Delta Decreases Mileage Earning Structure For Unpublished Fares

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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September 1, 2012, Delta is decreasing the amount of miles and Medallion Qualifying (elite) Miles that flyers on unpublished fares receive.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 The biggest issue I see is that it’s very difficult to figure out a published versus unpublished fare because they share the same fare code letter.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about this and some angry people who shelled out a ton for a trip and didn’t get full mileage, especially since unpublished fares aren’t always cheaper than the lowest published fare.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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