Has Delta broken its promise to price awards dynamically? Is that a good thing?

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About a year ago, Delta sent out a memo titled “SkyMiles Program Developments Worth Noting”.  The title alone struck fear in my heart.  In the past, SkyMiles developments have rarely been good.  At that time, I wrote a critical (but lighthearted) post about the memo: What Delta said. What Delta meant. What Delta wanted to say.

The memo turned out to be fairly benign, but one line stood out as potentially very troubling:

For travel on or after June 1, 2016, the number of miles needed will change based on destination, demand and other dynamics.

This was strange since Delta had already removed award charts from their website and was already seemingly charging whatever number of miles they wanted to charge for any given flight.  Many people read this to mean that Delta would complete their shift towards revenue based award prices.  That is, the price of an award would be tied to the price of a ticket.  I thought so too.  I wrote:

I think we’ll actually see a combination of award prices going up and going down. In other words, Delta will move even further towards pricing awards according to paid ticket prices.

Well, June 1 has now come and gone so we should know the truth by now.  Did Delta switch over to revenue based award pricing?  Last week, Travel Codex asked the same question: Has Anyone Seen Delta’s New Dynamic Award Pricing?  I didn’t see much evidence one way or another in the comments to that post, so I decided to look for myself…

Delta Award Pricing Observed

Yesterday I checked award prices for round trip travel from Detroit to many potential destinations.  I used Delta’s 5 week calendar to look for mid-summer awards, and assumed an 8 day trip.  I checked flights to many different airports including in Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Africa, Australia, China, and Japan.  In many cases I looked at award prices for both coach and business class.  I filtered out partner flights so as not to confuse the results.  My goal was to see if award prices appeared to be more variable than in the past.  Do prices vary significantly from previously published award charts?

Delta Award Pricing Observation Results

Here are my summarized observations:

  • In most cases, the best award prices matched those found on previously published award charts.
  • The only flights in which the best priced flights within North America did not match the old award charts was with economy awards.
  • Many economy awards within North America were priced lower than they would have priced under old award charts.
  • Lower award prices sometimes corresponded to lower ticket prices, but not always.
  • Summer Saver level award availability for 1 person for flights originating in Detroit were widely available on Delta marketed flights to many destinations. On the other hand, I found poor availability to: Johannesburg, South Africa; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Honolulu, Hawaii (no surprise there); Sydney, Australia; and Tokyo, Japan.

It’s certainly possible that Delta simply hasn’t implemented their variable pricing yet.  As things stand right now, though, I’d argue that:

  1. Variable pricing apparently only affects economy flights within North America
  2. Variable pricing, to the extent that it was implemented at all, is a good thing.  Some award prices are lower than they would have been before.
  3. Saver level award availability on Delta metal appears to be significantly better than it used to be.  Admittedly, I don’t have similar data from the past to compare to, though, so this is just an impression.

For those interested, here are some snapshots of the award search results that led me to the above conclusions:

Most award prices were found to be the same as in the old award charts

For example, saver level awards for flights within the US and Canada used to cost 25,000 miles round trip.  In many cases they still do…

Detroit to Boston:

Delta DTW BOS

Detroit to NYC area airports:

Delta DTW NYC

And flights to Europe in business class used to cost 125K round trip.  They still do:

Detroit to London Business Class:

(Note: despite filtering the results to “Delta Only”, these results include Virgin Atlantic flights)

Delta DTW LHR Biz

Detroit to Rome, Business Class:

Delta DTW FCO Biz

Many economy awards within North America were priced lower than 25K round trip:

Detroit to Miami 15K:

Delta DTW MIA

Detroit to Toronto 19K:

Delta DTW YYZ

Detroit to Vancouver 22K:

Delta DTW YVR

Detroit to Los Angeles 22K:

Delta DTW LAX

Detroit to Seattle 23K:

Delta DTW SEA

Detroit to Portland, OR 23K:

Delta DTW PDX

Lower Award prices sometimes correspond to lower ticket prices, but not always

Detroit to Montreal, award price and cash price shown side by side.  In many cases the lowest award prices do correspond with the lowest cash price, but not always.

Delta DTW YUL side by side

Detroit to Miami, award price and cash price side by side:

Delta DTW MIA side by side

Detroit to Portland, award price and cash price side by side:

Detroit to Portland Combined View

Note, above, that lower award prices to Portland do not correspond to lower cash prices.

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