≡ Menu

Delta and American award pricing: Why does AA get off scot-free?

If you’ve been anywhere near any miles and points related blog in the past couple of days, you’ve seen the news of the bomb that Delta dropped on all of its Skymiles members. There is no more award chart of any kind, and we are supposed to just assume that Delta’s often-flawed IT has priced our award searches and bookings correctly.

Of course we know that’s not happening in many cases. One example I saw posted by saianel on Twitter: ‘Last month, I searched AUS-JFK, JFK-FCO & each leg was L1. If I searched, AUS-FCO, the chart returned 160k instead of 125k.’ Indeed I’ve seen the same thing on both AA.com and Delta.com, and without an award chart to refer to the average user might just pay the extra miles. Now Delta may face less pressure to fix their IT issues from occasional Skymiles users who haven’t made a science of award booking.

Why did they do it?

I don’t know, but I certainly don’t trust Delta. Here are a few of the ideas that have been floated:

Sam at Milenomics: There are people thinking delta will start preferential pricing awards for certain customers.

Gary Leff at View From The Wing: The only reasons to withdraw the information available via an award chart are to prevent members from having easy access to that chart — whether because they don’t want members to know what pricing to expect, to have a tool to complain about pricing when Delta’s prices are too high — or as a prelude to the elimination of chart-based pricing altogether combined with an unwillingness to admit that’s the intention.

theBOAT, commenting on VFTW: I’m going to venture a silly, though probably highly plausible, hypothesis… Delta customer service has been getting too many phone calls claiming that awards are mispricing because they’ve made their award [charts] so incredibly complicated that no one outside of the miles and points world can ever hope to possibly follow them, and they think this will be a cost saving measure.

I tend to agree with this last one: they want less people to have a clue how much an award ticket from point A to point B in class X should cost, and more people to overpay for Delta’s incompetence. The same as what happens regularly on revenue tickets.

I think they also wanted to take the ceiling off of their most-expensive, peak redemptions. Scroll down to the bottom – you’ll see Delta is following not leading with this idea! The level 5 awards that they introduced January 1st are still pricing at 32,500 miles each way for a domestic trip, but there is nothing to stop Delta from repricing them to any level they want, and we have little choice but to accept that whatever the booking engine says is correct. For reference, peak or level 5 awards are designated as ‘NK’ class.

You can view all of the now-removed Delta charts here on Flyertalk.

Here’s what is new and where it stacks up:

  • Nothing has changed, yet. For now if you call to get a ticket repriced when the online booking engine screws up, awards are being priced at the same prices as the missing award chart.
  • Delta has no award chart. Not that different from when Delta had no award chart for lots of international travel until 2011.
  • Several other airlines do not publish complete award charts, but offer good values for some travel. Like Delta, they simply show the number of miles needed when you search. Sure, I wish Air France/KLM published an award chart, but the fact that they don’t have one for travel that doesn’t originate in Europe doesn’t change the fact that they offer an outstanding value for travel within Southeast Asia on Garuda Indonesia.
  • Unlike what some people have commented, Delta’s new system is like a supermarket that took down posted prices from the front window because they couldn’t keep up, and now has price tags on each individual item. If Delta had a track record of running a trustworthy rewards program with decent IT, this would be pretty much a non-issue. Unfortunately…

But let’s look at the real world, and what is available today. I have been trying to help a friend get his family to Alaska this summer, and Frontier Airlines has stopped serving Alaska. During the typical school summer vacation time there is no availability to Alaska on any airline at saver levels from most of the country, excepting the West coast. Here’s what I found for roundtrip travel:

  • Delta has some dates available at 35K miles, many dates at 40K, and nearly all are available at 45-50K.
  • Alaska is 40K with the added benefit of free stopovers, but has a much more limited route map and no flights to my friend’s preferred airport.
  • United requires 70K miles, and many routings aren’t available at all unless you have the United credit card.
  • AA is 80K most days, and up to 130K on a few dates!

The clear winner here, for family travel during peak time to one of the places I would recommend every family have in their bucket list? Delta! Since they have gone to 5 levels, and as long as they leave all but ‘The Level Formerly Known as Level 5’ unchanged, Delta has the best award ticket pricing for the awards where saver level just doesn’t exist.

