As has been expected since late last year, when Delta announced that SkyChoice awards would no longer guarantee last seat availability on all flights, Delta has disclosed details of its new three-tier award chart, effective in September.
Rather than a single category of capacity-restricted award seats, there will now be two, plus a third category which guarantees last-seat availability.
So, for example, in place of the current domestic coach awards now offered at 25,000 miles for restricted and 50,000 for SkyChoice, there will be two restricted award categories—Discounted at 25,000 miles and Expanded at 40,000 miles—and, at 60,000 miles, a Last Seat award which, as the name suggests, gives award travelers access to the same seats available to revenue passengers.
The idea is that the new Discounted awards will be comparable to the current low-priced restricted awards; the Expanded category will encompass most of the current SkyChoice awards, but for fewer miles; and the Last Seat category will include just those few seats which Delta currently excludes from award use, at a premium price.
It's impossible to predict whether the new scheme will be a net plus or net minus for SkyMiles members. Whether more or fewer awards will be available at a lower price overall ultimately depends on how generous Delta is in allocating seats at the Discounted and Expanded award levels.
Which highlights the fundamental problem with loyalty programs: their lack of transparency. Consumers do their part, buying tickets and conducting business with the airline's marketing partners. And in exchange, they get ... what? A ticket for 25,000 miles? At 40,000 miles? At 60,000 miles?
And that Last Seat award? It'll cost you as much as 370,000 miles for a first-class round-trip to Asia, up from between 240,000 and 300,000 miles currently.
While the airline cites the new scheme's "greater flexibility and more options," the fact remains: Delta is just giving back what SkyMiles members once routinely received, and what other airlines never withheld—access to the last available seat when booking awards. And they're reinstating those seats at a higher price.