This news is BIG: Delta tells customers, “We don’t need no stinkin’ award charts!”

Wow.  I’m speechless, and that’s saying something.  Delta just took one of the wings off a 767 and smacked it across the face of their customers.  And the airline appears to be moving toward an enormous change in the way you redeem frequent flyer miles*: I believe that Delta is soon going to apply a dollar value to frequent flyer miles and the cost in miles will be based on the cost of the underlying ticket, not a fixed cost.  More on that toward the end.

So hear I am, innocently surfing the web, reading about the movie adaptation of one of my favorite YA books (written by a college friend) and ready to go to sleep when I took a quick peek at a few travel blogs.  And then I saw it: Delta has eliminated its award charts.  The first site I saw it on was Gary Leff’s View From the Wing, but it didn’t take long for link to lead to link and article to article.

What’s the Big Deal?

Yeah, it’s a big deal.  Previously, if you had wanted to use miles to fly somewhere, you’d just go to their website and pull up a chart like this one:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 10.59.31 PMNo problem.  I mean, sure, you had to figure out what the difference between a standard and peak award was, but that wasn’t too difficult.

Now, that’s gone.  In other words, you are no longer able to see the standard prices for the various awards.  If you go to the page that previously had the award chart, you get this:

That’s actually not a joke.  It’s what the page says.

And it applies to upgrades, as well.  Want an award?  You have to go to the calendar and book a trip, as if you were booking a flight with cash.  So, as I asked above, what’s the big deal?

  • The big one is that Delta’s award calendar doesn’t work.  It has never worked.  It will tell you there is availability on a flight where there is none, tell you there is no availability when there is some, try to charge you twice because your one-way ticket has a flight change in Atlanta, etc.  You will likely have more luck trying to calculate the price in miles on an abacus.
  • You now have no idea what a standard award ticket costs.  You can’t compare it against other airlines or plan for a trip, since you have to price trips individually.
  • You will never know when the price of an award changes.  In other words, if a domestic award’s standard price moves from 25,000 miles to 30,000 miles, you won’t know if they devalued the award or if there were no more seats available.

But here’s where all this is going: Delta is moving toward not only a system where you earn miles based on how much you spend but also setting a value to redeem miles, similar to the way Southwest and JetBlue work.  In other words, there will eventually be no more fixed redemptions, as in the chart above.  Instead, each trip will be individually priced and the amount of miles you need to redeem will vary, based on the underlying cost of the ticket.  This step just gets customers accustomed to looking up prices on a calendar similar to one that they would use if paying with cash.  I don’t know when that change will happen, but it’s inevitable.

Oh, one last thing: I had hoped that maybe it was just a glitch, which would be consistent with the normal state of Delta’s website.  Then I saw this in response to a reader’s question:

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 11.27.14 PM

*Yes, I understand that we’re not dealing with serious issues like world peace, ending hunger or deflategate, but if you were interested in reading about those topics now, you probably wouldn’t be here.

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