Delta sneakily adds new form of close-in award ticketing fee

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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:

Delta_21day_waitforsaver

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:

Delta_21day_waitforsaver_dtw_ord

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:

Delta_21day_waitforsaver_dtw_ord_prices

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.

Developing…

Hat Tip: View from the Wing

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[…] Charge customers a fee in order to redeem. This is a great strategy for airline loyalty programs since customers have been trained to accept nickel-and-diming anyway. If charging everybody a fee is too evil even for an evil loyalty marketer such as yourself, you could just come up with a way to charge a lot of people, but not all of them, a fee. For example, many airlines charge you for using frequent flyer miles less than 21 days out. Nice going, United and American! And special praise goes to Delta for disguising its 21-day fee! […]

[…] increased award rates for most flights departing within 21 days.  As I’ve explained before, this seems to be an alternative to adding a close-in booking fee, which is common with other […]

[…] Delta said: To see the best availability and deals, search at least 21 days prior to departure and use our Award Calendar by selecting “flexible days” when searching for a flight. Delta meant: Award prices will be higher for flights within 21 days of departure. FM note: There’s nothing really new here, but its good to see Delta admitting to their version of a close-in booking fee. […]

[…] As others commented, i was referring to DL flights, sorry for not being clearer. please see here, here, or here, for more details. -Something about holding back 2016 choice award selection ??????? […]

[…] over the last few weeks. First the award chart was purposely removed. Then it became clear that low-level awards were being restricted to flights more than 21 days out on most routes. Delta has even begun slamming their own Medallion elites (theoretically their best […]

Chris

Sneaky indeed. Checked NYC-SAN and NYC-ATL and seeing the same result. What’s interesting is that if I check the AirFrance website I see dates available before the 3 week mark, but when when I click through the date the site says “We are unable to complete your booking for technical reasons. We apologize for the inconvenience. Please try again later.”

Dates after the 3 week mark did allow me to continue to the next step however.

Very disappointing. Then again, is anyone surprised? The Money/Miles toggle on the Delta search page seems a step in the direction of making the two “currencies” more closely linked.

What’s next — hidden city ticketing for Delta award tickets?

JRG

I’ll have to disagree; a quick check shows the lowest (12.5K) , with $5.60 in fees, for the day after tomorrow, among others. So, I’m not seeing this issue…..

AJK

The issue is bigger than the additional miles. In fact, I’d prefer if there were a fee:

Because there are no low-level awards <21 days, not only would you have to pay additional miles with DL, one can no longer circumvent it by booking with, for example, AF, because, well, DL doesn't offer any close-in low level availability.

Varun

With al the recent unnanounced changes that Delta has made, are you still going to be sticking to your strategy of getting DL Diamond through MS as mentioned in https://frequentmiler.com/2014/10/15/how-to-manufacture-delta-elite-status/