Dear Delta: Figure Out Your Pricing

I’ve taken a pretty neutral-trending-towards-positive approach to Delta SkyMiles over the years. I’m not as perennially disgruntled with the program as Ben, nor as blind to the obvious flaws as Nick, and all things considered think I’ve been pretty fair.

So while I blasted Delta for removing their award charts last year, I still think there’s great value in the program, even if figuring out how many SkyMiles you might need for a partner award is needlessly complicated.

Delta doesn’t (supposedly) intend for this to be complicated. The premise (and promise) has been that “the price is the price” — no (supposedly) complex award charts or confusing rules to follow — just go online to delta.com, enter your routing, and see how many miles are required!

Which sounds great in theory, but we’ve encountered a couple of situations recently where the price Delta was (supposedly) offering was most certainly not the actual price, and it’s something folks need to be aware of.

Pick a price, any price

As an example, the other day I was trying to ticket an award between Tokyo and New York. This shouldn’t even be complicated, as all the flights were on Delta metal.

Delta-miles-pricing-1

There was space for four people in business class for 110,000 miles per passenger (more than I’d ideally like to spend, but with fixed dates and four people sometimes that’s how it goes):

Delta-miles-pricing-3

There weren’t enough miles in the SkyMiles account for all the passengers, so the plan was to call Delta and have an agent put the itinerary together before purchasing the remaining miles.

A great agent understood the concern, confirmed the space, built the itinerary, entered all the passenger info, and calculated the taxes — which exactly matched what delta.com displayed as well:

Delta-miles-pricing-4

A textbook setup, really, so ~$1000 worth of miles were purchased, the credit card number was provided, and…

“That’s odd. The flights aren’t selling in.”

“Pardon?”

“I can’t keep the flights in the record at that price. Let me check with my support desk.”

For some mysterious reason, the price on delta.com was not at all the price Delta wanted to charge — these flights were pricing at a horrifying 375,000 SkyMiles per person.

And there is no workaround. The agent tried, web support tried, a supervisor tried, the magical manual reissue desk tried. In each case, they could see the flights as available for 110,000 miles, and could get to the final confirmation screen, at which point the price would jump more than 300%.

That’s crazy! Especially as this isn’t a case of inventory changing — days later the flights still show as available at the 110,000 mile price — Delta just won’t issue a ticket at that rate.

A similar set of flights later that day yielded the same frustrating lack of results, and eventually we had to admit defeat.

“Okay, so I see several combinations of flights that price at 110k per person during that timeframe. Can you just try to ticket any of them at that rate?”

After trying seven different itineraries across three days, the agent was finally able to find a pair of flights that priced the same way in practice as they did in theory.

Seven.

Imagine trying to buy something and having to try seven different varieties before the price on the cash register matched the price on the tag.

That’s downright ridiculous, and not something Delta should be asking of their customers.

Bottom line

In another industry this would be a blatant weights and measures violation, but I guess those regulations don’t apply to fake currencies.

It’s one thing to have issues with your website displaying phantom space for your partners, but for Delta reservation agents to not be able to confirm space on Delta airplanes that shows as available in Delta systems is something else entirely. Not giving staff the tools or training to overcome technical issues (if that’s what they are) is even less acceptable than it was under the old system.

Similarly, if you don’t want to publish an award chart so that people know how many miles they’ll need for that special anniversary trip that’s fine (I guess, I mean, I think it’s moronic, but Delta feels good about it, so whatever). But to insist that charts aren’t needed because the price is clearly shown on the website and internal reservations systems, and then to not issue tickets at that price —

Well, that’s nothing short of dishonest.

Come on Delta. Do better.

Comments

  1. I agree with you that it’s annoying. But seems like more of an IT thing than an actual effort to eff people over.

    I’ve been buying some tickets recently for work travel, and several times the Comfort + price has been more than the First price.

    Clearly a mistake, and also weird, but not a conspiracy.

  2. @Neil S. – Unfortunately, its not necessarily a mistake that Comfort Plus pricing would be more than First pricing, nor is it an IT error. It’s a revenue management error. Having previous experience in the field, there are more than enough times you’ll even see economy fill up where there’s only Y class (Full fare economy) available at an exorbitant price, but there’s still some deeply discounted first class tickets available that are half the cost of economy. It’s all a part of the airline pricing game to maximize yields.

    However, this is quite ridiculous. Get your stuff together Delta.

