No More Delta Domestic Saver Awards Less Than 3 Weeks Out?

Feb 9, 2015

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After removing award charts from its site last week, Delta looks like is making another customer-unfriendly move by pulling its lowest-level saver award space for domestic trips booked less than three weeks out.

Unfortunately, flying Delta is the only way to get Medallion elite status.
Delta has mysteriously pulled saver-level award availability within a 3-week window.

Hearing from confused and disgruntled Delta flyers, I looked into the issue myself, and sure enough, I can find nary a saver-level award within three weeks of today. That’s bad news for a number of reasons.

First, Delta is one of the few domestic airlines that does not charge last-minute booking fees for award travel within 21 days of departure. That can mean a lot of savings depending on how often you book close-in trips and is one of the reasons I find SkyMiles to be useful.

Second, back when Delta announced the details of its new award redemption charts, I was cautiously optimistic. There were some positive developments, like the ability to book one-way awards. However, there were confusing aspects, too, such as a new five-tier award system ranging from the lowest saver-level availability (what we had thought of as saver awards like 25,000 miles roundtrip for domestic economy or 50,000 miles for roundtrip domestic business class) to a peak Level 5 that requires anywhere from 2x to 2.6x as many miles as saver level.

Want to fly Delta domestically? Book your award more than 3 weeks out!
Want to fly Delta domestically? Book your award more than 3 weeks out!

Delta also promised that its new redemption tiers would allow for more award space. The one major factor that remained to be seen was, at what level would those awards be pricing out. And now we seem to have our answer: higher.

Now, this isn’t a blanket statement to say that all domestic Delta awards are pricing out at higher levels than before, this is just to point out that for the moment, there seem to be no lowest-level (Level 1) saver awards within the next three-week window, and that seems a bit fishy.

Team TPG reached out to Delta’s corporate communications team and got the following response: “There are multiple considerations going into award seat availability resulting in availability that will vary by time and market.”

Typical vague response, right? Except it’s not quite accurate since award seat availability at saver levels is not varying by time and market in this case. In this case, there is no saver level availability at any time or in any domestic market in either economy or business/first for the next 3 weeks.

Just to take some quick examples, I priced out awards in both economy and business/first between two Delta hubs, Atlanta and Detroit, for the next several weeks.

First, the economy award. As you can see, no lowest-level saver award availability this week.


Or next.


Or the next.


Or the next.


Finally, mid-March, some saver-level awards open up.


To make it a bit quicker, in business/first, there’s none for the next three weeks.


And then saver availability finally opens up mid-March.

ATL DTW bus saver

Of course, award availability can be tricky and does change all the time. What makes this so strange is that routes where there is no saver-level availability in the short-term within that 3-week window are displaying tons of it past that window. Coincidence? It seems improbable.

It also indicates that we might be in for some more imminent, negative changes from Delta which, of course, will not be announced ahead of time either, so stay tuned.

Hat tip: Cranky Flier.

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