Delta Makes International Business Class Awards More Expensive And No More Award Ticket Holds

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In a surprising – and disappointing – move, a Delta representative posted the following comment on the FlyerTalk Delta SkyMiles forum that the airline is raising BusinessElite low mileage redemption levels and discontinuing the option to hold award tickets:

“Today we will make updates to delta.com in two content areas that you’ll be interested in, so we’re posting here as a heads up.

BusinessElite® low mileage redemption:
Many of you have experienced first hand our significant investments in products over the past several years. In June 2014, we will be the only U.S. carrier to offer full flat-bed seats with direct aisle access in Business Class across our entire wide-body fleet. Our premium cabins will also soon offer new, on-demand in-flight entertainment options and we are in the process of adding in-flight Wi-Fi on our long-haul international aircraft scheduled to be complete by 2015. We’ve also partnered with premium brands Westin and Tumi on new bedding and amenity kits and we’re introducing new dining options.

As a result, we’ve recognized the need for adjustments to our low mileage redemption levels for select international Award Tickets in BusinessElite. The mileage redemption adjustments are effective today for Award Travel on or after June 1, 2014. Please check our Award charts for updated mileage levels later today.

Award Hold policy change
We will continue to offer our 24-hour Risk-free Cancellation option for Award Tickets, but will discontinue our Award Ticket hold option. More than one million Award Seats per year are held by members who don’t use them which negatively impacts other members’ Award Seat access. The new policy will be effective for Award Ticket reservations made on or after September 9, 2013, and at that time, Award Seats may no longer be held without ticketing.”

Elite status can mean upgrades, priority seating, and more.
I like Delta’s BusinessElite product, but I’m not sure I’m going to spend more miles to fly it.

As usual, Delta has sprung these consumer-unfriendly changes on its frequent flyers with little to no warning.

Award Level Changes

Although it looks like Delta.com hasn’t been updated yet, some enterprising FTers have found the new levels by making dummy bookings and they are as follows (update, the award chart for post-June 1, 2014 redemptions is now up on Delta.com):

USA/Canada to Europe
Old: 100,000 miles roundtrip
New: 125,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to Asia
Old: 120,000 miles roundtrip
New: 140,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to Australia
Old: 150,000 miles roundtrip
New: 160,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to Africa
Old: 120,000 miles roundtrip
New: 140,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to South Africa
Old: 140,000 miles roundtrip
New: 160,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to Middle East
Old: 120,000 miles roundtrip
New: 140,000 miles roundtrip

USA/Canada to Southern South America
Old: 100,000 miles roundtrip
New: 125,000 miles roundtrip

That means anywhere from a 7-25% increase on these awards, which can be tough to track down anyway given Delta’s limited low-level availability on certain popular routes. It also makes some of Delta’s awards head-and-shoulders more expensive than competitors’. Take, for instance, the Australia and South Africa awards, both of which will cost 160,000 miles. Using US Airways miles, an award redemption to either destination would only cost 110,000 miles – that’s a full 31.25% less!

Not only that, but although the changes will go into effect for award tickets after June 1, 2014 (so at least there’s some time to plan awards before then) – there was no warning that these changes would be coming into effect, so if you were already planning your next summer’s award trips, you’re now stuck booking at the higher levels with no recourse.

What I find sort of odd is the justification that these changes have come as a result of Delta upgrading its product and offering lie-flat seats on its widebody fleet, as well as partnerships with Westin and Tumi and technological upgrades. That’s strange because many of the airline’s competitors now offer these same or comparable amenities or are upgrading their fleets at the same time to do so as well. United’s BusinessFirst product is all lie-flat, and American’s new business class is as well, and is in the same reverse herringbone configuration as Delta’s.

Not only that, but one of the reasons SkyMiles can be useful is that you can redeem them for partner flights on airlines like Air France, KLM – which are updating their business class eventually, though they haven’t yet – and Korean Air and Virgin Australia, which already offer lie-flat seats in their long-haul business class cabins, so these changes don’t really have anything to do with them, yet we’re still going to have to redeem more miles for them.

Award Holds

Although I find this move unsurprising, it’s still pretty disappointing, especially because it goes into effect next month. Placing an award on hold was great for giving you a little breathing room to find an award ticket, make sure your plans all matched up to your needs and then book it. I’m sure some people used it a little too liberally for the airline’s comfort, placing awards on hold all the time, but I have trouble believing it hurt the airline’s business or other consumers to the extent the Delta statement implies.

It’s also bad news specifically for people who would like to transfer their Amex Membership Rewards or Starwood Preferred Guest points to their Delta SkyMiles account to book awards will now have to take a chance that the award seat they find might disappear before their transfer goes through and they can book it. Though Amex transfers go through quickly, SPG ones can take a few days, so it can be a real gamble.

Transferring Membership Rewards for a Delta award might be a bit of a gamble now.
Transferring Membership Rewards for a Delta award might be a bit of a gamble now.

Overall, I think this news is disappointing but unsurprising, and a little bit backwards. It’s as though Delta has said: “We made all these great changes to our fleet, so now you’re going to have to pay more for them” rather than warning its flyers that these imminent improvements were going to result in higher awards and stricter rules on holding them.

My other main concern is that airlines tend to be copycats, so I hope this isn’t the start of a new award mileage upward shift among Delta’s competitors where we see levels being raised across the board not only on US carriers but also on international ones that fly the same routes Delta serves – let alone that Delta and the other US carriers start raising award redemption levels on their domestic routes. I don’t mean to sound alarmist, but I do think this represents a major negative change, and I’m sure many of you do as well, so let’s not let it go quietly.

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