  3. I had exactly this same issue in late December booking Delta One from CVG to MUC, then back via AMS to CVG. It was priced 125,000 miles RT, but wouldn’t let me book it online. I had to call the elite hotline and even they couldn’t get it at first even though they were viewing the same fare. They were eventually able to book the flight as long as I flew economy for the short haul connections. By the time they were finished the price in miles had sky-rocketed.

    I was glad to use up most of my Skymiles on that booking, I’ve now switched my loyalty to another carrier.

  4. I have noticed when you do the 5 week searches it will say tickets starting at 65,000 miles etc. but when you click on that date the cheapest ticket will be 110,000….this happens about half of the time. Not sure how this can be an issue…they must have a serious IT problem…seems like it should be able to pull the cheapest flight from that day and correctly show it! Very frustrating for sure!

  5. This reasons some serious concerns ….. Even though miles are not a “real” currency Delta has an obligation to price their trips correctly. This became much more important when they switched to their flexible pricing and pulled their award charts. Any reasonable person should expect to be able to redeem their miles at the amount quoted throughout the transaction especially considering you have no other “basis” for the required mileage. Delta induced reliance on this quoted price. At a minimum this is unfair and deceptive business practices. I’d demand a refund for any mileage purchase in reliance on a displayed price. You should summarize this posting and send this to Delta’s management and legal team.

  6. Similar thing happened to me last week. It happens too often to be a coincidence- so glad to be out of SkyMiles. If Delta is trying to kill their frequent flyer program, they are doing a terrific job.

  7. The problem is there is no appeals court for airline miles or just about any other transaction involving airlines. Delta (or any other airline) will only do what they want to do. Refund miles? Maybe, maybe not. Hang up and call again. Force the ticket to price as displayed – maybe, maybe not. HUACA.

    Just remember one thing- IT only does what IT is programmed to do. Could Delta fix this if they wanted to? Of course they could. The real question is does Delta give a rat’s tail? The answer is blatantly obvious.

  8. I think Robert Conquests Third Law of Politics applies to Delta: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.”

  9. Am I the only one that thinks 110k miles for business from Asia to the US is rediculous? Nevermind the fact that it seems like you might not even be able to find it that low.

  10. This is not a purely IT issue. If it was an IT issue, then errors would be in both directions, sometimes favoring the customer and issuing tickets for half the miles. This is the lack of desire on Delta’s part to fix the broken IT-related issue because it favors them (in short term).

  11. I’ve been looking into award tickets on Delta One from DTW to PEK and have seen award rates around 85,000 skymiles in the 5 week search. I haven’t clicked through and tried to book anything yet, but I’ll be interested to see if those are “phantom prices”.

  12. This seems completely horrifying to me, especially the part abou no one being able to push tickets through with the correct price!

    These kinds of errors aren’t unexpected though — implementing dynamic pricing makes programming more complicated which, in turn, increases likelihood of bugs.

    Another example (not sure it’s a bug or a weird algorithm): FlyingBlue was showing 62500 for VCE-US transiting through CDG or AMS but if searching directly from Paris or Amsterdam, only CDG-US would show the low price; ex-AMS flight is triple the cost.

  13. “The problem is there is no appeals court for airline miles”

    Exactly. Your only option is to refuse to do business with them.

    And that’s why I am not loyal to any airline anymore, particularly Delta. I collect points from credit cards, which are competing with each other pretty aggressively to attract customers with rewards programs. So one can get some great deals going that route. That is simply rarely the case anymore (at least for my flying patterns) with airline FF programs. And as Tiffany’s post points out, some airlines do everything they can to make it difficult to redeem miles – so what is the point of collecting them?

  14. @ Neil S. — Sure, though in that case, the Comfort+ price is listed consistently throughout the process, right? You’re not getting to the end of the transaction and learning you can’t buy a ticket at that price?

  15. @ Mark O — Sometimes that is a function of how results are displayed, and the lowest priced flight might be three pages in. Try changing the bar at the top to sort by “Lowest Price” rather than “Best Match.”

  16. @ marcmsj — Well, it is and it isn’t. Like, I’m not spending that many miles, but there are plenty of folks out there with millions of miles that would rather spend 40k more points than make an extra connection or lose a day of their vacation, so the higher cost is worth it to them for the increased availability.

    I actually like that Delta has additional award inventory at the “mid” tier for people who want to pay a bit more to not jump through as many hoops. But it doesn’t help if it doesn’t price that way.

  17. Can you file a complaint with DoT or some other consumer protection agency? The fact that real money was involved in purchasing miles means this can’t be dismissed as a “free” ticket.

