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

by on August 14, 2013 · 36 comments

in Delta

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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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  • Done With Delta

    I would have NO problem with this if they actually made low level awards more available – it’s downright insulting that they make it impossible to redeem miles at a low level AND they raise award levels for flights on other airlines that have not “updated their fleets”. I’ve switched to American and couldn’t be happier.

  • Jerry

    devaluation with AF-KLM, now Delta…
    is Skyteam sinking ?

  • Matt

    Hum, what can we call Peso miles now? Is there anything with less value? Maybe Baht miles (Thailand).

  • sfomsp

    So it’s now cheaper to go to India with SkyMiles than Tokyo or Hong Kong. Maybe they really are sticking to the lie flat across the Delta fleet justification…

  • Cory

    I’m trying to be outraged. But, I can’t. If the price of a good that you cannot find anyway goes up, have you really lost anything? I got a DL Platinum Business card recently just to get enough MQMs to keep me at Silver Medallion until MQDs go into effect. I will still fly Delta occasionally as I enjoy flying them, but only if the price is lower or significantly lower for me. Otherwise, i will choose UA or AA more often because (as of now) there is no point in earning a crap currency if others exist.

  • delta_sux

    Delta has always been terrible. I don’t understand why TPG keep defending them. But to be fair, almost a year advance warning cannot be called “little to no warning.”

  • Scott

    I feel like i got lucky here. From hawaii to north/south asia (the only route I redeem sky miles for) remained unchanged. its only a matter of time till my favorite redemption will be devalued as well, though.

  • Also Done with Delta

    Great…my fiancé and I are traveling in July 2014 to Europe for our honeymoon and we had exactly 200k miles. I guess we are 50k short now of the award ticket.

  • KurtisK

    This is very disappointing! I have been trying to accrue Skymiles for my wife and I to fly first class from Florida to Australia for our five year anniversary in 2015. It seems like more and more negative changes are occurring to the Skymiles program every month. I’m kinda in a bind because I have over 275K combined Skymiles and Membership Rewards Points and now it seems obvious to move my flying/spending to AA or United. However, since I am only a leisure traveler, am I already in too deep with Delta and their devalued miles? What do you think?

  • Nate

    All of Delta’s recent frequent flier program downgrades are so short sighted. They are alienating an industry of regular travelers who live for points. I am on a team of 10-12 management consultants that fly twice a week. The only people that still fly Delta are those who are trying to hit 1,000,000 miles. Everyone else has switched to United. That is like a $7,000 loss for Delta… every week, just on this one project!!! All because they are undermining their rewards program. Delta SkyPesos are the worst.

    Stay strong United, don’t cave and sell out your rewards program to save a buck.

  • ZJ

    The fact of the matter is that Delta wouldn’t make these changes if they couldn’t justify it. They are a corporation looking to increase profits in times when costs, taxes, and regulations are ever-increasing. If they can do these things and still make more money, then more power to them.

  • ZJ

    perhaps justify should read “get away with it”

  • Darth Chocolate

    Point of order here folks. Delta is increasing the required amount for the LOWEST cost (in miles) rewards. They have made no increases at the middle and highest levels.

    It is simple “supply and demand”; demand for these rewards were high, so now they cost a little more. Still, there are some anomalies you might be able to find.

    You all need to remember that these miles are a liability the company carries on their books. So if an airline goes bankrupt (hey AA, I’m looking at you) your accrued mileage might be worthless. Of course any company wants to reduce their balance sheet liabilities, and raising award levels is a simple way to do it.

    Besides, you make miles many ways than simply flying (hotels, car rental, credit cards, etc.). This inflates the value of the miles, making higher award levels inevitable.

  • dcjimmy

    Ummm….. I think it was Delta, who began all the programs designed for us to “make miles many ways”…. it’s not like the customers caused that. As far as Supply and Demand…… there is also something to be said for rewarding your best customers. They suck at redemption to begin with, especially at Low Levels. Why raise a price, on a product that you usually refuse (or choose not) to even provide?

  • Darth Chocolate

    I have never had a problem with a redemption on Delta. In fact, I had to cancel an award ticket back in March and they redeposited it AND waived the fees (and I was only Silver Medallion at the time).

    Then there was the time a few years ago that I got my sister a Business Elite ticket from the UK to the US over Christmas/New Years for FEWER miles than a coach class award.

    But if they made it easier to accumulate miles, then they also have the right to raise award levels. Besides, they only raised Business Elite LOW point requirements and left all other levels alone. And quite frankly, a 20K increase is next to nothing, especially if you are a Gold Medallion or higher.

  • Dieuwer
  • Darth Chocolate

    You are missing something. The “updates” have the effect that there are *fewer* seats in Business Elite. It used to be on trips to China, the Business elite cabin was a 2-2-2 configuration; now it’s 1-2-1.

    Fewer seats means more restrictions for award tickets – which translates into higher redemption values.

  • mrcandoit

    THAT is awesome sauce Dieuwer!

