Delta Decreases Mileage Earning Structure For Unpublished Fares

by on August 20, 2012 · 23 comments

in Delta

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Starting September 1, 2012, Delta is decreasing the amount of miles and Medallion Qualifying (elite) Miles that flyers on unpublished fares receive. Before you panic, this probably doesn’t affect most of you: tickets purchased through or your corporate travel agency will be unaffected. However, if you book the following types of tickets, you may be in for a rude awakening:

  • Student fares
  • Consolidator fares
  • Flights included as part of a cruise package
  • Discounted tour packages
  • Group fares

I won’t list all the fare class rules here, but I will just mention that several First/Business fare classes will earn just 100% MQM’s instead of normal class of service bonuses, and that some discounted economy class fares like Q, K, L, U, T and E will earn just a fraction of the miles and MQM’s they fly…down to 25% in some cases. For all the details, check out this page.

My Take
While this isn’t an earth-shattering change for most people, I don’t see how this is positive in any way. The biggest issue I see is that it’s very difficult to figure out a published versus unpublished fare because they share the same fare code letter. Furthermore, I see a lot of potential confusion because most travel agent tickets are published, but it states that flights bought as part of a cruise package are not eligible. What if you book a cruise package through a travel agent – how can you know 100% that you’re on a published fare? Asking the travel agent is the obvious answer, but I can see some getting confused about this and some angry people who shelled out a ton for a trip and didn’t get full mileage, especially since unpublished fares aren’t always cheaper than the lowest published fare.

In March I wrote about rumored changes to the SkyMiles program and I feel like this is just one piece of that overall project to overhaul SkyMiles into a more revenue-based system. I have no inside information from Delta about this proposed change, but my gut tells me we will see some big changes soon that will go into effect March 1, 2013. I think the lack of American Express transfer bonuses is strategic in that they don’t want their loyal Amex customers being incentivized to transfer boatloads of points and then introducing drastic changes and upset their most important partner: American Express.

I’m not trying to rabble-rouse (I just love using that word), but I think a devaluation is on the horizon. I’m preparing by diversifying my points and mile balances so I’m not over-exposed to SkyMiles in a worst case scenario. And to be honest, I’ve redeemed a bunch of miles this year from American (Cathay Pacific First, British Airways First) and United (Singapore Business, Lufthansa First, United Business) and British Airways (BA First, American First) and those other programs are really just a world of difference compared to SkyMiles thanks to the ability to book one-way awards at half price, international first class redemptions, much better online booking engines and just an overall less time-consuming experience. I’m still a believer that there is value in the SkyMiles program – especially their elite program, but they are way behind the competition when it comes to flexibility and utility of miles.

If Delta does move to a revenue based earning/redeeming system, I’d like to see them make positive changes, like an operable award booking engine which includes all partner availability and the ability to book one-way awards at half the price of a roundtrip. Is that really too much to ask for?

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  • HighlandsDenver

    Great article! I’m a Diamond, and if Delta does go to a revenue system I will 100% drop them. The only reason why I don’t exclusively use Southwest is Delta’s mileage program. Once that’s gone, there is no incentive at all to fly them.

  • Eric

    Bad thing is, if they do move to a price based redemption, like WN or B6, the partner award bookings issue will be moot – no one will be redeeming for Air France premium cabins, for example, given the poor value of such a redemption system.

  • Harlan Vaughn

    Does this affect tickets bought thru UR or MR at all?

  • thepointsguy

    No- they are unaffected

  • Sean

    the first sentence on the Delta page says:

    Tickets purchased directly through Delta are considered “published fares” and receive full mileage credit based on the SkyMiles program rules.

    For me, this isn’t as bad as I had predicted. 40-60% of my Delta travel is higher coach fares booked by my corporate office, 20-30% is biz awards, and the remainder is mileage runs that I book on the website.

    The mileage runs are what I was worried about. I have maintained Platinum Medallion for the last six years and I enjoy the current benefits. Sometimes it takes a $140 fare LAX-PIT or a $660 fare LAX-SIN for me to keep my status.

    As long as the mileage runs that I book on the website continue to earn full mileage credit, I will stay loyal to Delta.

    I, too, did a match to UA Platinum which I have maintained through 2014. So I am going to play “wait and see” as to which I will fly in 2013. I have not booked any revenue travel in 2013. I will, however rollover around 30k Delta MQM.

    Timely article, thanks.

  • The Montane Vole

    What about a ticket purchased as part of a Hotwire combination with a hotel–particularly if it was purchased well before September 1 but used on the very day that the new rules go into effect? (This is not hypothetical–that’s what I have!).

    Many thanks for all you do!!

  • spneuge

    (up-front disclaimer: my comment is primarily for corporate travelers.) TPG – I think your discovery actually does affect corporate travel, but in a subtle way. During 2012 (perhaps going back even further), I had noticed premium economy fares seemed to be less available. In years past, when I purchased tickets 5-7 days before travel (some of us don’t have a choice!), I consistently got YBM fares — great for MQM bonus, great for helping to ensure upgrades. However, during 2012, many routes are still offering HQK/LUT, even 1-3 days before travel. Now, keep in mind that I’m stuck with the corporate travel system…but it’s a big and popular one — AmEx. Doing side-by-side comparisons, I’ve noticed several occasions when the corporate system offered H or Q fare — when offered Y, B, or M. It would appear great for saving corporate travel $ (not great for MQM bonus or upgrade). Here’s the kicker: the price difference is minimal! So, these are H class fares at (essentially) B/M class prices –> SkyMiles devaluation. :( When I put this observation in the context of TPG’s observation, I think Delta has probably done a good job of devaluing SkyMiles for many, many corporate travelers — and they didn’t even know it was happening.

