When Delta introduced its three-tiered award structure in 2008, the airline's management promised that the net effect would be positive: On average, SkyMiles members could look forward to redeeming fewer miles for their award trips.
Only Delta has access to the hard data needed to judge whether that promise was kept or broken.
The feedback I've received from my readers since the change strongly suggests that awards at the lowest level, which are comparable price-wise to other airlines' restricted awards, are extremely difficult to come by. Since those are the awards that most travelers request most often, it follows that many SkyMiles members are paying more miles for their award travel. Which means that the average price of an award ticket has increased, not decreased.
So much for anecdotal evidence.
A 2012 study by industry consulting firm IdeaWorks found Delta's award availability to be the worst among U.S. airlines. The researchers were successful in booking award flights on Delta just 27.1 percent of the time.
And earlier this week, USA Today took Delta to task for its stingy award availability, citing both horror stories from frequent travelers and the results of its own test bookings of Delta award flights.
Among the findings:
- Of 50 domestic Delta flights chosen at random, 42 had no free seats for minimum miles.
- For 50 international flights, awards at the lowest level were available on only 14 flights.
Delta's traditional response to such criticism has been to sidestep the issue of award availability entirely and point out SkyMiles' supposed strong points.
Given the preponderance of evidence that SkyMiles is the least generous U.S. program, and by a wide margin, Delta's denials ring increasingly hollow. Where there's smoke, there's fire.
Delta's loyal customers deserve better.
Reader Reality Check
How successful have you been in redeeming Delta miles for free flights?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.