When SkyMiles Borks End-on-End Award Pricing


The latest changes to Delta‘s SkyMiles award pricing algorithm involves plenty of different fare constructions. The idea of end-on-end pricing is an interesting one because, in theory, it can result in lower prices for an award where different sections of the trip have different inventory available. Earlier in the week I showed an example of a trip from Atlanta to Sydney where three different rates were on offer depending on which feeder flight to the LAX gateway a passenger took. This works because one of the LAX-Sydney options was available at a cheaper rate and the ATL-LAX flight could price separately and still beat the total cost of ATL-(LAX)-SYD in the more expensive fare bucket.

skymiles-award-grid-results
End-on-end pricing works well for SkyMiles Awards in some cases

The key to the end-on-end pricing is that it works where the fare class on the segments differs, combining to create a better overall rate. Except when something a bit more strange happens. What about when rewards price end-on-end even where the inventory is in the same fare bucket? That makes a lot less sense, but I’ve now seen a number of examples where it is happening. And it seems to mostly be tied to flights involving Korean Air. Take this trip, for example:

ke-vs-vn-skymiles-award

The routing is identical, from Seoul to Hanoi to Paris to Abidjan. The flight times differ by a grand total of 40 minutes and only one segment overall doesn’t match: Seoul to Hanoi. On the top row it is operated by Korean Air and on the bottom it is operated by Vietnam Airlines. All price out either in X or in O, the “normal” award buckets for the trip and there is no indication of a mixed cabin booking (I even looked under the hood at the source data to confirm). And yet the trip with Korean Air metal is significantly more points. Why? Because it is pricing as an end-on-end trip.

Read More: How Much for that SkyMiles Award??

The extra 32,500 (coach) or 50,000 (business) SKyMiles come into play because rather than pricing as a single fare component from Korea to Ivory Coast the ticket is pricing as Korea to Vietnam + Vietnam to Ivory Coast. Even more interesting is that Vietnam to Ivory Coast is, on its own, 10,000 more SkyMiles than Korea to Ivory Coast, so the impact of the end-on-end pricing is more severe.

skymiles-korea-vietnam

skymiles-vietnam-ivory-coast

This is, to me, a much less reasonable application of the “magic” which makes the end-on-end pricing work, mostly because there appears to be no reason behind it other than to penalize customers flying on one partner carrier versus another. Also interesting is that it is not universally an issue for flights on Korean Air as I initially feared. There are plenty of examples where the tickets price out “normally” without the end-on-end penalty.

ke-vs-af-skymiles-award

And the really hard part is that we have no idea if this is on purpose or not, because there is no reference to compare to.

Yes, at the end of the day it is a question of what the customer wants to pay and if that customer sees the asking price as reasonable. But it is also rare that obfuscation and variation by a company make things better for the consumer. I believe that the end-on-end pricing bit can so so in some cases for SkyMiles customers and examples like the Sydney trip show that. But there are these other counterpoints which make it a lot harder to believe that the execution of this plan is, overall, in consumers’ best interests.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

3 Comments

  1. Not trying to defend Delta by any means, but couldn’t this be a “published fare” issue?

    1. There are lots of things it could be. In this particular case no fares from ICN-ABJ were pricing as through fares using KE metal; options included the SGN connection I have the screen shot of here as well as connections in China. All of them priced end-on-end even though the same fare class was being used. And unlike AA I do not believe DL requires a published fare for a route to be valid.

      Maybe this is nothing or maybe it is a problem with the SkyMiles booking engine or maybe it is just Delta doing what it can to price however it wants thanks to reduced transparency.

      1. Unfortunately, pricing however they want or pure incompetence are probably the most likely answers.

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