Nasty Surprise: Delta Secretly Raises Award Ticket Prices

When I managed frequent-flyer programs in the 1980s and 1990s, it was widely held among my counterparts that any change to an airline's loyalty program that negatively affected its members should be publicly announced at least 12 months before it took effect.

We weren't just making it up—the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) had weighed in on the matter, and that was their recommendation. And while the NAAG guidelines never had the force of law, they were considered fair and reasonable. (The full text of the NAAG's 1988 "Task Force Report and Recommendations" is included as an appendix to the summary of the Morales v. TWA case, here.)

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In the years since, that policy, and the respect and consideration for the consumer that underlie it, has been gradually undermined, replaced by terms and conditions that reserve for the airlines the right to "change the program rules, regulations, travel awards, and special offers at any time with or without notice."

Today, airlines routinely implement consumer-unfriendly program changes with little or no advance notice.

As if that weren't bad enough, on September 1, Delta raised prices on some SkyMiles awards with no notice whatever. The only semi-official reference to the changes came several days after the fact in a post by a Delta employee, identified only as DLCorpGirl, on FlyerTalk, as follows:

There were some recent changes to redemption levels at mid- and high-tier in some international locations, a few up, one down. No changes to low award levels. Not that you need my help, but you can find the updated charts here. It works like a pricing change, so legally, we're not allowed to notify folks in advance. However, we're obviously not prevented from sharing it with you once the change has been made. We'll certainly keep this in mind for future announcements.

Delta is legally prevented from giving SkyMiles members advance notice of award price increases? That's simply false. Legally, award-price changes do not work "like a pricing change." And for anyone at Delta to have made such a claim is either stunningly stupid or outrageously disingenuous.

But even dumber and more disingenuous than the rationale was the act itself: upping award prices with no notice. As though the company's best customers didn't need or deserve to know.

The Changes

The changes themselves, while a net devaluation, are of less import than Delta's handling of the member communications. Mid- and top-tier pricing increases include coach flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and several South American countries.

The single price decrease is for top-tier first- or business-class seats to Southeast Asia.

Apology Expected

At a minimum, Delta owes SkyMiles members an apology and a promise of more honesty and transparency in the future.

Reader Reality Check

What do you expect from your loyalty program?

How far in advance should program operators communicate increases in award prices?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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