  • Bsim1925

    I agree. Just checked my last four business trips and I would have been given 50% mqms. Unacceptable. I’m moving on delta. It’s been fun…

    All trips were booked through Amex.

  • thepointsguy

    Flights booked through Amex travel won’t be affected by this change

  • Bsim1925

    I’ve reread this multiple times and now am curious how I can tell the difference between published and unpublished fares through CORPORATE AMEX travel. I should have clarified in my earlier post.

    My previous travel this month were fares L,H and Q.

    I think I’ll call corporate travel tomorrow and see if they can answer the question on the difference between two identical fare codes.

    Thanks Brian.

  • MJ

    I don’t know that much about the US market, but in Europe and Asia there was never such thing as same letter code for published and unpublished fares (my close friend works for a large international corporate-travel orientated agency).
    Unpublished fares always bear different letter coding to published ones.

    Furthermore, the engines that run FF programs award you miles on several factors:

    - your surname
    - your first initial (yes, Mr Jeffrey Doe will earn FFM for Miss Jane Doe if he puts her FF# into his PNR)
    - your routing based on three letter IATA codes
    - your single-letter booking class (A, F, C, J, Y, Q, V, W….etc)
    - single-letter passenger boarded indicator (that’s why you can’t earn miles if you checked in but didn’t make your flight)

    There is no other designator for mile calculation engines and it beats me how they want to do that. Obviously they can have the entire software rewritten to include a new designator for a published/unpublished fare, but why bother if you can simply change the booking class letter (plenty of them unused!).

    I am wondering how they are going to implement that into use. Oh well…

  • Asdfasdfa

    Does this affect Citi TYP tickets booked on Delta?
    or Citi TY companion tickets?
    or discounted 15% tickets on Citi?

  • Jon Miller Time

    Are the changes supposed to be for any travel after Sept 1 2012 or just any tickets bought after Sept 1 2012?
    I just bought unpublished tickets to Thailand from MSP and finding out my miles flown credit would only be half would really suck!

  • Jon Miller Time

    Also, with other changes, I just did some flights on Hawaiian Air and got no Delta SM although my SM# was provided and on my boarding pass.
    Delta told me that this was because partner flights are only valid for SMs if the segment is operated by Delta. I thought if they are part of the SM network in an fare eligible class and you supply your SM# you should always get miles flown….

  • TPG Intern Ryan

    Eligible routes include inter-island flights within the State of Hawaii and flights between Honolulu and Sydney, Australia and Honolulu and Manila, Philippines and Honolulu and Pago Pago, Samoa and Honolulu and Papeete, Tahiti.

    You don’t miles on any routes that compete with Delta such as Hawaii to the mainland.

  • Jon Miller Time

    That’s weird then because my four segments were Honolulu-Lihue, Lihue-Honolulu, Honolulu-Hilo, Hilo-Honolulu. My SM# is printed on all 4 boarding passes.

    All 4 segments were full-price, eligible fare classes but Delta told me that because the routes was run directly by Hawaiian Air I cant get my 500 minimum miles per segment.
    Delta also told me it has to be a Hawaiian Air flight run by Delta, whatever that means.

    I’m really confused on what the difference would be and why I cant find any info on it.
    Thank you for any insight!

  • Jon Miller Time

    I saw in the fine print it is only for tickets bought after September 1 2012.
    Most tickets to Asia are excluded and get full miles.

    Weird that the fine print says that any flight booked from Delta directly counts as a published rate when most times I call Delta directly to book a flight they have a special un-published fair they offer me. I have a feeling there may be errors in along the way…

  • Kimberly

    My company forces us to purchase all flights via the AmEx coportate travel website. Furthermore, my company has negociated a corportate discount with Delta, which typically only amounts to saving perhaps $20-30 off an ~$800+ flight….I am assuming that getting this corportate rate discount means that all these fares are “unpublished”, right??

    Luckily, after being Platinum every year since 2000 with Northwest, followed by Diamond with Delta last year, Delta finally managed to make me so angry with their “program enhancements” from last December (which were added with zero notifications), that I was angry enough to do a challenge with United, where I was given 1K status (after flying 35K miles with them)…then, after United had a lot of issues due to the system merger with Continental on March 3rd, and thanks to flyertalk, I was able to get an immediate free (no challenge) status match from United 1K to American Executive Platinum, and I will be qualifying for the “8 free SWUs by meeting the 30K miles by August 31st deadline”, and so far I’ve been very impressed by American…

    After reading about the probable downgrade of Delta’s program, I feel more fortunate than ever that I made the decision to dump them (even though I much prefer connecting in DTW than ORD, which are my only options…)…My only concern is what to do with my ~700K skymiles, before they become even more worthless…I am only about 20K short of making million miler status with Delta, but even that hardly seems worth it, since the benefits are about the same as what you get with the Delta credit card!!!!!)

  • thepointsguy

    Corporate fares through Amex travel are unaffected by this change

  • Lindoc

    Does this include Delta Vacations packages?

  • thepointsguy


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  • Dgitalia

    Just FYI, it looks like Delta is decreasing mqm’s on those fares even for those flights booked on Pretty sneaky.

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