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Delta Air Lines Rule Change Restricts Mixed-Cabin Awards

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Early in 2014 I decided I’d had enough of Delta. The multiple devaluations and the switch to a revenue-based frequent flyer program were bad news for award travelers, and while I’ve tried to give praise where it’s due — like for Delta’s discounted awards for 5,000 miles and increased partner award availability online — unfortunately, Delta seems content to allow the SkyMiles program to slide further toward irrelevance.

Already in 2015, Delta has pulled award charts entirely from its website and added blackout dates to partner award redemptions. Now, as reported by Delta Points, it appears the airline has altered language in its award travel FAQ to disallow award redemptions that combine cabin types and/or award levels altogether:

Delta Award Ticket FAQ mixed-cabin awards
At some point in May, 2015, this FAQ was updated to explicitly disallow mixed-cabin awards.

What the New Rule Means

This change has a number of damaging consequences, assuming it’s intentional and being presented accurately (which isn’t a given — recall that earlier this year Delta was accidentally charging Medallions a higher price for awards).

First and foremost, it makes booking awards at the lowest level that much more difficult. For example, imagine you find a Saver level business award for a long international flight, but only on the outbound leg. If you don’t have enough miles for the return trip at the higher price, you might settle for a flight home in economy because it’s what you can afford. However, according to the letter of the new law, that won’t be allowed. In that case, you could split the trip into two separate itineraries now that Delta allows one-way awards, but in my opinion that workaround only exemplifies how useless the new rule is to begin with.

According to René at Delta Points, the new rule may have another absurd result for anyone who lives in an area served exclusively by regional jets that have only one cabin of service. For example, a passenger flying round-trip from Traverse City, Michigan, to London via Detroit might be unable to book a business-class award for the Transatlantic flight, because only economy service is offered between Traverse City and Detroit. That outcome is senseless enough to be nearly implausible, yet that’s what the new rule implies.

If you really want to parse words, you might point out that “SkyMiles members” do not have the ability to combine awards, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done (i.e., by a phone agent or computer). In fact, while this language is currently on the Delta website, I had no trouble pulling up an award that did in fact combine multiple cabins in a single ticket:

A multi-cabin award ticket — quick, call the SkyMiles police!

However unfavorable the new rule is, at least for the moment it doesn’t seem to be in effect. Still, the fact that a ban on mixed-cabin awards is in writing concerns me, as it’s now Delta’s prerogative to enforce the rule as it sees fit. I’ll be keeping an eye out for more developments, and I encourage all Delta flyers to do the same.

Bottom Line

Not all points and miles are created equal, and while I still think SkyMiles are far from worthless, Delta’s not giving members much to hang their hats on. Even if a loyalty program isn’t particularly lucrative, at a bare minimum it should be reliable. Frequent flyers should be able to predict what sort of value they can get from their miles, but Delta is making that increasingly difficult, and I don’t see the upside to investing in the SkyMiles program when there are much better options out there. My award-traveling heart goes out to Delta hub captives everywhere.

If you’ve tried to book a mixed-cabin award recently, please share your experiences in the comments below so we can collectively get a more clear picture of how the new rule is being implemented.

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