  18. I decided to give up on SkyMiles and not look back.
    I recently redeemed 2 one-way business class award tickets for USA-Bali for 70K miles each, and now I have a remaining SkyMiles balance of 100 miles.
    Peace out!

  19. The price has now dropped to 70,000 miles per passenger.
    Are you still in 24hr cancellation period? Or a platinum/diamond medallion? in later case you can cancel or change for no fee

  20. I’ve been a Delta elite for many years, and the recent changes in the pricing mechanisms are frustrating to say the least. Platinum and above have free cancelation of awards tickets, which I think is the only way to effectively use SkyMiles. Book your best deal and watch what happens to the redemption price. Frequently and often. Then rebook with a better deal. With this strategy you can usually book a decent award. Once Delta takes this away it will be a real mess. I fully expect them to do this given their recent track record, and is another reason I’m trying to strategically leave the program.

  21. Idle time and curiosity… I think I can explain whats going on here..
    This is an IT glitch where reservation (or booking) system seems to be out of sync with ticketing system. This is just my theory.
    See when you make a reservation on website that is the only thing you are doing and actual ticketing happens later – from anywhere within a minute to couple of hrs. Reservation system collects all information from you and then sends it over to ticketing system which has its own checks and validations and if all is good the ticket is issued. In this case the systems are doing different sets of checks and so are not in agreement with each other and I believe the reason is ‘Multiple cabins’ in your screenshot where you see it priced at 110,000 miles per passenger.
    NRT – MSP is in Delta One (fare class O) and MSP – JFK is in domestic First (fare class R). Booking system allows this to be priced at lowest level but ticketing system doesn’t allow 2 different cabins to be booked at same ‘lowest’ level and prices this out to 375,000 miles as that is the price when you book in single class – which is non stop from NRT – JFK.
    I’d guess a competent agent should be able to book one non stop from NRT – MSP at lowest level (BTW this is 70,000 miles now) and then add a domestic segment MSP – JFK to the itinerary keeping the same price but who knows..

  22. Or book 2 separate tickets – NRT – MSP @ 70,000 and MSP – JFK @ 25,000. This is still cheaper then 110,000.
    We all have to be as much creative as possible with ‘fake’ currency like skymiles 🙂

  23. “rjb says:
    March 30, 2016 at 9:33 am

    The problem is there is no appeals court for airline miles or just about any other transaction involving airlines. Delta (or any other airline) will only do what they want to do. Refund miles? Maybe, maybe not. Hang up and call again. Force the ticket to price as displayed – maybe, maybe not. HUACA.

    Just remember one thing- IT only does what IT is programmed to do. Could Delta fix this if they wanted to? Of course they could. The real question is does Delta give a rat’s tail? The answer is blatantly obvious.”

    rjb:

    You got it right ! The rest is fantasy.

  24. I would definitely start raising some hell. Contact the FTC, DoT, your Congressman, news media, etc. Consumer reporters love this kind of stuff. Without applying some pressure nothing will get better.

  25. I’ve experienced this phenomenon before. My strategy is to set aside an hour or so and call until they will honor the price delta.com is quoting. I do feel that it will take threat of legal or government intervention to get Delta to become more honest in this area. I feel for the people who accept the 300% higher fares.

  26. I’ve had similar trouble on revenue tickets, believe it or not. Literally clicking the purchase button on the final confirmation page and Delta, halfway through processing the transaction, says, “oops, we meant to triple your price. Would you like to continue?” :/

    After a week of waiting for this to resolve itself one way or another, I called in and got a sympathetic agent who had the ticket manually priced with managerial and ticketing desk approval. That’s ridiculous on a revenue ticket.

  27. Have you considered filing a complaint with the DoT? This is a pretty textbook thing that they don’t like and will usually act upon — one price displayed online that suddenly goes up when you try to book it. I’m not saying that it’s nefarious, but it’s unacceptable. I’ve had pretty good luck filing a complaint with the DoT’s online form. Usually they give the carrier a chance to make it right before they investigate and I usually end up with some form of compensation from the carrier to cover the difference.

  28. Had the same thing happen booking flights to Europe on Delta. Showed as 67,500 one way but would increase to 300,000 every time I called. Would show as unavailable on final screen online but would return on next search.

  29. Sorry, I just wanted to make this comment and hope to get some feedback before reading everything and forgetting to comment. Anyone else have issues where the award calendar by the month has a certain mileage fare price listed, but then when you click on that day, there is no award in that amount anywhere in the returned results? This has been really annoying for me, and does anyone know if it is just an IT glitch (and there are actually awards available for the originally listed price in the calendar format) or just a bait and switch (and the results pulled up after clicking on the day is all that is available)? Thanks in advance for any feedback. This has been incredibly frustrating.

