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

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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 Delta.com 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, Delta.com 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 Delta.com, 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.

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