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You probably saw my rant a couple weeks ago about changes to certain Delta SkyMiles award booking requirements where I also lamented drastic increase in price of gift cards in the Delta Medallion Mall, higher pricing of awards last year, changes in voucher usage policies and more. Well, at least now Delta has released a consolidated list of recent and upcoming changes to the SkyMiles program – I just wish they were a little more proactive about their communications. Here’s the rundown:
Delta has several changes in the pipeline – some of which it’s been promising (or threatening) for a while. As I often say, Delta’s award search engine is broken. It can be near impossible to find accurate information on flights and awards using Delta’s website. So naturally some of the promised changes have to do with booking awards online.
First, Delta promises to add the ability to redeem mileage upgrade awards online (too bad Delta has one of the worst mileage upgrade programs, requiring super expensive Y, B, M fares on international itineraries). Second, the airline plans to reintroduce its former PerkChoice program that allows members to combine miles and cash when buying a ticket so members can keep their costs low, though this is also sort of like Delta’s Pay With Miles option and redemption rates are often low value.
Finally – and I’m not holding my breath for this one since Delta has been promising it for years – they claim to be redesigning the award travel booking process and calendar to improve the award redemption experience. However, the airline goes on to say, “We began making these improvements in May 2010 and have completed many of them.” Could have fooled me! It’s as hard as ever to find reliable award availability on delta.com.
It continues, “We will continue to improve the online experience on delta.com to offer more functionality to customers through the first quarter of 2011…and we will add even more search options and display flight amenities.”
Well, clearly this information is a bit out of date, and from what I can tell, not too many improvements have manifested themselves at all on the site – though it’s true, you can see exactly what plane and amenities you’ll be getting for an award booking…that is if you can find an award booking at all.
Past Changes That are Being Highlighted
As Delta puts it: “Some changes have been made to our award redemption levels. Economy-class redemption levels from the U.S. to Europe, Caribbean, Mexico and South America have increased by 5,000 miles at the mid- and high-tier. Redemption levels from the U.S. to Southeast Asia decreased by 20,000 miles (TPG note: high-level awards in business class decreased from 185,000 to 175,000 miles each way – barely a drop in the bucket). There were no changes to low award levels. Award charts were updated August 28, 2012.”
Award Reissue and Miles Redeposit (Which I ranted about last August)
Delta has tightened its award miles redeposit and reissue policies. Here’s what the airline says: “Over the past year, more than 1,000,000 Award Tickets were reissued or canceled within 72 hours of departure. As a result, a significant number of these award seats departed unused as other members did not have time to rebook them. Effective for Award Tickets issued on or after August 15, 2011, SkyMiles members must now request Award Ticket and mileage upgrade redeposits at least 72 hours before their original flight departure. This change will make unused seats available to other members and ultimately increase Award Ticket availability. Miles for Award Travel are nonrefundable for flights canceled or changed within 72 hours of the original flight departure time. For cancellations made at least 72 hours prior to departure, Diamond and Platinum Medallion® members will continue to receive reissue and redeposit fee waivers, and fees will continue to apply for other members. Changes and reissues made to Award tickets must be made at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled flight departure time. This applies to both outbound and return flights. Award Tickets booked within 72 hours of departure are nonrefundable and cannot be redeposited or changed. See Award Travel Fees for full terms and conditions.” So if you’re not a high-level elite, you better get your plans fixed ahead of time or risk losing your miles to any last-minute changes.
Earning and Redeeming Miles on Aerolineas Argentinas (Which I wrote about in May)
Here’s a positive change, in my opinion, that I wrote about recently. Aerolineas is finally joining SkyTeam, and you could book awards on it using Delta miles since May. The airline’s only non-stop route to the US is from Buenos Aires to Miami, but it has an extensive route system that opens up much of South America to passengers who have their miles with SkyTeam, and serves 52 destinations in 14 countries. One downside, you have to call in to book awards.
Baggage Waivers on Delta and Alaska
Silver Medallions were restricted to a single free checked back (though one of up to 70 pounds) instead of two when flying on Delta domestically. Starting in April, Silver Medallion members and up to 7 travel companions on the same reservation could check one bag for free when flying with Alaska. Not a bad little perk. Just to note, Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members flying on Alaska flights with Delta codeshares are also eligible for upgrades now, though not on award travel.
Earning miles and MQM’s and redeeming on Virgin Australia
As of last February, SkyMiles members could earn miles and MQM’s on Delta’s Australian airline partner. That makes those long-haul trans-Pacific flights a bit more attractive.
As I always say, Delta is great airline to fly, but the SkyMiles program is far from best in class. Changes are always done in secret and the award booking process is painful. I’m hopeful that they actually implement decent technology to make it easier, but even so, low-level award availability is at its lowest levels that I’ve ever seen, so I’m not sure if anything is going to really change. In the meantime, I’m focusing on banking valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest points so I have as many valuable options as possible when it come time to redeem my points. I still enjoy flying Delta and my near 100% Medallion upgrade percentage, but for me I’d rather have my cake (solid Delta flying experience) and eat it too (being able to redeem miles for amazing awards on Star Alliance and Oneworld through credit card partners).