Delta Restructures Frequent-Flier Program

Delta Air Lines has announced changes to its frequent-flier program, but not exactly what I expected.

I was betting on a straight-up, across-the-board increase in the number of miles required for award tickets. But it’s more complicated than that.  

Essentially, Delta has added a third level of award tickets.

At present, a member of Delta’s Skymiles program can pay 25,000 miles (plus the $10 security fee and a $50 fuel surcharge) for a SkySaver ticket, if one can be found. Or the member can pay 50,000 miles (plus the same fees) for a shot at a wider array of SkyChoice seats on more flights — but there’s still no guarantee that a seat will be available.

Starting in September, under the retooled program, a coach ticket will cost 25,000 miles at the “discounted” level and 40,000 at the “expanded” level. At  60,000 miles, the “last seat” level, a passenger can get any unsold seat. The fees won’t change.

That unrestricted level might be worth paying sometimes, but only when the ticket would cost more than $600. Here’s why:

If you spend 25,000 miles for a ticket worth $600, each mile is worth 2.4 cents. At 40,000 miles, 1.5 cents. At 60,000 miles, 1 cent. That’s a lousy rate, no better than Delta’s  “Pay With Miles” program, which at least spares you the $50 charge.

Delta has a chart on its Web site, which lists the new mileage requirements for various destinations in coach and first class. T(he list gives mileage one-way, instead of round-trip. You can’t buy a one-way ticket with miles, but you can combine different award levels into one round trip.)

What this all means will depend entirely on how many seats Delta makes available at the 25,000- and 40,000-mile levels. If availability is diminished enough, it will amount to a general increase in mileage requirements because customers will be forced into the 60,000-mile seats.

I guess we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’m interested in the terminology. By calling the lowest level “discounted,” Delta implies that it’s some kind of deal, instead of the baseline.

Also interesting — the hypercorrect New York Times headline reference to the Frequent-Flier Program. Hyphenated and using “flier” instead of “flyer.” I love the slavish devotion to the old forms. Can’t let go of them myself, even though very informed people have tried to reason with me.


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