The Mystery of Delta’s 2015 Award Chart

Why hold out on the least controversial change?

Last week Delta rolled out SkyMiles 2015 to intense media coverage and customer attention, much of it negative. The most drastic changes are moving from distance flown to dollars spent as the earning basis for miles, with a ‘break-even average of 20 cents per mile. In the past 2 years Delta has made significant changes some positive like SPG Crossover Rewards, many negative, leading me to argue that Delta Strives to the Worst Airline for Business Travelers.

On the redemption side SkyMiles 2015 held out hope for positive changes such as one-way awards and an improved delta.com award calendar. Award pricing and availability is where Delta has the least credibility with its fliers. Many argue for Delta as the best US airline operationally; only people on Delta’s payroll attempt to defend its award prices. So it was particularly galling that from the first reports on 2015, Delta indicated that it would not deign to release the new award chart until Q4. Many commentators and customers cried foul on this, which today extracted the award chart for travel from US & Canada.

The big news is that there isn’t. Delta is going from 3 tiers to 5 tiers, subdividing the existing range. A number of awards went down compared to the increases effective June 1, 2014. See the breakdown at Points, Miles & Martinis. Nothing innovative or competitive, say, to match discount awards like American Airlines off-season awards. Nothing mentioned of any change to partner awards, which is what had me most worried. View from the Wing reports Delta sources as confirming nothing will happen to partner awards as part of this particular change, and a reduced likelihood that they would sneak in a new change in the short-term given what has transpired over hiding this one. We have no idea, and can have no idea until 2015, of what will happen with availability and pricing.

So why hold back? Some possibilities:

  1. Arrogance. Delta has a habit of trying to tell customers what should be important to them, and not even publicly announcing big changes. The recent removal of 3rd-party lounge access for SkyTeam Elites when traveling on economy tickets was only found by a traveler noticing Delta’s website had been quietly updated. Delta may have thought they could get away with not disclosing the award chart or even deluded themselves into thinking customers would not demand it just because Delta said, “trust us.”
  2. Oversight. Doubtful since from the first announcement and media quotes, this was asked and the answer was always that it would come out late 2014.
  3. It Wasn’t Ready. Various reports suggest the chart was ready to go but I have not seen an on the record quote from Delta that is was, and was it the only chart…
  4. Testing the Reaction. This is the cynical option, that Delta may have had something much worse in store so wanted to test the reaction to the overall changes. Seeing it was so negative, and so much public pressure focused on the missing award chart, they rush out a less negative chart and only have US & Canada ready.

I have no insight into Delta’s decision making except what I have seen as a customer since the merger. #1 seems most likely to me. There is no limit to the arrogance of Delta as it is riding high. #2 & #3 I doubt. #4 seems possible.

It would be interesting to know the inside story.

This is a good wake-up call to use miles where they deliver the most. Delta’s SkyTeam partners reach some otherwise very expensive and exciting destinations poorly served by competitor alliances. See my Where and How to Reedem SkyMiles Now. Go for it!

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  • Delta believed that customers wouldn’t be concerned about redemption levels until closer to 2015 since they don’t buy tickets this far out.

    They wanted to get their messaging out on earning (“rewarding our best customers most” “business travelers win”) without distracting with details.

    No one there will take ownership over the decision not to release the charts. But the charts themselves were decided. I don’t know if the graphics were decided (what color should a reduction in mileage cost be? How should we put it up on the web / what layout or format).

  • @Gary – then a nicer way to say #1? Any word on when the other charts will come out, since they are ready and colors now selected?

  • Boraxo

    Please don’t give DL the benefit of the doubt. Because it would not take 3 clicks to get to the actual chart unless they were trying to hide it. Last year UA made it easy to link to its new charts.

    It is funny how everyone is focused on the chart because in fact the new levels are COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS without knowing the inventory. All that we know now is that DL historically allocates almost NO seats to “saver” award levels and there is no guarantee that it will allocate many (or any) to the new levels, particularly during peak travel periods or to high demand destinations.

    WN is the only airline that runs an honest system (devaluation notwithstanding!) because they don’t play games with award inventory. If the cash fare goes down, the award price goes down. And vice versa.

  • Thanks for the HT. I have to say that as a non-business Delta Platinum, I’m very confused as to what direction to go. On the one hand, I do really like Delta (think: Sancho in Man of La Mancha)and feel most “at home” with them. But this is becoming more and more a losing proposition. Has anyone done an analysis as to how much its going to cost for a non-business traveler to maintain gold, platinum or diamond status? I’m guessing it’s a lot, and maybe not worth it. My inclination is to just burn my miles, switch to Alaska and worry about it next year (think: Scarlet O’hara in Gone With the Wind).

  • Autolycus

    @Kathy, remember that status achievement is not changing at all in 2015–at least not as part of this announcement. Getting SM/GM/PM/DM will still be based on miles flown and MQDs (or CC spend waiver). The new 5x/7x/../11x calculations are just for redeemable SkyMiles, with air quotes around “Miles”.

    Randy’s analogy to the hotel programs on InsideFlyer is pretty dead on, IMHO. You get status based on segments/stays or miles/nights, and you get points redeemable for free travel based on how much you spend.