  • http://redmonk.com/dberkholz Donnie Berkholz

    Bummer. Guess last spring’s redemption on US-Europe will be my last. I don’t make enough miles to fund that plus a family vacation every year, at the new rates.

  • Chip Douglas

    So glad I’ve burned 800,000 sky pesos for low level business seats to Europe in the last year.

  • dcjimmy

    Darth, not true at all. Your facts or your math are just plane wrong. Old BE cabin (like the 767, which is the majority of their Intl fleet) were 6 rows x 6 seats across. That equals 36, yes? The same planes now have 9 rows with 4 across. That is still 36, yes? 6×6 = 9×4 last time I checked. 76L, 76T, 76W, 76D, are all 36 and some even 40 seats in the 1-2-1 config. Only 1 obscure version (76H, which they are not flying to China) has less, their 76with 25 seats. The 777′s (which are mainly going to China) now have 45 BE seats. 2-2-2 or 1-2-1 does not matter, it is how many rows and seats.

  • dcjimmy

    Typical Delta, all “take” and no “give”. Record profits. But they refuse to spend a dime to fix the broken booking engine. They refuse to allow one-way awards for a fair (how about 50%?) price. They refuse to show a decent level of partner awards on their site. They now refuse to give full mileage and/or MQM credit on some partner flights. They refuse to allow a decent amount of Low level awards to begin with (there are some routes you can check 11 months ahead, with not ONE low level available). They refuse to allow customers (or at least Medallions) to upgrade with miles, without gouging an extra $2000-4000 from us. Now they add MQD’s, and in the same year they raise BE award prices, on a LOW level product that they don’t even offer much of to begin with. And it’s because of their “superior” product? If they didn’t finally update those old battle-axe 767 recliner seats, they would be 10 years behind the competition. Oh wait… they still are! On most 767, and on the 330′s too.

  • dcjimmy

    Perfect. Since it’s really no big deal, next to nothing, how about giving me 20k miles for my next award?

  • qwefrASDFV

    rewards2cash.com is what I think.

  • Joncisco

    I used up my 150,000+ Delta skymiles this summer and signed up for an Air France Flying Blue number which my husband has and has had a much better experience with than I have had with the Delta miles program. After reading this news, I’m even happier with my decision.

  • KurtisK

    Thanks

  • Darth Chocolate

    Perhaps I’ll grant that it is the same number (I flew on a lot of 747-400′s) but it takes up more room. By a lot. So the real estate is pricier. And I had TWO OH bins to myself on a recent trip to China each way.

    Still, bitching about 20 K extra miles for the lowest possible BE award is nonsense.

  • Darth Chocolate

    Just check a bag and have them lose it. Complain politely. They’ll GIVE you the 20K miles.

    But, be polite.

  • Nick Ewen

    This devaluation is clearly targeted at us, those “gamers” that DARE to learn the ins and outs of the SkyMiles program to book awards at the low levels. Delta’s bean counters were probably so happy with themselves and the broken award engine, but then they kept seeing us redeem our miles for low level awards. How dare we do such a thing! The only logical result, of course, is to raise the low levels. Joe Flyer (who thinks that the 325,000 mile award flight to Europe listed on Delta.com is the best he can do) will continue to redeem at the medium/high level, while us “ham sandwiches” get the shaft.

    Agree with TPG that this isn’t surprising, but it hurts nonetheless…

  • BobChi

    I think copycats are always a concern, but there are many terrible things about Delta’s program that others have not mimicked, so I’m not sure why they would jump on this. I have miles in nine programs right now, and Delta’s are the least valued to me. Fortunately I got them cheaply and they don’t expire, so if I ever do see a redemption with Delta the skypesos will still be there.

  • kingofbytes

    So here’s my experience:
    1. I only redeem miles to Hawaii from the mainland. THerefore it doesn’t affect me (yet).
    2. There is so little low award availability on the Hawaii routes that this changes nothing.
    3. If you could guarantee me that there’d be 100fold more available seats on this route, I’d gladly cough up 20K more miles.
    In other words, if there’s no availability, then there’s no issue – it’s just academic.
    This year I went to Hawaii on Alaska because of the redemptions on delta (Ridiculous Medium and High ONLY availability – even 320 days out).
    Much ado about not much really.

  • kingofbytes

    Just checked Delta (right now) for low award availability for May 2014, June 2014, & July 2014.

    ZERO low level award availability. So if there’s no availability, then it’s an academic exercise in futility.

  • Pingback: Skymiles Business Class Devaluation Effective June 2014 | asthejoeflies

  • notme

    Please don’t insult me with the supply and demand rationale. There are hardly any low level rewards on Delta. I hope someone starts a lawsuit against Delta. Then the truth will come out.

  • notme

    Is there anyway around the time frame of this change? One used to be able to get certificates that could be redeemed in the future…those are long gone. Any idea about booking an award and paying change fees?

  • Munki

    Yes, I did experience it. It really makes one feel angry after becoming a Diamond… no perk

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