  30. I apologize, I just saw Mark O. has had the same type of problem.

    @Mark O, have you ever tried to call Delta to ask them about it? Or write to them? I haven’t because I am just speculative booking at this point, but if you are planning on traveling, it might be worth a shot?

    What is annoying in the article’s situation, is that the personnel over the phone had no way of overriding the computer and manually award the tickets in accordance to the amount on the screen in front of them.

  31. And just to pile on to Delta some more, numerous times I have tried to search for flights on their website, and numerous times I end up with a error message and no results being returned.

  32. I think there is a significant question whether preemption rules — which block lawsuits based on state law for alleged violations of frequent flier promises or terms — would also preempt claims that mileage was sold for cash under fraudulent pretenses. The handful of preemption cases arise under much much different facts.

  33. Something has been up with Delta’s reservations to ticketing interface in recent days.

    Did some upgrades with miles and certificates and the agents took much longer than usual, and the actual ticketing receipt didn’t show up for more than 12 hours afterward.

    Don’t think there is much nefarious other than bad follow up to this glitch.

  34. I got a feeling Delta is stalking people looking for award tickets. The other day I was looking for a domestic award ticket on Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was surprised to see saver award tickets on every single flight that day(4 flights per day). I went ahead to transfer TY points to Air France. Even though the transfer was instant, I paused a little and thought I could finish booking next day since every flight has saver award space. The very next day I got an email from Delta encouraging me to finish my booking. Then I found out all the saver award space were gone overnight!!
    Felt so bad I did not complete my award right after I transfer my points. Lesson learned.

  35. I hope you get legal advice (to see if you can sue) and make a PR campaign out of it (maybe crowdfund the legal fees). Atleast try to wake DL (and the general public) up on these stupid crazy non transparent processes.

  36. Indeed, Delta system is the most dishonest I’ve encountered. Often when you search with flexible dates, they show, e.g., 37,500 miles, you click on it and it jumps to 60,000. WTH?

  37. I had a similar situation on American a couple of weeks ago, pre-devaluation. The displayed miles were less than the actual miles required for the ticket. Very frustration. AA.com showed 67,500, but wouldn’t book. Called AA and found the minimum miles were like 137,000. Maybe that was going to be the price post-devaluation.

    Wound up booking something totally different

  38. Did Delta provide 5 months’ advance notice of their devaluation (as was the case with American AAdvantage)? lol

    No award charts = No Sky Pesos for me

    @Neal – calling and calling for an hour straight, now that’s funny!

  39. I was surprised that Delta manual cannot ‘forced’ the reservation. I had an itinerary put on hold by their manual desk over the weekend due to partner airline schedule change. My original itinerary was SIN-PVG-TPE-LAX-SEA, with SIN-PVG on MU, and PVG-TPE-LAX on CI’s new 777-300ER. The price was 70K. Delta manual desk was unable to book it and told me to call back Monday while placing it on hold. Come Monday, I called and they were still unable to book it. The manual desk staff then told me that she could book me on SIN-NRT-SEA, all on Delta metal at the lowest level. What’s interesting was that both Delta.com and KVS tool showed that such itinerary was available only at the CH level (high), but the agent forced it and booked it for me.

  40. I have been seeing this sort of pricing with Delta for YEARS (at least 5). I login with my FF info and search one day and the next the prices are either higher/lower. It’s never consistent. And sometimes within the same day if I go back in and do a search the prices change from earlier that day even though I am searching for the exact same time/date/flight pattern. As a hint to others, I have noticed that when I open a competitors site (like AA) in a new tab and do a search while I have Delta open in another that the prices reduce. Once again, it’s never consistent.

  41. Delta SUCKS, All they do is TAKE TAKE TAKE away. I have been Platinum for 10 years and I,am nobody with them anymore.

  42. This has happened even on a revenue ticket. I tried to book JFK-MAD and the price would go up $100 every time I went to purchase it. I needed the ticket, so I paid the charge, but every time you searched, it always showed the lower price (and thus what came up in ALL of the search engines, Google included (hint, they bought a booking company – they should have accurate data)). Awful.

  43. I agree with the dishonesty on Deltas part for the screw up. However I recently booked r/t 18k each pdx to lihue. Sometimes its Delta that gets the short end.

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