Personal Finance

Delta causes more headaches with Skymiles changes

Alex Leviton
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Well, it's been a few months, so Delta decided it was about time to make even more changes to its recently revised SkyMiles program. The rules seem more secretive than an Illuminati meeting and there's more corporate spin than all of Hilton's and Sheraton's washing machines combined. Luckily, we have deciphered Delta's corporatespeak in eight simple words:

"We are going to do whatever we want!"

Basically, the changes are simply a progression of the new dynamic-pricing system Delta has already begun putting in place. The airline is simply making its miles more dynamic (in reality, elastic). First, a quick refresher on recent changes:

  1. Delta announced some big changes to its award chart at the start of 2015.
  2. Just a month later, the airline completely removed its award chart from its website so it could take more control over pricing.
  3. In March, Delta announced domestic flights would start at 10,000 miles for one-ways instead of 12,500.
  4. Finally, in May, Delta started testing out 5,000-mile one-way trips within California (which is not as good of a deal as it seems).

Throughout the last six months, Delta has slowly transitioned from a traditional award chart — which means each region of the world costs a certain number of miles — to a dynamic pricing system, which basically means it can charge you whatever it wants according to destination, demand and whatever else Delta math geeks come up with. The upcoming changes will be rolled out between June 1 and July 21.

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The bonus here is that you are no longer necessarily forced to pay 12,500 for a short-haul, one-way trip; those will go for as little as 7,500. The downside is obvious: you have no idea what your miles are worth.

Want to fly Chicago to Raleigh-Durham on any ol' Thursday? That might run you just 7,500 miles and $5.60 in fees one-way (as it did for me last week). But want to on a popular weekend? It could run you 12,500 miles. Maybe 25,000. Or it might not; nobody knows! You'll have no idea until you enter in your dates and Delta's dynamic-pricing hamsters start running their price-algorithm wheels.

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Just be sure you get your ticket more than 21 days in advance, as Delta has joined large carriers like United and American in charging $75 fees for 'last-minute' bookings.

A few changes coming July 21 are only relevant for the elite, high-spending travelers to whom Delta wants to cater. On the Delta Skymiles news and updates page:

"A better seat now equals more for your SkyMiles account. Effective for travel starting July 21, 2015 whenever you purchase Preferred Seats, Delta Comfort+, and paid upgrades to the premium cabin, you now will earn miles and Medallion® Qualification Dollars (MQDs)."

That is one good piece of news for those trying to get elite status. Also coming July 21, 2015, the highest elites wanting to fly from JFK to SFO or LAX can use regional awards to upgrade on this routing — an upgrade that used to be free. Delta would like you to know that on or after June 1, 2016, it'll be significantly easier to upgrade your seats using miles. However, Delta wouldn't like you to figure out that it will now cost more miles to upgrade a paid ticket than to book a free one. Luckily we have Gary Leff at View from the Wing to point that out for us.

Well, thanks Delta. With this new dynamic-pricing structure, we no longer need to move to Argentina to understand what it's like to live in a place where the value of our currency can change drastically on any given day; now Skymiles will impart us with that knowledge — giving a whole new meaning to the term "Skypesos."