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Delta SkyMiles Reward Ticket Availability Improving

by on Sun July 25, 2010 • 6 Comments

Delta’s SkyMiles program has been in the dog house among frequent flyers for over a year now, as the addition of a third tier of reward level prices and the merger with Northwest led to a sharp drop in the number of seats available at attractive ‘saver’ levels, which are the typical 25,000 mile roundtrip domestic rewards.

A study this spring by independent firm IdeaWorks highlighted the issue to the press, noting just 13% availability of rewards versus 70%+ for some competitors, and Delta has started to take some action.

An article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Delta has made some specific, recent moves to improve the availability of reward seats:

  1. Removing fees for booking reward travel within 21 days of departure
  2. Adding more reward seats within 21 days of a flight
  3. Adding more reward seats 3-6 months before a flight

While anecdotal accounts from flyers still indicate a lot of frustration with Delta’s program — particularly as its clumsy online booking tool has a tendency to hide some attractive options, these are some real improvements.

Rare glimpse into total award availability offers some improvement

SkyMiles’ head Jeff Robertson revealed some usually restricted statistics about reward availability:


● 44 percent of flights open at 25,000 Saver level

● 61 percent open at 25,000 Saver level for Platinum or Diamond SkyMiles members


● 57 percent of flights open at 25,000 Saver level

● 75 percent open at 25,000 Saver level for Platinum or Diamond SkyMiles members

These statistics are skewed a bit as they only account for domestic travel. Moreover, ‘57% of flights’ open includes all the frequent, short flights between places like New York and Boston or Washington DC, that make up volume but not necesarily where you’re looking for reward travel.

That said, it’s clear Delta management was shaken by the press around the poor availability and is making some concrete steps to improve availability, particularly as it tries to make its SkyMiles American Express credit cards more competitive. In fact, MileCards spoke with an anonymous insider at Delta who shared the sentiment: “you don’t want to be the person to answer to Richard (CEO) why thousands of Diamond Medallions (top level frequent flyers) are writing him letters saying they’re leaving.”

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6 thoughts on Delta SkyMiles Reward Ticket Availability Improving

    1. MileCards

      @ronald – It’s not great; you do need to go month by month. And you should do a one-way search because the round-trip often misses flights that could be useful. Where are you trying to travel?

  1. sam martin

    airlines have diluted so many seats with all the codeshare flights. everyone is trying for the cheap seats and that will not happen. airlines biggest liability are mileage programs. so how can they lower their liabilities?

    1. MileCards


      The thing that changed the game for them was actually selling miles for cash to the credit card issuers. Turned it into it’s own business rather than just a marketing like expense at the cost of putting more miles on the market.

      What’s surprised us is how willing people are to spend their miles on non-travel items like gift cards at a subpar $0.01 per mile rate. They’ll kick and scream about spending 35000 miles for a $499 ticket in a scheme that advertises a base 25000 level because it’s seen as a price increase. Yet they’ll gladly fork over 20000 miles for a $200 gift card.

      I suspect alternative redemptions like that help ease the system since the airlines generally get paid more than $0.01 per mike when selling and 80 percent of people don’t do the math or just like cash value rewards. For the rest of us….shoot for programs that have better managed air award levels like Continental, United, or better yet a good hotel program.

  2. Will Bober

    I was a NWA Platinum member for almost 9 years before NWA merged into Delta. I have to say my reward ticket experience matches the info in this article. I used to be able to regularly find domestic tickets (being flexible) for 25K. International tickets say to Tokyo for 60K. My last trip to Tokyo I looked out 6 months and still could not find a decent ticket point wise. But… at the same time I was able to get a reward ticket on Continental at half the points of what Delta was asking.

    I travel 100% for business and unless I see improvements soon I will be changing my loyalty to another carrier. I am one of the *charter* Diamond Delta members but other than the free lounge access I really don’t see the point. I’ve looked for reward tickets about 6 times in the past three months and Delta is always at least 3x as high as the other carriers… and I have yet to find a *low* points fare.

    Saskatoon, SK, Canada

    1. MileCards


      We spoke with someone in SkyMiles management recently and he mentioned CEO Richard Anderson was fuming because he got “hundreds of letters” from Diamond members like you who were leaving. Sounds like part of the problem is IT related and the person who ran the websites for Northwest is in charge of fixing but it’s too late for a lot of people.


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