When Delta removed the award-price charts from its website, disingenuously assuring SkyMiles members that they could simply look up award prices on Delta’s online booking widget, travelers were rightly upset. Transparency and predictability had been summarily savaged, by a program that had already severely strained its members’ trust and good will.
Naturally, the move to whatever-we-say-it-is award pricing fueled the suspicion that Delta would raise the average price of awards, unfettered by the accountability enforced by published award charts.
That may well turn out to be the case. But tying award prices to published airfares turns out to have positive ramifications as well. For some flights, the price of awards has declined, to levels below those published on the now non-existent award charts.
Test bookings this week showed some Delta flights available for booking for just 5,000 points each way. For example, flights between Portland and Seattle and between Los Angeles and San Francisco were priced at 5,000 miles on some dates. That’s a significant discount from the 12,500 miles those flights would have required under the old published-price scheme. But they apply to short, cheap flights, which savvy travelers would have paid for, saving their miles for better return-on-investment opportunities.
The lower award prices for cheap flights are welcome, but they shouldn’t obscure the fact that Delta’s move in the direction of revenue-based award pricing significantly devalues SkyMiles overall. The closer the relationship between the cost of an award ticket and a comparable paid ticket, the less leeway there is for program members to redeem their miles for outsized value.
Reader Reality Check
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This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.