backstab Another stab in the back of frequent flyers

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.

Gary Leff points to Delta’s latest tweak of the rules at his blog. Delta announced the policy on its website:

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.


pixel Another stab in the back of frequent flyers

10 Responses to “Another stab in the back of frequent flyers”

  1. Dan Hill Says:

    My guess is the US airlines FF programs will eventually end up like Qantas. Take the current rulebuster mileage requirements, double them, and then apply the saver availability restrictions. For example, a one way upgrade from economy to business from LAX to SYD is 72,000 points and for that you don’t even find out if you’ve got it until the day you travel!

  2. askmrlee Says:

    Delta’s program has been pretty much a joke. I’ve only been able to redeem at 25K once. The problem seemed to start when they launched the Skymiles AX card which gave double points on “everyday spending” which includes home improvement stores (i.e. Home Depot). How many massive home remodeling projects turned into free flights?

    The NW rule has been in place for many, many years. It’s not a new or recent change. Askmrlee.com could have told you this years ago.

  3. Jack Norell Says:

    Thanks for this. I thought it worth mentioning over on eyeflare.com as well and wrote Frequent flier programs losing their value and linking back to you for more information. Thanks for the heads up!

  4. J S Says:

    I have one even worse. I am trying to use my United miles to book a flight with Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Denver. Fortunately, there is a nonstop flight on Lufthansa that works perfectly, however United says the seats are unavailable. They are routing me through Detroit with a 6 hour layover. When I spoke with Lufthansa to get seats, I enquired about the nonstop Frankfurt Denver flight. They told me that there are 68 seats in Business Class, only 1 is taken. United has 4 seats reserved for awards, but they are not released? When will they be released? We can’t tell you. Just call United every week from now until next May, and hopefully you will get lucky! Brilliant waste of everyone’s time!

  5. Diane Says:

    I ran into this myself a few weeks ago on United. I had a family emergency and needed to get home within a week following an accident with my mom. Airline tickets were $800.00 and higher and I couldn’t spend that kind of money for one ticket.

    I wanted to use a saver award, but none of those flights were non-stop. I considered taking a flight through D.C., but decided against this as it was a very early morning flight and my preference was a non-stop flight. In the end, I was glad that I opted out and cashed in a standard award as the D.C. flight was canceled. Hoarding miles isn’t very useful if you can’t easily use them when you need to do so.

  6. Peter Greenberg.com » Travel News Roundup, Oct. 8, 2007 Says:

    [...] Link: Upgrade: Travel Better [...]

  7. David Howatson Says:

    Hello-We have a new option to capture the value of your points and miles.

    There is a new website that we’ve created where you can reward yourself by turning loyalty points and miles into cash and get the flight you want, when you want. http://www.loyaltymatch.com

    LoyaltyMatch.com is the first person-to-person global marketplace where you can get cash for the points and miles you’ve accumulated as a member of loyalty programs.

    Your first transaction is FREE and every transaction is only $1.99 from there!

    So, get to LoyaltyMatch.com as soon as you can, take a few minutes to register, then enjoy SHOPPING or TURNING YOUR POINTS AND MILES INTO CASH for FREE.

    Have fun rewarding yourself!

    David Howatson
    Director, Business Development & Partnerships

    PS: We’re always looking for ways to improve the customer experience. Your feedback on the website and our service sent to memberfeedback@loyaltymatch.com would be appreciated

  8. WT Says:

    Hi all,

    My wife is flying back and forth to Seattle(http://www.seattlecancerwellness.com/breastcancer.html) for chemo that she can’t get in Milwaukee or Madison, so if you got any frequent flyer miles you can gift or transfer them send them to the following:

    American Airlines # 042CJRO
    Northwest Airlines # 100200131205
    Delta # 2635956150

    Thank you.

  9. Upgrades and Downgrades — Delta SkyMiles insults us all, Frontier’s standby sits down, OpenSkies closes coach, Google Maps goes afoot, and United shoots itself in the foot | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] added a third tier to its frequent flyer program. I have expected this since last year, when Delta eliminated the “last seat availability” clause and added restrictions to its “SkyChoice” tier of frequent flyer tickets. (Previously, [...]

  10. Reader mail: Delta-Northwest mileage merger? | Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] for mile redemption, in line with Delta’s watering down of their “SkyChoice” tier last year. Thumbs down [...]

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