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A Couple of Charts to Show The Truly Awful Skymiles Availability

The frequent flyer community has spoken forever about the terrible availability of Delta Skymiles award tickets (at the lowest redemption level). Sometimes among this group this is considerable griping when the reality isn’t so bad. However, this is not one of those cases.

I just thought I’d take screenshots of award availability of two popular routes — New York to Honolulu & New York to Tokyo-Narita — on Delta and on United (and its Star Alliance partners). Delta does include some partners on their own site’s search, but not in the extensive way that United does include its own partners. Plus, Delta has fuel surcharges on nearly all international partner redemptions, while United has none.

As much as people complain about Delta, I think the reality is actually even worse than that. Let’s take a look.

Here is Delta’s award availability in coach (though business class looked exactly the same) for New York to Honolulu:

Keep in mind that YELLOW is mid-level, not low level, availability.

Now check out United:

Yes, that’s correct: there is coach and business class availability nearly every day in April.

New York to Tokyo?

Delta:

Blech.

And United:

Have fun in Japan.

Is this comparison 100% fair? Not 100%, no. Delta has a couple of partners that can get you to Tokyo that don’t show up on Delta.com. But do most people know that? No. And does that help with the pathetic availability to Hawaii? No it doesn’t. If I pulled up a bunch more cities – especially international destinations – it would show the same thing: wide availability on Star Alliance, and virtually nothing with Skyteam. Or, at best, availability to Europe with partners that charge significant fuel surcharges.

I know that for most people this isn’t new news. But when you see it in those charts, it really hits home: Skymiles is, in many-to-most cases, useless.

If you’re an infrequent flyer and you find yourself on Delta, do yourself a favor and credit the miles to Alaska, where you can use those miles on Delta OR American (or Alaska…or British Airways).


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10 Comments.

  1. It’s both better and worse than this with Delta. The award calendar itself is broken, so just because no availability shows up on the calendar, doesn’t mean there’s ACTUALLY no availability. Not that that’s a great help to 99% of Skymiles members. But it’s possible to piece together awards even when the calendar says nothing available.

    • If an award seat opens in the forest and no one knows about it…

      Agreed – the chart doesn’t (usually) reflect reality, but as you say that doesn’t help most people.

      Delta’s line is that we have 3 tiers and so we DO offer lots of seats for award tickets, it’s just that some (most?) are at that mid-level. Which basically is saying that Skymiles are worth about 50-60% less than miles on other airlines.

  2. Jared,

    I was curious to compare your search on an apples-to-apples basis, so ran the exact same one both under my own account (Gold Medallion with Delta Reserve Card) and with a non-logged in account.

    I chose March 7 – March 14 2013, with flexible dates. The results are dramatically different than yours, as virtually whole month of March available when logged in, and still about 2/3 available when not:

    Logged in Gold/Reserve: Only 4 days on medium, rest available in low

    Not logged in: 12 days in medium, rest available in low

    I don’t know what variables exactly you chose, perhaps you had a very short turnaround of only a couple of days? Either way, would recommend doing more vigorous testing before posts like this, especially when the results (as you noted) seemed to be far beyond the mean of what you anticipated. This seems anomalous, likely not a representative sample.

    • Flights to Hawaii show no LOW dates in March (I’m not logged in).

      You’re right, that I’m now seeing more open dates in March for Narita. But I posted a screenshot of the dates I typed in — NYC to Narita March 7 – 13th. No idea why availability has changed, but it has and that’s a good thing.

      I’m happy to check other destinations and post here…I’m pretty sure availability, for the most part, doesn’t measure up to competition.

  3. My tests were for NYC-NRT, so seems we’re seeing more the same thing now on that route. I’d definitely agree that Skymiles award availability are worse than other airlines, but they aren’t as comically bad as some make them out to be. They have also been improving as I understand it — I spoke with a very knowledgeable agent on the the medallion desk about this a few weeks ago. She said it used to be disastrously bad because Delta was too good to Platinums and up, who took advantage — they could put unlimited holds on award tickets and had no penalty for canceling even at last minute, the result was that literally 1 person could hold 50 seats on a plane until the last minute, and flights would leave empty (particularly in business class). Since they instituted the 72 hour rule and also removed ability for unlimited holds (you now actually need to deposit the miles, so can effectively only hold up to the maximum # of miles you have in your account), things have gotten better.

    Ultimately, I don’t think the problem is that Delta offers less availability, it’s that Delta has a lot of elites and a small group of them tend to be very aggressive holding seats in advance. I bet if you took the top 1,000 Delta award redeemers and placed them all on United for twelve months, you’d see an almost complete switch in award calendars. Just a theory though.

    • @Jason: You actually make a very, very interesting point: It’s possible that the program works exactly as Delta intends it. Platinums get whatever they want (basically), while everyone else gets availability, but at a much higher redemption rate. That would certainly explain the availability situation. Plus, and I’ve been saying this for a while: Delta doesn’t seem to be penalized by travelers in any way for having worse redemption options than their competition.

  4. As a Delta Skymiles account holder, I’d like to see the program allow one way awards for half of the round trip price (in miles). This is standard across all other programs, and provides a level of flexibility when availability is patchy at the low or even medium levels. As long as the award search engine and calendar remains so utterly broken, I would think the ability to redeem one way tickets is the least that the airline can do.

  5. about the promo to get 5k united miles (oct 5)-do they want my credit card number or my united frequent fliers number to register?

  6. It’s all true but still Deltas has some great award options that you can super easy book online like many Air France routes to Africa. There are some gems routes but without knowledge of this Delta Skymiles are very hard to use.

    However as a devils advocate this must not be a bad thing. As more people have a hard time using them at all or only for low value redemptions Delta can sell the miles even cheaper to AMEX &Co. In turn this gives us higher bonuses and for most FTers a huge return.

    I just hope they don’t do anything drastic to the program!

  7. “don”t be greedy”?? why not Delta is the greediest act on the block. I just booked my winter flight from N. MN to FT Myers. Served by DL UA an Alegent, but tey only fly to Sarasota. I first checked price between DL and UA. DL is $100 more and tend to be that way up here most of the time. With miles I could fly UA in Feb. for 25k, with DL they are 40K. We really need this airline–Delta to go away. They buy up all the old retired airplanes to serve us in what is already the oldest fleet. Bah Humbug

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