American Airlines and United charge $75 fees for awards booked less than 21 days before departure. Both airlines waive these fees for high level elites. One of the few advantages of Delta’s SkyMiles program has been the fact that they do not charge these “close-in” award booking fees. Until now. It looks like they’ve found a sneaky way to charge us close-in fees without telling us…
The Cranky Flier reports that, on many/most routes, Delta has stopped making the cheapest level awards available until 22 days out. For example, The Cranky Flier shows this award calendar of flights from Atlanta to Savannah:
Notice that the Level 1 Saver level awards (12,500 miles) were not available until 22 days out from the time of booking. I ran a number of searches to see if I could duplicate these results and I found that it is pretty accurate. There are some routes that don’t show this pattern at all (Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, for example), but many routes mirror the results shown above. For example, here are the results when I searched for a short flight from Detroit to Chicago:
Is this based on the price of flights? Maybe paid flight prices go down after 21 days as well? Nope, here’s the same search priced in dollars rather than miles:
Notice, above, that cheap flights begin 15 days out. So, we have to wait an extra week to get cheap awards!
Why do I describe this as a close-in booking fee?
Clearly, Delta has done something to their award pricing algorithm to make close-in awards more expensive (for most routes) than those booked 22 days out. At a minimum, this sneaky close-in booking fee is 5,000 miles per ticket. I’d rather pay 5,000 Delta SkyMiles than the $75 that AA and United charge, but (and this is a big but), Delta does not waive this hidden fee for high level elites.
Hat Tip: View from the Wing