Delta, following in the footsteps of Northwest Airlines, has taken another step in the continuing devaluation of frequent flyer miles.
For some time, customers have complained that cashing in frequent flyer miles for the so-called “saver” award tickets has been getting harder and harder. The airlines have countered that there are actually two classes of frequent flyer tickets: 1) the “limited seats available” saver awards that may be harder to get, and 2) the unrestricted-inventory awards which let you cash in miles anytime there is an open seat, but at a higher price: generally double the miles. “Where’s the problem?” the airlines quip, noting that the cheapest cash fares aren’t available on every flight, so why should the discounted frequent flyer tickets be?
But that argument — which is problematic in and of itself, given the way frequent flyer programs are marketed — falls apart when you take away the “any seat” availability of awards.
Also, effective December 1, 2007, SkyChoice Award Ticket Reservations will no longer be available on every Delta flight in which a seat is available for sale. SkyChoice Award Ticket Reservations will continue to be available on most Delta flights, but seats will be limited and possibly unavailable on some flights. Our SkySaver Award Ticket Reservations will remain unchanged.
In other words, “We will now restrict availability on all tickets, but we’ll restrict some more than others.” Great.
(As an added bonus, there’s this nugget of a policy change on the site, too: “Some airline partners impose a surcharge on Award Travel redemptions for travel on their airline. These charges will be collected at the time of booking.” No word on how much, which partners, or under what conditions. I’ll inquire and report back.)
Delta isn’t the first to devalue their double-mile awards like this. They’re actually following in fellow SkyTeam alliance member Northwest’s footsteps. Northwest made their change to the WorldPerks program recently, though I admit that this one got past me when it happened. The previously unrestricted PerkPass award now “waives Saturday-night stay requirement, blackout dates and most capacity controls.” Southwest, long a holdout against capacity controls, started that monkey business recently too.
The number of people directly affected by this will be slim at first. Most people try to cash in their miles for the “discounted” miles-fares (e.g., the industry standard of 25,000 miles for a domestic U.S. coach ticket, 35,000 from the lower 48 to Hawaii, or 50,000 between Europe and North America). They don’t even consider the “standard” or “choice” awards that cost double. These “full fare” miles-tickets are really only useful when you’ve got lots of miles to burn and you HAVE to go. But as Gary points out, this has been a valuable insurance policy to have on hand, should tragedy strike.
Even worse, this dumbing-down of the once-unrestricted awards gives the airlines leeway to add even more restrictions to their saver awards. After all, as long as the alternative still has better features, you can mess with the saver award as much as you like.
It’s probably a matter of time before other airlines follow suit. But thumbs down to Delta and Northwest for being ahead of the curve on this one.