Alexander Onishchenko

    is there a “guess a hotel I’m at” giveaway too? I’d love some of those St Regis SPG points :)

  • Anonymous

    Delta’s only domestic partner is Alaska and you can definitely book an overlapping route as long as Alska has availability. Same goes for other partners, like Air France. If both Atlanta to Paris on Delta and Air France have availability, you can choose which one you prefer.

  • Anonymous

    Always pays to call and see if there’s anything the website doesn’t show. Enjoy Iceland- never been, but on my to-do list!

  • Anonymous

    There may be an SPG/TPG promo coming soon, so stay tuned. And if you haven’t been to this resort, you have to! I’ve had an amazing time

  • bestcreditcards

    Hey, you explain why whatever best credit cards the best that would be far-fetched! I want to get a credit card so that I can start structure some good credit but I am unsure as to what is the best card for a first time user to get. I have been researching but I keep receiving totally dissimilar answers. Thanks for giving me such an significant information regarding credit cards.

  • Alexander Onishchenko

    Yeah, I’ve been there and enjoyed it a lot, thanks to SPG’s FFN last summer.
    St Regis Princeville, in case anyone wonder.

  • sbjnyc

    My limited experience with this leads me to disagree. I was trying to put together a JFK-Europe itinerary via LHR and as I try to avoid international connections I played around with a lot of different combinations of layovers and stopovers. However they all included the same JFK-LHR flight which during this time ticked up from 100k to 150k despite the fact that every seat in the BE cabin was available. I can’t say for sure but I assumed that was because of all the searches that included that flight (and no KLM/AF flights were available that day using either SM or FB).

    1) Do you think that too many “looks” or searches at specific routes, etc. can be tracked through an IP address and/or just sheer general traffic volume of searches to trigger a dynamic pricing change?

    Short answer – no. I don’t think is smart enough to do that. I think there are many other factors, like historical selling and current ticket sales that factor into award availability.

  • sbjnyc

    Didn’t that 50% bonus also give you 25k MQMs and therefore FO status?

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