Is Delta Introducing Variable Partner Airline Award Pricing?

Back in early 2015, Delta eliminated SkyMiles award charts, instead switching to a model where “the price you see is the price you get.” SkyMiles leadership thinks that award tickets should work the same as revenue tickets — there are no published prices for revenue tickets, so why should there be for award tickets?

They say that members won’t really care about the price as long as the online shopping experience is easy. The only problem is that their online booking tool is quite obviously broken, and they’re not doing anything to fix it. So awards are pricing incorrectly, but you can’t really prove that when they don’t publish prices.

Even though Delta doesn’t technically publish award prices, we’ve been able to track price changes ourselves. For example, several weeks ago we noticed that award prices between the US and Europe in business class at the lowest cost were increasing from 62,500 miles to 70,000 miles as of January 1, 2017.

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Up until now, partner award tickets have always priced at the lowest award level. If one of Delta’s airline partners has saver level award space, then it will be bookable at whatever Delta’s lowest award cost might be at the time. That’s always how things have been.

However, it looks like Delta might be making a radical change to how they price award tickets. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but Delta seems to have quietly introduced variable award pricing for travel on Virgin Atlantic.

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Virgin Atlantic Upper Class

For travel through the end of the year, all Virgin Atlantic business class awards between the US and Europe should cost 62,500 miles.

However, when looking at awards between London and New York over the next couple of weeks, we’re seeing awards price out at 87,500 miles one-way in business class on Virgin Atlantic.

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Meanwhile looking at awards closer to the end of the year, the cost is 70,000 miles one-way, which is still higher than the 62,500 mile cost it should be.

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As of now I’m not yet noticing this on any other partners, though the implications of this could be huge, if Delta is in fact quietly switching to variable pricing on partner airlines. I’m not sure how they’d justify this, given that typically airlines have fixed-rate reimbursements for partner award travel.

Delta does have a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic and has a 49% stake in them, so perhaps this is the start of them testing something new.

Regardless, this is a very concerning development. I’m going to reach out to Delta for comment, though we’ll see if I get an answer other than “the price is the price.”

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Have you noticed this before on partner airlines with Delta SkyMiles?

(Tip of the hat to SJS)

Comments

  1. Redeemed a round trip SEA-LHR on Virgin Atlantic using skymiles for early April travel two weeks ago. It was 140K Skymiles and the lowest price I could see for six weeks.

  2. Delta lost my business when they stopped publishing award charts. The notion that members don’t care what the price is as long as the buying process is absurd and frankly insulting. I’m done with them. I’m EP with AA and will stay with them for the time being.

  3. I had a shockingly positive experience recently.

    As soon as my outbound travel date became bookable, I booked travel SEA-LHR on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class for 70K Skymiles for next August. I got the agent to put a note in the record to not charge change fees when I called back in 10 days to add the return LHR-SEA (crucial to avoiding extra fuel surcharges/fees for a flight originating from the UK).

    When I called back, I fully expected to be charged another 70K Skymiles. The agent thought that’s what it would cost, too. But when she pushed the button to ticket it, I was only charged an additional 30K Skymiles. I was sure she had put me in Economy, but she quickly forwarded the confirmation and it showed Upper Class — and I then immediately went onto Virgin’s site and saw the one-way reservation converted to round-trip in Upper Class both directions and reserved an Upper Class seat for the return.

    No idea why this happened, but WOO-HOO!

  4. @ Max — Hmmm, interesting, can’t seem to find this on any other partners at the moment. Do you see this on any other airline right now?

  5. Seems variable to me. I just saw LHR-JFK in upper class pricing for 62,500 miles on Oct 11th for VS25.

  6. I just tried to look and book a flight on Aerolineas on Delta’s website from MIA-EZE. The only non-stop on the search was on Aerolineas, when I switched to try to see the cost in miles, it kicked me back to only the DL flights as bookable by points, have Aerolineas flights always only been bookable with points by phone?

  7. VS and DL do seem to have a closer relationship. I was monitoring the price of a DL and VS flight from BOS-LHR and the VS and DL flight prices moved up and down in lockstep with each other. If variable pricing is being implemented hopefully it is just for VS.

  8. I ditched Delta when they yanked their award chart. Very shady way of running a loyalty program. I also cancelled my Delta Amex.

  9. Middle East to Indian-subcontinent is pricing at 40000 miles one way ( Economy) on Saudia, this is the same amount of miles required to travel from USA to Indian Subcontinent..
    Not sure what Delta is upto

  10. Delta is the worst airline you can ever do business with. They do not care about their customers, they only care about the profit. They should have gone out of business a long time ago.

  11. If DL actually does this, I’ll likely drop my DL Gold AmEx. And I’m generally a DL apologist.

  12. When airlines start introducing variable award pricing then they are going to lose customer loyalty simple as that. I am going to fly the least offensive airline for the cheapest price. Why would anyone fly delta anyways unless they are the cheapest for that route and even then if it’s only by a bit I’d rather fly star alliance.

  13. @Jay – Generally I agree with you on an emotional level. That said, we’ve seen, typically, UA immediately follow DL’s lead, and the AA seems to be third in the race to having the weakest frequent flyer offering.

    I avoid Delta as much as possible these days myself (AA has been my go-to carrier for the past few years, after spending a couple of years as a DL diamond and then ~7 years as a UA 1K (back when 1K meant something).

    So…hope for the best but prepare for the worst?

  14. I think the unanswered question here is IF Delta is doing variable pricing on VS, are the higher-priced award seats part of an inventory otherwise unavailable to other VS award partners?

    In other words, if the DL/VS partnership means VS is opening up “flex” or “standard” space to Delta customers which is more readily available than saver space, isn’t that a positive?

  15. @ Nick — It’s not. 😉 Still booking into the “G” fare class, which is saver space available to Virgin members as well. #KeepDescending

  16. Maybe I am missing something but what is the problem? If I understand correctly, it isn’t that Delta has completely removed the ability to get the lowest award ticket price for partner airlines, it is just allowing you to get the more expensive award tickets too? And the partner airlines used to only release limited/cheapest seats for Delta miles? So with the dynamic pricing, instead of not seeing the more expensive award availability period, you do and can get it if you choose? Am I wrong?

  17. Oops didn’t read all the comments. Disregard, although someone up-comment said the variable pricing tracked with Virgin?

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