Think there are only 5 tiers in the Delta SkyMiles award charts? Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean there are only 5 possible prices for any given award. The new SkyMiles award engine does a pretty good job of creating itineraries where previously none would have been available because of various award inventory buckets not lining up which is good for consumers. The challenge is that the pricing can be a bit harder to figure out.
To Delta executives this change represents a shift more towards the revenue ticket pricing model. One recently suggested that there is no chart for tickets paid in cash so not having one for award trips shouldn’t be an issue. Of course, there are published fares for paid tickets and many different organizations monitor shifts in those fares; doing so for award options is now much more difficult. But not impossible. And, in some cases, far more than 5 options show up.
Take a trip from Atlanta to Buenos Aires (US->AR). A recent set of searches revealed 10 different point costs for that trip in economy class and 12 different prices overall when the taxes & fees portion gets added in:
- 30000 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (N)
- 30000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (N)
- 37500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
- 47500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
- 47500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
- 50000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
- 50000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
- 55000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NS)
- 57500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (NL)
- 60000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (ND)
- 62500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NL)
- 65000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (NK)
In business class there were 11 different mileage requirements possible (12 total with the tax difference):
- 62500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (O )
- 62500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (O )
- 97500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OD)
- 102500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OL)
- 105000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OL)
- 112500 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OD)
- 120000 SkyMiles + 24.40 USD (OS)
- 122500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OD)
- 125000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OS)
- 147500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OK)
- 150000 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OS)
- 172500 SkyMiles + 5.60 USD (OK)
And, yes, there are itineraries where the trip is
less more expensive in economy than in business.
The end-on-end pricing is real and easy to demonstrate in certain examples. Here’s what a trip from the US to Sydney looks like with the split:
As you can see, the SkyMiles award cost on Virgin Australia is 50,100 (I have no idea where that number comes from, but not too long ago it was 50,000) and the ATL-LAX segment adds on 32,500 more miles. Other options from Atlanta to Los Angeles are less expensive but all work in to the end-on-end pricing unless you can find “X” inventory at which point it is just all one price. And that rate is lower than the 85,000 points Delta would charge for “NS” inventory on its own metal through to Sydney that night.
Changing a booking to start at a gateway city and paying for the ticket to get there can help bring the points cost down but it may still botch the total cost of the trip, depending on what you have to pay for that feeder flight. And, of course, the amount of searching required to figure that out is more than most consumers are likely willing to put into a booking.
So, yes, the end-on-end numbers can be better than just pricing it through as a single itinerary. But that doesn’t mean it is all good without the rate charts. And such data is published for revenue fares so hiding it from reward tickets really is less transparent than not.
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