Make no mistake, this change sucks. But compared to other changes such as award surcharges that are no lower than a discount economy fare, it’s not a big deal on its own. We know that redemptions (especially using Delta miles) are subject to changes and devaluations. If you have a bunch of Delta miles and are worried that this is the beginning of much more drastic changes, get booking! For us, as long as we can continue to collect 1000 Delta miles for around 70 cents we will do so.

Is there anything we can do to force Delta’s hand?

I don’t have anything to book with Delta miles right now, but I’d say we can definitely make sure that their move backfires and results in even more work for call centers by calling in to confirm all mileage prices and disputing those that price incorrectly according to the charts that we do have. As you look to book any trip with Skymiles, check the price you are quoted against these charts and don’t take no for an answer if you are being overcharged by Delta’s broken booking engine!

What about AA?

American has rolled out some very good news this week. In a complete about-face from their stated intention to charge a booking fee for all award bookings (as US Airways currently does), AA has instead stopped charging fees for travel that cannot be booked online. This includes AA’s reduced price awards, so they now cost $25 less than before. Hopefully this also means that AA will maintain their current policy of free date and routing changes on award travel, rather than implementing the change fees of US Airways as I had expected.

Along with making US Airways flights available for Aanytime awards and dropping phone booking fees for travel on Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Japan Airlines, and other partners that don’t show up online, there was a little note:

In addition to making US Airways valid on AAnytime awards, some of the Level 1, 2, 3 dates have been adjusted. In the event miles have increased, we will honor award PNRs that were set up and are on time limits using the previous mileage levels, provided no changes are made to the PNR. If miles have decreased, repricing the itinerary will capture the new awards. (H/T JonNYC)

Remember that level that AA didn’t bother to give us a price for? Yeah, this one:

If Delta's old level 5 is now 'the sky's the limit, they are just following AA's lead!

If Delta’s old level 5 is now ‘the sky’s the limit’, they are just following AA’s lead!

*AAnytime Level 3 awards are offered on a few select dates and will require higher number of miles to redeem. Ain’t that nice?

By any measure, AA has the worst non-saver award policies and pricing. Unlike Delta and United, you cannot add on saver level partner flights to Aanytime awards.

Since the changes AA made last week, reports have been surfacing in the Flyertalk AA award booking assistance thread of increasing prices – seemingly level 2 dates changing to level 3, and increasing level 3 prices.There is no guarantee that Aanytime prices won’t change drastically as flights fill up or revenue management decides to increase prices!

I would definitely bookmark that Flyertalk thread for spending AA miles, along with the Saverocity award booking help subforum, for when you need help putting together award tickets. With this new reality of ever decreasing transparency, you may be able to save miles not only from using a more efficient routing or program, but also from crowdsourcing to make sure you’re being charged the correct price!

As always, the game changes, and hoarding miles for some over-the-top aspirational trip in the distant future only results in frustration as the target moves. Earn what you can at minimal or no expense, use what you collect for the travel you need or want now, and repeat!

Some of the changes of the past year are negative, but as a family traveler I think I still prefer Delta’s current award rules with a semi-functional award pricing engine, no award chart and lower level 2 pricing to their old (2014) rules with higher prices, even less available seats and no one-way award travel.

– Kenny

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • italdesign February 8, 2015, 10:18 pm

    “Unlike Delta, United and Alaska, you cannot add on saver level partner flights to Aanytime awards.”

    You sure AS allows it? I was told I could not mix supra-saver AS with saver partner on one award ticket: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/alaska-airlines-mileage-plan/1633476-mix-20k-aa-saver-levels.html

    • Kenny February 8, 2015, 10:29 pm

      Good catch. Alaska does not allow you to mix saver with standard awards, I’ll correct that. Thanks!

      • italdesign February 8, 2015, 10:57 pm

        I was hoping you were right!

  • Rory February 13, 2015, 12:14 pm

    New reader so apologies if you’ve covered this, but could you expand a bit on collecting 1000 miles for 70 cents?

    • italdeaign February 16, 2015, 4:23 pm

      Look up Suntrust Delta debit card. No longer available for new apps though.

Leave a Comment